simone weil – the self

simone weil gravity and graceWe possess nothing in the world—a mere chance can strip us of everything—except the power to say ‘I’. That is what we have to give to God—in other words, to destroy. There is absolutely no other free act which it is given us to accomplish—only the destruction of the ‘I’.

Offering: We cannot offer anything but the ‘I’, and all we call an offering is merely a label attached to a compensatory assertion of the ‘I’.

Nothing in the world can rob us of the power to say ‘I’. Nothing except extreme affliction. Nothing is worse than extreme affliction which destroys the ‘I’ from outside, because after that we can no longer destroy it ourselves. What happens to those whose ‘I’ has been destroyed from outside by affliction? It is not pos- sible to imagine anything for them but annihilation according to the atheistic or materialistic conception.

Though they may have lost their ‘I’, it does not mean that they have no more egoism. Quite the reverse. To be sure, this may occasionally happen when a dog-like devotion is brought about, but at other times the being is reduced to naked, vegetative egoism. An egoism without an ‘I’.

So long as we ourselves have begun the process of destroying the ‘I’, we can prevent any affliction from causing harm. For the ‘I’ is not destroyed by external pressure without a violent revolt. If for the love of God we refuse to give ourselves over to this revolt, the destruction does not take place from outside but from within.

Redemptive suffering. If a human being who is in a state of perfection and has through grace completely destroyed the ‘I’ in himself, falls into that degree of affliction which corresponds for him to the destruction of the ‘I’ from outside—we have there the cross in its fullness. Affliction can no longer destroy the ‘I’ in him for the ‘I’ in him no longer exists, having completely disap- peared and left the place to God. But affliction produces an effect which is equivalent, on the plane of perfection, to the exterior destruction of the ‘I’. It produces the absence of God. ‘My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’

What is this absence of God produced by extreme affliction within the perfect soul? What is the value which is attached to it and which is known as redemptive suffering?

Redemptive suffering is that by which evil really has fullness of being to the utmost extent of its capacity.

By redemptive suffering, God is present in extreme evil. For the absence of God is the mode of divine presence which corresponds to evil—absence which is felt. He who has not God within himself cannot feel his absence.

It is the purity, the perfection, the plenitude, the abyss of evil. Whereas hell is a false abyss (cf. Thibon). Hell is superficial. Hell is a nothingness which has the pretension and gives the illusion of being.

Purely external destruction of the ‘I’ is quasi-infernal suffering. External destruction with which the soul associates itself through love is expiatory suffering. The bringing about of the absence of God in a soul completely emptied of self through love is redemptive suffering.

In affliction the vital instinct survives all the attachments which have been torn away, and blindly fastens itself to everything which can provide it with support, like a plant fastens its tendrils. Gratitude (except in a base form) and justice are not conceivable in this state. Slavery. There is no longer the extra amount of energy required to support free-will by which man takes the measure of things. Affliction, from this point of view, is hideous as life in its nakedness always is, like an amputated stump, like the swarming of insects. Life without form. Survival is then the only attachment. That is where extreme affliction begins—when all other attachments are replaced by that of survival. Attachment appears then in its nakedness without any other object but itself—Hell.

It is by this mechanism that to those in affliction life appears as the one thing desirable, at the very time when their life is in no way preferable to death.

In this state, to accept death is total detachment.

Quasi-hell on earth. Complete uprooting in affliction

Human injustice as a general rule produces not martyrs but quasi-damned souls. Beings who have fallen into this quasi-hell are like someone stripped and wounded by robbers. They have lost the clothing of character.

The greatest suffering which allows any of a man’s roots to remain is at an infinite distance from this quasi-hell.

When we do a service to beings thus uprooted and we receive in exchange discourtesy, ingratitude, betrayal, we are merely enduring a small share of their affliction. It is our duty to expose ourselves to it in a limited measure just as it is our duty to expose ourselves to affliction. When it comes we should endure it as we endure affliction, without referring it back to particular people, for it cannot be referred back to anything. There is something impersonal in quasi-infernal affliction as there is in perfection.

For those whose ‘I’ is dead we can do nothing, absolutely nothing. We never know, however, whether in a particular person the ‘I’ is quite dead or only inanimate. If it is not quite dead, love can reanimate it as though by an injection, but it must be love which is utterly pure without the slightest trace of condescension, for the least shade of contempt drives towards death.

