Category Archives: Simone Weil

The refusal to succeed

When a person, event or work meets with success or notoriety, it is generally found that the height reached by these modern substitutes for glory is in exact proportion to the vanity and impurity of their source. A scandal makes a greater sensation than an act of heroism, a boxer or film star attracts more attention than a great artist or a solitary philosopher, and, when fame does chance to descend upon true greatness, it is more than likely that there has been some misapprehension or mistake; either the greatness is not seen for what it is but triumphs under some disguise, or the ‘glory’ merely lights up that side of it which is showy, picturesque and, for that reason, superficial. Nietzsche said: ‘When a great truth triumphs in the market place, you may be sure that a great lie has contributed to its victory.’ That is the bitter and almost inevitable price of success. Who has written a book on ‘the refusal to succeed’?

— Perrin & Thibon, Simone Weil as We Knew Her (tr. Crauford)

I bet you can see right through us

Walking Simone to the bus stop.

What do you see when you see the moon, Donny?, Simone asks.

The Earth’s dead daughter, I say. The moon’s made of bits of Earth. The same stuff as Earth. Did you know that?

No, Simone says.

There was a collision three point five billion years ago, I say. Some runaway planet smashed into the Earth … And all the debris came together to make dear old Luna …

I didn’t know that, Simone says.

The coldest place in the universe is in the craters of the moon, I say. Completely untouched by sunlight.

I didn’t know that either, Simone says.

The moon shines to mock us, I say. To remind us of the indifference of it all. Of the fact that there’s no one bending over our cradle. No one singing us lullabies. The fact that no one knows or cares about our lives …

I don’t think that’s true, Donny, Simone says.

I’m glad, I say. I’m glad you don’t think it’s true. I wish it wasn’t true … You must think we’re idiots.

I don’t think that, Simone says.

The way we talk … Maybe Gita’s right …, I say. There’s something about you. I’ll bet you can see right through us … Can you see through me? I feel that you can. Do you know all my secrets? Do you know what I’ve seen?

I don’t know what you’ve seen, Donny.

Terrible things, I say.

I believe you, Simone says.

Horrors and terrors, I say.


Simone, stopping to talk to a homeless man. Giving him money.

The homeless man, thanking her. God bless you. The homeless man, lifting up his tiny dog for Simone to pet.

Walking on. 

The bus stop.

Waiting for the bus.

You’ve heard us talk, Simone, I say. Maybe we talk too much. Maybe we drink too much, but you’ve heard us. We’ve seen through the world. We know that this isn’t how it has to be … We’re not attached to the world. We’re not invested in it.

We’re posthumous, right? We’re post … graduates, I say. Which means we’re already dead. That we died some time ago. We died in the world. The world killed us, each of us. And now we’ve been kind of resurrected with our scholarships. Our studies are a kind of afterlife …

Sometimes I think we’re the end of something, I say. Of some dreadful process. Of some process of degradation. We’ve seen everything. We’ve seen it all. We know the law of the world. The unlivability of the world.

There’s nothing to tie us to life, I say. There’s nothing we want from our future. Because what could change in our future? It’s always the same, always more of the same, always the same old universe of death, over and over …

Sometimes, I think the point is that we have to go to the end – right to the end: to set the controls for the heart of the nihil, I say. To fly right into the nihilist storm. We have to live out our horror to the end. To drive our disgust as far as it can go. Until there’s no more nihilism left. 

And sometimes … I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m talking too much …, I say.  But there’s so much evil … So much injustice … Is Manchester a good place gone bad, or a bad place with bits of the good?

Simone, silent, looking into my face..

You hate the world, too, Simone – I know it, I say. You’re no different to us. You found the world unbearable and you became a PhD student, just as we did. Is that true?

Simone, silent, looking.

Listen: God draws ever closer, she says. I know it. God will mend us – that’s what believe, Simone says. God will heal us. God will use us to engage with evil and disaster and brokenness and hopelessness. Listen, Donny: We will be found. We will be healed. We will be forgiven. We will be joyful.

