Sobre la necesidad y el pesar en Simone Weil…

Mi encuentro con Simone Weil vino en la maestria en filosofía y religión en Londres, desde ahí llegó a iluminarme en toda una nueva línea de pensamiento y espiritualidad. Este pequeño ensayo es mi primer intento de articular algunas de sus ideas con mis propias palabras… Aqui les publico el artículo y me prometo luego ir desarrollando  ideas derivadas en diferentes lecturas de sus escritos.

Simone Weil on Necessity and Affliction.

Choosing the concepts of Necessity and Affliction in a thinker like Simone Weil is only one of many entry doors into a very complex system of reflections, experiences and ideas.

The selection of these two, in this essay, will show how Weil’s ideas are a fresh perception on how to understand creation, how we experience this world, the forces and mechanisms which rule over the world, and her understanding of God.

This exercise, at first glance, would seem to be little more than a redefinition and clarification of many words and concepts, but as fruitless as this attempt may sound, if we agree to explore her ideas, we will be facing many challenges on values that society takes for granted: God, the world, suffering and evil among others.

I will argue that through her ideas, one of the most important results will be a different perspective towards how to treat the concepts of moral and ethics, a perspective which separates individual values from social values.

Affliction and Necessity

“Affliction” is related to but transcends what we normally refer to as “suffering”. Simone Weil “reads” suffering to be an experience which is related only to contingent things. Affliction, on the other hand goes far beyond this:“At the very best, he who is branded by affliction will keep only half of his soul”(Waiting for God pp 69)

It is necessary, therefore, before I continue, to do a little clarification on the selected term “affliction”.

In the first translator note of Simone Weil’s “Waiting for God” it states: “No English word exactly conveys the meaning of the French Malheur. Our word unhappiness is a negative term and far too weak. Affliction is the nearest equivalent but not quite satisfactory. Malheur has in it a sense of inevitability and doom.”

The same word “Malheur” when translated to Spanish becomes “desgracia” a literal translation of which would be “disgrace” or shameful. Needless to say “disgrace” cannot be used to address a distinctive quality of a person.  Instead when it is used to address circumstances or personal actions within an individual, it automatically confers inevitability and doom, a circumstance or a person in dis-grace (literally: without-grace).

I feel that the selection of this term is more accurate in representing Weil’s ideas. Grace is one of the central concepts needed to understand the relationship between God and the Creation. Affliction would be just a mere reflection (and as weak a term as unhappiness) of that state of disgrace.

Affliction for Weil is a state of suffering which has to describe physical pain, but without being bound to it. It is an extreme form of suffering, which affects us in our totality of mind, of body and of soul.

“Affliction is an uprooting of life, a more or less attenuated equivalent of death, made irresistibly present to the soul by the attack or immediate apprehension of physical pain.”
“There is no real affliction unless the event that has seized and uprooted a life attacks it, directly or indirectly, in all its parts, social, psychological, and physical. The social factor is essential. There is not really affliction unless there is social degradation or the fear of it in some form or another” (Waiting For God, pp 68)

The people in affliction cannot help or even wish to help anyone. They feel the absence of God and their impossibility to love, resulting in scorn and hate entering the soul. It is the greatest distance between the soul and God.

For Weil affliction is comparable with the suffering of learning a new trade. The trade would be “first and almost solely, the obedience of the universe to God.” (Waiting for God pp 78). When we learn this, it is a gift where, as joy in its own purity enters our souls, so too affliction enters our bodies with suffering like when we learn a new trade.

At the heart of the mystical experience of affliction, Weil regards the mystery of the cross as the maximum expression of it.
“Affliction constrained Christ to implore that he might be spared, to seek consolation from man, to believe he was forsaken by the father. It forced a just man to cry out against God, a just man as perfect as human nature can be.”(Waiting for God, pp 69)

But how can we detach this concept of affliction, a more profound and mystical sense of suffering, without considering what causes it.

Weil has as an axiom the idea  that God is absent from His creation. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that she accepts that it is impossible to see God from where we are. For Weil the creation is a self-given act of love where the creator has to empty himself of Him to allow to his creation to be.

This creation needs his creator and the combination between this need and the impossibility of contact (only through Grace as we will see later) with its own creator makes this need the concept of “necessity”.

“Necessity is God’s veil”
“God has committed all phenomena without exception to the mechanism of the world” (Gravity and grace pp104)

This “necessity”, the limitations of the creation, in Weil’s eyes, expresses, on the one hand, a secret and distant relationship with God which creates a void that speaks of Him, but on the other hand, sets up the rules of this relationship.