When the ‘I’ is wounded from outside it starts by revolting in the most extreme and bitter manner like an animal at bay. But as soon as the ‘I’ is half dead, it wants to be finished off and allows itself to sink into unconsciousness. If it is then awakened by a touch of love, there is sharp pain which results in anger and sometimes hatred for whoever has provoked this pain. Hence the apparently inexplicable vindictiveness of the fallen towards their benefactors.

It can also happen that the love of the benefactor is not pure. Then, in the ‘I’, awakened by love but immediately wounded afresh by contempt, there surges up the bitterest of hatreds, a hatred which is legitimate.

He, on the contrary, in whom the ‘I’ is quite dead is in no way embarrassed by the love which is shown him. He takes what comes just as dogs and cats receive food, warmth and caresses, and, like them, he is eager to obtain as much as possible. As the case may be, he either attaches himself like a dog or accepts what comes to him with a certain indifference like a cat. Without the slightest scruple he absorbs all the energy of whoever tries to help him.

Unfortunately in every charitable work there is a danger lest the majority of its clients should be composed of people with no scruples, and above all, of people in whom the ‘I’ has been killed.

The weaker the character of him who endures affliction, the more quickly is the ‘I’ destroyed. To be more exact, the limit of the affliction which destroys the ‘I’ is situated at a greater or lesser distance according to the quality of the character, and the further it is the more the character is said to be strong.

The position of this limit, whether near or far, is probably a fact of nature in the same way as a gift for mathematics, and he who, without having any faith, is proud of preserving his morale in difficult circumstances, has no more reason to be so than the youth who is conceited because mathematics come easily to him. He who believes in God is in danger of a still greater illusion—that of attributing to grace what is simply an essentially mechanical effect of nature.

The agony of extreme affliction is the destruction of the ‘I’ from outside: Arnolphe, Phèdre, Lycaon. We are right to fall on our knees, to make abject supplication when that violent death which is going to strike us down threatens to kill the ‘I’ from outside even before life is destroyed.

‘Niobe also, of the beautiful hair, thought of eating.’ That is sublime, in the same way as space in Giotto’s frescoes.

A humiliation which forces us to renounce even despair.

The sin in me says ‘I’.

I am all. But this particular ‘I’ is God. And it is not an ‘I’.

Evil makes distinctions, it prevents God from being equivalent to all.

It is because of my wretchedness that I am ‘I’. It is on account of the wretchedness of the universe that, in a sense, God is ‘I’ (that is to say a person).

The Pharisees were people who relied on their own strength to be virtuous.

Humility consists in knowing that in what we call ‘I’ there is no source of energy by which we can rise.

Everything without exception which is of value in me comes from somewhere other than myself, not as a gift but as a loan which must be ceaselessly renewed. Everything without exception which is in me is absolutely valueless; and, among the gifts which have come to me from elsewhere, everything which I appropriate becomes valueless immediately I do so.

Perfect joy excludes even the very feeling of joy, for in the soul filled by the object no corner is left for saying ‘I’.

We cannot imagine such joys when they are absent, thus the incentive for seeking them is lacking.

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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 – to desire without an object

simone weil gravity and gracePurification is the separation of good from covetousness.

We have to go down to the root of our desires in order to tear the energy from its object. That is where the desires are true in so far as they are energy. It is the object which is unreal. But there is an unspeakable wrench in the soul at the separation of a desire from its object.

If we go down into ourselves we find that we possess exactly what we desire.

If we long for a certain being (who is dead), we desire a particular, limited being; therefore, necessarily, a mortal, and we long for that special being ‘who’… ‘to whom’…, etc., in short that being who died at such and such a time on such and such a day. And we have that being—dead.

If we desire money, we want a medium of exchange (institution), something which can only be acquired on certain conditions, so we desire it only ‘in the measure that’… Well, in that measure we have it.

In such cases suffering, emptiness are the mode of existence of the objects of our desire. We only have to draw aside the veil of unreality and we shall see that they are given to us in this way.

When we see that, we still suffer, but we are happy.

To ascertain exactly what the miser whose treasure was stolen lost: thus we should learn much.

