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 – metaxu

simone weil gravity and graceAll created things refuse to be for me as ends. Such is God’s extreme mercy towards me. And that very thing is what constitutes evil. Evil is the form which God’s mercy takes in this world.

This world is the closed door. It is a barrier. And at the same time it is the way through.

Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall. The wall is the thing which separates them but it is also their means of communication. It is the same with us and God. Every separation is a link.

By putting all our desire for good into a thing we make that thing a condition of our existence. But we do not on that account make of it a good. Merely to exist is not enough for us.

The essence of created things is to be intermediaries. They are intermediaries leading from one to the other and there is no end to this. They are intermediaries leading to God. We have to experience them as such.

The bridges of the Greeks. We have inherited them but we do not know how to use them. We thought they were intended to have houses built upon them. We have erected skyscrapers on them to which we ceaselessly add storeys. We no longer know that they are bridges, things made so that we may pass along them, and that by passing along them we go towards God.

Only he who loves God with a supernatural love can look upon means simply as means.

Power (and money, power’s master key) is means at its purest. For that very reason, it is the supreme end for all those who have not understood.

This world, the realm of necessity, offers us absolutely nothing except means. Our will is for ever sent from one means to another like a billiard ball.

All our desires are contradictory, like the desire for food. I want the person I love to love me. If, however, he is totally devoted to me, he does not exist any longer, and I cease to love him. And as long as he is not totally devoted to me he does not love me enough. Hunger and repletion.

Desire is evil and illusory, yet without desire we should not seek for that which is truly absolute, truly boundless. We have to have experienced it. Misery of those beings from whom fatigue takes away that supplementary energy which is the source of desire.
Misery also of those who are blinded by desire. We have to fix our desire to the axis of the poles.

What is it a sacrilege to destroy? Not that which is base, for that is of no importance. Not that which is high, for, even should we want to, we cannot touch that. The metaxu. The metaxu form the region of good and evil.

No human being should be deprived of his metaxu, that is to say of those relative and mixed blessings (home, country, traditions, culture, etc.) which warm and nourish the soul and without which, short of sainthood, a human life is not possible.

The true earthly blessings are metaxu. We can respect those of others only in so far as we regard those we ourselves possess as metaxu. This implies that we are already making our way towards the point where it is possible to do without them. For example, if we are to respect foreign countries, we must make of our own country, not an idol, but a stepping-stone towards God.

All the faculties being freely exercised without becoming mixed, starting from a single, unique principle. It is the microcosm, the imitation of the world. Christ according to Saint Thomas. The just man of the Republic. When Plato speaks of specialization he speaks of the specialization of man’s faculties and not of the specialization of men; the same applies to hierarchy. The temporal having no meaning except by and for the spiritual, but not being mixed with the spiritual—leading to it by nostalgia, by reaching beyond itself. It is the temporal seen as a bridge, a metaxu. It is the Greek and Provençal vocation.

Civilization of the Greeks. No adoration of force. The temporal was only a bridge. Among the states of the soul they did not seek intensity but purity.

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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 – meaning of the universe*

simone weil gravity and graceWe are a part which has to imitate the whole.

The a¯tman. Let the soul of a man take the whole universe for its body. Let its relation to the whole universe be like that of a collector to his collection, or of one of the soldiers who died crying out ‘Long live the Emperor!’ to Napoleon. The soul transports itself outside the actual body into something else. Let it therefore transport itself into the whole universe.

We should identify ourselves with the universe itself. Everything that is less than the universe is subject to suffering.

Even though I die, the universe continues. That does not console me if I am anything other than the universe. If, however, the universe is, as it were, another body to my soul, my death ceases to have any more importance for me than that of a stranger. The same is true of my sufferings.

Let the whole universe be for me, in relation to my body, what the stick of a blind man is in relation to his hand. His sensibility is really no longer in his hand but at the end of the stick. An apprenticeship is necessary.

To limit one’s love to the pure object is the same thing as to extend it to the whole universe.

To change the relationship between ourselves and the world in the same way as, through apprenticeship, the workman changes the relationship between himself and the tool. Getting hurt: this is the trade entering into the body. May all suffering make the universe enter into the body.

Habit, skill: a transference of the consciousness into an object other than the body itself.
May this object be the universe, the seasons, the sun, the stars. The relationship between the body and the tool changes during apprenticeship. We have to change the relationship between our body and the world.

We do not become detached, we change our attachment. We must attach ourselves to the all.

We have to feel the universe through each sensation. What does it matter then whether it be pleasure or pain? If our hand is shaken by a beloved friend when we meet again after a long separation, what does it matter that he squeezes it hard and hurts us?

There is a degree of pain on reaching which we lose the world. But afterwards peace comes. And if the paroxysm returns, so does the peace which follows it. If we realize this, that very degree of pain turns into an expectation of peace, and as a result does not break our contact with the world.

