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Simone Weil
Author: Palle Yourgrau
File Type: pdf
Simone Weil, legendary French philosopher, political activist, and mystic, died in 1943 at a sanatorium in Kent, England, at the age of thirty-four. During her brief lifetime, Weil was a paradox of asceticism and reclusive introversion who also maintained a teaching career and an active participation in politics. In this concise biography, Palle Yourgrau outlines Weils influential life and work and demonstrates how she tried to apply philosophy to everyday life. Born in Paris to a cultivated Jewish-French family, Weil excelled at philosophy, and her empathetic political conscience channeled itself into political engagement and activism on behalf of the working class. Yourgrau assesses Weils controversial critique of Judaism as well as her radical re-imagination of Christianityfollowing a powerful religious experience in 1937in light of Platos philosophy as a bridge between human suffering and divine perfection. In Simone Weil, Yourgrau provides careful, concise readings of Weils work while exploring how Weil has come to be seen as both a modern saint and a bete noir, a Jew accused of having abandoned her own people in their hour of greatest need. Simone Weil, legendary French philosopher, mystic and political activist who died in England in 1943 at the age of thirty-four, belongs to a select group of thinkers as with St Augustine, Pascal and Nietzsche, so with Weil a single phrase can permanently change ones life. In this book, Palle Yourgrau follows Weil on her lifes journey, from her philosophical studies at the Ecole Normale Superieure, to her years as a Marxist labour organizer, her explosive encounter with Leon Trotsky, her abortive attempt to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, her mystical experience in the town of Assisi. We see how Weils struggle to make sense of a world consumed by despotism and war culminated in her monumental attempt, following St Augustine, to re-imagine Christianity along Platonistic lines, to find a bridge between human suffering and divine perfection.How seriously, however, should Weils ideas be taken? They were admired by Albert Camus and T. S. Eliot, yet Susan Sontag wrote famously that I cant imagine more than a handful of the tens of thousands of readers she has won . . . really share her ideas. If this is really true, Palle Yourgrau must count as one of the handful. Though he brings to life the pathos of Weils tragi-comic journey, Yourgrau devotes equal attention to the question of truth. He shines a bright light on the paradox of Simone Weil at once a kind of modern saint, and a bete noire, a Jew accused of having abandoned her own people in their hour of greatest need. The result is a critical biography that is in places as disturbing as Weils own writings, an account that confronts head-on her controversial critique of the Hebrew Bible, as well as her radical rejection of the received wisdom that the Resurrection lies at the heart of Christianity.ReviewWeils moral absolutism remains a reproach to Jews who believe they can appropriate Israels ethnicity (and perhaps its ethics) but dispense with its holiness code, and to Christians who seek redemption in their own ethnic roots rather than through adoption into the People of God. Although her reasoning led to tragic results, Weil nonetheless did the world a service, and Yourgrau has done a service by explaining her.(First Things) A comprehensive philosophical readingto my mind, the firstof Weils work. . . . Yourgrau is a master at tracing the hyper-sanity within dense philosophical systems that appear, to the untrained, as madness. . . . Paying this great philosopher the compliment of discussing her work in its own terms, Yourgrau has, for the first time, given the breadth of Weils thought the expansive frame it deserves.(Los Angeles Review of Books) About the AuthorPalle Yourgrau is professor of philosophy at Brandeis University and the author of A World Without Time The Forgotten Legacy of Godel and Einstein.
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