Friday, 25 August 2017

Weil on Slavery

The Need for Roots is probably not one of the books that most reflects her particular genius. Given the circumstances under which it was written and the relative youth of the writer, one cannot expect a comprehensive work but as ever her overwrought emotional cerebrality has its own persuasive power. To dismiss her as a clumsy neurotic whom it was physically dangerous to be around would be facile and yet I can imagine the foreman saying – don’t let that lassie carry planks. She means well under both species that of ignorant benevolence and in a strained sense, acute insight.
That particular work is available
Need for Roots
She castigates Maritain:
For instance, a lover of Ancient Greece, reading in one of Maritain’s books: ‘The greatest thinkers of antiquity had not thought of condemning slavery’, would indict Maritain before one of these tribunals. He would take along with him the only important reference to slavery that has come down to us—the one from Aristotle. He would invite the judges to read the sentence: ‘Some people assert that slavery is absolutely contrary to nature and reason.’ He would observe that there is nothing to make us suppose these particular ‘people’ were not among the greatest thinkers of antiquity. The court would censure Maritain for having published—when it was so easy for him to avoid falling into such a mistake—a false assertion, and one constituting, however unintentionally, an outrageous calumny against an entire civilization.
The tribunal she talks about is one of those which would assess the Truth in the News, once on the banner of The Irish Press newspaper. Right now they would be busy.

However in her essay on The Iliad or The Poem of Force written in 1939 she could describe the enslavement of those defeated in battle thus:
At least some suppliants, once granted their wish, become again men like others. But there are still more miserable beings who, without dying, have become things for life. In their days there is no play, no space, no opening for anything that comes from within. These are not men living harder lives than others, or socially inferior to others; they are an alternative human species, a hybrid of man and corpse. That a human being should be a thing is a logical contradiction; but when the impossible has become a reality, the contradiction lacerates the soul. This thing aspires at all times to be a man or a woman, and never attains the goal. This is a death that extends throughout a life, a life that death has frozen long before putting an end to it. 15. The maiden, daughter of a priest, will suffer this fate:
I will not return her. Before that old age will seize her,
in my home, in Argos, far from her homeland,
moving along the loom and lying in my bed.
Find a copy of the essay here:
Poem of Force

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