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In progress -
Excerpts selected, translated & commented by Benjamin Bergery
 
 
 
  • Mechanism
  • Evil
  • Slavery
  • Good
 
  • Spiritual Heuristics
  • The argument of perfection
  • Beauty
  • Heaven and earth
  • Faith
 
Weil notebook
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Weil's criminal error

 

Early on, she admits to having been wrong about Marxism and Pacifism ("mon erreur criminelle" - my criminal error), saying that she realized her error about the former after a sojourn in Germany and the latter after Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia.

More egregiously, she was wrong about quantum mechanics and relativity. She refuted the latter by simply dismissing the possibility that the speed of light could be constant as unreasonable. But even when she's wrong she's got something right, and her Classical Greek sensibility touches a nerve when she casts algebra (Descartes' handiwork) as the villain :

Au lieu qu'autrefois l'algèbre constituait le language auxiliaire et les mots le language essentiel, c'est aujourd'hui exactement le contraire (583) While in older times algebra constituted an auxilliary language and words the essential language, today it is exactly the opposite
Weil goes on to predict the end of scientificking in 2 or 3 generations (590)

Nous sommes comme revenus à l’époque de Protagoras et des sophistes, l’époque où l’art de persuader, dont les slogans, la publicité, la propagande par réunions publiques, journal, cinéma, radio, constituent l’équivalent moderne, tenait lieu de pensée, réglait le sort des villes, accomplissait les coups d’Etat. (591)

It's as if we have returned to the era of Protagoras and the sophists, the era when the art of persuasion --for which slogans, commercials, public propaganda meetings, newspapers, cinema, radio are the modern equivalent-- took the place of thought, determined the fate of cities and accomplished coups
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Factory work

 

In 1934 and 35, Weil worked for several months at several factories, going further than most theoriticians of her day in experiencing the life of the "proletariat". She writes:

Quand je pense que les grands chefs bolcheviks prétendaient créer une classe ouvrière libre et qu’aucun d’eux — Trotsky surement pas, Lénine je ne crois pas non plus — n’avait sans doute mis le pied dans une usine et par suite n’avait la plus faible idée des conditions réelles qui déterminent la servitude ou la liberté pour les ouvriers — la politique m’apparaît comme une sinistre rigolade (142) When I think that the great Bolchevik leaders claimed to be creating a free working class and probably not one of them -- surely not Trotsky, and I don't think Lenin did either -- ever set foot in a factory and hence did not have the faintest idea of the real conditions which determine the servitude or freedom of these workers -- politics seems a sinister farce indeed
In the factory, she writes "on n’a personne à qui s’attaquer en dehors du travail lui-même". (142) (one has no one to attack except the work itself)

The factory creates "une docilité de bête de somme résignée" (145) ("the docility of a resigned beast of burden"

Lentement dans la souffrance, j’ai reconquis à travers l’esclavage le sentiment de ma dignité d’être humain, un sentiment qui ne s’appuyait sur rien d’extérieur cette fois, et toujours accompagné de la conscience que je n’avais aucun droit à rien, que chaque instant libre de souffrances et d’humiliations devait être reçu comme un grâce, comme le simple effet de hasards favorables. Il y a 2 facteurs dans cet esclavage : la vitesse et les ordres. (146) Slowly and with suffering, I have reconquered through slavery my feeling of the dignity of being human, a feeling that this time did not reside in anything external, and was always accompanied by the consciousness that I had no right to anything, that each instant free from suffering and humiliations was to be received as a grace, as the simple result of favorable luck. This slavery is defined by two factors: speed and orders.

She writes that the speed itself of factory work deadens the soul, whilst orders that one have to accept deaden consciousness.

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Focus or hubris ?

  Tu ne te représentes pas peut être ce que c’est que de concevoir toute sa vie devant soi, et de prendre la résolution ferme et constante d’en faire quelque chose, de l’orienter d’un bout à l’autre par la volonté et le travail dans un sens déterminé. Quand on est comme ça — moi je suis comme ça, alors je sais ce que c’est … (148) You may not realize what it is to conceive your whole life in front of you and to take the firm and constant resolve to make something of it, to orient it from one end to the other with will power and work in a chosen direction. When one is like that -- I am like that, so I know what it's like ...
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