This Book is For:

*People who want to be inspired by the example of a brilliant woman who possessed the moral courage to live in accordance with her most deeply held convictions, no matter the price.

*Anyone who is interested in the philosophy of love and aesthetics, and who wants to renew their appreciation of the beauty that surrounds us all.

*Individuals who want to learn how to become better and more attentive listeners, and learn how to bring the moral virtues exemplified by Simone Weil into their actual lives.

*Everyone who is concerned about the direction of our global society, yet who doesn't despair of finding solutions to our biggest problems.


“If anyone wants to make himself invisible, there is no surer way than to become poor. Love sees what is invisible.”

-Simone Weil, Love in the Void

There are certain people who have lived on and inhabited this earth who make us want to be better than we are. Simone Weil is one of those people for me, and to exist in the same reality as her, to be able to draw inspiration from her life and thought, seems to me to be a real blessing.

Weil was a 20th-century French philosopher and Christian mystic who wrote about love, beauty, and the obligations we have to make others' lives better with our loving presence, our sincere attention, and our genuine affection.

Once, the Nobel Prize-winning philosopher, Albert Camus, called Weil "the only great spirit of our time," and a second Nobel Prize winner, André Gide, said that she was "the most truly spiritual writer of this century." Popes and presidents and philosophers the world over have said pretty much the same thing, and yet, tragically, the wider world seems to have nearly forgotten her.

My breakdown of Love in the Void seeks to correct this cosmic imbalance by reintroducing her life and work to you, reader, and it's very possible that both of us will be changed by the effort.

That's not to say she isn't without her detractors.

Even I, who owe so much of my thinking and worldview to her ideas, don't agree with everything she's ever done or said. Far from it. Another great writer, Susan Sontag, criticized Weil's fanatical asceticism and her "noble and ridiculous political gestures," and I'm with Sontag on that one.

As I discuss in the View from the Opposition section below, I believe she went too far with some of her moral commitments. For example, do you know how she died?

In solidarity with the French citizens living under Nazi occupation during World War II, she refused to eat any more food than the soldiers were allowed to have on the front, even though she had escaped to Britain by then and didn't have to live on the same strict rations as they did. It's rumored that she ate even less.

Weil ended up starving to death - dying of complications from malnutrition - and personally, I think that it was a fairly stupid, pointless way to die.

She could have done so much more good if she had lived, instead of sacrificing herself senselessly for her ideal.

But that's who she was: she cared so much, and she identified so strongly with the suffering of others, that it's almost like she couldn't have done otherwise.

She lived her convictions to the very end, and even Sontag confessed that she was "nourished" by Weil's "seriousness," and that "in the respect we pay to such lives...we acknowledge the presence of mystery in the world.”

It's also easy to misunderstand some of Simone Weil's ideas, which makes this book breakdown particularly difficult to write.

For one thing, some people are put off right away by the term "Christian mystic," and hey, I totally get it. The word "God" brings up totally different associations depending on who's reading it, and it's never my intention to "convert" anyone. Convert them to what, anyway?

So please, even though I know it's difficult, I'd like to ask you to read the word "God" without judgment. Weil's ideas are inseparable from her faith, yes, but they also apply to any and all human relationships, and there are lessons to be drawn from everyone.

This particular book, Love in the Void, draws from material Weil wrote for her books, Waiting for God, and Gravity and Grace. It deals with the practice and demands of true attentiveness (very important to her thought), the love of our neighbors and the beauty of the world, and different kinds of love and how they draw us beyond ourselves into the larger reality of the world (which, to her, would be God's reality).

As you might be able to tell from some of my other work, these ideas have been nothing less than transformational for me. I hope to do them just a little bit of justice here and transmit to you as much as I can of her luminous example.

I mean, the woman slept on the floor because she realized that some other people in the world weren't fortunate enough to sleep on a bed!

She took a physically demanding job at a car factory, simply to study the conditions of industrial work, and to experience what it was like to live under the worst conditions imaginable. And not just for like a week or anything, then going home to her luxury, saying, "Phew, glad I don't have to do that for the rest of my life."

