9780297646273 / 0297646273

Simone Weil (Penguin Lives)


Publisher:Viking Adult



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About the book:

In Simone Weil, Francine du Plessix Gray writes with her customary grace and acuity. The author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated At Home with the Marquis de Sade examines an equally extreme character at the opposite end of the moral spectrum in Weil. This French "mystic" (1909-1943) displayed early the ferocious intellect that took this daughter of affluent, highly assimilated French Jews to the peak of her country's rigorous educational system and made her an important modern philosopher. But Weil remains a beacon to activists because of her passionate, intensely personal commitment to the world's oppressed and her need to directly share their sufferings. This need had its neurotic aspects, and Gray's elegant biography does not gloss over Weil's lifelong anorexia, her distaste for physical contact, her peculiar brand of anti-Semitism or the unyielding self-righteousness that led her to cut off friendships for minor offences. Yet the overall tone is one of sympathetic respect for an extraordinary human being unable to develop the willed blindness that enables most of us to live comfortably while others go without. Weil gave up prestigious teaching jobs to do manual labour; she performed dangerous work in the Resistance; and, when threatened by a Vichy policeman who exclaimed angrily, "You little bitch, we'll have you thrown in jail with the whores!" she replied coolly, "I've always wanted to know that milieu." Her slow, exceedingly tentative movement toward Christianity grew from her need to affirm her solidarity with the world's "slaves", and her prescient denunciation of Communism at a time when most radicals embraced it, arose from her understanding that Soviet apparatchiks abused the working class just as egregiously as their putative opponents, the fascists. This is an outstanding introduction for general readers to the influential thought and rivetingly conflicted life of a seminal figure in 20th-century intellectual history. --Wendy Smith

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