Lauzun and the office of Captain of Musketeers. He preferred to be a prisoner and Captain of Musketeers rather than to go free and not be Captain.

These are garments. ‘They were ashamed of their nakedness.’

To lose someone: we suffer because the departed, the absent, has become something imaginary and unreal. But our desire for him is not imaginary. We have to go down into ourselves to the abode of the desire which is not imaginary. Hunger: we imagine kinds of food, but the hunger itself is real: we have to fasten on to the hunger. The presence of the dead person is imaginary, but his absence is very real: henceforward it is his way of appearing.

We must not seek the void, for it would be tempting God if we counted on supernatural bread to fill it.

We must not run away from it either.

The void is the supreme fullness, but man is not permitted to know it. The proof is that Christ himself was at one moment completely unaware of it. One part of the self should know it, but not the other parts, for if they knew it in their base fashion, there would no longer be any void.

Christ experienced all human misery, except sin. But he experienced everything which makes man capable of sin. It is the void which makes man capable of sin. All sins are attempts to fill voids. Thus my life with all its stains is near to his perfectly pure one, and the same is true of much lower lives. However low I fall I shall not go very far from him. But if I fall I shall no longer be able to know this.

The handshake of a friend on meeting again after a long absence. I do not even notice whether it gives pleasure or pain to my sense of touch: like the blind man who feels the objects directly at the end of his stick, I feel the presence of my friend directly. It is the same with life’s circumstances, whatever they may be, and God.

This implies that we should never seek consolation for pain. Because felicity is beyond the realm of consolation and pain. We become aware of it through a sense which is different, just as the perception of objects at the end of a stick or an instrument is different from touch in the strict sense of the word. This other sense is formed by a shifting of the attention through an apprenticeship in which the whole soul and body participate.

That is why we read in the Gospel: ‘I say to you that these have received their reward.’ There must be no compensation. It is the void in our sensibility which carries us beyond sensibility.

Denial of Saint Peter. To say to Christ: ‘I will never deny Thee’ was to deny him already, for it was supposing the source of faithfulness to be in himself and not in grace. Happily, as he was chosen, this denial was made manifest to all and to himself. How many others boast in the same way—and they never understand. It was difficult to be faithful to Christ. A fidelity in the void was needed. It was much easier to be faithful to Napoleon, even if it involved death. It was easier for the martyrs to be Faithful, later on, because the Church was already there, a force with temporal promises. We die for what is strong, not for what is weak, or only for what is weak momentarily and has still kept an aureole of strength. Faithfulness to Napoleon at Saint-Helena was not faithfulness in the void. The fact of dying for what is strong robs death of its bitterness—and at the same time of all its value.

To implore a man is a desperate attempt through sheer intensity to make our system of values pass into him. To implore God is just the contrary: it is an attempt to make the divine values pass into ourselves. Far from thinking with all the intensity of which we are capable of the values to which we are attached, we must preserve an interior void.

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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 – renunciation of time

simone weil gravity and graceTime is an image of eternity, but it is also a substitute for eternity.

The miser whose treasure has been taken from him. It is some of the frozen past which he has lost. Past and future, man’s only riches.

The future is a filler of void places. Sometimes the past also plays this part (‘I used to be,’ ‘I once did this or that…’). But there are other cases when affliction makes the thought of happiness intolerable; then it robs the sufferer of his past (nessun maggior dolore…).

The past and the future hinder the wholesome effect of affliction by providing an unlimited field for imaginary elevation. That is why the renunciation of past and future is the first of all renunciations.

The present does not attain finality. Nor does the future, for it is only what will be present. We do not know this, however. If we apply to the present the point of that desire within us which corresponds to finality, it pierces right through to the eternal.

That is the use of despair which turns the attention away from the future.

When we are disappointed by a pleasure which we have been expecting and which comes, the disappointment is because we were expecting the future, and as soon as it is there it is present. We want the future to be there without ceasing to be future. This is an absurdity of which eternity alone is the cure.

Time and the cave. To come out of the cave, to be detached, means to cease to make the future our objective.

A method of purification: to pray to God, not only in secret as far as men are concerned, but with the thought that God does not exist.*

Piety with regard to the dead: to do everything for what does not exist.

