The Moment

My book, The Moment, will be published in early 2021 by Splice. More details nearer the time.

A false individualism

The connection between [Weil and Heidegger] can be seen in what Heidegger calls the “subjectivism” of modern philosophy (which cuts people off from each other and from the world and Presence and confines them in a metaphysical privacy) and what Simone Weil calls “personalism” (which reduces the human being entirely to the dimensions of the I and we, the psychological and the social, not recognizing anything about them that belongs to the superpersonal). The modern oppression of the individual by the social (found in both Communist and non-Communist states) and the metaphysical humanism of scientism and technocracy, while they may appear to have nothing in common, actually contain the same element, a false individualism that produces the lonely, locked-away solitary ego, a ready victim for the exploitations and manipulations of mob consciousness. This is the nationalistic or ideological man whose normal and sane intelligence has been smothered by commercial and political indoctrination. For both Heidegger and Weil, this is the closed private individualism of modern philosophy, the counterpart of the world of scientific and technological objects. The absolute privacy of the Cartesian thinking is the horror of the modern human self.

In answer to this, Heidegger finds the essence of the human being in an openness to Being as Presence, an openness receptive to all its self-revealings and self-concealings, while Simone Weil finds a supernatural element in every human soul, which is the basis for all justice, the universal expectation that good will be done to us.

—  Henry Le Roy Finch, Simone Weil and the Intellect of Grace

Rigged

Heidegger’s conception of science and technology is concerned with the fundamental attitude toward the world that they embody and that they have translated into the actualities of modern life all over the earth. This attitude may be described as that of traditional humanism and metaphysics, which has developed in the Western world from the time of the Greeks and which has now achieved worldwide acceptance. It is the attitude that attempts to know the world, to penetrate it fully and to seize control of it.

Heidegger notes the enormous success of this point of view. Science and technology are the success story of world history, perhaps its only one. They have triumphed beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, fathomed the secrets of the natural world, and accomplished what metaphysics envisages and rationalizes. For Heidegger they are not a chapter within the history of metaphysics; they are the essence of metaphysics, its complete fulfillment. They show what the “reality” they represent really is, namely, to be no more than what they can grasp. Science puts an end to metaphysics by fully realizing it in theory and practice. In science metaphysics has achieved its own conception and thereby brings itself to an end. In this it is seen to have been something different all along from what it supposed itself to be, to have been part of a different and much larger story.

The moment of the end of metaphysics is the moment at which it reveals what it always was, in a context that until now was hidden from us. We see simultaneously what the essence of science and technology, and therefore metaphysics, is and how this relates to the still larger history of self-revelation that includes it. This essence of science and technology as representation of the world Heidegger calls Gestell, or “enframing.” This coined word has both the connotation of a “scaffolding” used in a construction and the slang meaning of a “frame-up” or something “rigged” to produce a predetermined result. Science “rigs” its results by framing only questions that elicit a certain kind of answer. This is not full, open, free thinking, only calculation where the question “forces” the answer.

— Henry Le Roy Finch, Simone Weil and the Intellect of Grace

Dizziness

Never has the individual been so completely delivered up to a blind collectivity, and never have men been less capable, not only of subordinating their actions to their thoughts, but even of thinking. Such terms as oppressors and oppressed, the idea of classes—all that sort of thing is near to losing all meaning, so obvious are the impotence and distress of all men in face of the social machine, which has become a machine for breaking hearts and crushing spirits, a machine for manufacturing irresponsibility, stupidity, corruption, slackness and, above all, dizziness. The reason for this painful state of affairs is perfectly clear. We are living in a world in which nothing is made to man’s measure; there exists a monstrous discrepancy between man’s body, man’s mind and the things which at the present time constitute the elements of human existence; everything is in disequilibrium.

— Simone Weil, ‘Oppression and Liberty’ (quoted in Henry Le Roy Finch, Simone Weil and the Intellect of Grace)

It seems as if man cannot manage to lighten the yoke imposed by natural necessities without an equal increase in the weight of that imposed by social oppression… The efforts of the modern worker are imposed on him by a constraint as brutal, as pitiless and which holds him in as tight a grip as hunger does the primitive hunter.

— Simone Weil

Splice’s description of The Moment:

In the murky aftermath of a breakdown, a man still at odds with himself takes flight to a cottage in rural Norfolk. There he intends to strip his life of everything trivial, everything superfluous, paring it all back to the essential truths, values, and experiences. In doing so, he keeps a fragmentary journal: not a record of progress as such, but sporadic notes on his new surroundings as he attends to minor changes in search of an ideal moment-a moment of unity between body and mind, in which there is no distinction between sensation and thought. For decades he has been hounded by the sense of a split self, as if under observation by a nameless double, and he feels that the opportune moment, if it can be found, will relieve him, just briefly, of this spectral presence.

Peter Holm Jensen’s début novel is a mercurial marvel of contemplative literature that at once adopts and dismantles the diarist’s form of expression. It is not a linear account of ordinary events, but a cyclical and recursive record of noticing the ways of the world. It does not tell the story of its narrator’s life, but opens up for him a quiet space in which to savour the changes of the seasons, the migration habits of birds, his connectedness to his partner, the fluctuations of his ineptitude and capabilities. But it is also not an environmentalist’s lyrical notebook, for its author feels the pains of precarity and indignity under neoliberalism, nor is it an account of stoic persistence in the face of daily adversity and aimlessness. It is, rather, an attempt to come to terms with the indifference of the forces within which we live — time, nature, globalisation — and to extract from this void of meaning something immanent, something true.

