simone weil – decreation

simone weil gravity and graceDecreation: to make something created pass into the uncreated. Destruction: to make something created pass into nothingness. A blameworthy substitute for decreation.

Creation is an act of love and it is perpetual. At each moment our existence is God’s love for us. But God can only love himself. His love for us is love for himself through us. Thus, he who gives us our being loves in us the acceptance of not being.

Our existence is made up only of his waiting for our acceptance not to exist. He is perpetually begging from us that existence which he gives. He gives it to us in order to beg it from us.

Relentless necessity, wretchedness, distress, the crushing burden of poverty and of labour which wears us out, cruelty, torture, violent death, constraint, disease—all these constitute divine love. It is God who in love withdraws from us so that we can love him. For if we were exposed to the direct radiance of his love, without the protection of space, of time and of matter, we should be evaporated like water in the sun; there would not be enough ‘I’ in us to make it possible to surrender the ‘I’ for love’s sake. Necessity is the screen set between God and us so that we can be. It is for us to pierce through the screen so that we cease to be.

There exists a ‘deifugal’ force. Otherwise all would be God.

An imaginary divinity has been given to man so that he may strip himself of it like Christ did of his real divinity.

Renunciation. Imitation of God’s renunciation in creation. In a sense God renounces being everything. We should renounce being something. That is our only good.

We are like barrels with no bottom to them so long as we have not understood that we have a base.

Elevation and abasement. A woman looking at herself in a mirror and  adorning  herself  does  not  feel  the  shame  of  reducing  the self, that infinite being which surveys all things, to a small space. In the same way every time that we raise the ego (the social ego, the  psychological  ego etc.)  as  high  as  we  raise  it,  we  degrade ourselves  to  an  infinite  degree  by  confining  ourselves  to  being no more than that. When the ego is abased (unless energy tends to raise it by desire), we know that we are not that.

A very beautiful woman who looks at her reflection in the mirror can very well believe that she is that. An ugly woman knows that she is not that.

Everything which is grasped by our natural faculties is hypothetical. It is only supernatural love that establishes anything. Thus we are co-creators.

We participate in the creation of the world by decreating ourselves.

We only possess what we renounce; what we do not renounce escapes from us. In this sense, we cannot possess anything whatever unless it passes through God.

Catholic communion. God did not only make himself flesh for us once, every day he makes himself matter in order to give himself to man and to be consumed by him. Reciprocally, by fatigue, affliction and death, man is made matter and is consumed by God. How can we refuse this reciprocity?

He emptied himself of his divinity. We should empty ourselves of the false divinity with which we were born.

Once we have understood we are nothing, the object of all our efforts  is  to  become  nothing.  It  is  for  this  that  we  suffer  with resignation, it is for this that we act, it is for this that we pray.

May God grant me to become nothing.

In so far as I become nothing, God loves himself through me.

There is a resemblance between the lower and the higher. Hence slavery is an image of obedience to God, humiliation an image of humility, physical necessity an image of the irresistible pressure of grace, the saints’ self-abandonment from day to day an image of the frittering away of time among criminals, prostitutes, etc.

On this account it is necessary to seek out what is lowest, as an image.

May that which is low in us go downwards so that what is high can go upwards. For we are wrong side upward. We are born thus. To re-establish order is to undo the creature in us.

Reversal of the objective and the subjective.

Similarly, reversal of the positive and the negative. That is also the meaning of the philosophy of the Upanishads.

We are born and live in an inverted fashion, for we are born and live in sin which is an inversion of the hierarchy. The first operation is one of reversal—Conversion.

Except the seed die… It has to die in order to liberate the energy it bears within it so that with this energy new forms may be developed.

So we have to die in order to liberate a tied up energy, in order to possess an energy which is free and capable of understanding the true relationship of things.

