yuki – “the snow” (edo period – late 1700s)

Yuki, “The Snow”, was composed by Koto Minezaki, and is considered one of the most difficult yet also iconic pieces of Jiuta, a traditional Japanese genre performed here by Shufu Abe. In many songs or theatrical pieces in which cold, dark weather is mentioned, the melody of Yuki’s instrumental interlude is employed as a leitmotif.

The character is reflecting on her string of failed love affairs. She decides to retreat from society and become a nun. As she walks towards the monastery, soft snow begins to fall.

INSTRUMENTS:
REIKIN (Steel-Stringed Koto/Lute)
SHAKUHACHI (Bamboo Flute)
HOTEKI (Japanese Flute)

Translation of the words (from HERE):

When I brush away
The flowers, and the snow-
How clear my sleeves become!

Truly it was an affair
Of long, long ago.
The man I waited for
May still be waiting for me.

The cry of the mandarin duck
Calling for his mate
From his freezing nest
Makes me feel sorrowful.
The temple bell at midnight
Wakes me
From my lonely reverie.

It makes me sad to hear
That distant temple bell.
When the patter of hail
Reaches my pillow,
I seem to hear, somehow,
His knocking on my door again.
And less and less am I able
To dam up my tears.
Freezing now
Into icicles.
I no longer care about
This hard, bitter life.
I’m only sorry that
I still can’t think of
My former lover as sinful.
Ah, the discarded sorrows!
The forsaken world of sorrow!

simone weil – algebra

simone weil gravity and graceMoney, mechanization, algebra. The three monsters of contemporary civilization. Complete analogy.

Algebra and money are essentially levellers, the first intellectually, the second effectively.

About fifty years ago the life of the Provençal peasants ceased to be like that of the Greek peasants described by Hesiod. The destruction of science as conceived by the Greeks took place at about the same period. Money and algebra triumphed simultaneously.

The relation of the sign to the thing signified is being destroyed, the game of exchanges between signs is being multiplied of itself and for itself. And the increasing complication demands that there should be signs for signs… [Note that this comment comes decades before Baudrillard writes about simulacra in 1981.]

Among the characteristics of the modern world we must not forget the impossibility of thinking in concrete terms of the relationship between effort and the result of effort. There are too many intermediaries. As in the other cases, this relationship which does not lie in any thought, lies in a thing: money.

As collective thought cannot exist as thought, it passes into things (signs, machines…). Hence the paradox: it is the thing which thinks and the man who is reduced to the state of a thing.

There is no collective thought. On the other hand our science is collective like our technics. Specialization. We inherit not only results but methods which we do not understand. For the matter of that the two are inseparable, for the results of algebra provide methods for the other sciences.

To make an inventory or criticism of our civilization—what does that mean? To try to expose in precise terms the trap which has made man the slave of his own inventions. How has unconsciousness infiltrated itself into methodical thought and action?

To escape by a return to the primitive state is a lazy solution. We have to rediscover the original pact between the spirit and the world in this very civilization of which we form a part. But it is a task which is beyond our power on account of the shortness of life and the impossibility of collaboration and of succession. That is no reason for not undertaking it. The situation of all of us is comparable to that of Socrates when he was awaiting death in his prison and began to learn to play the lyre… At any rate we shall have lived…

The spirit, overcome by the weight of quantity, has no longer any other criterion than efficiency.

Modern life is given over to immoderation. Immoderation invades everything: actions and thought, public and private life.

The decadence of art is due to it. There is no more balance anywhere. The Catholic movement is to some extent in reaction against this; the Catholic ceremonies, at least, have remained intact. But then they are unrelated to the rest of existence.

Capitalism has brought about the emancipation of collective humanity with respect to nature. But this collective humanity has itself taken on with respect to the individual the oppressive function formerly exercised by nature.

This is true even with material things: fire, water etc. The community has taken possession of all these natural forces.

Question: can this emancipation, won by society, be transferred to the individual?
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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.

simone weil – beauty

simone weil gravity and graceBeauty is the harmony of chance and the good.

Beauty is necessity which, while remaining in conformity with its own law and with that alone, is obedient to the good.

