Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Simone Weil (1909 –1943)

Simone Weil was a teacher, resistance fighter, factory worker, labor organizer, anarchist, Christian  philosopher, social  activist, whose death in 1943 was hastened by starvation. During her lifetime Weil  published only a few poems and articles. With the publication of her posthumous works - 16 volumes, edited by André A. Devaux and Florence de Lussy - Weil has earned a reputation as one of the most original thinkers of her era. T.S. Eliot described her as "a woman of genius, of a kind of genius akin to that of the saints."
"What a country calls its vital economic interests are not the things which enable its citizens to live, but the things which enable it to make war. Gasoline is much more likely than wheat to be a cause of international conflict." (from The Need for Roots, 1949)
Weil was born in Paris on Febuary 9th 1909 to agnostic Jewish parents who fled Germany. She grew up in comfortable circumstances, as her father was a doctor. She suffered throughout her life from severe headaches, sinusitis, and poor physical coordination, . Her brilliance, ascetic lifestyle, introversion, and eccentricity limited her ability to mix with others, but not to teach and participate in political movements of her time.

Weil had an insatiable  appietie  for learning. Proficient in ancient Greek by the age of 12, she later learned Sanskrit after reading the Bagavigitta.

In her teens she studied under the tutelage of her admired teacher Emile Chartier. During these years Weil attracted much attention with her radical opinions. She was called the "Red virgin". Even Chartier refered to her as "The Martian"

At the École Normale Supérieure she studied philosophy, receiving her  diploma in 1931. Weil taught philosophy at a secondary school for girls in Le Puy. Teaching was her primary employment during her short life.

Weil often took action out of sympathy with the working class.. At the age of six years she refused sugar in solidarity with the troops entrenched along the Western Front. While teaching in Le Puy, she became involved in local political activity, supporting the unemployed and striking worker. 

She participated in the French general strike  of 1933, called to protest unemployment and wage cuts. The following year she took a 12-month leave of absence from her teaching position to work incognito as a laborer in two factories, one owned by Renault, believing that this experience would allow her to connect with the working class. Her poor health and inadequate physical strength forced her to quit after just a few  months.  In 1935 she resumed teaching, and donated most of her income to political causes and charitable endeavors.

In 1936, despite her pacifism , she fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side.She identified herself as an anarchist. After being burned over a cooking fire, she left Spain to recuperate in Assisi where she continued to write essays on justice and peace issues..

While in Assisi in the spring of 1937, she experienced a religious ecstasy  in the same church in which Francis  had prayed, which led her to pray for the first time in her life. She had another, more powerful, mystic experience a year later (1938) and from that point on on, her writings became more mystical and spiritual, while still retaining their focus on social and political issues. She was attracted to Roman Catholicism , yet declined to be baptized; she explains this refusal in Waiting for God. During World War Two, she lived for a time in Marseille, receiving spiritual direction from a Dominican friar.

In 1942, she traveled to the USA, living briefly in New York City, in Harlem, amongst the poor.

After New York, she traveled to London, where she joined the French Resistance. Her work regigme took a heavy toll on her frail body. In 1943 she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Instructed to rest and eat well, she refused. Instead, she limited her food intake to what she believed residents occupied France were eating.  Her condition quickly deteriorated, and after a lifetime of battling illness and frailty, Weil died in August 1943 from cardiac failure at the age of 34.

compiled from serveral sources

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