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