The extreme difficulty which I often experience in carrying out the slightest action is a favour granted to me. For thus, by ordinary actions and without attracting attention, I can cut some of the roots of the tree. However indifferent we may be to the opinion of others, extraordinary actions contain a stimulus which cannot be separated from them. This stimulus is quite absent from ordinary actions. To find extraordinary difficulty in doing an ordinary action is a favour which calls for gratitude. We must not ask for the removal of such a difficulty: we must beg for grace to make good use of it.

In general we must not wish for the disappearance of any of our troubles, but grace to transform them.

For men of courage physical sufferings (and privations) are often a test of endurance and of strength of soul. But there is a better use to be made of them. For me then, may they not be that. May they rather be a testimony, lived and felt, of human misery. May I endure them in a completely passive manner. Whatever happens, how could I ever think an affliction too great, since the wound of an affliction and the abasement to which those whom it strikes are condemned opens to them the know- ledge of human misery, knowledge which is the door of all wisdom?

But  pleasure, happiness, prosperity, if  we  know  how  to recognize in them all that comes from outside (chance, circumstances, etc.), likewise bear testimony to human misery. They should be used in the same way. This applies even to grace, in so far as it is a sensible phenomenon.

We have to be nothing in order to be in our right place in the whole.

Renunciation demands that we should pass through anguish equivalent to that which would be caused in reality by the loss of all loved beings and all possession, including our faculties and attainments in the order of intelligence and character, our opinions, beliefs concerning what is good, what is stable, etc. And we must not lay these things down of ourselves but lose them—like Job. Moreover the energy thus cut off from its object should not be wasted in oscillations and degraded. The anguish should therefore be still greater than in real affliction, it should not be cut up and spread over time nor oriented towards a hope.

When the passion of love goes as far as vegetative energy, then we have cases like Phèdre, Arnolphe, etc.: ‘Et je sens là dedans qu’il faudra que je crève…’*

Hippolyte is really more necessary to the life of Phèdre, in the most literal sense of the word, than food.

In order that the love of God may penetrate as far down as that, nature has to undergo the ultimate violence. Job, the cross…

The love of Phèdre or of Arnolphe is impure. A love which should descend as low as theirs and yet remain pure… We must become nothing, we must go down to the vegetative level; it is then that God becomes bread.

If we consider what we are at a definite moment—the present moment, cut off from the past and the future—we are innocent. We cannot at that instant be anything but what we are: all progress implies duration. It is in the order of the world at this instant that we should be such as we are.

To isolate a moment in this way implies pardon. But such isolation is detachment.

There are only two instants of perfect nudity and purity in human life: birth and death. It is only when newly-born or on our death-bed that we can adore God in human form without sullying the divinity.

Death. An instantaneous state, without past or future. Indispensable for entering eternity.

If we find fullness of joy in the thought that God is, we must find the same fullness in the knowledge that we ourselves are not, for it is the same thought. And this knowledge is extended to our sensibility only through suffering and death.

Joy within God. Perfect and infinite joy really exists within God. My participation can add nothing to it, my non-participation can take nothing from the reality of this perfect and infinite joy. Of what importance is it then whether I am to share in it or not? Of no importance whatever.

Those who wish for their salvation do not truly believe in the reality of the joy within God.

Belief in immortality is harmful because it is not in our power to conceive of the soul as really incorporeal. So this belief is in fact a belief in the prolongation of life, and it robs death of its purpose.

The presence of God. This should be understood in two ways. As Creator, God is present in everything which exists as soon as it exists. The presence for which God needs the co-operation of the creature is the presence of God, not as Creator but as Spirit. The first presence is the presence of creation. The second is the presence of decreation. (He who created us without our help will not save us without our consent. Saint Augustine.)

God could create only by hiding himself. Otherwise there would be nothing but himself.

Holiness should then be hidden too, even from consciousness in a certain measure. And it should be hidden in the world.

Being and having. Being does not belong to man, only having. The being of man is situated behind the curtain, on the supernatural side. What he can know of himself is only what is lent him by circumstances. My ‘I’ is hidden for me (and for others); it is on the side of God, it is in God, it is God. To be proud is to forget that one is God… The curtain is human misery: there was a curtain even for Christ.