Two tendencies with opposite extremes: to destroy the self for the sake of the universe, or to destroy the universe for the sake of the self. He who has not been able to become nothing runs the risk of reaching a moment when everything other than himself ceases to exist.

External necessity or an inner need as imperative as that of breathing. ‘Let us become the central breath.’ Even if a pain in our chest makes respiration extremely painful, we still breathe, we cannot help it.

We have to associate the rhythm of the life of the body with that of the world, to feel this association constantly and to feel also the perpetual exchange of matter by which the human being bathes in the world.

Things which nothing can take from a human being as long as he lives: in the way of movement over which his will has a hold, respiration; in the way of perception, space (even in a dungeon, even with our eyes blinded and our ear-drums pierced, as long as we live we are aware of space).
We have to attach to these things the thoughts which we desire that no circumstances should be able to deprive us of.

To love our neighbour as ourselves does not mean that we should love all people equally, for I do not have an equal love for all the modes of existence of myself. Nor does it mean that we should never make them suffer, for I do not refuse to make myself suffer. But we should have with each person the relationship of one conception of the universe to another conception of the universe, and not to a part of the universe.

Not to accept an event in the world is to wish that the world did not exist. That is within my power—for myself. If I wish it I obtain it. I am then an excrescence produced by the world.

Wishes in folklore: what makes wishes dangerous is the fact that they are granted. To wish that the world did not exist is to wish that I, just as I am, may be everything.

Would that the entire universe, from this pebble at my feet to the most distant stars, existed for me at every moment as much as Agnès did for Arnolphe or his money-box did for Harpagon. If I choose, the world can belong to me like the treasure does to the miser. But it is a treasure that does not increase.

This irreducible ‘I’ which is the irreducible basis of my suffering—I have to make this ‘I’ universal.

What does it matter that there should never be joy in me since there is perfect joy perpetually in God! And the same is true with regard to beauty, intelligence and all things.

To desire one’s salvation is wrong, not because it is selfish (it is not in man’s power to be selfish), but because it is an orientation of the soul towards a merely particular and contingent possibility instead of towards a completeness of being, instead of towards the good which exists unconditionally.

All that I wish for exists, or has existed, or will exist somewhere. For I am incapable of complete invention. In that case how should I not be satisfied?

Br . . . I could not prevent myself from imagining him living, imagining his house as a possible place for me to listen to his delightful conversation. Thus the consciousness of the fact of his death made a frightful desert. Cold with metallic coldness. What did it matter to me that there were other people to love? The love that I directed towards him, together with the outlines shaping in my mind of exchanges of ideas which could take place with no one else, were without an object. Now I no longer imagine him as alive and his death has ceased to be intolerable for me. The memory of him is sweet to me. But there are others whom I did not know then and whose death would affect me in the same way.

D . . . is not dead, but the friendship that I bore him is dead, and a like sorrow goes with it. He is no more than a shadow.

But I cannot imagine the same transformation for X . . ., Y . . ., Z . . ., who, nevertheless, so short a time ago did not exist in my consciousness.

Just as parents find it impossible to realize that three years ago their child was non-existent, I find it impossible to realize that I have not always known the beings I love.

I think I must love wrongly: otherwise things would not seem like this to me. My love would not be attached to a few beings. It would be extended to everything which is worthy of love.

‘Be ye perfect even as your Father who is in heaven. . . .’ Love in the same way as the sun gives light. Love has to be brought back to ourselves in order that it may be shed on all things. God alone loves all things and he only loves himself.

To love in God is far more difficult than we think.

I can taint the whole universe with my wretchedness without feeling it or collecting it together within myself.

We have to endure the discordance between imagination and fact. It is better to say ‘I am suffering’ than ‘this landscape is ugly’.

We must not want to change our own weight in the balance of the world—the golden balance of Zeus.

The whole cow gives milk although the milk is only drawn from the udder. In the same way the world is the producer of saintliness.
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* The identification of the soul with the universe has no connexion here with pantheism. One can only fully accept the blind necessity which rules the universe by holding closely through love to the God who transcends the universe. Cf. above: ‘This world, in so far as it is quite empty of God, is God himself.’ [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.

rilke on god

fb_img_1461648488387.jpg“Yet, no matter how deeply I go down into myself, my God is dark, and like a webbing made of a hundred roots that drink in silence. I know that my trunk rose from his warmth, but that’s all, because my branches hardly move at all near the ground, and just wave a little in the wind.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke

paul celan – the no-one’s-rose (1963)

nothing rose (2)

PSALM

No one kneads us again out of earth and clay,
no one incants our dust.
No one.

Blessed art thou, No One.
In thy sight would
we bloom.
In thy
spite.

A Nothing
we were, are now, and ever
shall be, blooming:
the Nothing-, the
No-One’s-Rose.

With
our pistil soul-bright,
our stamen heaven-waste,
our corona red
from the purpleword we sang
over, O over
the thorn.

Paul Celan, “Psalm” from Selected Poems and Prose, translated by John Felstiner. Copyright © 2001 by John Felstiner.

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.