The subject of science is the beautiful (that is to say order, proportion, harmony) in so far as it is suprasensible and necessary.
The subject of art is sensible and contingent beauty discerned through the network of chance and evil.

The beautiful in nature is a union of the sensible impression and of the sense of necessity. Things must be like that (in the first place), and, precisely, they are like that.

Beauty captivates the flesh in order to obtain permission to pass right to the soul.

Among other unions of contraries found in beauty there is that of the instantaneous and the eternal.

The beautiful is that which we can contemplate. A statue, a picture which we can gaze at for hours.
The beautiful is something on which we can fix our attention. Gregorian music. When the same things are sung for hours each day and every day, whatever falls even slightly short of supreme excellence becomes unendurable and is eliminated.

The Greeks looked at their temples. We can endure the statues in the Luxembourg because we do not look at them. A picture such as one could place in the cell of a criminal sentenced to solitary confinement for life without it being an atrocity, on the contrary.

Only drama without movement is truly beautiful. Shakespeare’s tragedies are second-class with the exception of Lear. Those of Racine, third-class except for Phèdre. Those of Corneille of the nth class.

A work of art has an author and yet, when it is perfect, it has something which is essentially anonymous about it. It imitates the anonymity of divine art. In the same way the beauty of the world proves there to be a God who is personal and impersonal at the same time and is neither the one nor the other separately.

The beautiful is a carnal attraction which keeps us at a distance and implies a renunciation. This includes the renunciation of that which is most deep-seated, the imagination. We want to eat all the other objects of desire. The beautiful is that which we desire without wishing to eat it. We desire that it should be.

We have to remain quite still and unite ourselves with that which we desire yet do not approach. We unite ourselves to God in this way: we cannot approach him.

Distance is the soul of the beautiful.

The attitude of looking and waiting is the attitude which corresponds with the beautiful. As long as one can go on conceiving, wishing, longing, the beautiful does not appear. That is why in all beauty we find contradiction, bitterness and absence which are irreducible.

Poetry: impossible pain and joy. A poignant touch, nostalgia. Such is Provençal and English poetry. A joy which by reason of its unmixed purity hurts, a pain which by reason of its unmixed purity brings peace.

Beauty: a fruit which we look at without trying to seize it.

The same with an affliction which we contemplate without drawing back.

A double movement of descent: to do again, out of love, what gravity does. Is not the double movement of descent the key to all art?*

This movement of descent, the mirror of grace, is the essence of all music. All the rest only serves to enshrine it.
The rising of the notes is a purely sensorial rising. The descent is at the same time a sensorial descent and a spiritual rising. Here we have the paradise which every being longs for: where the slope of nature makes us rise towards the good.

In everything which gives us the pure authentic feeling of beauty there really is the presence of God. There is as it were an incarnation of God in the world and it is indicated by beauty.
The beautiful is the experimental proof that the incarnation is possible.
Hence all art of the highest order is religious in essence. (That is what people have forgotten today.) A Gregorian melody is as powerful a witness as the death of a martyr.

If the beautiful is the real presence of God in matter and if contact with the beautiful is a sacrament in the full sense of the word, how is it that there are so many perverted aesthetes? Nero. Is it like the hunger of those who frequent black masses for the consecrated hosts? Or is it, more probably, because these people do not devote themselves to what is genuinely beautiful, but to a bad imitation? For, just as there, is an art which is divine, so there is one which is demoniacal. It was no doubt the latter that Nero loved. A great deal of our art is of the devil.
A person who is passionately fond of music may quite well be a perverted person—but I should find it hard to believe this of any one who thirsted for Gregorian chanting. [hahaha!]

We must certainly have committed crimes which have made us accursed, since we have lost all the poetry of the universe.

Art has no immediate future because all art is collective and there is no more collective life (there are only dead collections of people), and also because of this breaking of the true pact between the body and the soul. Greek art coincided with the beginning of geometry and with athleticism, the art of the Middle Ages with the craftsmen’s guilds, the art of the Renaissance with the beginning of mechanics, etc. … Since 1914 there has been a complete cut. Even comedy is almost impossible. There is only room for satire (when was it easier to understand Juvenal?).

