Saturday, December 24, 2022

Weil 1 de Beauvoir 0

What I think is Simone de Beauvoir's only meeting with Simone Weil, from de Beauvoir's first volume of autobiography "Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter."

While preparing to enter the Normale — the training-college in Paris for professoriates — she was taking the same examinations as myself at the Sorbonne. She intrigued me because of her great reputation for intelligence and her bizarre get-up; she would stroll round the courtyard of the Sorbonne attended by a group of Alain's old pupils; she always carried in the one pocket of her dark-grey overall a copy of Libres Propos and in the other a copy of Humanite. A great famine had broken out in China, and I was told that when she heard the news she had wept: these tears compelled my respect much more than her gifts as a philosopher. I envied her for having a heart that could beat right across the world. I managed to get near her one day. I don't know how the conversation got started; she declared in no uncertain tones that only one thing mattered in the world today: the Revolution which would feed all the starving people of the earth. I retorted, no less peremptorily, that the problem was not to make men happy, but to find the reason for their existence. She looked me up and down: 'It's easy to see you've never gone hungry,' she snapped. Our relationship did not go any further. I realized that she had classified me as 'a high-minded little bour-geois', and this annoyed me, just as I used to be annoyed whenever Mademoiselle Litt attributed certain tastes I had to the fact that I was only a child; I believed that I had freed myself from the bonds of my class: I didn't want to be anyone else but myself. 

It fills me with delight that Weil beat de Beauvoir into second place in their general philosophy exams at the Sorbonne. Maybe a trip to her grave in Ashford, Kent ought to be on my list for 2023? She is buried in the dedicated Catholic section in Bybrook Cemetery there.

A random thought; Weil, Sir Richard Francis Burton and Wittgenstein (three of my favourites) are all laid to rest in Catholic soil despite not being, officially, of the faith.

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