Crossroads of the Paths of my Thinking

Simone Weil wrote, “Our personality seems to us a sort of limit, and we love to figure that some day in an undetermined future we can get around it in one direction or another, or in many. But it also appears to us as a support and we wish to believe there are things we would never be capable of doing or saying or thinking because it is not in our character. That often proves false.” The stoic lesson: life lives us.

We often think that signposts carry meaning. My inner skeptic always questions how I can be sure that I arrive at the correct interpretation of a signpost. Recently all my reading is providing signposts to Simone Weil. Her work. Her self. Fanny Howe quotes a friend who called Weil “a secular monastic”. People will begin to consider me religious, buried in the work of yet another mystic. Some things I read nod forward to Weil: St. John of the Cross, Plato, in whom Weil detected foreshadows of Christianity; a bridge between Greek tragedy and Christian mysticism.

In Fanny Howe, like Christian Wiman, I discover the work of another tutelary spirit. Their books like Agamben’s, Wittgenstein’s blow more or less vigorously in the direction of Simone Weil, what Walter Benjamin, in a letter to Gershom Scholem about Kafka, described as “crossroads of the paths of my thinking.”

Howe in The Needle’s Eye, reflects on personality and our self-representing masks through a series of associative thoughts about the Boston marathon bombers, Francis and Clare of Assisi, folk philosophies and social norms.

My daughter is reading an old favourite book from when I was seventeen, Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Everyday Life. He argues that the self adapts our personality to suit the setting, donning a different mask as necessary, but that these masks are not permanent. Weil wrote, “The thing we believe to be our self is as ephemeral and automatic a product of external circumstances as the form of a sea wave.”

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Anthony

Time's Flow Stemmed is a notebook of my wild readings.

6 thoughts on “Crossroads of the Paths of my Thinking

  1. I love your comment about the Stoic lesson that “life lives us.”

    I was also just reading de Beauvoir’s impressions of Weil while they were at the Sorbonne. It amused me that she wasn’t very impressed with her. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is curious how certain writers seem to push us towards them; while we are pulling them into a constellation of our own making, which, as you note elsewhere, shifts and changes. Sorry to say I don’t have much time for Goffman’s “Everyday Life”; in part because I read the book too late: the idea of roles – which we must be careful to distinguish from the self – a revelation to the young. I should have read it when seventeen!

    Your Weil quotations gave me an itch. To remove it I had to write a long piece about them: https://serenityscience.blogspot.com/2019/01/reasons-virgin.html. I think the itch has gone now. I certainly feel much better! Thank you.

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