To write as we translate

The effort of expression has a bearing not only on the form but on the thought and on the whole inner being. So long as bare simplicity of expression is not attained, the thought has not touched or even come near to, true greatness… The real way of writing is to write as we translate. When we translate a text written in some foreign language, we do not seek to add anything to it; on the contrary, we are scrupulously careful not to add anything to it. That is how we have to translate a text which is not written down.

— Simone Weil

Factory

Dear Albertine,

I am obliged to rest because of a slight illness (a touch of inflammation of the ear — nothing serious) so I seize the opportunity for a little talk with you. In a normal working week it is difficult to make any effort beyond what I am compelled to make. But that’s not the only reason I haven’t written; it’s also the number of things there are to tell and the impossibility of telling the essential. Perhaps later on I shall find the right words, but at present it seems to me that I should need a new language to convey what needs to be said. Although this experience is in many ways what I expected it to be, there is also an abysmal difference: it is reality and no longer imagination. It is not that it has changed one or the other of my ideas (on the contrary, it has confirmed many of them), but infinitely more — it has changed my whole view of things, even my very feeling about life. I shall know joy again in the future, but there is a certain lightness of heart which, it seems to me, will never again be possible. But that’s enough about it: to try to express the inexpressible is to degrade it.

As regards the things that can be expressed, I have learnt quite a lot about the organization of a firm. It is inhuman; work broken down into small processes, and paid by the piece; relations between different units of the firm and different work processes organized in a purely bureaucratic way. One’s attention has nothing worthy to engage it, but on the contrary is constrained to fix itself, second by second, upon the same trivial problem, with only such variants as speeding up your output from 6 minutes to 5 for 50 pieces, or something of that sort. Thank heaven, there are manual skills to be acquired, which from time to time lends some interest to this pursuit of speed. But what I ask myself is how can all this be humanized; because if the separate processes were not paid by the piece the boredom they engender would inhibit attention and slow down the work considerably, and produce a lot of spoiled pieces. And if the processes were not subdivided… But I have no time to go into all this by letter. Only when I think that the great Bolshevik leaders proposed to create a free working class and that doubtless none of them — certainly not Trotsky, and I don’t think Lenin either — had ever set foot inside a factory, so that they hadn’t the faintest idea of the real conditions which make servitude or freedom for the workers — well, politics appears to me a sinister farce.

I must point out that all I have said refers to unskilled labour. About skilled labour I have almost everything still to learn. It will come, I hope.

To speak frankly, for me this life is pretty hard. And the more so because my headaches have not been obliging enough to withdraw so as to make things easier — and working among machines with a headache is painful. It is only on Saturday afternoon and Sunday that I can breathe, and find myself again, and recover the ability to turn over a few thoughts in my head. In a general way, the temptation to give up thinking altogether is the most difficult one to resist in a life like this: one feels so clearly that it is the only way to stop suffering! First of all, to stop suffering morally. Because the situation itself automatically banishes rebellious feelings: to work with irritation would be to work badly and so condemn oneself to starvation; and leaving aside the work, there is no person to be a target for one’s irritation. One dare not be insolent to the foremen and, moreover, they very often don’t even make one want to be. So one is left with no possible feeling about one’s own fate except sadness. And thus one is tempted to cease, purely and simply, from being conscious of anything except the sordid daily round of life. And physically too it is a great temptation to lapse into semi-somnolence outside working hours. I have the greatest respect for workmen who manage to educate themselves. It is true they are usually tough; but all the same it must require a lot of stamina. And it is becoming more and more unusual with the advance of rationalization. I wonder if it is the same with skilled workers.

— Simone Weil, letter (tr. Rees)

A feeling for flatness

I realised that people really, really hate flat landscapes. Or they pretend they hate them. Flat landscapes scare people, or bore them. They feel they have to apologise for them: tourist boards praise the Cambridge fens and the Norfolk broads by saying things like: you may think this landscape is flat, but really there’s lots to see! Fair enough. But what if we accepted the fact that a space might be primarily flat? How do we look at it, and appreciate it, and enjoy it, without trying to deny its flatness?

*

There are so many beautiful flat spaces in Britain, and in the world. They demand a special way of looking: a way, I realise, that might not necessarily come instinctively. Flat spaces need a gaze which is patient and steady and open, not enforcing expectations about what counts as ‘interesting’ or ‘important’. It’s that special way of looking that interests me. I think it might help us understand other things or people which seem inscrutable or blank or reserved. Above all that’s what I’d like listeners to ask themselves after my broadcasts: how do I use my attention? What do I give it to and why and how?

Noreen Masud

Astonishment

In astonishment, we hold ourselves back (être en arrêt). We step back, as it were, from beings, [astonished] that they are rather than are not. And astonishment is not exhausted in this stepping back before the Being of beings; but as this stepping back and holding oneself back, it is at the same time enraptured by and, as it were, held fast by that from which it steps back.

— Heidegger, ‘What is Philosophy?’ (tr. Capobianco)

Psalm

Veritas sequitur . . .

In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down —
That they are there!

Their eyes
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass

The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.

Their paths
Nibbled thru the fields, the leaves that shade them
Hang in the distances
Of sun

The small nouns
Crying faith
In this in which the wild deer
Startle, and stare out.