Mourning Becomes Simone Weil

After a week away, with no internet, no email and no updates on twittering Twump’s transition team, I am back with my Minus Plato daily postings. They will be shorter and sweeter than usual until the new year as I have an essay to write on Simone Weil’s use of ancient Greek and Roman ideas in her critique of French colonial violence in the late 1930s.

As part of writing this essay, I have been reading about her consistent interest in the mythical figure of Electra, both in herself and as she appears in the Sophoclean tragedy Electra (Weil is much less interested in her appearances in Aeschylus and Euripides). On the cover of her ‘Pre-War Notebook’ (written between 1934 and 1939), Weil wrote several quotations from ancient Greek and Roman texts (Homer, Horace, Marcus Aurelius), but pride of place belonged to tragedy and specifically the plays of Sophocles.

She records the following exchange from Sophocles’ Electra (1224-6) in the top right of the cover:

Electra: O dearest light

Orestes: The dearest! I join you in witnessing it

Electra: O voice, have you arrived?

Orestes: Let the answer come from noon else.

Electra: I have you in my arms

Orestes: As you shall hold me always, forever.

Within the notebook itself, Weil writes these scattered notes on the play:

Electra. Abandonment among powerful and hostile beings: humiliation, slavery, blows, rags….Culmination when abandonment becomes complete through the death of the one friendly and protecting being. Then recovery of him, and salvation….

Beyond Sophocles, in a letter to Jean Posternak, Weil comments on their mutual admiration for the recent play Électre by Jean Giraudoux:

As you observe, Giraudoux’s Electra is not mine (Who will bring mine to light?) I admire the same things in it as you do. The central idea (the banefulness of conscience) is powerful and fine, but its dramatic treatment is null, especially in the second act.

What would have a Weil Electra looked like? And, more importantly, what would her version of this myth of violence, abandonment and salvation have brought to light for us today?

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