the red virgin

Ann, modified 6 Years ago at 10/13/16 4:17 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 10/13/16 4:16 PM

the red virgin

Posts: 49 Join Date: 12/8/15 Recent Posts
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”

Re-reading some books is like visiting an old friend. Gravity and Grace is one of those books. Simone Weil has taught me more profound truths about compassion than perhaps any other. While I cannot help but disagree violently with some of what she said and did, there is a stack of books by or about her on my book shelf and even now, years after first reading them, her words have the power to send a thrill down my spine. She clearly tasted of both ecstasy and despair and spoke with a rare and compelling honesty and authority.

Born in 1909 Paris to a secular Jewish family and raised as an intellectual, she learned Ancient Greek by age 12 to read the classics, then learned Sanskrit to read the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita and studied Buddhism. Her brother Andre went on to become one of the most influential mathematicians of the century and Simone was in the first class to accept women at France's most prestigious school
of philosophy.

While teaching philosophy, Weil became a social activist, campaigning for workers' rights and publishing articles about social and economic issues. She invited Leon Trotsky to stay at her family home and then debated him so relentlessly that he asked why she'd offered to
host him in the first place. She spent a year doing factory work so she could know what it was like to be a laborer and later worked on a farm. Her generally fragile constitution and chronic migraines, unhelped by her tendency to chain smoke and undereat, did little to deter her from manual labor. Weil fought briefly with the anti-fascist Republicans in the Spanish Civil War before burning herself on a cooking fire and leaving the front mere weeks before her section of the anarchist militia was killed off almost in its entirety. These anarchist leanings and a lack of interest in romantic relationships led to her nickname, The Red Virgin.

Weil later had a mystical (A&P?) experience in a church and her writing and activities began to take on a more spiritual bent, which was quite unusual for a 20th century intellectual. She felt a powerful connection to Catholicism but refused baptism and the confines of organized religion for the entirety of her short life. She died in a British tuberculosis sanitarium at the age of 34, her death perhaps hastened by a self-imposed limitation of food intake to what the residents of German-occupied France were allowed. She had made no attempt to publish any of her later works on mysticism, but left them with a friend who had them printed posthumously. Albert Camus later called Weil “the only great spirit of our time” and helped make her famous in the 50s. T.S. Eliot said she was "a woman of genius, of a kind of genius akin to that of the saints."

I can't help but wonder what wisdom she might have been able to impart had she taken better care of herself and lived to real maturity. She has made me look closely at my own life, my own self-destructive tendencies, my own shortcomings. Weil refused to live conventionally and was an outsider until the end, fiercely committed to her own personal vision of the truth, diving deep both into the world and within. She challenges and inspires me.

Even if you don't care to read her work (and it is an acquired taste!), perhaps some of you will be glad to know she existed if you didn't already. There truly are many paths up the mountain.
Stick Man, modified 6 Years ago at 10/13/16 5:19 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 10/13/16 5:19 PM

RE: the red virgin

Posts: 396 Join Date: 9/23/14 Recent Posts
Burned herself cooking, but it saved her from death - do we ever truly know which is an unfortunate event, and which isn't ?
Ann, modified 6 Years ago at 10/15/16 6:20 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 10/15/16 6:20 AM

RE: the red virgin

Posts: 49 Join Date: 12/8/15 Recent Posts
Burned herself cooking, but it saved her from death - do we ever truly know which is an unfortunate event, and which isn't ?

Right? It's that old hindsight is 20/20 proverb. I think keeping this in mind is a powerful strategy for maintaining equilibrium in the heat of the moment. You never know what worse thing the current Bad Thing might be saving you from. And if nothing else, the Bad Thing will surely be a Good Learning Experience in the long run.
Ann, modified 6 Years ago at 10/16/16 6:43 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 10/16/16 6:43 AM

RE: the red virgin

Posts: 49 Join Date: 12/8/15 Recent Posts
Delight and exhaustion, that does well sum it up. There's a lot that has had to sit with me for awhile before it made sense, which has made her a good one to periodically revisit.

After reading about her experiments reciting the Our Father, I decided to try my own just to see what would happen (I would not at all categorize myself as a theist). It actually made an excellent subject for contemplation and was a surprisingly rewarding experience. What is daily bread in the context of my own lived experience? What provides nourishment for the seed of eternity that grows within us? These are fruitful avenues of exploration.

It induced a particular mood that is hard to describe, a very earthy, grounded sort of seriousness that stripped away the inessentials. Not a state to induce every day, for me anyway, but it can't hurt to keep something like that in one's back pocket.