No, she worked at that car factory for ten years. Here's what she had to say about her experience:

“As I worked in the factory, indistinguishable to all eyes, including my own, from the anonymous mass, the affliction of others entered into my flesh and my soul. Nothing separated me from it, for I had really forgotten my past and I looked forward to no future, finding it difficult to imagine the possibility of surviving all the fatigue.”

She lived her beliefs to an extent that's basically unimaginable to most people today. She was also known for the extreme level of attention she would give to everyone she met, no matter who they were. After leaving her presence, people would remark that never before in their lives had they felt that someone had actually seen them as Simone Weil had.

Working in various factories, however, she had observed the employers' extreme indifference to the individual, and, as her physical health deteriorated, she came to several shocking epiphanies.

The first that I'd like to bring up is her belief that perhaps our individual rights are not nearly as important as the near-infinite degree of duty and obligation we have to one another.

I've read those words over and over again, and I still find that idea astounding. Maybe instead of focusing so much on what other people owe us, we could spend more time thinking about what we could give to others. It's like what Bruce Lee said:

"If everyone would help their neighbor, then there would be no one without help."

One of her other revelations concerned our powerlessness against death, and the limits of our intelligence and capabilities compared to the infinity of existence. Since we are all ultimately powerless against death, she thought, there is a certain point at which all we can do is wait and observe.

Her Christian faith taught that the "Good" comes to us, via God's grace, and that preparing ourselves to receive it is all we can do against the "void," or the emptiness of death and the selfish ego.

But hey, let's lighten this up a little bit, shall we?

In today's breakdown, the Key Ideas have to do with the "void," yes, but also with compassionate attention, infinite unconditional love, and the miraculous beauty of the world in which we live out our days and nights.

I don't believe that Simone Weil was a particularly "happy" woman, but by assimilating some of her better ideas into our daily lives and actions, we can be, and we can position ourselves to receive the Good, no matter what religious or spiritual beliefs we may hold.

Key Ideas:

#1: Beauty is Eternity Here Below

“No one is above or below beauty.”

Leave it to philosophers to try to "dissect" beauty and to describe it in words, eh? I do believe, however, that Simone Weil's contribution to the philosophy of aesthetics is vastly underappreciated.

What she had to say about the nature of beauty was...well...beautiful!

Weil believed that only the universe as a whole can rightly be called beautiful and that what we generally call "beautiful" are just pale imitations of this universal beauty. Which is kind of what Plato believed, come to think of it!

That's not to say that nothing on Earth can be called beautiful, but rather that everything can be, and that everyone can appreciate it and be a part of it. No one is above or below beauty, and the beauty of eternity is available to everyone on Earth with the senses and sensibility to perceive it.

There are two other points about beauty that she makes in this book that I want to quote here. I can't pick a favorite, but here's the first one:

“Only beauty is not the means to anything else.”

To her, beauty's "instrumental" value is always less than its intrinsic value. Beauty just is, and always will be, and there's nothing we need to "do" about it or with it that will make the world more or less beautiful. Everything that beauty can lead to - making something more valuable, people more desirable, etc. - is less important than the simple fact that beauty exists.

The second of the two quotes is this one right here:

“Physical work is a specific contact with the beauty of the world.”

Simone Weil was no stranger to hard, physical labor, and she had no illusions that the conditions of factory workers, farmers, and others were glamorous or even all that tolerable. She had compassion for - suffered with - factory workers for nearly her entire adult life.

But their (and her) experiences didn't negate the fact that physical communion with the real, actual world could be beautiful.

Personally, I've always felt powerfully connected to the world and to life itself through hard, physically demanding work.

Whether it's shaping and chiseling your physical self in the gym, planting trees, or building something real in the external world that didn't exist before - and wouldn't exist, if it weren't for you - we can all participate in the creation of beauty, and it's imperative to our healthy, psychological functioning that we do.

#2: The Afflicted are Not Seen

“Compassion and gratitude come down from God, and when they are exchanged in a glance, God is present at the point where the eyes of those who give and those who receive meet."

Simone Weil was known for the quality of her attention, and for really being able to see those who traditionally went through life unseen by society at large. As she says, the easiest way to become invisible is to become poor, and so more often than not, it's the people who most need help who are also the most invisible.

However, she argues that there are both wrong ways and right ways to help "the afflicted," as she calls them.

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