Simone Weil, the quintessential outsider : women and mysticism

Simone Weil was an outsider, this she clearly stated in her personal letters and essays which are gathered in fragments or in small volume , such as in Waiting for God.

Those meagre fragments that have been published are not really readily accessible save on the curriculums of theological colleges (in modular forms) and presented in a contextualised and safe manner. I do not think that her writings on mysticism are done justice in contemporary thought.

Weil’s themes are of her intellectual alienation from Catholicism ( and her desire of it), poverty, philosophy, war, struggle and totalitarianism ,

” A collective body is the guardian of dogma and dogma is the object  of contemplation for love, faith and intelligence, three strictly individual  faculties. Hence almost since the beginning the individual has been ill at  ease in christianity and this uneasiness has notably been one of intelligence, this cannot be denied” (I: 314)

and yet , in further essays on education, philosophy and the need for frontline nurses , Weil rejects civil law as aberrant and only necessary to prevent religious totalitarianism. Her dividedness is a mark of her deep and enduring thought on education and its uses , which can be reduced to the cultivation of attention. Here, Weil’s thoughts could be placed alongside other catholic women thinkers but her refusal of baptism puts paid to that. Her ideas culminate in the magnificent and difficult work Necessity.

I question why the work of Weil is not put on a par with her contemporary Paschal , or any comparative writer of religious mysticism. I can only imagine that her desire to be an outsider has been readily and promptly answered by those guardians of her letters (thoughts) in their failure  to categorise her sufficiently in the annals of the catholic thinking which she so desired and yet so readily and completely rejected,

” Nearly all our troubles come to us from not having known how to stay in our room” said another sage, Paschal, I think , thereby calling to mind in the cell of recollection all those crazed people who seek happiness in movement and in a prostitution I might call fraternal, if I wanted to use the fine language of my century. ” ( I:314)

I suppose it is difficult if one approaches the writings of a female mystic and powerful writer to safely categorise  and apply a workable label  to her, when her outsider status was so firmly delineated by a writing that does not really achieve for the reader a comfort-zone that can be safely  and inalienably tagged as pedestrian. She presents a difficulty for those guardians of dogma who would rather  not approach the questions of the post war-time era in a manner that may jolt sensitivities in  those  areas of agnosticism, anarchism and mysticism discussed by Weil in her letters . There are many such neglects in  contemporary thought on issues of philosophy and religion, though mostly they (or their  invisibilites) apply alone to women writers of depth and clarity, such as the great Simone Weil. I am excerpting  Le Personne Et La Sacré by Simone Weil, in which she develops her ideas regarding the individual cultivation of attention as the most necessary of those approaches to study and whilst I may not agree with her ideas on dogma and justice, I find her constant and integral struggle with the problems of developing the intellect to be almost pressing when so much of post-modernism is directed toward the degradation of the intelligence in favour of wilful and negligent consumption,

Le Personne et la Sacré : by Simone Weil

“Beauty is the supreme mystery in this world. It is a brilliance that attracts attention but gives it no motive to stay. Beauty is always promising and never gives anything; it creates a hunger but has in it no food for the part of the soul that tries here below to be satisfied; it has food only for the part of the soul that contemplates. It creates desire, and it makes it clearly felt that there is nothing in it [beauty] to be desired, because one insists above all that nothing about it change. If one does not seek out measures by which to escape from the delicious torment inflicted by it, desire is little by little transformed into love and a seed of the faculty of disinterested and pure attention is created.”

Simone Weil , disregarded voice.

A Saturday Woman Poet , Prageeta Sharma.

On Rebellion, by Prageeta Sharma.

(for Katy Lederer)

“It was not a romantic sentiment , nor self-determined; rather , it was embarrassing.
My love of spearheading, from introvert to extrovert,
from cowardice to consequence, from the enjambment to the unspecified dunce.
It was a sabotage, a reckless moment : a purulent, tawny decree.
All temptation puzzled me and drew me in.
I dropped out of a large life,
I flew over exams, I punched out breakfast teachers with lunch money,
toiling over the idea of belonging rather than over upward mobility.
I understood how power flung outward
into the troves of the cursed ( I felt troubled or cursed all of the time).
I wasn’t bearing oranges, limes, or even lemons.
All of it blurred together so that a mere suggestion made by
an outside force was something to be freely ignored.
I could nod off, I could misinterpret, it could be reconfigured as a negotiation.
The fog felt like an aphorism. Never lifting, always dull,
always an added pull. The tribunal cloud judged below, judged my direction.
There was lying, conning, faking, elucidating in order to get away with undoing.
I was interested in preserving yet I can’t tell you if it felt
sacred or befallen.
 
Your anxiety might have represented a crushing faith
or a character assassination, my own or someone else’s.
Or a lack of grip on reality : the wet rip of the grocery bags
all of it falling -
your body on all fours.
Accumulating soot upon  retrieval.
 
There were downsides to feeling different so I huddled
in the corner (not a ball, not rocking). I felt friendless and yet social.
I felt no aptitude towards refining a skill.
 