“The distance between the necessary and the good is the distance between the creature and the creator.”
“We aspire only to get rid of the intolerable burden of the good-evil cycle- a burden assumed by Adam and Eve.
“Limitation is the evidence that God loves us.”
(Gravity and grace pp105)

Like the wall that separates two inmates in a prison, the absence of God expressed in necessity becomes  both the means of separation as well as the means of communication. “Necessity. We have to see things in their relationship and ourselves, including the purposes we bear within us, as one of the terms of that relationship. Action follows naturally from this.” (Grace and Gravity pp 48)

As necessity is the consequence of creation, so affliction is the consequence of the force of this necessity working in, on and through us. Most of all, it is God’s will. And it is precisely this idea that is most difficult to accept because it narrow down our options. At the same time this does not contradict the perception of  a variety of other religions or even of differences within the same tradition.

In order to do that it is necessary either to confuse ‘the essence of the necessary with that of the Good’ or to depart from this world.” (Gravity and grace pp105)

To summarize, the creation is the playground where God is not present as an act of self-given love. This playground is governed by two forces “Two forces rule the universe: light and Gravity.” (Gravity and Grace, pp1) This affects everything within the boundaries of the creation. This distance or absence between the the created and the creator produces a void that makes us long for it, but inevitably we will fall under the laws of attraction/gravity.

Miguel de Unamuno would summarize this dynamic simply, “Feeling does not succeed in converting consolation into truth, nor does reason succeed in converting truth into consolation. But Reason going beyond truth itself, beyond the concept of reality itself, succeeds in plunging itself into the depths of skepticism. And in this abyss the skepticism of the reason encounters the despair of the heart, and this encounter leads to the discovery of a basis – a terrible basis! – for consolation to build on.” (Unamuno, Miguel de; Tragic sense of life; Dover Books, pp 105)

A more traditional approach to explain Weil’s ideas can be found in Stephen Plant’s  book “Simone Weil”.   Here, in my view, he tries to put side-by-side in importance both Weil’s ideas and her life.

He also seeks to put this combination into a more conventional philosophical religious language. In my opinion he manages to do this quite successfully but sometimes looking into a person’s life to justify their ideas from a third party point of view can lead to problems.

He accurately pinpoints the way in which she has been influenced by Greek philosophy, her attraction to Hindu and other religions, her universal understanding of God and religions, welcoming all opinions. He also successfully describes how Weil’s ideas are nothing new to the history of religious thought.

But, for me, the problem  arises when he tries to speak of Weil’s ‘theology’ from a classical perspective. In his attempt to find a good classical model of the how God implicitly loves us from Weil’s perspective he uncovers the pesanteur, or “gravitational” force, that Weil’s is talking about.

“One obvious question raised by Weil´s exploration of implicit love for God is ‘What would this look like in practice?’ The concrete shape of a society which expresses love for neighbor, love for the order of the world and love for religious practices led Weil into an exploration of human nature and the need for roots.” Pg 59

It is the need to ask ‘What would this look like in practice?  that Weil would describe as the force, the gravitational force, of this world

There is no answer to it.
There is no beauty in describing beauty.
Beauty just is.

A picture of “A society which expresses love for neighbour, love for the order of the world and love for religious practices” if it exists, just is.

Weil portrays the world as the world of the self, that “me” in this reality, without direct contact to God, devoid of any connection with Him except in his absence or the gift of His grace; that universal connection between creature and Creator.

A person lives by the knowledge of his own personal ethical values,  he chooses his own ethics under the influence of his own needs. He does not need to harmonise them with anyone else’s. Just like the penitent judge in the strict sense of Albert Camus’ portrait in his book “The Fall”.

According to Jean-Baptiste Clamence, his mission is to make people aware of that very human feature, human nature, that alone is responsible for making judgements. After a long confession, after reaching the conclusion of our impossibility of not making any judgments, he also reached the same paradox: that that feature also becomes the punishment for the person who makes judgements.

“Inasmuch as one couldn’t condemn others without immediately judging oneself one had to overwhelm oneself to have the right to judge others. Inasmuch as every judge some day ends up as a penitent, one had to travel the road of the opposite direction and practice the profession of penitent to be able to end up as a judge.” (The Fall, pp 101)

This again collapses into the necessity of gravity, “We must not judge. We must be like the father in heaven who does not judge: by Him beings judge themselves. We must let all beings come to us, and leave them to judge themselves. We must be a balance.
Then we shall not be judge, having become an image of the true judge who does not judge.” (Gravity and Grace, pp93) The penitent judge.

The definition of Ethics would then be the values related to the individual and the self only. These values, coming from this individual, only refer to him and to himself only. They refer to his life and experience,  and he is not obliged to refer to other values beyond his own. Neither is there any need for consensus between this individual and others.

