Contrary to what is commonly believed, one moves from the general to the particular, from the abstract to the concrete. (This has important consequences for teaching.) …It is art which, best of all, gives us the idea of what is particular. …And art has its origin in religion. It is due to religion and art that one can arrive at a representation of what is individual; it is due to feeling (friendship, love, affection) that one human being is different from others. To label, classify someone one loves, that is impious. 1
Simone Weil was born in Paris into a wealthy Jewish family. At the age of ten she declared herself a communist; her sympathy with the poor and oppressed is a constant theme in her life and writings. She attended university at the Sorbonne, where her asceticism and political views earned her the nickname of 'the red virgin'. On graduation she taught in a secondary school in Le Puy. Her spare-time work with the unemployed, and her refusal to cram her students for exams in the conventional way, led to her dismissal. After a grim year as a factory worker she went to Spain to fight on the side of the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War; an accident with cooking oil brought her involvement in the war to an end. In 1942 the Weil family escaped from the Nazi persecution of the Jews to America. Simone Weil travelled from there to England with the intention of joining the Free French forces. In England she contracted tuberculosis, probably exacerbated by her refusal to eat more than the rations allowed to her compatriots in occupied France, and died in a sanatorium in Ashford, Kent. Her writings were all published posthumously.
Simone Weil is best understood as a kind of neo-Platonic, Christian mystic, despite her Jewish origins. Her view of humankind is that we naturally tend to surround ourselves with the comfort of fantasy. We are like the prisoners in Plato's Cave (Republic, Book VII), mistaking shadows for reality and reluctant to struggle free of our chains, to leave the warmth of the fire that casts those shadows and emerge into the harsh light of the sun. She