The suffering caused by the death of others is due to this pain of a void and of lost equilibrium. Efforts henceforward follow without an object and therefore without a reward. If the imagination makes good this void—debasement. ‘Let the dead  bury their dead.’ And as to our own death, is it not the same? The object and the reward are in the future. Deprivation of the future—void, loss of equilibrium. That is why ‘to philosophise is to learn to die’. That is why ‘to pray is like a death’.

When pain and weariness reach the point of causing a sense of perpetuity to be born in the soul, through contemplating this perpetuity with acceptance and love, we are snatched away into eternity.

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*God does not in fact exist in the same way as created things which form the only object of experience for our natural faculties. Therefore, contact with supernatural reality is at first felt as an experience of nothingness. [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 – imagination which fills the void

simone weil gravity and graceThe imagination is continually at work filling up all the fissures through which grace might pass.

Every void (not accepted) produces hatred, sourness, bitterness, spite. The evil we wish for that which we hate, and which we imagine, restores the balance.

The militiamen of the Spanish Testament who invented victories in order to endure death: an example of imagination filling up the void. Although we should gain nothing by the victory, we can bear to die for a cause which is going to triumph, not for one which will be defeated. For something absolutely denuded of power, it would be superhuman (the disciples of Christ). The thought of death calls for a counterweight, and this counterweight—apart from grace—cannot be anything but a lie.

The imagination, filler up of the void, is essentially a liar. It does away with the third dimension, for only real objects have three dimensions. It does away with multiple relationships.

To try to define the things which, while they do indeed happen, yet remain in a sense imaginary. War. Crimes. Acts of revenge. Extreme affliction.

The crimes in Spain were actually perpetrated and yet they resembled mere acts of boastfulness.

Realities which have no more dimensions than a dream.

In the case of evil, as in that of dreams, there are not multiple readings.*  Hence the simplicity of criminals.

Crimes flat like dreams on both sides: on the side of the executioner and on the side of the victim. What is more frightful than to die in a nightmare?

Compensations. Marius imagined future retribution. Napoleon thought of posterity. William II wanted a cup of tea. His imagination was not strongly enough attached to power to be able to span the years: it turned towards a cup of tea.

The adoration of the great by the people in the seventeenth century (La Bruyère). This was a result of imagination filling up the void, a result which has disappeared since money has been substituted for it. Two base results, but money the baser of the two.

In no matter what circumstances, if the imagination is stopped from pouring itself out we have a void (the poor in spirit).

In no matter what circumstances (but sometimes at the price of how great a degradation!) imagination can fill the void. This is why average human beings can become prisoners, slaves, prostitutes and pass through no matter what suffering without being purified.

We must continually suspend the work of the imagination filling the void within ourselves.

If we accept no matter what void, what stroke of fate can prevent us from loving the universe?

We have the assurance that, come what may, the universe is full.

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* For the meaning of this word (lectures) in the vocabulary of Simone Weil, see later chapter on Readings.
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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 – detachment

simone weil gravity and graceAffliction in itself is not enough for the attainment of total detachment. Unconsoled affliction is necessary. There must be no consolation—no apparent consolation. Ineffable consolation then comes down.

To forgive debts. To accept the past without asking for future compensation. To stop time at the present instant. This is also the acceptance of death.

‘He emptied himself of his divinity.’ To empty ourselves of the world. To take the form of a slave. To reduce ourselves to the point we occupy in space and time—that is to say, to nothing.

To  strip ourselves of the imaginary royalty of the world.

Absolute solitude. Then we possess the truth of the world.

Two ways of renouncing material possessions:
To give them up with a view to some spiritual advantage.
To conceive of them and feel them as conducive to spiritual well-being (for example: hunger, fatigue and humiliation cloud the mind and hinder meditation) and yet to renounce them.
Only the second kind of renunciation means nakedness of spirit.

Furthermore, material goods would scarcely be dangerous if they were seen in isolation and not bound up with spiritual advantage.

We must give up everything which is not grace and not even desire grace.

The extinction of desire (Buddhism)—or detachment—or amor fati—or desire for the absolute good—these all amount to the same: to empty desire, finality of all content, to desire in the void, to desire without any wishes.