Job. Satan to God: ‘Doth he love Thee for thyself alone?’ It is a question of the level of love. Is love situated on the level of sheep, fields of corn, numerous children? Or is it situated further off, in the third dimension, behind? However deep this love may be there is a breaking-point when it succumbs, and it is this moment which transforms, which wrenches us away from the finite towards the infinite, which makes the soul’s love for God transcendent in the soul. It is the death of the soul. Woe to him for whom the death of the body precedes that of the soul. The soul which is not full of love dies a bad death. Why is it necessary that such a death should happen without distinction. It must indeed be so. It is necessary that everything should happen without distinction.

Appearance clings to being, and pain alone can tear them from each other.

For whoever is in possession of being there can be no appearance. Appearance chains being down.

Time in its course tears appearance from being and being from appearance by violence. Time makes it manifest that it is not eternity.

It is necessary to uproot oneself. To cut down the tree and make of it a cross, and then to carry it every day.

It is necessary not to be ‘myself ’, still less to be ‘ourselves’.

The city gives us the feeling of being at home.

We must take the feeling of being at home into exile. We must be rooted in the absence of a place.

To uproot oneself socially and vegetatively.

To exile oneself from every earthly country.

To do all that to others, from the outside, is a substitute (ersatz) for decreation. It results in unreality.

But by uprooting oneself one seeks greater reality

*  ‘And I feel that I must die of it…”

Excerpted from Simone Weil‘s Gravity and Grace. First French edition 1947. Translated by Emma Crawford. English language edition 1963. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

andre breton – nadja (1928)

Cover of the 1928 Gallimard edition of Nadja, collaged over by Marcel Mariën, 1938.

Cover of the 1928 Gallimard edition of Nadja, collaged over by Marcel Mariën, 1938.

The narrator, named André, ruminates on a number of Surrealist principles, before ultimately commencing (around a third of the way through the novel) on a narrative account, generally linear, of his brief ten day affair with the titular character Nadja. She is so named “because in Russian it’s the beginning of the word hope, and because it’s only the beginning,” but her name might also evoke the Spanish “Nadie,” which means “No one.” The narrator becomes obsessed with this woman with whom he, upon a chance encounter while walking through the street, strikes up conversation immediately. He becomes reliant on daily rendezvous, occasionally culminating in romance (a kiss here and there).

His true fascination with Nadja, however, is her vision of the world, which is often provoked through a discussion of the work of a number of Surrealist artists, including himself. While her understanding of existence subverts the rigidly authoritarian quotidian, it is later discovered that she is mad and belongs in a sanitarium. After Nadja reveals too many details of her past life, she in a sense becomes demystified, and the narrator realises that he cannot continue their relationship.

In the remaining quarter of the text, André distances himself from her corporeal form and descends into a meandering rumination on her absence, so much so that one wonders if her absence offers him greater inspiration than does her presence. It is, after all, the reification and materialisation of Nadja as an ordinary person that André ultimately despises and cannot tolerate to the point of inducing tears.

There is something about the closeness once felt between the narrator and Nadja that indicated a depth beyond the limits of conscious rationality, waking logic, and sane operations of the everyday. There is something essentially “mysterious, improbable, unique, bewildering” about her; this reinforces the notion that their propinquity serves only to remind André of Nadja’s impenetrability.

Her eventual recession into absence is the fundamental concern of this text, an absence that permits Nadja to live freely in André’s conscious and unconscious, seemingly unbridled, maintaining her paradoxical role as both present and absent. With Nadja’s past fixed within his own memory and consciousness, the narrator is awakened to the impenetrability of reality and perceives a particularly ghostly residue peeking from under its thin veil. Thus, he might better put into practice his theory of Surrealism, predicated on the dreaminess of the experience of reality within reality itself.

Read the book here: Andre Breton – Nadja.

walter benjamin – surrealism: the last snapshot of the european intelligentsia (1929)


Max Ernst – collage from The Hundred Headless Woman (1929).

