Simone WEIL. Late Philosophical Writings. Edited by E.O. Springsted. Translated by E.O. Springsted and L.E. Schmidt. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015. pp 204. ISBN 0-268-04150-4. Reviewed by Richard SHIELDS, University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, ON
Simone Weil has been variously described as a mystic, mathematician, philosopher, religious thinker, and social and political activist. Although a distinguished graduate in philosophy from the Ecole Normale Superieure, Weil did not follow a typical academic career. A deeply motivated truth-seeker, she moved through school teaching to factory worker and from a republican partisan in the Spanish civil war to a life-long religious pilgrim. Her short life (1909-1943) ended in England following several years of poor health.
Her writings reflect a profound engagement with the human condition. Her style is concrete with frequent recourse to metaphors to capture the tangible human reality of her penetrating philosophical insights. Given the state of her health and her, as it were, peripatetic life it is not surprising that Weil did not leave behind any organized, finished philosophical treatises. Much of what we know of Weil in the English speaking world is derived from reflections culled by friends from her notebooks and correspondence and compiled thematically. Although, as Springsted notes in his introduction, Weil was not doing something like constructing a metaphysical position or building a philosophical system, there are several recurring themes that give unity to her thought—or better—reveal the integrity of her person.
One might best describe her work as articulating the questions that emerge from the brokenness (affliction), powerlessness (necessity), and contradiction of human life. In Weil’s words “the proper method of philosophy consists in clearly conceiving all the insoluble problems in all their insolubility and then in simply contemplating them, fixedly and tirelessly, year after year, without any hope, patiently waiting.” (4)
Without coercing Weil’s thought into a framework that finishes all the unfinished explorations which she undertook, Springsted has selected several essays—some rather developed and others possibly drafts—that provide the reader with enough material to get a sense of “what she thought thinking is and ought to be and hence what she thought she thought she was doing in writing all that she did.” (1) This collection, presents several “essays in their complete and corrected” text which had not been available till now. Because the essays in this book capture her thinking within a very specific time period (1940-1943) and because many of their themes are related, the reader is able to get a certain sense of who she was and what she was about. One can also discover here a certain unity in her thought, without trying to fit it under some theoretical umbrella or within a conceptual system. I would recommend this book for advanced undergraduate seminars that wish to introduce Weil to students, for the intelligent reader who, like Weil, is a seeker of truth, and for anyone who has wrestled with the often unfinished-ness of much of Weil's work that has been available in English till now.