Simone Weil, Or Radical Sainthood

Simone Weil published only a few articles during her lifetime. She died in 1943 at the age of thirty-four in England of slow starvation; in a weakened physical state she had refused to eat more than the workers in occupied France. Her singular life has something of “the madness of the Holy fool” (the phrase is Leslie Fiedler’s). She wrote in 1942:

Pain and peril are indispensable to my mental make-up. It is fortunate that this is not so with everyone, otherwise all organized activity would be impossible without it; but for my part, I cannot change, I know this from long experience. The suffering that is spread over the whole surface of the earth obsesses me and overwhelms me to the point of annihilating my faculties, and I cannot recover them and free myself from this obsession, unless I take upon myself a large share of danger and suffering [quoted by Jacques Cabaud in Simone Weil: A Fellowship in Love, Channel, 1964, p. 278].

While Simone Weil’s identification with the workers of France was evident by a number of “extreme” acts, her singular and luminous spiritual odyssey did not become apparent until the posthumous publication of her writings. The most well-known books appearing in English are Waiting For God, including letters to a priest giving her spiritual autobiography and her reasons for refusing baptism and important essays such as “Forms of the Implicit Love of God” and “Concerning the Our Father,” and Gravity and Grace, a small selection of notebook entries, arranged topically.

Weil belongs to the great tradition of French notebook-writers and essayists, and her style is based on paradox and apparent contradiction. “Contradiction,” she wrote, “is the proof that we are not everything. ...

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