… There is always, in such movements, a moment when the original tension of the secret society must either explode in a matter-of-fact, profane struggle for power and domination, or decay as a public demonstration and be transformed. Surrealism is in this phase of transformation at present. But at the time when it broke over its founders as an inspiring dream wave, it seemed the most integral, conclusive, absolute of movements. Everything with which it came into contact was integrated. Life only seemed worth living where the threshold between waking and sleeping was worn away in everyone as by the steps of multitudinous images flooding back and forth, language only seemed itself where, sound and image, image and sound interpenetrated with automatic precision and such felicity that no chink was left for the penny-in-the-slot called ‘meaning’.

Image and language take precedence. Saint-Pol Roux, retiring to bed about daybreak, fixes a notice on his door: ‘Poet at work.’ Breton notes: ‘Quietly. I want to pass where no one yet has passed, quietly! After you, dearest language.’ Language takes precedence. Not only before meaning. Also before the self. In the world’s structure dream loosens individuality like a bad tooth. This loosening of the self by intoxication is, at the same time, precisely the fruitful, living experience that allowed these people to step outside the domain of intoxication.

This is not the place to give an exact definition of Surrealist experience. But anyone who has perceived that the writings of this circle are not literature but something else – demonstrations, watchwords, documents, bluffs, forgeries if you will, but at any rate not literature – will also know, for the same reason, that the writings are concerned literally with experiences, not with theories and still less with phantasms. And these experiences are by no means limited to dreams, hours of hashish eating, or opium smoking. It is a cardinal error to believe that, of ‘Surrealist experiences’, we know only the religious ecstasies or the ecstasies of drugs. The opium of the people, Lenin called religion, and brought the two things closer together than the Surrealists could have liked.

I shall refer later to the bitter, passionate revolt against Catholicism in which Rimbaud, Lautreamont, and Apollinaire brought Surrealism into the world. But the true creative overcoming of religious illumination certainly does not lie in narcotics. It resides in a profane illumination, ‘a materialistic, anthropological inspiration, to which hashish, opium, or whatever else can give an introductory lesson. (But a dangerous one; and the religious lesson is stricter.)

This profane illumination did not always find the Surrealists equal to it, or to themselves, and the very writings that proclaim it most powerfully, Aragon’s incomparable Paysan de Paris and Breton’s Nadja, show very disturbing symptoms of deficiency. For example, there is in Nadja an excellent passage on the ‘delightful days spent looting Paris under the sign of Sacco and Vanzetti’; Breton adds the assurance that in those days Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle fulfilled the strategic promise of revolt ‘that had always been implicit in its name. But Madame Sacco also appears, not the wife of Fuller’s victim but avoyante, a fortune-teller who lives at 3 rue des Usines and tells Paul Eluard that he can expect no good from Nadja.

Now I concede that the breakneck career of Surrealism over rooftops, lightning conductors, gutters, verandas, weathercocks, stucco work – all ornaments are grist to the cat burglar’s mill-  may have taken it also into the humid backroom of spiritualism. But I am not pleased to hear it cautiously tapping on the window-panes to inquire about its future. Who would not wish to see these adoptive children of revolution most rigorously severed from all the goings-on in the conventicles of down-at-heel dowagers, retired majors, and emigre profiteers?

In other respects Breton’s book illustrates well a number of the basic characteristics of this ‘profane illumination’. He calls Nadja ‘a book with a banging door’. (In Moscow I lived in a hotel in which almost all the rooms were occupied by Tibetan lamas who had come to Moscow for a congress of Buddhist churches. I was struck by the number of doors in the corridors that were always left ajar. What had at first seemed accidental began to be disturbing. I found out that in these rooms lived members of a sect who had sworn never to occupy closed rooms. The shock I had then must be felt by the reader of Nadja.)

To live in a glass house is a revolutionary virtue par excellence. It is also an intoxication, a moral exhibitionism, that we badly need. Discretion concerning one’s own existence, once an aristocratic virtue, has become more and more an affair of petty-bourgeois parvenus. Nadja has achieved the true, creative synthesis between the art novel and the roman-a-clef.

