simone weil – affliction

simone weil gravity and graceSuffering: superiority of man over God. The Incarnation was necessary so that this superiority should not be scandalous.

I should not love my suffering because it is useful. I should love it because it is.

To accept what is bitter. The acceptance must not be reflected back on to the bitterness so as to diminish it, otherwise the acceptance will be proportionately diminished in force and purity, for the thing to be accepted is that which is bitter in so far as it is bitter; it is that and nothing else. We have to say like Ivan Karamazov that nothing can make up for a single tear from a single child, and yet to accept all tears and the nameless horrors which are beyond tears. We have to accept these things, not in so far as they bring compensations with them, but in themselves. We have to accept the fact that they exist simply because they do exist.

If there were no affliction in this world we might think we were in paradise.

Two conceptions of hell: the ordinary one (suffering without consolation); mine (false beatitude, mistakenly thinking oneself to be in paradise).

Greater purity of physical suffering (Thibon). Hence, greater dignity of the people.

We should seek neither to escape suffering nor to suffer less, but to remain untainted by suffering.

The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering but a supernatural use for it.

We should make every effort we can to avoid affliction, so that the affliction which we meet with may be perfectly pure and perfectly bitter.

Joy is the overflowing consciousness of reality.

But to suffer while preserving our consciousness of reality is better. To suffer without being submerged in the nightmare. May the suffering be in one sense purely exterior and in another purely interior. For this to be so it must be situated only in the feelings. Then it is exterior (as it is outside the spiritual part of the soul) and interior (as it is entirely concentrated on ourselves, without being reflected back on to the universe in order to impair it).

Affliction compels us to recognise as real what we do not think possible.

Affliction. Time bears the thinking being in spite of himself towards that which he cannot bear and which will come all the same.‘Let this cup pass from me.’ Each second which passes brings some being in the world nearer to something he cannot bear.

There is a point in affliction where we are no longer able to bear either that it should go on or that we should be delivered from it.

Suffering is nothing, apart from the relationship between the past and the future, but what is more real for man than this relationship? It is reality itself.

The future. We go on thinking it will come until the moment when we think it will never come.
Two thoughts lighten affliction a little. Either that it will stop almost immediately or that it will never stop. We can think of it as impossible or necessary, but we can never think that it simply is. That is unendurable.

‘It is not possible!’ What is not possible is to envisage a future where the affliction will continue. The natural spring of thought towards the future is arrested. We are lacerated in our sense of time. ‘In a month, in a year, how shall we suffer?’

The being who can bear to think neither of the past nor the future is reduced to the state of matter. White Russians at Renault’s works. Thus one can learn to be obedient like matter, but no doubt they invented for themselves ready-made and illusive pasts and futures.

The fragmentation of time for criminals and prostitutes; it is the same with slaves. This is then a characteristic of affliction.

Time does us violence; it is the only violence. ‘Another shall gird thee and lead thee whither thou wouldst not’; time leads us whither we do not wish to go. Were I condemned to death, I should not be executed if, in the interval, time stood still. Whatever frightful thing may happen, can we desire that time should stop, that the stars should be stayed in their courses? Time’s violence rends the soul: by the rent eternity enters.

All problems come back again to time. Extreme suffering: undirected time: the way to hell or to paradise. Perpetuity or eternity.

It is not joy and sorrow which are opposed to each other, but the varieties within the one and the other. There are an infernal joy and pain, a healing joy and pain, a celestial joy and pain.

By nature we fly from suffering and seek pleasure. It is for this reason alone that joy serves as an image for good and pain for evil. Hence the imagery of paradise and hell. But as a matter of fact pleasure and pain are inseparable companions.

Suffering, teaching and transformation. What is necessary is not that the initiated should learn something, but that a transformation should come about in them which makes them capable of receiving the teaching.

Pathos means at the same time suffering (notably suffering unto death) and modification (notably transformation into an immortal being).

Suffering and enjoyment as sources of knowledge. The serpent offered knowledge to Adam and Eve. The Sirens offered knowledge to Ulysses. These stories teach that the soul is lost through seeking knowledge in pleasure. Why? Pleasure is perhaps innocent on condition that we do not seek knowledge in it. It is permissible to seek that only in suffering.

The infinite which is in man is at the mercy of a little piece of iron; such is the human condition; space and time are the cause of it. It is impossible to handle this piece of iron without suddenly reducing the infinite which is in man to a point on the pointed part, a point on the handle, at the cost of a harrowing pain. The whole being is stricken on the instant; there is no place left for God, even in the case of Christ, where the thought of God is no more at least than that of privation. This stage has to be reached if there is to be incarnation. The whole being becomes privation of God: how can we go beyond? After that there is only the resurrection. To reach this stage the cold touch of naked iron is necessary.

At the touch of the iron there must be a feeling of separation from God such as Christ experienced, otherwise it is another God. The martyrs did not feel that they were separated from God, but it was another God and it was perhaps better not to be a martyr. The God from whom the martyrs drew joy in torture or death is akin to the one who was officially adopted by the Empire and afterwards imposed by means of exterminations.

To say that the world is not worth anything, that this life is of no value and to give evil as the proof is absurd, for if these things are worthless what does evil take from us? Thus the better we are able to conceive of the fullness of joy, the purer and more intense will be our suffering in affliction and our compassion for others. What does suffering take from him who is without joy?

And if we conceive the fullness of joy, suffering is still to joy what hunger is to food. It is necessary to have had a revelation of reality through joy in order to find reality through suffering. Otherwise life is nothing but a more or less evil dream.

We must attain to the knowledge of a still fuller reality in suffering which is a nothingness and a void. In the same way we have greatly to love life in order to love death still more.
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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.

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