Simone Weil: Attention as Generosity

First off, I should admit to being a pretty poor intellectual, though any solid attention aimed at my writing would reveal my imposter-like habit of feasting on other’s idea. But that is how I am; I like to take a spoonful of something incredible, chew on it until it softens and melts in my mouth, so it becomes inseparable from my own body, my own ever-changing way of being in the world. It is then that I might honour its creator and think or feel something worthwhile, something fresh and unknown. We could steal a bone from Tara Brach’s world and call it radical eating.
This is the ideal of the Great Feast: we must all be generous diners, feasting well on the kindness of those others who have questioned and birthed this world in all its human sadness and glory into being. We are meant to be inspired, to be filled with revelation, but it need not be pointed to God, or the solipsistic pursuit of personal freedom, or the heady thrill of pop activism. Grace defines those who refuse the allure of the frenzies of our age, but engage carefully, to the point of mastering a soft touch, where needed, and a heavy blow when necessary; though in this man’s case, of the non-physical sort.
I am not sure I am an Anarchist despite Glenn Wallis’s rather seductive invitation to think of one’s self as such in his most recent book on the topic (check out the interview). I am too ignorant to make up my mind about the sort of political stance I should commit too when they all appear so imperfect and so deeply flawed. I am muddling through at best and seeking to participate where I feel most driven to do so. I am though always appreciative of Glenn’s careful and considerate thought and this piece on Simon Weil is a delight to read and touches on very deep themes that transcend much of the utilitarian discourse surroundings its material and insights. I recommend it. If Glenn continues to write so sweetly (in the dining sense of the word), his will be a feast worth dining at.

Our New Classroom

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.

Simone Weil (1909-1943; pronounced vay) was an extraordinary person. If you do not know her life story, I highly recommend watching Julia Haslett’s moving and deeply personal movie, “An Encounter with Simone Weil” (at the bottom of this post). The movie opens with the filmmaker channelling Weil to ask, “What response does seeing human suffering demand of us?”

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One comment

  1. Thank you for promoting my Weil post, Matthew. I really appreciate it. Your own post on it is rich in nutrients itself. In fact, I will tell you something. I thought of you numerous times over the two days that I wrote the Weil piece. I think I know why, and it has everything to do with the spirit that permeates the Great Feast of Knowledge. We live in a time when complex thought is held in deep suspicion. Worse, it is either reflexively embraced as verifying one’s worldview or condemned as anathema, reactionary, evil, or some other form of noxiousness. In both case, the complex thought merely languishes in an ideological vacuum, really, contributing to nothing, possessing the nutritive substance of a styrofoam cup. This is happening on the left, at the center, on the right; it is happening in white woke circles (like blues and jazz, the roots of “woke” lie deep in black American culture; and like those musical forms, has been appropriated, contorted, and defanged by white middle class Euro-Americans), among liberals, and in fascist communities. (Don’t say these groups have nothing in common!) Anyway, I will indeed continue to write in this vein for a while. It’s on a continuum with the Speculative Non-Buddhism project as the moment that follows critique, namely, redescription. To people who have little or no patience for the kind of nuanced thought that we find in ideas such as Adorno’s “inverse theology” or Weil’s “God,” or indeed in Buddhist meditation, I am merely lapsing into more spiritualized obscurantism. But I have faith, deep faith, that others will find value. Anyway, I see you, and your work on this blog and podcast, as embodying the perilous spirit of complex thought–complex in the sense of refusing to abide by the myopic tyrannies of our current ideological tribes. Onward!

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