To detach our desire from all good things and to wait. Experience proves that this waiting is satisfied. It is then we touch the absolute good.

Always, beyond the particular object whatever it may be, we have to fix our will on the void—to will the void. For the good which we can neither picture nor define is a void for us. But this void is fuller than all fullnesses.

If we get as far as this we shall come through all right, for God fills the void. It has nothing to do with an intellectual process in the present-day sense. The intelligence has nothing to discover, it has only to clear the ground. It is only good for servile tasks.

The good seems to us as a nothingness, since there is no thing that is good. But this nothingness is not unreal. Compared with it, everything in existence is unreal.

We  must  leave  on  one  side  the  beliefs  which  fill  up  voids  and sweeten  what  is  bitter. The belief  in  immortality. The  belief  in the utility of sin: etiampeccata. The belief in the providential ordering  of  events—in  short  the  ‘consolations’  which  are  ordinarily sought in religion.

To love God through and across the destruction of Troy and of Carthage—and with no consolation. Love is not consolation, it is light.

The reality of the world is the result of our attachment. It is the reality of the self which we transfer into things. It has nothing to do with independent reality. That is only perceptible through total detachment. Should only one thread remain, there is still attachment.

Affliction which forces us to attach ourselves to the most wretched objects exposes in all its misery the true character of attachment. In this way the necessity for detachment is made more obvious.

Attachment is a manufacturer of illusions and whoever wants reality ought to be detached.

As soon as we know that something is real we can no longer be attached to it.

Attachment is no more nor less than an insufficiency in our sense of reality. We are attached to the possession of a thing because we think that if we cease to possess it, it will cease to exist. A great many people do not feel with their whole soul that there is all the difference in the world between the destruction of a town and their own irremediable exile from that town.

Human misery would be intolerable if it were not diluted in time. We have to prevent it from being diluted in order that it should be intolerable.

‘And when they had had their fill of tears’ (Iliad).—This is another way of making the worst suffering bearable.

We must not weep so that we may not be comforted.*

All suffering which does not detach us is wasted suffering. Nothing is more frightful, a desolate coldness, a warped soul (Ovid. Slaves in Plautus).

Never to think of a thing or being we love but have not actually before our eyes without reflecting that perhaps this thing has been destroyed, or this person is dead.

May our sense of reality not be dissolved by this thought but made more intense.

Each time that we say ‘Thy will be done’ we should have in mind all possible misfortunes added together.

Two ways of killing ourselves: suicide or detachment.

To kill by our thought everything we love: the only way to die. Only what we love, however (‘He who hateth not his father and mother . . .’ but: ‘Love your enemies . . .’).

Not to desire that what we love should be immortal. We should neither desire the immortality nor the death of any human being, whoever he may be, with whom we have to do.

The miser deprives himself of his treasure because of his desire for it. If we can let our whole good rest with something hidden in the ground, why not with God?

But when God has become as full of significance as the treasure is for the miser, we have to tell ourselves insistently that he does not exist. We must experience the fact that we love him, even if he does not exist.

It is he who, through the operation of the dark night, withdraws himself in order not to be loved like the treasure is by the miser.

Electra weeping for the dead Orestes. If we love God while thinking that he does not exist, he will manifest his existence.

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* Yet Jesus Christ said: ‘Blessed are they that mourn’. But here Simone Weil is only condemning the tears wrung from us by the loss of temporal goods— tears which man sheds over 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.

simone weil – to accept the void

simone weil gravity and grace‘Tradition teaches us as touching the gods and experience shows us as regards men that, by a necessity of nature, every being invariably exercises all the power of which it is capable’ (Thucydides).

Like a gas, the soul tends to fill the entire space which is given it. A gas which contracted leaving a vacuum—this would be contrary to the law of entropy. It is not so with the God of the Christians. He is a supernatural God, whereas Jehovah is a natural God.

Not to exercise all the power at one’s disposal is to endure the void. This is contrary to all the laws of nature. Grace alone can do it.

Grace fills empty spaces but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.

The necessity for a reward, the need to receive the equivalent of what we give. But if, doing violence to this necessity, we leave a vacuum, as it were a suction of air is produced and a  supernatural reward results. It does not come if we receive other wages: it is this vacuum which makes it come.

