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.