Car ce sont les conqu�tes qu'on est menac� de subir qui font
horreur ; celles qu'on accomplit sont toujours bonnes et belles. -- Simone Weil
Fishing the internet is one of the addicting sports. For those of you up to the French, I'd strongly recommend the Jean Marie Trembley's fantastic collection at the Universite of Quebec, Les Classiques des sciences sociales. They've just added Weil's Ecrits on history and politics, which includes the famous -- or to some people, infamous -- essay on Hitlerism and Rome. I've been reading it. Simone Weil used to mean a lot to me -- but I gradually turned against her. In fact, I view her with a bit of dread.
She was a woman whose response to oppression was practically somatic. She had a strong case of Christ envy, which, I imagine, ever her death by starvation did nothing to assuage. It isn't often noted that Weil fascinated Georges Bataille, whose readers come from a very different pool than the pious, Maritain like Catholics who took over Weil in the 50s. Bataille wrote about her, in that scabrous Bataille way, in one of his novels, le bleu de ciel -- she was the model for Lazare. Suleiman, in an essay on Bataille's 1930s writings that appeared in Critical Inquiry, mentions that Bataille was fascinated with Weil's filthiness. In the thirties, Weil was filled with the messianic mission of the proletariat, so she planned out the stages of her crucifixion, first as a factory worker, then as a volunteer in Spain on the Loyalist side -- not as a fighter, but as a health worker. Weil did share the most important thing with Jesus -- a complete lack of humor. The lack of a sense of humor is a pretty rare thing, actually. And it is an active thing -- it burns a hole in the self, and it continues that dark work until the self becomes a hole. Bataille, of all people, knew this -- and it is hard to believe that he didn't envy Weil this gift. Suleiman's retelling of this section of Bleu de ciel is nicely done:
"Lazare, yet another French Marxist invellectual in Barcelona, is a young woman who simultaneously fascinates and repels Troppman [the protagonist] because of her political passion and authority -- and also becuse he finds her sexually unattractive, an ugly "dirty" virgin in contrast to the beautiful, exciting Dirty...
Troppmann's association of the workers with Lazare evokes a crucial earlier scene that occurred while he was still in Paris. Just before falling ill but already in a feverish state, Troppmann visits Lazare in her apartment, which she shares with her stepfather, a professor of philosophy. THe discussion centers on what Melou, the stepfatehr, calls the :"anguishing dilemma" confronting intellectuals once they have admitted :the collapse of socialist hopes": "Should we isolate ourselves in silence? Or should we, on the contrary, join the workers in their last acts of resistance, tuhus accepting an implacable and fruitless death?" Troppmann, in a state of shock, feels unable to respond. Finally, he asks Lazare to show him the toilet, where he proceeds to "piss for a long time" and tries to vomit by shoving two fingers down his throat."
Bataille's genius consisted in knowing the conceptual value of a good piss -- its argumentative weight. He joins a select group in knowing this -- Johnson kicking a stone in refutation of Berkeley, and a few Daoists. The idea that the carrier of every concept must be in language -- a formal system -- is the presupposition of every philosophy, and (at least this is Bataille's interpretation of Nietzsche) at the base of every form of nihilism -- the last, devastating stroke that divides the human from the animal.
Which is why Weil is so important, read as a sort of dialogue partner of Bataille. Because Weil definitely wanted to produce that last, devastating stroke. There is no logical one direction of nihilism -- it penetrates like a stain in all directions. Weil, however, saw the continuity of one of those directions: the uprooting of a whole people. Her writing about hitlerism, especially when France was occupied and Weil herself, by Hitlerian definition a Jew, was threatened with imminent death, is luminous with her complete hatred of power. It is only by maintaining herself at that level, in that position, that Weil could see, clearly, how much the pattern of Western culture was mirrored in the Hitlerian project. Far from being barbaric, Hitler was -- Weil thought -- a pure product of civilization, civilization reduced to its essential process: the destruction of the other, to be followed by the destruction of the self. Since the second stage of the program paralleled Weil's own desire -- since she could see, that is, how she could become a Nazi -- she could also diagnose it. Sentiment, for the philosopher, has a diagnostic value that can be replaced by nothing else.
Well... we could go on with this. How did we get here? Oh yes, recommending the social science site. Go to it, gentle reader.