Art will never be reborn except from amidst a general anarchy— it will be epic no doubt, because affliction will have simplified a great many things… Is it therefore quite useless for you to envy Leonardo or Bach. Greatness in our times must take a different course. Moreover it can only be solitary, obscure and without an echo… (but without an echo, no art).

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* Descendit ad inferos… So, in another order, great art redeems gravity by espousing it out of love. [Editor’s note.]
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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.

simone weil – training

simone weil gravity and graceWe have to accomplish the possible in order to touch the impossible. The correct exercise (according to our duty) of the natural faculties of will, love and knowledge is, in relation to spiritual realities, exactly what the movement of the body is in relation to the perception of tangible objects. A paralyzed man lacks this perception.

The fulfilment of our strictly human duty is of the same order as correctness in the work of drafting, translating, calculating, etc. To be careless about this correctness shows a lack of respect for the object. The same thing applies to neglect of duty.

Those things which have to do with inspiration are the only ones which are the better for delay. Those which have to do with natural duty and the will cannot allow of delay.

Precepts are not given for the sake of being practised, but practice is prescribed in order that precepts may be understood. They are scales. One does not play Bach without having done scales. But neither does one play a scale merely for the sake of the scale.

Training. Every time we catch ourselves involuntarily indulging in a proud thought, we must for a few seconds turn the full gaze of our attention upon the memory of some humiliation in our past life, choosing the most bitter, the most intolerable we can think of.

We must not try to change within ourselves or to efface desires and aversions, pleasures and sorrows. We must submit to them passively, just as we do to the impressions we receive from colours, according no greater credit to them than in the latter case. If my window is red I cannot, though I should reason day and night for a whole year, see my room as anything but pink. I know, moreover, that it is necessary, just and right that I should see it thus. At the same time, as far as information about my room goes, I only accord to the pink colour a credit limited by my knowledge of its relation to the window. I must accept in this way and no other the desires and aversions, pleasures and sorrows of every kind which I find within me.

On the other hand, as we have also a principle of violence in us—that is to say the will—we must also, in a limited measure, but to the full extent of that measure, use this violent principle in a violent way; we must compel ourselves by violence to act as though we had not a certain desire or aversion, without trying to persuade our sensibility—compelling it to obey. This causes it to revolt and we have to endure this revolt passively, taste of it, savour it, accept it as something outside ourselves, as the pink colour of the room with the red window.

Each time that we do violence to ourselves in this spirit we make an advance, slight or great but real, in the work of training the animal within us.

Of course if this violence we do ourselves is really to be of use in our training it must only be a means. When a man trains a dog to perform tricks he does not beat it for the sake of beating it, but in order to train it, and with this in view he only hits it when it fails to carry out a trick. If he beats it without any method he ends by making it unfit for any training, and that is what the wrong sort of asceticism does.

Violence against ourselves is only permissible when it is based on reason (with a view to carrying out what we clearly consider to be our duty)—or when it is enjoined on us through an irresistible impulsion on the part of grace (but then the violence does not come from ourselves).

The source of my difficulties lies in the fact that, through exhaustion and an absence of vital energy, I am below the level of normal activity. And if something takes me and raises me up I am lifted above it. When such moments come it would seem to me a calamity to waste them in ordinary activities. At other times, I should have to do violence to myself with a violence which I cannot succeed in mustering.

I could consent to the anomaly of behaviour resulting from this; but I know, or I believe I know, that I should not do so. It involves crimes of omission towards others. And as for myself, it imprisons me.

What method is there then?

I must practise transforming the sense of effort into a passive sense of suffering. Whatever I may have to bear, when God sends me suffering, I am inescapably forced to suffer all that there is to suffer. Why, when it comes to duty, should I not in like manner do all that there is to be done?

Mountains, rocks, fall upon us and hide us far from the wrath of the Lamb. At the present moment I deserve this wrath.

I must not forget that according to Saint John of the Cross the inspirations which turn us from the accomplishment of easy and humble obligations come from the side of evil.

Duty is given us in order to kill the self—and I allow so precious an instrument to grow rusty.

