Monday, May 25, 2009

Reflections: O'Connor on Weil - Part III

Back to business, then. We left off with Flannery O'Connor having been exposed to her first Simone Weil through the reading of books mailed to her by her penpal, "A." She has written to "A." on September 24, that she (O'Connor) finds Weil to be "tragic" and "comic."

Though we have only O'Connor's side of the correspondence, it is evident from the next selection (below) that "A." has written back to ask, "What the hell do you mean by dissing my Simone in this ignominious fashion!?!"

O'Connor immediately whips off this self-effacing clarification of what was meant by those two apparently negatively-weighted terms:

30 September 55 to “A.”:

By saying Simone Weil’s life was both comic and terrible, I am not trying to reduce it, but mean to be paying her the highest tribute I can, short of calling her a saint, which I don’t believe she was. Possibly I have a higher opinion of the comic and terrible than you do. To my way of thinking it includes her great courage and to call her anything less would be to see her as merely ordinary. She was certainly not ordinary. Of course, I can only say, as you point out, this is what I see, not this is what she is—which only God knows. But I didn’t mean that my heroine would be a hypothetical Miss Weil. My heroine already is, and is Hulga. Miss Weil’s existence only parallels what I have in mind, and it strikes me especially hard because I had it in mind before I knew as much as I do now about Simone Weil. …You have to be able to dominate the existence that you characterize. That is why I write about people who are more or less primitive. I couldn’t dominate a Miss Weil because she is more intelligent and better than I am but I can project a Hulga.

There you have it, dear readers--"the highest tribute": "She was certainly not ordinary" and "...she is more intelligent and better than I am...."

True dat. And this is why she should be read. And reread. And read again.