“No excuses ever, for anyone; that’s my principle at the outset. I deny good intention, the respectable mistake, the indiscretion, the extenuating circumstance. With me there is no giving of absolution or blessing. Everything is simply totted up, and then: ‘It comes to so much. You are an evil-doer, a satyr, a congenital liar, a homosexual, an artist etc’ Just like that. Just as flatly. In philosophy as in politics.” (The Fall, pp 97)

On the other hand the definition of Moral would be the study of all ethical values together.
The results of this study clearly states that today’s consensus towards what we consider right and wrong has no necessary realist connotations. On the contrary, is in a fighting and struggle field where contradictions between individuals (ethics) find consensus.

“I am for any theory that refuses to grant man innocence and for any practice that treats him as guilty. You see in me, très cher, an enlightened advocate of slavery (The Fall, pp 97)

So why are these two concept so intertwined that we cannot delineate  the difference between them?
In a time like today where consensus seems to be a very highly respected value, if we apply consensus to our ethical values, immediately we have Morality.
Morals and ethics became one, like two bodies that are attracted by gravity.

How we relate to God is completely different from how I relate to Him.
Those are the difference between ethics and morals.
Though both are affected by the same laws of light and gravity, the difference between the two is that only individually we can be mystically touched by the Grace of God and once we all are touched by this grace we really can talk of a successful moral. Or perhaps we are already touched.

From this analysis we see that Weil it is not a very fervent advocate of anything that does not fall within the realm of personal experience. Moral values, in this context, for Weil belong to different level. Neither correct nor incorrect!

And this is what allows her to have a universal approach and also because of this most traditional Church authorities find it to be, as Plant has stated, heretical: “Her discernment of divine truth in other religions might well be thought to compromise the traditional affirmation of the uniqueness of Christ” (Simone Weil, pp29)

However, fear that Weil and her ideas would compromise the uniqueness of Christ is the product of necessity from this group of people, a manifestation of the laws of Gravity, rather than expression of God.

Even Plant acknowledges this previously “to Weil, many traditional features of Christian belief seemed irrelevant or fruitless. The existence or non-existence of God, she believed as a student, was an insoluble philosophical problem. She had no concern with salvation or the afterlife, believing it to be a distraction from this life. Indeed to Weil, the Church’s system of religious belief (its ‘dogma’) was an unnecessary addition to the essential Christian message” (Simone Weil, pp 23)

But for Weil the truth in acknowledging all religions has more to do with finding the common thread which proves the presence of divine truth. In the Greek story of  Prometheus as in the story of Job or Isaiah in the Old Testament, suffering/affliction shows this divine presence and, above everything else, that suffering is a holy and beautiful.

Another concept, no less complicated, would be the links between the concepts of Metaxu (from the Greek – “intermediate”, in the middle; not binary; a bridge, an intermediary) as something similar to the Holy Spirit within the mystery of the Cross.

“The first step towards coming to terms with suffering, Weil believed, is to understand something about the forces that press upon the human soul, and about the nature and reality of this world.” (Simone Weil, pp 39)

What Plant missed is that coming to terms with suffering/affliction for Weil is not a Theodicy or an answer to the problem of suffering. In fact it is quite the opposite.! As he stated before, Weil’s model of God is not part of this realm at all. What we have is His generous allowance to be what we are. Matter is ruled by the same laws that rule the universe: Light, Gravity and chance.

But to understand suffering or even better, affliction as the Grace of God which expresses itself within ourselves, we have to discern accurately where the forces of the world are working on us or the grace of God.

Coming to terms with suffering/affliction under Plant’s perspective is another movement ruled by gravity “She longed intensely for others to experience the same suffering as herself. This too, she believed, has evidence of the force of gravity on her soul. It is gravity that forces the soul to conform to society’s values and needs instead paying attention to God.” (Simone Weil, pp 41) and that it is what he is doing.

In Weil’s terms and longings, Plant’s attempts are, as this humble one is too, just a focus to ‘conform society’s values, instead of paying attention to God’

“The limitless is the test of the one: time, of eternity: the possible, of necessity: variety, of the unvarying.
The Value of a system of knowledge, a work of art, a moral code or a soul is measure by the degree of its resistance to this test.” (Gravity and grace pp106)

If I have focused on Plant’s argument it is because I don’t think his attempt successfully passes this test, he is too aware or too worried about the moral consensus of today, his ideas shows exactly what Weil would describe as the work of the force of gravity.

If we accept to talk in these terms, the ideas proposed by Weil can easily be used to investigate human understanding from a broader perspective, a new field where science, religion and philosophy investigate together.