How? What do we have to do?, I ask.

Pray …, Simone says.

I don’t know how to pray …, I say

Ask to be remade in the image of God, Simone says. Ask to be sculpted into the image of Christ. Cry out and say, Father, find me, I am your child. And you will be welcomed home. You will be found by the father who made you.

There will be so much love, so much joy, so much reconciliation, so much healing, Simone says.

Is that true?, I ask.

He will set fire to our hearts, Simone says.

Is it true?, I ask.

Pray for a new Pentecost of God, Simone says.

You’re going to help us, I say. And we need help. The whole city needs help …

The 143, pulling up.

Who are you, Simone?, I ask. Why are you like this? Did you just beam in from a hundred years ago?

Pray for me, Simone says, smiling. As I will pray for you.

Simone, getting on the bus.

Do you want me to come with you?, I say. Walk you home? Manchester’s full of crazies.

Good night, Donny, Simone says.

— Lars Iyer

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


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


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)


The beings I love are creatures. They were born by chance. My meeting with them was also by chance. They will die. What they think, do, and say is limited and is a mixture of good and evil. I have to know this with all my soul and not love them less. I have to imitate God who infinitely loves finite things in that they are finite things. We want everything which has value to be eternal. Now everything which has a value is a product of a meeting, lasts throughout this meeting and ceases when those things which met are separated. That is the central idea of Buddhism (the thought of Heraclitus). It leads straight to God. Meditation on chance which led to the meeting of my father and mother is even more salutary than meditation on death. Is there a single thing in me of which the origin is not to be found in that meeting? Only God. And yet again, my thought of God had its origin in that meeting. Stars and blossoming fruit-trees: utter permanence and extreme fragility give an equal sense of eternity. The theories about progress and the ‘genius which always pierces through’ arise from the fact that it is intolerable to suppose that what is most precious in the world should be given over to chance. It is because it is intolerable that it ought to be contemplated. Creation is this very thing. The only good which is not subject to chance is that which is outside the world.

— Simone Weil, via here

The contradictions the mind comes up against — these are the only realities: they are the criterion of the real.


Physical work

Physical work is a specific contact with the beauty of the world, and can even be, in its best moments, a contact so full that no equivalent can be found elsewhere. The artist, the scholar, the philosopher, the contemplative should really admire the world and pierce through the film of unreality that veils it and makes of it, for nearly all men at nearly every moment of their lives, a dream or stage set. They ought to do this but more often than not they cannot manage it. He who is aching in every limb, worn out by the effort of a day of work, that is to say a day when he has been subject to matter, bears the reality of the universe in his flesh like a thorn. The difficulty for him is to look and to love. If he succeeds, he loves the Real.

That is the immense privilege God has reserved for his poor. But they scarcely ever know it. No one tells them. Excessive fatigue, harassing money worries, and the lack of true culture prevent them from noticing it. A slight change in these conditions would be enough to open the door to a treasure. It is heart-rending to see how easy it would be in many cases for men to procure a treasure for their fellows and how they allow centuries to pass without taking the trouble to do so.

At the time when there was a people’s civilisation, of which we are today collecting the crumbs as museum pieces under the name of folklore, the people doubtless had access to the treasure. Mythology too, which is very closely related to folklore, testifies to it, if we can decipher the poetry it contains.

– Simone Weil, ‘Forms of the Implicit Love of God’ (tr. Craufurd)

A lever

To ask for that which exists, that which exists really, infallibly, eternally, quite independently of our prayer, that is the perfect petition. We cannot prevent ourselves from desiring; we are made of desire; but the desire that nails us down to what is imaginary, temporal, selfish, can, if we make it pass wholly into this petition, become a lever to tear us from the imaginary into the real and from time into eternity, to lift us right out of the prison of self.

– Simone Weil, ‘Concerning the Our Father’ (tr. Craufurd)