It is the same with the remission of debts (and this applies not only to the harm which others have done us but to the good which we have done them). There again, we accept a void in ourselves.

To accept a void in ourselves is supernatural. Where is the energy to be found for an act which has nothing to counter- balance it? The energy has to come from elsewhere. Yet first there must be a tearing out, something desperate has to take place, the void must be created. Void: the dark night.

Admiration, pity (most of all a mixture of the two) bring real energy. But this we must do without.

A time has to be gone through without any reward, natural or supernatural.

The world must be regarded as containing something of a void in order that it may have need of God. That presupposes evil.

To love truth means to endure the void and, as a result, to accept death. Truth is on the side of death.

Man only escapes from the laws of this world in lightning flashes. Instants when everything stands still, instants of contemplation, of pure intuition, of mental void, of acceptance of the moral void. It is through such instants that he is capable of the supernatural.

Whoever endures a moment of the void either receives the supernatural bread or falls. It is a terrible risk, but one that must be run—even during the instant when hope fails. But we must not throw ourselves into it.

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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 – void and compensation

simone weil gravity and graceHuman mechanics. Whoever suffers tries to communicate his suffering (either by ill-treating someone or calling forth their pity) in order to reduce it, and he does really reduce it in this way. In the case of a man in the uttermost depths, whom no one pities, who is without power to ill-treat anyone (if he has no child or being who loves him), the suffering remains within and poisons him.

This is imperative, like gravity. How can one gain deliverance?

How gain deliverance from a force which is like gravity?

The tendency to spread evil beyond oneself: I still have it! Beings and things are not sacred enough to me. May I never sully anything, even though I be utterly transformed into mud. To sully nothing, even in thought. Even in my worst moments I would not destroy a Greek statue or a fresco by Giotto. Why anything else then? Why, for example, a moment in the life of a human being who could have been happy for that moment.

It is impossible to forgive whoever has done us harm if that harm has lowered us. We have to think that it has not lowered us, but has revealed our true level.

The wish to see others suffer exactly what we are suffering. It is because of this that, except in periods of social instability, the spite of those in misfortune is directed against their fellows.

That is a factor making for social stability.

The   tendency   to   spread   the   suffering   beyond   ourselves.   If through excessive weakness we can neither call forth pity nor do harm to others, we attack what the universe itself represents for us.

Then every good or beautiful thing is like an insult.

To harm a person is to receive something from him. What? What have we gained (and what will have to be repaid) when we have done harm? We have gained in importance. We have expanded. We have filled an emptiness in ourselves by creating one in somebody else.

To be able to hurt others with impunity—for instance to pass our anger on to an inferior who is obliged to be silent—is to spare ourselves from an expenditure of energy, an expenditure which the other person will have to make. It is the same in the case of the unlawful satisfaction of any desire. The energy we economize in this way is immediately debased.

To forgive. We cannot do this. When we are harmed by someone reactions are set up within us. The desire for vengeance is a desire for essential equilibrium. We must seek equilibrium on another plane. We have to go as far as this limit by ourselves. There we reach the void. (Heaven helps those who help themselves…)

Headaches. At a certain moment, the pain is lessened by projecting it into the universe, but the universe is impaired; the pain is more intense when it comes home again, but something in me does not suffer and remains in contact with a universe which is not impaired. Act in the same way with the passions. Make them come down like a deposit, collect them into a point and become detached from them. Especially, treat all sufferings in this way. Prevent them from having access to things.

The search for equilibrium is bad because it is imaginary. Revenge. Even if in fact we kill or torture our enemy it is, in a sense, imaginary.

A man who lived for his city, his family, his friends, to acquire wealth, improve his social position, etc.—a war: he is led away as a slave and henceforth for evermore he must wear himself out to the utmost limit of his strength merely in order to exist.

That is frightful, impossible, and for this reason he will cling to any aim which presents itself no matter how wretched, be it only to have the slave punished who works at his side. He has no more choice about aims. Any aim at all is like a branch to a drowning man.

Those whose city had been destroyed and who were led away into slavery had no longer either past or future: what had they with which to fill their minds? Lies and the meanest and most pitiful of covetous desires. They were perhaps more ready to risk crucifixion for the sake of stealing a chicken than they had formerly been to risk death in battle for the defence of their town. This is surely so, or those frightful tortures would not have been necessary.

