Saturday, May 30, 2009

Reflections: O'Connor on Weil - Part IV

Covering the period 1952-1963, there are sixteen separate references to Simone Weil noted in the index of The Habit of Being, the selected letters of Flannery O’Connor, edited by Sally Fitzgerald. In my effort here to convince admirers of O’Connor that they should look into the writings of Simone Weil on O’Connor’s recommendation, I will not quote all sixteen. But I do have a few more to cite.

O’Connor’s interest in Weil was primarily as a Catholic:

30 October 55 to “A.”:

I think Mlle. Weil was a far piece from the Church too but considering where she started from, the distance she came toward it seems remarkable.

In a letter sent by O’Connor to “A.” fourteen months after the one quoted above, we see that O’Connor has not only maintained her interest in Weil, but, having been gifted with a set of Weil’s incredible Notebooks, her admiration has continued to grow:

28 December 56 to “A.”:

The Lord knows I never expected to own the Notebooks of Simone Weil. This is almost something to live up to; anyway, reading them is one way to try to understand the age. I intend to find that Time with her picture (some weeks ago) and cut out the picture and stick it in the front. That face gives a kind of reality to the notes. I am more than obliged to you. These are books that I can’t begin to exhaust, and Simone Weil is a mystery that should keep us all humble, and I need it more than most. Also she’s the example of the religious consciousness without a religion which maybe sooner or later I will be able to write about. [emphasis added]

On a personal note, I too was gifted by a life-long friend with a set of the Notebooks, and my reaction both to the extraordinary generosity of the gift and to the extraordinary gifts enjoyed in the reading of them matches O’Connor’s, word for word.

Simone Weil had a brother who was a world-class mathematician. She, too, placed great importance in math—and especially in geometry—in her understanding of the nature of Existence as passed down from the Greeks. I, like O’Connor, in my profound impotence before things mathematical, had to skim over some of these parts, fearing as I did so that I was missing out on the revelation of profound mysteries, but realizing at the same time that an inexhaustible fund of wisdom with which I am somewhat equipped to grapple was opening itself to me:

12 January 57 to “A.”:

Don’t worry about my spending any time computing the little figures in the Simone notebooks. I just go on to the next page. There are remarkable things there and if I really own the complete Simone Weil I feel very rich.

Very rich. Absolutely.