We must do our duty at the prescribed time in order to believe in the reality of the external world. We must believe in the reality of time. Otherwise we are in a dream.

It is years since I recognized this defect in myself and recognized its importance, and all this time I have done nothing to get rid of it. What excuse can I find?

Has it not been growing in me since I was ten years old? But however great it may be, it is limited. That is enough. If it is great enough to take from me the possibility of wiping it out during this life and so attaining to the state of perfection, that must be accepted just as it is, with an acceptance that is full of love. It is enough that I know that it exists, that it is evil and that it is finite. But to know each of these three things effectively and to know them all three together implies the beginning and the uninterrupted continuation of the process of wiping out. If this process does not begin to show itself, it is a sign that I do not know in truth the very thing that I am writing.

The necessary energy dwells in me, since I live by means of it. I must draw it relentlessly out of myself, even though I should die in so doing.

Uninterrupted interior prayer is the only perfect criterion of good and evil. Everything which does not interrupt it is permitted, everything which interrupts it is forbidden. It is impossible to do harm to others when we act in a state of prayer—on condition that it is true prayer. But before reaching that stage, we must have worn down our own will against the observance of rules.

Hope is the knowledge that the evil we bear within us is finite, that the slightest turning of the will towards good, though it should last but an instant, destroys a little of it, and that, in the spiritual realm, everything good infallibly produces good. Those who do not know this are doomed to the torture of the Danaïds.

Good infallibly produces good, and evil evil, in the purely spiritual realm. On the other hand, in the natural realm, that of psychology included, good and evil reciprocally produce each other. Accordingly we cannot have security until we have reached the spiritual realm—precisely the realm where we can obtain nothing by our own efforts, where we must wait for everything to come to us from outside.

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1 ‘If thou wilt thou canst make me clean’ (Gospel text).

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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.

simone weil – intelligence and grace

simone weil gravity and graceWe know by means of our intelligence that what the intelligence does not comprehend is more real than what it does comprehend.

Faith is the experience that intelligence is enlightened by love.
Only, intelligence has to recognize by the methods proper to it, that is to say by verification and demonstration, the pre-eminence of love. It must not yield unless it knows why, and it must know this quite precisely and clearly. Otherwise its submission is a mistake and that to which it submits itself is something other than supernatural love. For example it may be social influence.

In the intellectual order, the virtue of humility is nothing more nor less than the power of attention.

The wrong humility leads us to believe that we are nothing in so far as we are ourselves—in so far as we are certain particular human beings.
True humility is the knowledge that we are nothing in so far as we are human beings as such, and, more generally, in so far as we are creatures.
The intelligence plays a great part in this. We have to form a conception of the universal.

When we listen to Bach or to a Gregorian melody, all the faculties of the soul become tense and silent in order to apprehend this thing of perfect beauty—each after its own fashion—the intelligence among the rest. It finds nothing in this thing it hears to affirm or deny, but it feeds upon it.
Should not faith be an adherence of this kind?
The mysteries of faith are degraded if they are made into an object of affirmation and negation, when in reality they should be an object of contemplation.

The privileged rôle of the intelligence in real love comes from the fact that it is inherent in the nature of intelligence to become obliterated through the very fact that it is exercised. I can make efforts to discover truths, but when I have them before me they exist and I do not count.

There is nothing nearer to true humility than intelligence. It is impossible to be proud of our intelligence at the moment when we are really exercising it. Moreover, when we do exercise it we are not attached to it, for we know that even if we became an idiot the following instant and remained so for the rest of our life, the truth would continue unchanged.

The mysteries of the Catholic faith are not intended to be believed by all the parts of the soul. The presence of Christ in the host is not a fact of the same kind as the presence of Paul’s soul in Paul’s body (actually both are completely incomprehensible, but not in the same way). The Eucharist should not then be an object of belief for the part of me which apprehends facts. That is where Protestantism is true. But this presence of Christ in the host is not a symbol, for a symbol is the combination of an abstraction and an image, it is something which human intelligence can represent to itself, it is not supernatural. There the Catholics are right, not the Protestants. Only with that part of us which is made for the supernatural should we adhere to these mysteries.

