simone weil – illusions

simone weil gravity and graceWe are drawn towards a thing because we believe it is good. We end by being chained to it because it has become necessary.

Things of the senses are real if they are considered as perceptible things, but unreal if considered as goods.

Appearance has the completeness of reality, but only as appearance. As anything other than appearance it is error.

Illusions about the things of this world do not concern their existence but their value. The image of the cave refers to values. We only possess shadowy imitations of good. It is also in relation to good that we are chained down like captives (attachment). We accept the false values which appear to us and when we think we are acting we are in reality motionless, for we are still confined in the same system of values.

Actions effectively carried out and yet imaginary. A man attempts suicide, recovers and is no more detached afterwards than he was before. His suicide was imaginary. Suicide is probably never anything else, and that is why it is forbidden.

Strictly speaking time does not exist (except within the limit of the present), yet we have to submit to it. Such is our condition. We are subject to that which does not exist. Whether it is a question of passively borne duration—physical pain, waiting, regret, remorse, fear—or of organized time—order, method, necessity—in both cases that to which we are subject does not exist. But our submission exists. We are really bound by unreal chains. Time which is unreal casts over all things including ourselves a veil of unreality.

The miser’s treasure is the shadow of an imitation of what is good. It is doubly unreal. For, to start with, a means to an end (such as money) is, in itself, something other than a good. But diverted from its function as a means and set up as an end, it is still further from being a good.

It is with regard to the assessment of values that our sense- perceptions are unreal, since things are unreal for us as values. But to attribute a false value to an object also takes reality from the perception of this object, because it submerges perception in imagination.

Thus perfect detachment alone enables us to see things in their naked reality, outside the fog of deceptive values. That is why ulcers and the dung-heap were necessary before Job could receive the revelation of the world’s beauty. For there is no detachment where there is no pain. And there is no pain endured without hatred or lying unless detachment is present also.

The soul which has poked its head out of heaven devours the being. The soul which has remained inside devours opinion.

Necessity is essentially a stranger to the imaginary.

What is real in perception and distinguishes it from dreams is not the sensations, but the necessity enshrined in these sensations.

‘Why these things and not others?’ ‘Because that is how it is.’ In the spiritual life illusion and truth are distinguished in the same way.

What is real in perception and distinguishes it from dreams is not sensations but necessity.
There is a distinction between those who remain inside the cave, shutting their eyes and imagining the journey, and those who really take it. In the spiritual realm also we have real and imaginary, and there also it is necessity which makes the difference—not simply suffering, because there are imaginary sufferings. As for inner feelings, nothing is more deceptive.

How can we distinguish the imaginary from the real in the spiritual realm?
We must prefer real hell to an imaginary paradise.

That which distinguishes higher states from lower ones is the coexistence in the higher states of several superposed planes.

Humility has as its object to eliminate that which is imaginary in spiritual progress. There is no harm in thinking ourselves far less advanced than we are: the effect of the light is in no way decreased thereby for its source is not in opinion. There is great harm in thinking ourselves more advanced, because then opinion has an effect.

A test of what is real is that it is hard and rough. Joys are found in it, not pleasure. What is pleasant belongs to dreams.

We must try to love without imagining—to love the appearance in its nakedness without interpretation. What we love then is truly God.

After having experienced the absolute good, we find the illusory and partial aspects of goods once more, but in a hierarchical order, so that we only allow ourselves to seek one such aspect within a limit where it does not interfere with the care due to another. This order is transcendent in relation to the aspects of goods which it connects together and it is a reflection of the absolute good.

Already discursive reason (the understanding of relationships) helps to break down idolatries by considering good and evil things as limited, merging, overlapping.

We must recognize the point at which good passes into evil: in so far as, to the extent that, having regard to, etc.

We must get further than the rule of three.

There is always a relationship to time to be taken into account. We must get rid of the illusion of possessing time. We must become incarnate.

Man has to perform an act of incarnation, for he is disembodied (désincarné) by his imagination. What comes to us from Satan is our imagination.

Cure for imaginary love. To give God the strict minimum in us, what it is absolutely impossible for us to refuse him—and desire that one day, and as soon as possible, this strict minimum may become all.

Transposition: we believe we are rising because while keeping the same base inclinations (for instance; the desire to triumph over others) we have given them a noble object.

We should, on the contrary, rise by attaching noble inclinations to lowly objects.

All the passions produce prodigies. A gambler is capable of watching and fasting almost like a saint, he has his premonitions, etc.

There is great danger in loving God as the gambler loves his game.

We must be careful about the level on which we place the infinite. If we place it on the level which is only suitable for the finite it will matter very little what name we give it.

The lower parts of my nature should love God, but not too much, for then it would not be God.
May their love be like hunger and thirst. Only the highest has the right to be satisfied.

Fear of God in Saint John of the Cross. Is this not the fear of thinking about God when we are unworthy; of sullying him by thinking about him wrongly? Through such fear the lower parts of our nature draw away from God.

The flesh is dangerous in so far as it refuses to love God, but also in so far as without fitting modesty it pushes itself forward to love him.