At first glance it seems that we have to revise the meaning of freedom, democracy, consensus, good, evil, progress, evolution, justice, death among many other values, from a more complex and less susceptible perspective. Here we must apply the concept of competency or adequacy.

“We must welcome all opinions but they must be arranged vertically and kept on suitable levels” (Gravity and Grace pp XIX)

Grace, Decreation and the mystical experience

So how do we escape from the universe, how do we feed that “Hunger of Immortality” as Miguel de Unamuno describes it?

The answer from Weil is not simple.
The Universe, seen as an act of self-giving love of God but without any intervention whatsoever on His part, is an understanding of a Universe governed by what seems to us as a via negativa.

The formula is simple though it seems to be a contradiction.
First, we witness the descending movement of gravity and the ascending movement of grace.
Second, there is the ‘descending movement of the second degree of grace.’

“Grace is the law of the descending movement” (Gravity and Grace, pp 4)

In other words gravity is what attracts masses to each other, grace is what keeps us separate, so that we do not become one.
What is keeping us away from becoming one with the totality, a big solid mass, or in other words God?

The self is the one who is aware of these two forces, the forces that call us to be united.
The soul is affected by this two forces and longs for unity, a unity only possible, in Weil’s perspective, through “Decreation”

“Decreation: to make something created pass into the uncreated.” (Gravity and Grace, pp 32)

Decreation is to kill the Self.

“Renunciation. Imitation of God’s renunciation in creation. In a sense God renounces to be everything. We should renounce being something. That is our only good.” (Gravity and Grace, pp 33)

What she is giving in her writings is a new understanding in how the creation or universe works, how it affects us through the forces of gravity and grace.
Understanding the forces of nature, understanding ourselves seems to be the first step to achieve the individual, the ethical and the mystical awareness to finally undo it in God.

Decreation:

Mystically it is coming back to God. Physically it is to die. Mentally it is not to be.

Conclusion

One of Weil’s most attractive ideas is the perspective that she holds as a result of a very particular combination of already known concepts.

The concept of a God, which manifests itself in the world by its absence as a necessary condition for us to exist, leaves the traditional concept of God wholly simple, omniscient, omnipotent, eternal; almost untouched.

The interdependent or contingent “necessary” condition of the universe, through which all things can be explained leaves all sciences untouched too.

The mystery of the cross or the concept of Metaxu as the binding mixture also leaves the mystical experience free.

Thus, if we are to accept that God manifests Himself in absence, that our world is ruled by the laws of gravity, light and chance then, the suffering and void produced by the two previous thoughts/experiences leaves no other option but to search for a mystical experience.

The conflict between time and death versus the will of eternity and survival of the soul, can’t find, as Miguel de Unamuno clearly explain in his “Tragic sense of Life”, peace. Neither by trying to justify this void from the mind to the emotions nor from the emotions trough the soul, or the soul through the mind.

The argument is still all within the three Pascal categories of mind, body and soul. If we would like to go a step further, the argument is within the three Kierkegaardean stages of aesthetics, ethics and religious.
I am brave enough to conclude that while Pascal writes from his mind, and Kierkegaard from his sense of duty, Weil writes from that very troubled place of the soul, the mystic who suffered with Jesus in the cross, opening the dialogue to all.

So the call to all it is to get to know ourselves.

Studying the laws of Gravity and Light, and sensing their effects is to know this world/creation. This is valid to all cultures and religions.
To decreate the self is to fill the personal void, changing this world, loving our neighbor, and accepting death as a cycle of life, our mystical encounter with God and eternity.

For Weil, Jesus’ life and the mystery of the cross is the example and the answer.
The most significant and successful contribution from Weil’s ideas, in my opinion, is that the world won’t find solutions to the affliction caused by this world in the creation.

For those who like to think that a better world is possible, from this philosophical approach, they have to understand that the values are as axiomatic and capricious as the laws of light and gravity. They simply are a magnanimous act of self-giving love of God to us.

To the rest either look at the Cross in affliction and pray, or else bonne chance.

June 2005

Bibliography

Weil, Simone; Waiting for God; Perennial Classics; 2001
Weil, Simone; Gravity and Grace; Routledge; 2004
Camus, Albert; The Fall; Penguin Classics; 2000
Plant, Stephen; Simone Weil, Fount Christian Thinkers; 1996
Unamuno, Miguel de; tragic sense of life; Dover; 1921


Mariano Gutiérrez Alarcón

This is Mariano's Blog, here is a compilation of all my interests, as eclectic as they are, my main intention here is articulate them all in one place, and a better platform to show my work and my thoughts freely.

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