The rôle of the intelligence—that part of us which affirms and denies and formulates opinions—is merely to submit. All that I conceive of as true is less true than those things of which I cannot conceive the truth, but which I love. Saint John of the Cross calls faith a night. With those who have had a Christian education, the lower parts of the soul become attached to these mysteries when they have no right to do so. That is why such people need a purification of which Saint John of the Cross describes the stages. Atheism and incredulity constitute an equivalent of this purification.

The desire to discover something new prevents people from allowing their thoughts to dwell on the transcendent, undemonstrable meaning of what has already been discovered. My total lack of talent which makes such a desire out of the question for me is a great favour I have received. The recognized and accepted lack of intellectual gifts compels the disinterested use of the intelligence.

The object of our search should not be the supernatural, but the world. The supernatural is light itself: if we make an object of it we lower it.

The world is a text with several meanings, and we pass from one meaning to another by a process of work. It must be work in which the body constantly bears a part, as, for example, when we learn the alphabet of a foreign language: this alphabet has to enter into our hand by dint of forming the letters. If this condition is not fulfilled, every change in our way of thinking is illusory.

We have not to choose between opinions. We have to welcome them all but arrange them vertically, placing them on suitable levels.
Thus: chance, destiny, Providence.

Intelligence can never penetrate the mystery, but it, and it alone, can judge of the suitability of the words which express it. For this task it needs to be keener, more discerning, more precise, more exact and more exacting than for any other.

The Greeks believed that only truth was suitable for divine things—not error nor approximations. The divine character of anything made them more exacting with regard to accuracy. (We do precisely the opposite, warped as we are by the habit of propaganda.) It was because they saw geometry as a divine revelation that they invented a rigorous system of demonstration…

In all that has to do with the relations between man and the supernatural we have to seek for a more than mathematical precision; this should be more exact than science.1

We must suppose the rational in the Cartesian sense, that is to say mechanical rule or necessity in its humanly demonstrable form, to be everywhere it is possible to suppose it, in order to bring to light that which lies outside its range.

The use of reason makes things transparent to the mind. We do not, however, see what is transparent. We see that which is opaque through the transparent—the opaque which was hidden when the transparent was not transparent. We see either the dust on the window or the view beyond the window, but never the window itself. Cleaning off the dust only serves to make the view visible. The reason should be employed only to bring us to the true mysteries, the true undemonstrables, which are reality. The uncomprehended hides the incomprehensible and should on this account be eliminated.

Science, today, will either have to seek a source of inspiration higher than itself or perish.
Science only offers three kinds of interest: (1) Technical applications, (2) A game of chess, (3) A road to God. (Attractions are added to the game of chess in the shape of competitions, prizes and medals.)

Pythagoras. Only the mystical conception of geometry could supply the degree of attention necessary for the beginning of such a science. Is it not recognized, moreover, that astronomy issues from astrology and chemistry from alchemy? But we interpret this filiation as an advance, whereas there is a degradation of the attention in it. Transcendental astrology and alchemy are the contemplation of eternal truths in the symbols offered by the stars and the combinations of substances. Astronomy and chemistry are degradations of them. When astrology and alchemy become forms of magic they are still lower degradations of them. Attention only reaches its true dimensions when it is religious.

Galileo. Having as its principle unlimited straight movement and no longer circular movement, modern science could no longer be a bridge towards God.

The philosophical cleansing of the Catholic religion has never been done. In order to do it it would be necessary to be inside and outside.
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1 Here again is one of those contradictions which can only be resolved in the realm of the inexpressible: the mystic life, which only arises from the divine arbitrariness, is nevertheless subject to the most severe rules. Saint John of the Cross was able to give a geometric plan of the journey of the soul towards God. [Editor’s note.]

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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.

simone weil – attention and will

simone weil gravity and graceWe do not have to understand new things, but by dint of patience, effort and method to come to understand with our whole self the truths which are evident.

Stages of belief. The most commonplace truth when it floods the whole soul, is like a revelation.

We have to try to cure our faults by attention and not by will.