Moreover, one need only take love seriously to recognize in it, too – as Nadja also indicates – a ‘profane illumination’. ‘At just that time’ (i.e., when he knew Nadja), the author tells us, ‘I took a great interest in the epoch of Louis VII, because it was the time of the ‘courts of love’, and I tried to picture with great intensity how people saw life then.’ We have from a recent author quite exact information on Provencal love poetry, which comes surprisingly close to the Surrealist conception of love. ‘All the poets of the ‘new style’,’ Erich Auerback points out in his excellent Dante: Poet of the Secular World, ‘possess a mystical beloved, they all have approximately the same very curious experience of love; to them all Amor bestows or withholds gifts that resemble an illumination more than sensual pleasure; all arc subject to a kind of secret bond that determines their inner and perhaps also their outer-lives’. The dialectics of intoxication are indeed curious. Is not perhaps all ecstasy in one world humiliating sobriety in that complementary to it? What is it that courtly Minne seeks, and it, not love, binds Breton to the telepathic girl, if not to make chastity, too, a transport? Into a world that borders not only on tombs of the Sacred Heart or altars to the Virgin, but also on the morning before a battle or after a victory.

Max Ernst - Une semaine de bonté [A Week of Kindness]. La clé des chants 1 [The Key of Songs 1] 1933

Max Ernst – Une semaine de bonté [A Week of Kindness]. La clé des chants 1 [The Key of Songs 1] 1933

The lady, in esoteric love, matters least. So, too, for Breton. He is closer to the things that Nadja is close to than to her. What are these things? Nothing could reveal more about Surrealism than their canon.Where shall I begin? He can boast an extraordinary discovery. He was the first to perceive the revolutionary energies that appear in the ‘outmoded’, in the first iron constructions, the first factory buildings, the earliest photos, the objects that have begun to be extinct, grand pianos, the dresses of five years ago, fashionable restaurants when the vogue has begun to ebb from them. The relation of these things to revolution, no one can have a more exact concept of it than these authors. No one before these visionaries and augurs perceived how destitution – not only social but architectonic, the poverty of interiors/enslaved and enslaving objects – can be suddenly transformed into revolutionary nihilism. Leaving aside Aragon’s Passage de I’Opera, Breton and Nadja are the lovers who convert everything that we have experienced on mournful railway journeys (railways are beginning to age), on Godforsaken Sunday afternoons in the proletarian quarters of the great cities, in the first glance through the rain-blurred window of a new apartment, into revolutionary experience, if not action. They bring the immense forces of ‘atmosphere’ concealed in these things to the point of explosion. What form do you suppose a life would take that was determined at a decisive moment precisely by the street song last on everyone’s lips?

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walter benjamin on reading, telepathy, magic


Max Ernst (1924).

Near the end of his 1929 essay on surrealism, Walter Benjamin suggests a connection between investigations into reading and into telepathic phenomena, a theme he returns to again, in the context of reading and more ancient traditions of magic, in his 1933 essay “Doctrine of the Similar.”  This connection he suggests between reading practices and the occult is a profound one, both historically and for Benjamin’s own time and work, and not just in terms of telepathy. Some of the earliest practices of reading were not of letters, words, or books, but of stars, entrails, and birds, and these practices had a significant impact on the way reading was understood in the ancient world. And the relations between such ancient magic and reading were still (or again) of crucial importance to the modernists of the early twentieth century, including Benjamin and his sustained interest in what he called ‘das magische Lesen.’

What I will present here is part of a larger project devoted to tracing out the more salient connections in both the ancient and modern worlds between the practices of reading and of magic, and particularly those of magic most closely aligned with practices of divination. I choose to concentrate on those aspects of magic most associated with divination because these seem historically most associated with the reading of both literature and the world, and because I believe that tracing out the often ignored genealogy of this future or fortune-telling aspect of reading reveals one of the most fascinating chapters in the modern reception of antiquity.

Read the whole paper: Eric Downing – Divining Benjamin – Reading Fate, Graphology, Gambling