Friday, March 6, 2009

Readings: Simone Weil - Part V

Below, Part V of Paul West's sketch of Simone Weil from Portable People:

She returns to Europe, playing volleyball on the way over and even dressing up on one occasion as a ghost. Finally she discovers a haven, during the thick of the air raids, at 31 Portland Road, London, and lives on black coffee; coughs all the time; refuses to look after herself or be looked after; strews papers all over her room; commends the good humor of the British, the pubs, the police system; wanders regularly into Hyde Park; and even elects to sleep out in the rain on the grounds of a convent. She tried to learn to drive; she deliberately upsets herself and Simone Deitz from their boat into the Serpentine. She sets herself a Benjamin Franklin-Jay Gatsby type of regimen: “avoid all loss of time…sleep on the floor or on a table in order to limit the hours of sleep to four or five…” Desperately eager to be parachuted into France, she occupies herself with the English metaphysical poets, her work for the Free French Ministry of the Interior, and the composition of The Need for Roots. At last, too weak to lift a fork, and refusing a pneumothorax as well as deciding against baptism, she is moved from the Middlesex Hospital to Ashford. The death certificate said, “Cardiac failure due to myocardial degeneration of the heart muscles due to starvation and pulmonary tuberculosis. The deceased did kill and slay herself by refusing to eat whilst the balance of her mind was disturbed.” Perhaps, though, her mind’s disturbance balanced for the first time. The certificate of burial reads, “Conducted own service—Catholic—French Refugee—Depth: 6 feet.”

West over-simplifies this part of it. The introduction to The Need for Roots, which he barely mentions, is written by T.S. Eliot, of all people. It is a significant, radical, and somewhat paradoxical, work concerned with how better to structure Western Civilization.