The will only controls a few movements of a few muscles, and these movements are associated with the idea of the change of position of nearby objects. I can will to put my hand flat on the table. If inner purity, inspiration or truth of thought were necessarily associated with attitudes of this kind, they might be the object of will. As this is not the case, we can only beg for them. To beg for them is to believe that we have a Father in heaven. Or should we cease to desire them? What could be worse? Inner supplication is the only reasonable way, for it avoids stiffening muscles which have nothing to do with the matter. What could be more stupid than to tighten up our muscles and set our jaws about virtue, or poetry, or the solution of a problem? Attention is something quite different.

Pride is a tightening up of this kind. There is a lack of grace (we can give the word its double meaning here) in the proud man. It is the result of a mistake.

Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love.

Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.

If we turn our mind towards the good, it is impossible that little by little the whole soul will not be attracted thereto in spite of itself.

Extreme attention is what constitutes the creative faculty in man and the only extreme attention is religious. The amount of creative genius in any period is strictly in proportion to the amount of extreme attention and thus of authentic religion at that period.

The wrong way of seeking. The attention fixed on a problem. Another phenomenon due to horror of the void. We do not want to have lost our labour. The heat of the chase. We must not want to find: as in the case of an excessive devotion, we become dependent on the object of our efforts. We need an outward reward which chance sometimes provides and which we are ready to accept at the price of a deformation of the truth.

It is only effort without desire (not attached to an object) which infallibly contains a reward.

To draw back before the object we are pursuing. Only an indirect method is effective. We do nothing if we have not first drawn back.

By pulling at the bunch, we make all the grapes fall to the ground.

There are some kinds of effort which defeat their own object (example: the soured disposition of certain pious females, false asceticism, certain sorts of self-devotion, etc.). Others are always useful, even if they do not meet with success.

How are we to distinguish between them? Perhaps in this way: some efforts are always accompanied by the (false) negation of our inner wretchedness; with others the attention is continually concentrated on the distance there is between what we are and what we love.

Love is the teacher of gods and men, for no one learns without desiring to learn. Truth is sought not because it is truth but because it is good.

Attention is bound up with desire. Not with the will but with desire—or more exactly, consent.

We liberate energy in ourselves, but it constantly reattaches itself. How are we to liberate it entirely? We have to desire that it should be done in us—to desire it truly—simply to desire it, not to try to accomplish it. For every attempt in that direction is vain and has to be dearly paid for. In such a work all that I call ‘I’ has to be passive. Attention alone—that attention which is so full that the ‘I’ disappears—is required of me. I have to deprive all that I call ‘I’ of the light of my attention and turn it on to that which cannot be conceived.

The capacity to drive a thought away once and for all is the gateway to eternity. The infinite in an instant.

As regards temptations, we must follow the example of the truly chaste woman who, when the seducer speaks to her, makes no answer and pretends not to hear him.

We should be indifferent to good and evil but, when we are indifferent, that is to say when we project the light of our attention equally on both, the good gains the day. This phenomenon comes about automatically. There lies the essential grace. And it is the definition, the criterion of good.

A divine inspiration operates infallibly, irresistibly, if we do not turn away our attention, if we do not refuse it. There is not a choice to be made in its favour, it is enough not to refuse to recognize that it exists.

The attention turned with love towards God (or in a lesser degree, towards anything which is truly beautiful) makes certain things impossible for us. Such is the non-acting action of prayer in the soul. There are ways of behaviour which would veil such attention should they be indulged in and which, reciprocally, this attention puts out of the question.

As soon as we have a point of eternity in the soul, we have nothing more to do but to take care of it, for it will grow of itself like a seed. It is necessary to surround it with an armed guard, waiting in stillness, and to nourish it with the contemplation of numbers, of fixed and exact relationships.
We nourish the changeless which is in the soul by the contemplation of that which is unchanging in the body.

Writing is like giving birth: we cannot help making the supreme effort. But we also act in like fashion. I need have no fear of not making the supreme effort—provided only that I am honest with myself and that I pay attention.

The poet produces the beautiful by fixing his attention on something real. It is the same with the act of love. To know that this man who is hungry and thirsty really exists as much as I do— that is enough, the rest follows of itself.

The authentic and pure values—truth, beauty and goodness— in the activity of a human being are the result of one and the same act, a certain application of the full attention to the object.