Why is the determination to fight against a prejudice a sure sign that one is full of it? Such a determination necessarily arises from an obsession. It constitutes an utterly sterile effort to get rid of it. In such a case the light of attention is the only thing which is effective, and it is not compatible with a polemical intention.

All the Freudian system is impregnated with the prejudice which it makes it its mission to fight—the prejudice that everything sexual is vile.

There is an essential difference between the mysticism which turns towards God the faculty of love and desire of which sexual energy constitutes the physiological foundation, and the false imitation of mysticism which, without changing the natural orientation of this faculty, gives it an imaginary object upon which it stamps the name of God as a label. To discriminate between these two operations, of which the second is still lower than debauchery, is difficult, but it is possible.

God and the supernatural are hidden and formless in the universe. It is well that they should be hidden and nameless in the soul. Otherwise there would be a risk of having something imaginary under the name of God (those who fed and clothed Christ did not know that it was Christ). This is the meaning of the ancient mysteries. Christianity (Catholic and Protestant) speaks too much about holy things.

Morality and literature. Imagination and fiction go to make up more than three-quarters of our real life. Rare indeed are the true contacts with good and evil.

A science which does not bring us nearer to God is worthless.
But if it brings us to him in the wrong way, that is to say if it brings us to an imaginary God, it is worse…

It is bad to think that I am the author of the operations which nature mechanically performs in me: it is still worse to think that the Holy Spirit is the author of them. That is still farther from the truth.

Different types of correlation and passage from one opposite to another:
Through total devotion to something great (including God), giving free licence to our lower nature.
Through contemplation of the infinite distance between the self and what is great, making of the self an instrument of greatness.

By what criterion can they be distinguished?
I think the only criterion is that bad correlation removes the limits from that which is rightly limited.

If we except the highest forms of sanctity and genius, that which gives the impression of being true in man is almost bound to be false, and that which is true is almost bound to give the impression of being false.

Work is needed to express what is true: also to receive what is true. We can express and receive what is false, or at least what is superficial, without any work.

When truth appears at least as true as falsehood it is a triumph of sanctity or of genius. Thus Saint Francis made his audience cry just like a cheap theatrical preacher would have done.

Duration, whether of centuries in the case of civilizations or of years and decades for individuals, has the Darwinian function of eliminating the unfit. That which is fitted for all things is eternal. In this alone lies the value of what we call experience. But falsehood is an armour by means of which man often enables what is unfit in him to survive events which, were it not for such armour, would destroy it (thus pride manages to survive humiliations), and this armour is as it were secreted by what is unfit in order to ward off the danger (in humiliation, pride makes thicker the inner falsehood which covers it). There is as it were a phagocytosis in the soul: everything which is threatened by time secretes falsehood in order not to die, and in proportion to the danger it is in of dying. That is why there is not any love of truth without an unconditional acceptance of death. The cross of Christ is the only gateway to knowledge.

I should look upon every sin I have committed as a favour of God. It is a favour that the essential imperfection which is hidden in my depths should have been to some extent made clear to me on a certain day, at a certain time, in certain circumstances. I wish and implore that my imperfection may be wholly revealed to me in so far as human thought is capable of grasping it. Not in order that it may be cured but, even if it should not be cured, in order that I may know the truth.

Everything that is worthless shuns the light. Here on earth we can hide ourselves beneath the flesh. At death we can do this no longer. We are given up naked to the light. That means hell, purgatory or paradise as the case may be.

That which makes us hold back from the effort which would bring us nearer to what is good is the repugnance of the flesh, but it is not the flesh’s repugnance in the face of effort. It is the flesh’s repugnance in the face of what is good, because for a bad cause, if there were a strong enough incentive, the flesh would consent to anything, knowing it could do so without dying. Death itself, endured for a bad cause, is not really death for the carnal part of the soul. What is mortal for the carnal part of the soul is to see God face to face.

That is why we fly from the inner void since God might steal into it.

It is not the pursuit of pleasure and the aversion for effort which causes sin, but fear of God. We know that we cannot see him face to face without dying and we do not want to die. We know that sin preserves us very effectively from seeing him face to face: pleasure and pain merely provide us with the slight indispensable impetus towards sin, and above all the pretext or alibi which is still more indispensable. In the same way as pretexts are necessary for unjust wars, a promise of some false good is necessary for sin, because we cannot endure the thought that we are going in the direction of evil. It is not the flesh which keeps us away from God; the flesh is the veil we place before us to shield us from him.

This is perhaps not the case until after a certain point has been reached. The image of the cave seems to suggest as much. At first it is movement which hurts. When we reach the opening it is the light. It not only blinds but wounds us. Our eyes turn away from it.

May it not be true that from that moment onwards mortal sins are the only kind we can any longer commit?

To use the flesh to hide ourselves from the light—is not that a mortal sin? A horrible idea.
Leprosy is preferable.

I need God to take me by force, because, if death, doing away with the shield of the flesh, were to put me face to face with him, I should run away.
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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.