The Relevance of the Radical: Simone Weil 100 Years Later

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This is a collection of essays examining the life and words of Simone Weil, the late French activist, philosopher, and mystic. In the early 1940s, Simone Weil (1909-1943) wrote that 'the glossy surface' of her civilization hid 'a real intellectual decadence'. There is also good reason to think that the 21st century has ushered in new extremes of intellectual and aesthetic impoverishment. 2009 will mark the centennial of the birth of this late French activist, philosopher, and mystic, and her life and words are arguably more urgent now than ever before. While Weil's ideas are impossible to separate from her praxis, the first section of the book will analyze the 'radical orientation' suggested in her writings. Contributors in this section will address the relevance of her religious ideas, the 'irrelevant', the posture of attentiveness and 'looking', and the roles of erotic exemplarity and mystery. The second section will examine the 'radical world' that follows from the orientation described and will consider themes like violence, power, resistance, responsibility, feminism, liberation theology, science, technology, propaganda, and political hegemony. Through the revolutionary insights of this remarkable woman, then, the contributors propose a framework for understanding and creating a more just world, one that challenges Western philosophy's metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical assumptions which have led to pervasive forms of uprootedness, or what Weil calls deracinement. This framework centres on a notion of absolute selflessness and humility, and is radical both in the sense of being 'unconventional' and in the sense of the Latin radicalis, 'returning to essential roots'. Becoming rooted in reality and centred in what is essential, especially in our context characterized by over-consumption and 'virtual reality', is unconventional. How much more, then, is the radical absolutely relevant and Simone Weil the paradigm for effective socio-political redress.