Teaching should have no aim but to prepare, by training the attention, for the possibility of such an act. All the other advantages of instruction are without interest.

Studies and faith. Prayer being only attention in its pure form and studies being a form of gymnastics of the attention, each school exercise should be a refraction of spiritual life. There must be method in it. A certain way of doing a Latin prose, a certain way of tackling a problem in geometry (and not just any way) make up a system of gymnastics of the attention calculated to give it a greater aptitude for prayer.

Method for understanding images, symbols, etc. Not to try to interpret them, but to look at them till the light suddenly dawns.

Generally speaking, a method for the exercise of the intelligence, which consists of looking.

Application of this rule for the discrimination between the real and the illusory. In our sense perceptions, if we are not sure of what we see we change our position while looking, and what is real becomes evident. In the inner life, time takes the place of space. With time we are altered, and, if as we change we keep our gaze directed towards the same thing, in the end illusions are scattered and the real becomes visible. This is on condition that the attention be a looking and not an attachment.

When a struggle goes on between the will attached to some obligation and a bad desire, there is a wearing away of the energy attached to good. We have to endure the biting of the desire passively, as we do a suffering which brings home to us our wretchedness, and we have to keep our attention turned towards the good. Then the quality of our energy is raised to a higher degree. We must steal away the energy from our desires by taking away from them their temporal orientation.

Our desires are infinite in their pretensions but limited by the energy from which they proceed. That is why with the help of grace we can become their master and finally destroy them by attrition. As soon as this has been clearly understood, we have virtually conquered them, if we keep our attention in contact with this truth.

Video meliora … In such states, it seems as though we were thinking of the good, and in a sense we are doing so, but we are not thinking of its possibility.

It is incontestable that the void which we grasp with the pincers of contradiction is from on high, for we grasp it the better the more we sharpen our natural faculties of intelligence, will and love. The void which is from below is that into which we fall when we allow our natural faculties to become atrophied.

Experience of the transcendent: this seems contradictory, and yet the transcendent can be known only through contact since our faculties are unable to invent it.

Solitude. Where does its value lie? For in solitude we are in the presence of mere matter (even the sky, the stars, the moon, trees in blossom), things of less value (perhaps) than a human spirit. Its value lies in the greater possibility of attention. If we could be attentive to the same degree in the presence of a human being…

We can only know one thing about God—that he is what we are not. Our wretchedness alone is an image of this. The more we contemplate it, the more we contemplate him.

Sin is nothing else but the failure to recognize human wretchedness. It is unconscious wretchedness and for that very reason guilty wretchedness. The story of Christ is the experimental proof that human wretchedness is irreducible, that it is as great in the absolutely sinless man as in the sinner. But in him who is without sin it is enlightened…

The recognition of human wretchedness is difficult for whoever is rich and powerful because he is almost invincibly led to believe that he is something. It is equally difficult for the man in miserable circumstances because he is almost invincibly led to believe that the rich and powerful man is something.

It is not the fault which constitutes mortal sin, but the degree of light in the soul when the fault, whatever it may be, is accomplished.

Purity is the power to contemplate defilement.

Extreme purity can contemplate both the pure and the impure; impurity can do neither: the pure frightens it, the impure absorbs it. It has to have a mixture.

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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.

simone weil – he whom we must love is absent

simone weil gravity and graceGod can only be present in creation under the form of absence.

Evil is the innocence of God. We have to place God at an infinite distance in order to conceive of him as innocent of evil; reciprocally, evil implies that we have to place God at an infinite distance.

This world, in so far as it is completely empty of God, is God himself.
Necessity, in so far as it is absolutely other than the good, is the good itself. That is why all consolation in affliction separates us from love and from truth. That is the mystery of mysteries. When we touch it we are safe.

‘In the desert of the East…’ We have to be in a desert. For he whom we must love is absent.

He who puts his life into his faith in God can lose his faith. But he who puts his life in God himself will never lose it. To put our life into that which we cannot touch in any way… It is impossible. It is a death. That is what is required.

