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The Subversive Simone Weil

A Life in Five Ideas

Robert Zaretsky

The Subversive Simone Weil

Robert Zaretsky

200 pages | 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 | © 2020
Cloth $20.00 ISBN: 9780226549330 Published February 2021
E-book $19.99 to $20.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226549477 Published February 2021
Known as the “patron saint of all outsiders,” Simone Weil (1909–43) was one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable thinkers, a philosopher who truly lived by her political and ethical ideals. In a short life framed by the two world wars, Weil taught philosophy to lycée students and organized union workers, fought alongside anarchists during the Spanish Civil War and labored alongside workers on assembly lines, joined the Free French movement in London and died in despair because she was not sent to France to help the Resistance.

Though Weil published little during her life, after her death, thanks largely to the efforts of Albert Camus, hundreds of pages of her manuscripts were published to critical and popular acclaim. While many seekers have been attracted to Weil’s religious thought, Robert Zaretsky gives us a different Weil, exploring her insights into politics and ethics, and showing us a new side of Weil that balances her contradictions—the rigorous rationalist who also had her own brand of Catholic mysticism; the revolutionary with a soft spot for anarchism yet who believed in the hierarchy of labor; and the humanitarian who emphasized human needs and obligations over human rights. Reflecting on the relationship between thought and action in Weil’s life, The Subversive Simone Weil honors the complexity of Weil’s thought and speaks to why it matters and continues to fascinate readers today.
 
 
Contents
Preface

Introduction

Chapter One    The Force of Affliction

Chapter Two    Paying Attention

Chapter Three    The Varieties of Resistance

Chapter Four    Finding Roots

Chapter Five    The Good, the Bad, and the Godly

Epilogue

Acknowledgments
Notes
Index
Review Quotes
The Bookseller
"This biography of an exceptional 20th-century thinker traces her inspirational experiences and philosophy. Zaretzky unveils Weil’s depth and seeming contradictions (rationalism and mysticism, revolution and belief) to explain her lasting appeal to readers."
The Baffler
“Zaretsky guides us through Weil’s complexities with impressive lucidity, keeping it lively and accessible, which is no small feat.”
Prospect
“In clear, accessible prose, Zaretsky gives some coherence to Weil’s largely fragmentary oeuvre. What emerges is a portrait of a politically unclassifiable thinker who in her life and writings committed herself to be open to the unbearable reality around her.”
Publishers Weekly
"This memorable survey delivers a rich portrait of the intellectual currents that shaped a one-of-a-kind thinker. Those curious about Weil’s work will find this to be a welcome place to start."
Sarah Bakewell, author of At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Others
“Simone Weil was merciless (not least on herself), sometimes alarming, always compelling, and unavoidably significant.  This is a beautifully sharp and thoughtful account of her life and work—a fascinating read.”
Todd May, author of A Decent Life: Morality for the Rest of Us
"Zaretsky's work is unfailingly eloquent, fascinating, and relevant. In treating both her life and her writings, The Subversive Simone Weil displays a subject who, by going too far toward goodness, reminds so many of us that we have not gone far enough. In Zaretsky's hands, her courage stands as a complicated but necessary lesson for us all."
 
Alice Kaplan, author of Looking for “The Stranger”: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic
“Reading Zaretsky’s absorbing and tender intellectual portrait of Simone Weil, I was reminded on every page of her astonishing relevance to our own times. With her demanding vision of the life well lived, in her extreme judgments and through her punishing empathy, Weil emerges here as a figurehead for the intellectual and ethical challenges of the current moment. As he has done so beautifully in his books on Camus, Zaretsky has opened Weil’s life and work to our understanding. For readers familiar with Weil’s, The Subversive Simone Weil is a valuable synthesis; for those coming to her for the first time, an inspiring primer.”
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