However, words cut my brain into two brains with their precipice
their demarcations, their incisions (too strong a word).
 
They held me captive against their edge,
their influence : I felt like insinuating something delicate or dear.

Now- I am playing on- trying to pay attention to the collusion that I must
be playing over
and over in my mind, and it was my mind,
it needed me to leave everything outside, on the steps or in the sky,
to feign exhaustion in order to meet an aberration,
the one in the corner that felt large and carefree with its
own vernacular sprawled with whitewash on bricks or floors or that ghastly
far above that kept me standing very still but perhaps I wasn’t inactive,
I was just interpreting what had already been an assumed boundary,
immersed in its insularity and in what stuck to its roundedness.”

Prageeta Sharma  was born in Framingham, Mass. in 1972. Her parents came from Jaipur. This poem is taken from The Bloodaxe  Book of Contemporary Indian Poets, ed Jeet Thayil. Bloodaxe Books 2008. Reviewed at this link.

A Work for Poets , by George Mackay Brown.

‘Following a Lark’ , By George Mackay Brown

To have carved on the days of our vanity
A sun
A star
A cornstalk

Also a few marks
From an ancient forgotten time
A child may read

That not far from the stone
A well
Might open for wayfarers

Here is a work for poets -
Carve the runes
Then be content with silence.

by George Mackay Brown

I have two reading recommendations this sunny cold morning in Dublin,  Interrogation of SilenceThe  writings of George Mackay Brown . Rowena and Brian Murray. Publ. John Murray 2004. and The Absence of Myth , by Georges Bataille. Publ. Verson (1994/2006).

 


I am sad to hear the John Hurst, proprietor of Rare and Interesting Books in Westport died this past weekend, he always got the exact book that I sought and I had put him alongside Charlie Byrne’s In Galway for his excellent  collection of books. Indeed I had been re-reading a certain book this weekend that I had bought from him in the last years, RIP.

from Following a Lark:

Lux Perpetua.

“A star for a cradle
Sun for plough and net
A fire for old stories
A Candle for the dead “.

For those readers interested in  George Mackay Brown , I include here the GMB website , along with a link to a  short Poethead post on John’s lovely bookshop in Mayo.

Anne Sexton, The Art of Poetry No. 15 (Paris Review)

Wikipedia Image of Ann Sexton , by Elsa Dorfman

I just saw this interview link which has been released today by The Paris Review to celebrate Ann Sexton’s Birthday and I have added it to my Facebook page. I thought to add it through an excerpted paragraph and hyperlink onto the Poethead blog also.

There is an existent link to Ann Sexton’s Transformations also available on the Poethead blog which will be carried at the end of this short piece, along with the Paris Review Interview on ‘The Art of Poetry No 15′ by Barbara Kevles.

” Until I was twenty-eight I had a kind of buried self who didn’t know she could do anything but make white sauce and diaper babies. I didn’t know I had any creative depths. I was a victim of the American Dream, the bourgeois, middle-class dream. All I wanted was a little piece of life, to be married, to have children. I thought the nightmares, the visions, the demons would go away if there was enough love to put them down. I was trying my damnedest to lead a conventional life, for that was how I was brought up, and it was what my husband wanted of me. But one can’t build little white picket fences to keep nightmares out. The surface cracked when I was about twenty-eight. I had a psychotic break and tried to kill myself. “

(excerpted Interview with Ann Sexton , The Paris Review )

A Scene from ‘The Company of Wolves’ from Angela Carter’s Tales (Directed by Neil Jordan)

Briar Rose

Consider
a girl who keeps slipping off,
arms limp as old carrots
into the hypnotist’s trance,
into a spirit world
speaking with the gift of tongues.
She is stuck in the time machine,
suddenly two years old sucking her thumb,
as inward as a snail,
learning to talk again.
She’s on a voyage.
She is swimming further and further back
up like a salmon,
struggling into her mother’s pocketbook.

Briar Rose , by Ann Sexton (Transformations)

The Art of Poetry No.15
 ‘Transformations’ , Ann Sexton’s Fairy-tales by Poethead

A Saturday Woman Poet, Glenda Cimino.

Cicada

For David Carson

How beautiful the cicadas’ song
How holy the insect voices
Rise to heaven.

How homely and comforting
The steady trill of their choir
In the dark night.

Yet some say each cicada
Is the restless, reborn soul
Of a dead Poet -

A spendthrift who did not respect
The gift of his muse
But squandered his inspiration.

Till the poems died, nameless,
While waiting to be born
And the silence grew deafening.

How with cicada’s wings
He now fervently delivers
His unuttered poems.

He can never again be silent
Even if no human understands
His heart’s outpouring.

How beautiful the cicada’s song
How purely the insect voices
Rise to heaven. 

by Glenda Cimino

Haiku

wind in the long grass
whispers of forgotten lovers
under the trees.

Glenda Cimino

Both poems are © Glenda Cimino, with thanks, C.