Nothing which exists is absolutely worthy of love. We must therefore love that which does not exist.
This non-existent object of love is not a fiction, however, for our fictions cannot be any more worthy of love than we are ourselves, and we are not worthy of it.

Consent to the good—not to any good which can be grasped or represented, but unconditional consent to the absolute good.

When we consent to something which we represent to ourselves as the good, we consent to a mixture of good and evil, and this consent produces good and evil: the proportion of good and evil in us does not change. On the other hand the unconditional consent to that good which we are not able and never will be able to represent to ourselves—such consent is pure good and produces only good, moreover, it is enough that it should continue for the whole soul to be nothing but good in the end.

Faith (when it is a question of a supernatural interpretation of the natural) is a conjecture by analogy based on supernatural experience. Thus those who have the privilege of mystical contemplation, having experienced the mercy of God, suppose that, God being mercy, the created world is a work of mercy. But as for obtaining evidence of this mercy directly from nature, it would be necessary to become blind, deaf and without pity in order to believe such a thing possible. Thus the Jews and Moslems, who want to find in nature the proofs of divine mercy, are pitiless. And often the Christians are as well.

That is why mysticism is the only source of virtue for humanity. Because when men do not believe that there is infinite mercy behind the curtain of the world, or when they think that this mercy is in front of the curtain, they become cruel.

There are four evidences of divine mercy here below: the favours of God to beings capable of contemplation (these states exist and form part of their experience as creatures); the radiance of these beings and their compassion, which is the divine compassion in them; the beauty of the world. The fourth evidence is the complete absence of mercy here below.1

Incarnation. God is weak because he is impartial. He sends sunshine and rain to good and evil alike. This indifference of the Father and the weakness of Christ correspond. Absence of God. The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed… God changes nothing whatsoever. Christ was killed out of anger because he was only God.

If I thought that God sent me suffering by an act of his will and for my good, I should think that I was something, and I should miss the chief use of suffering which is to teach me that I am nothing. It is therefore essential to avoid all such thoughts, but it is necessary to love God through the suffering.

I must love being nothing. How horrible it would be if I were something! I must love my nothingness, love being a nothingness. I must love with that part of the soul which is on the other side of the curtain, for the part of the soul which is perceptible to consciousness cannot love nothingness. It has a horror of it. Though it may think it loves nothingness, what it really loves is something other than nothingness.

God sends affliction without distinction to the wicked and to the good, just as he sends the rain and the sunlight. He did not reserve the cross for Christ. He enters into contact with a human individual as such only through purely spiritual grace which responds to the gaze turned towards him, that is to say to the exact extent to which the individual ceases to be an individual. No event is a favour on the part of God—only grace is that.

Communion is good for the good and bad for the wicked. Hence, damned souls are in paradise, but for them paradise is hell.

The cry of suffering: ‘Why?’ This rings throughout the Iliad.
To explain suffering is to console it; therefore it must not be explained.
Herein lies the pre-eminent value of the suffering of those who are innocent. It bears a resemblance to the acceptance of the evil in creation by God who is innocent.

The irreducible character of suffering which makes it impossible for us not to have a horror of it at the moment when we are undergoing it is destined to bring the will to a standstill, just as absurdity brings the intelligence to a standstill, and absence love, so that man, having come to the end of his human faculties, may stretch out his arms, stop, look up and wait.

‘He will laugh at the trials of the innocent.’ Silence of God. The noises here below imitate this silence. They mean nothing.

It is when from the innermost depths of our being we need a sound which does mean something—when we cry out for an answer and it is not given us—it is then that we touch the silence of God.

As a rule our imagination puts words into the sounds in the same way as we idly play at making out shapes in wreaths of smoke; but when we are too exhausted, when we no longer have the courage to play, then we must have real words. We cry out for them. The cry tears our very entrails. All we get is silence.

After having gone through that, some begin to talk to themselves like madmen. Whatever they may do afterwards, we must have nothing but pity for them. The others, and they are not numerous, give their whole heart to silence.

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1 It is precisely by this antithesis, this rending of our souls between the effects of grace within us and the beauty of the world around us, on the one hand, and the implacable necessity which rules the universe on the other, that we discern God as both present to man and as absolutely beyond all human measurement.

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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.