The Difference Between Creative Anticipation & Enduring Hope: More Notes on Simone Weil & Wallace Stevens

From an interesting email response to my previous post concerning Simone Weil and Wallace Stevens:

I hope this won’t seem tediously contrarian, but I must say that in some respects I find Stevens more of an ascetic than  Weil.  True, it’s a peculiar kind of opulent asceticism, but in his poetry the real world is consistently devalued for the realm of pure imagination. When reality does make an appearance it’s usually as a rude intruder, the  source of horrible sorrow, as in the great short poem “Gallant Chateau.”  Elsewhere, as in “Arrival at the Waldorf,” he actually seems to mock this world with all its supposed wonders and adventures, suggesting that they’re all basically interchangeable and equally banal.  At best the world may be a source of imagery for his solitary meditations.

I read Stevens most deeply during a time of acute loneliness; he was a great solace.  His poetry teaches you how to be alone.

It was around the same time that I was reading Weil, and her effect was almost the opposite. [. . .]  They represent two distinct spiritual practices.  Even when she is most abstract, and seemingly pure, I can never forget the world with which she was passionately engaged til the horrible end.

It delights me to no end to get such responses. I responded in kind, via email, but thought I might extend the reflections here as well.

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The True Thinking of Artifice: On Simone Weil & Politics

I was reminded yesterday by a friend of Simone Weil’s classic essay “Human Personality,” and was struck by the notion that at some point (perhaps somebody already has) I might write a piece comparing the centrality of her question here, ‘Why am I being hurt,’ to Judith Butler’s more recent question in Precarious Life, ‘Who shall we mourn?’ Both questions attend to supremely significant issues. Indeed, one might argue that Weil & Butler approach the same issues but from different angles. This may be true, but one must be careful in too quickly affirming the sameness at the expense of the important differences.

I am deeply sympathetic–no, make that outright supportive–of Weil’s desire to speak for those who cannot speak–or, more properly, that which cannot be spoken. The impersonality of this unspoken truth is crucial to Weil, and is apprehended, if at all, in the solitariness of one’s humiliation. She offers no concession to consolation in her work, which is often unsettling. I don’t read Weil as a masochist. Suffering, rather, is an inevitability, of life & of life on the way to the truth. If pain must sometimes be handed out as punishment, this is only because the inevitable is often disproportionately distributed and/or dissimulated by the secular appeal to “rights.”  Read the rest of this entry »

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