Otherwise they had to be able to endure a void in their minds.

In order to have the strength to contemplate affliction when we are afflicted we need supernatural bread.

A situation which is too hard degrades us through the following process: as a general rule the energy supplied by higher emotions is limited. If the situation requires us to go beyond this limit we have to fall back on lower feelings (fear, covetousness, desire to beat the record, love of outward honours) which are richer in energy.

This limitation is the key to many a retrogression.

Tragedy of those who, having been guided by the love of the Good into a road where suffering has to be endured, after a certain time reach their limit and become debased.

A rock in our path. To hurl ourselves upon this rock as though after a certain intensity of desire had been reached it could not exist any more. Or else to retreat as though we ourselves did not exist. Desire contains something of the absolute and if it fails (once its energy has been used up) the absolute is transferred to the obstacle. This produces the state of mind of the defeated, the oppressed.

To grasp (in each thing) that there is a limit and that without supernatural help that limit cannot be passed—or only by very little and at the price of a terrible fall afterwards.

Energy, freed by the disappearance of the objects which provide motives, always tends to go downwards.

Base feelings (envy, resentment) are degraded energy. Every kind of reward constitutes a degradation of energy.

Self-satisfaction over a good action (or a work of art) is a degradation of higher energy. That is why the left hand should not know . . .

A purely imaginary reward (a smile from Louis XIV) is the exact equivalent of what we have expended, for it has exactly the same value as what we have expended—unlike real rewards which, as such, are either of higher or lower value. Hence imaginary advantages alone supply the energy for unlimited effort. But it is necessary that Louis XIV should really smile; if he does not, it is an unutterable deprivation. A king can only pay out imaginary rewards most of the time or he would be insolvent.

It is the same with religion at a certain level. Instead of receiving the smile of Louis XIV, we invent a God who smiles on us.

Or again we praise ourselves. There must be an equivalent reward. This is as inevitable as gravity.

A beloved being who disappoints me. I have written to him. It is impossible that he should not reply by saying what I have said to myself in his name.

Men owe us what we imagine they will give us. We must forgive them this debt.

To accept the fact that they are other than the creatures of our imagination is to imitate the renunciation of God.

I also am other than what I imagine myself to be. To know this is forgiveness.

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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 – gravity and grace

simone weil gravity and grace

All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity. Grace is the only exception.

We must always expect things to happen in conformity with the laws of gravity unless there is supernatural intervention.

Two forces rule the universe: light and gravity.

Gravity. Generally what we expect of others depends on the effect of gravity upon ourselves, what we receive from them depends on the effect of gravity upon them. Sometimes (by chance) the two coincide, often they do not.

What is the reason that as soon as one human being shows he needs another (no matter whether his need be slight or great) the latter draws back from him? Gravity.

Lear,   a   tragedy   of   gravity.   Everything   we   call   base   is   a phenomenon due to gravity. Moreover the word baseness is an indication of this fact.

The object of an action and the level of the energy by which it is carried out are distinct from each other. A certain thing must be done. But where is the energy to be drawn for its accomplishment? A virtuous action can lower a man if there is not enough energy available on the same level.

What is base and what is superficial are on the same level. ‘His love is violent but base’: a possible sentence. ‘His love is deep but base’: an impossible one.

If it be true that the same suffering is much harder to bear for a high motive than for a base one (the people who stood, motionless, from one to eight o’clock in the morning for the sake of having an egg, would have found it very difficult to do so in order to save a human life), a base form of virtue is perhaps in some respects better able to stand the test of difficulties, temptations and misfortunes than a noble one. Napoleon’s soldiers. Hence the use of cruelty in order to sustain or raise the morale of soldiers. Something not to be forgotten in connexion with moral weakness.

This is a particular example of the law which generally puts force on the side of baseness. Gravity is, as it were, a symbol of it.

Queueing for food. The same action is easier if the motive is base than if it is noble. Base motives have in them more energy than noble ones. Problem: in what way can the energy belonging to the base motives be transferred to the noble ones?

I must not forget that at certain times when my headaches were raging I had an intense longing to make another human being suffer by hitting him in exactly the same part of his forehead.

Analogous desires—very frequent in human beings.

