simone weil – the impossible

simone weil gravity and graceHuman life is impossible. But it is only affliction which makes us feel this.

The impossibility of good: ‘Good comes out of evil, evil out of good, and when will it all end?’

The good is impossible. But man always has enough imagination at his disposal to hide from himself in each particular case the impossibility of good (it is enough if for each event which does not crush us ourselves we can veil part of the evil and add a fictitious good—and some people manage to do this even if they are crushed themselves).

Man’s imagination at the same time prevents him from seeing ‘how much the essence of the necessary differs from that of the good,’ and prevents him from allowing himself really to meet God who is none other than the good itself—the good which is found nowhere in this world.

Desire is impossible: it destroys its object. Lovers cannot be one, nor can Narcissus be two. Don Juan, Narcissus. Because to desire something is impossible, we have to desire what is nothing.

Our life is impossibility, absurdity. Everything we want contradicts the conditions or the consequences attached to it, every affirmation we put forward involves a contradictory affirmation, all our feelings are mixed up with their opposites. It is because we are a contradiction—being creatures—being God and infinitely other than God.

Contradiction alone is the proof that we are not everything. Contradiction is our wretchedness, and the sense of our wretchedness is the sense of reality. For we do not invent our wretchedness. It is true. That is why we have to value it. All the rest is imaginary.

Impossibility is the door of the supernatural. We can but knock at it. It is someone else who opens.

It is necessary to touch impossibility in order to come out of the dream world. There is no impossibility in dreams—only impotence.

‘Our Father, he who is in heaven.’ There is a sort of humour in that. He is your Father, but just try to go and look for him up there! We are quite as incapable of rising from the ground as an earth-worm. And how should he for his part come to us without descending? There is no way of imagining a contact between God and man which is not as unintelligible as the incarnation. The incarnation explodes this unintelligibility. It is the most concrete way of representing this impossible descent. Hence why should it not be the truth?

The links that we cannot forge are evidence of the transcendent.

We are beings with the faculty of knowing, willing and loving, and as soon as we turn our attention towards the objects of knowledge, will and love, we receive evidence that there is not one which is not impossible. Falsehood alone can veil such evidence. Consciousness of this impossibility forces us to long continually to grasp what cannot be grasped in all that we desire, know and will.

When something seems impossible to obtain despite every effort, it is an indication of a limit which cannot be passed on that plane and of the necessity for a change of level—a break in the ceiling. To wear ourselves out in efforts on the same level degrades us. It is better to accept the limit, to contemplate it and savour all its bitterness.

Error as an incentive, a source of energy. I think I see a friend. I run towards him. When I come a little nearer I see that it is someone else towards whom I am running—a stranger. In the same way we confuse the relative with the absolute—created things with God.

All particular incentives are errors. Only that energy which is not due to any incentive is good: obedience to God, which, since God is beyond all that we can imagine or conceive, means obedience to nothing. This is at the same time impossible and necessary—in other words it is supernatural.

A benefit (bienfait). A good action is such if in doing it we realise with our whole soul that such a thing as a benefit is absolutely impossible.

To do good. Whatever I do I know perfectly clearly that it is not good, for he who is not good cannot do good. And ‘God alone is good…’

On every occasion, whatever we do, we do evil, and an intolerable evil.

We must ask that all the evil we do may fall solely and directly on ourselves. That is the cross.

That action is good which we are able to accomplish while keeping our attention and intention totally directed towards pure and impossible goodness, without veiling from ourselves by any falsehood either the attraction or the impossibility of pure goodness.

In this way virtue is entirely analogous to artistic inspiration. The beautiful poem is the one which is composed while the attention is kept directed towards inexpressible inspiration, in so far as it is inexpressible.

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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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