Decreation and the Ethical Bind: Simone Weil and the Claim of the Other

Decreation and the Ethical Bind: Simone Weil and the Claim of the Other

Decreation and the Ethical Bind: Simone Weil and the Claim of the Other

Decreation and the Ethical Bind: Simone Weil and the Claim of the Other

Synopsis

In Simone Weil’s philosophical and literary work, obligation emerges at the conjuncture of competing claims: the other’s self-affirmation and one’s own dislocation; what one has and what one has to give; a demand that asks for too much and the extraordinary demand implied by asking nothing. The other’s claims upon the self—which induce unfinished obligation, unmet sleep, hunger—drive the tensions that sustain the scene of ethical relationality at the heart of this book. Decreation and the Ethical Bind is a study in decreative ethics in which self-dispossession conditions responsiveness to a demand to preserve the other from harm. In examining themes of obligation, vulnerability, and the force of weak speech that run from Levinas to Butler, the book situates Weil within a continental tradition of literary theory in which writing and speech articulate ethical appeal and the vexations of response. It elaborates a form of ethics that is not grounded in subjective agency and narrative coherence but one that is inscribed at the site of the self’s depersonalization.

Excerpt

Certain words—attention, desire, truth, good, necessity, obligation, affliction—appear and reappear with a singular tenacity when you read Simone Weil. Together they compose a kind of refrain for writings with an astonishing range, all bearing the beautifully limpid prose with which Weil has come to be identified. the simplicity of the language, however, as well as the meticulous attention Weil brought to bear upon it, is in contest with a thinking marked by contradictions and abrupt shifts in register. Maurice Blanchot, in a not uncharitable reading, calls it a “thought often strangely surprised.” Weil moves willfully and unhesitatingly between philosophy, theology, and poetics, with a total disregard for teleology and disciplinary boundaries. a theory of labor is developed through a contemplation of God, for example. a study of the circumstances of Hitler’s rise to power is framed with a Greek myth. the list goes on. Françoise Meltzer paints a vivid picture of Weil’s method: “This elision between registers is disconcerting because it refuses to recognize itself as such. It is a kind of brilliant parataxis…. It is like Kafka’s technique: once you accept that Gregor Samsa is a cockroach, everything else follows logically. in Weil’s writings, the reader is frequently confronted with cockroaches, while the writer presses on, deaf to our cries of protest.” Those who read Weil with the expectation that the contradictions and contrapuntal strains in her writing will be resolved neatly or at all will be disappointed. and those who argue that they undermine the validity of her thought altogether will not find themselves alone in that estimation. Yet as Blanchot notes, “We are in the habit of valiantly withstanding the shock and constraint of such contradictions [in other philosophers], and I do not see why Simone Weil alone . . .

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