When in this state, I have several times succumbed to the temptation at least to say words which cause pain. Obedience to the force of gravity. The greatest sin. Thus we corrupt the function of language, which is to express the relationship between things.

Attitude of supplication: I must necessarily turn to something other than myself since it is a question of being delivered from self.

Any attempt to gain this deliverance by means of my own energy would be like the efforts of a cow which pulls at its hobble and so falls onto its knees.

In making it one liberates a certain amount of energy in oneself by a violence which serves to degrade more energy. Compensation as in thermodynamics; a vicious circle from which one can be delivered only from on high.

The source of man’s moral energy is outside him, like that of his physical energy (food, air etc.). He generally finds it, and that is why he has the illusion—as on the physical plane—that his being carries the principle of its preservation within itself. Privation alone makes him feel his need. And, in the event of privation, he cannot help turning to anything whatever which is edible.

There is only one remedy for that: a chlorophyll conferring the faculty of feeding on light.

Not to judge. All faults are the same. There is only one fault: incapacity to feed upon light, for where capacity to do this has been lost all faults are possible.

‘My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me.’ There is no good apart from this capacity.

To come down by a movement in which gravity  plays no part. … Gravity makes things come down, wings make them rise: what wings raised to the second power can make things come down without weight?

Creation is composed of the descending movement of gravity, the ascending movement of grace and the descending movement of the second degree of grace.

Grace is the law of the descending movement.

To lower oneself is to rise in the domain of moral gravity. Moral gravity makes us fall towards the heights.

Too great affliction places a human being beneath pity: it arouses disgust, horror and scorn. Pity goes down to a certain level but not below it. What does charity do in order to descend lower? Have those who have fallen so low pity on themselves?

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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_1921

from simone weil’s notebooks

simone weilList of Temptations (to be read every morning):

Temptation of idleness (by far the strongest)
Never surrender to the flow of time. Never put off what you have decided to do.

Temptation of the inner life
Deal only with those difficulties which actually confront you. Allow yourself only those feelings which are actually called upon for effective use or else are required by thought for the sake of inspiration. Cut away ruthlessly everything that is imaginary in your feelings.

Temptation of self-immolation
Subordinate to external affairs and people everything that is subjective, but never the subject itself — i.e. your judgement. Never promise and never give to another more than you would demand from yourself if you were he.

Temptation to dominate

Temptation of perversity
Never react to an evil in such a way as to augment it.

Refuse to be an accomplice. Don’t lie — don’t keep your eyes shut…

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Two internal obstacles to be overcome:

Cowardice before the flight of time (mania for putting things off — idleness…)

Illusion that time, of itself, will bring me courage and energy…. In fact, it is usually the contrary (sleepiness). Say to yourself: And suppose I should remain always what I am at this moment? … Never put something off indefinitely, but only to a definitely fixed time. Try to do this even when it is impossible (headaches…). Exercises: decide to do something, no matter what, and do it exactly at a certain time.

You live in a dream. You are waiting to begin to live….

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One must develop a habit. Training.
Distinguish between the things I can put off, and those [I cannot].
Begin the training with small things, those for which inspiration is useless…

Every day, do 2 or 3 things of no interest at some definitely appointed time.

Reach the point where punctuality is automatic and effortless. — Lack of flexibility of imagination. An obstacle to be methodically overcome. The second screen between reality and yourself. Much more difficult. What is needed is something quite different from a methodical training… But precious.
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From First and Last Notebooks.

simone weil on living against brutality

Let us not think that because we are less brutal, less violent, less inhuman than our opponents we will carry the day. Brutality, violence, and inhumanity have an immense prestige that schoolbooks hide from children, that grown men do not admit, but that everyone bows before. For the opposite virtues to have as much prestige, they must be actively and constantly put into practice. Anyone who is merely incapable of being as brutal, as violent, and as inhuman as someone else, but who does not practice the opposite virtues, is inferior to that person in both inner strength and prestige, and he will not hold out in a confrontation.

simone weil on the sacred

“At the bottom of the heart of every human being, from earliest infancy until the tomb, there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done to him. It is this above all that is sacred in every human being. The good is the only source of the sacred. There is nothing sacred except the good and what pertains to it.”

— Simone Weil