UTOPIAN PESSIMIST: The Life and Thought of Simone Weil by David McLellan

UTOPIAN PESSIMIST: The Life and Thought of Simone Weil

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A concise and detached biography of the ""unclassifiable"" French thinker Simone Weil. Seeking to detach Weil from overbearing religious and psychological interpretation, McLellan (Political Theory/Univ. of Kent; Marxism and Religion, 1987, etc.) emphasizes the interlocking progression of her thought and action. At each step, the singular and difficult way Weil chose refracted the tumult of Europe. Born in 1909 to an agnostic Jewish family, she studied philosophy in Paris, participated, in left-wing politics, fought in the Spanish Civil War, experienced mystical Christian conversion, fled the Nazis and worked for the Free French. She died at the age of 34 from TB and self-inflicted starvation. Never at ease, Weil tore through argument (like Marx's) and experience (like working in a factory) and accordingly redirected her moral search, pouring her thoughts on philosophy, science, politics, and religion into essays, articles, letters, and notebooks. Seeing Weil as ""a cross between Pascal and Orwell,"" McLellan systematically takes on her far-flung writings, from her philosophy thesis to her last long essay ""The Need for Roots,"" and unravels the complicated, but persistent, themes--among them her ""radical individualism,"" her belief in ""the value of redemptive suffering,"" her regard for the rationalism of Descartes and for the Greeks. In typically succinct and dispassionate terms, McLellan explains the desperation that led to Weil's disquieting way of death: ""The drama of her life, as of her thought, was the continual search for the absolute, and her continual disappointment."" McLellan draws many familiar facts from Simone Petrement's monumental 1976 biography Simone Weil. While not superceding that, nor Robert Coles' provocative Simone Weil: A Modern Pilgrimage (1987), this book (with a useful bibliography and Well's dazzling essay ""On Human Personality"") stands as a clearheaded analysis of a prophet who will not soon cease to challenge commentators.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Poseidon/Simon & Schuster