Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series Factory Journal Analysis
“Factory Journal” is one of those rare publications which provides an intimate look into the workplace of the common person. Yet it could have been written only by an outsider. Simone Weil seems to have been one of the great outsiders of history, a member of a supportive family but despairing of her place in it, a Jew who tells of mystical experiences with Jesus, a lover of Catholicism who refused baptism, a talented writer who believed that her natural ability was mediocre, a political activist and anticapitalist who thought that the work of the Left benefited only the Soviet bureaucracy. Gradually, she came to believe that liberation of the poor must occur within the basic socioeconomic context of their lives and not in revolution or political action per se. “Factory Journal” is instrumental in her account of a quest for something beyond the social, something she would call love of neighbor or justice. At this time, she had not yet read the Sermon on the Mount, but, as she would explain later, the message contained in its teachings was becoming the first and necessary duty. It was in this spirit that she had rented a room near the factory and set out to live on her meager earnings. She was pushed close to the breaking point.
Later, when her notebooks and other writings were published, many would find her struggle altruistic, insightful, and even saintly, although there would be some who questioned the depth of her motivation. Some people saw a comic quality in her factory involvement which Weil herself would be quite content to accept as a sign of holy simplicity. If she was a fool, she saw herself as God’s fool, one who, like all others, could penetrate to “the kingdom of truth reserved for genius.”
Weil believed that a serious, disciplined effort would produce rewards even if the immediate problem could not be solved. She used mathematical examples to explain this idea and unwittingly revealed her childhood frustration over her brother Andre’s prodigal success in this field. This Frenchwoman struggled to approach all tasks with deep concentration, for in the mastery of the will was found something far greater than the job itself. She would say in her spiritual letters that concentration opened the way for God. Accordingly, “Factory Journal” reflects a seriousness, producing a feeling in the reader that the specific task discussed, whether it be operating a punch press or a milling machine or the like, takes on a universal significance. Thus, a paradox is created. The worker is a machine whose every...
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Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series Factory Journal Analysis
Almost all the ideas important to Simone Weil (with the exception of her spiritual acceptance of Christianity)—such as her intellectual adherence to the Marxist model of social existence based on the division of labor, her insistence on the necessity for individual action, her demand for justice as a sign of social progress—inform the basic premises of “Factory Journal.” Weil had studied the works of Karl Marx with great attention, but she found that Marxism, while tracing the cause of oppression to the division of labor, fails to answer why this division of labor should necessarily turn into oppression. In 1932, Weil had visited Germany and had witnessed the rise of militant nationalism under Adolf Hitler and the failure of the German Communist Party to prevent it; in 1933, she had taken part in the famous “March of the Miners” planned by the Confédération Générale du Travail (miners’ federation) to protest against unemployment and wage cuts. Thus in 1934 Weil was philosophically attuned to a life of committed activism. It is characteristic of Weil’s thinking that she should attempt to “improve” Marx; she does so by humanizing the affliction of humiliation that wounds the worker’s psyche. Humiliation works in a twofold manner: by alienating the worker from the machine and from the product and by the deliberate suppression of solidarity and critical thinking among workers by those in power.
Worker solidarity is one way to liberate workers; yet another way would be to re-create the relationship between the worker and the machine so that the worker still has a certain synthetic part to play in its operation, instead of being relegated to the mindless, repetitive movements that are characteristic of assembly-line production. In “Factory Journal,” as well as in a later essay entitled “Factory Work” (1946), Weil foresaw the worker’s alienation as...
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Weil’s assertion that submission and toil may become redemptive is similar to the moral of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s portrayal of forced labor found in his book Odin den Ivana Denisovicha (1962; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, 1963). Circumstances and setting differ, but both authors have placed the universal into the work scene. Nevertheless, “Factory Journal” would be better compared to Blaise Pascal’s masterpiece Pensees (1670; English translation, 1688); indeed, there are similarities in the unpolished notebook styles. To compare the jottings of the inexperienced Weil with those of the mathematical genius and mystic, however, is hardly reasonable. Nevertheless, Simone Weil has much in common with Pascal, as her later writings make clear. Like the earlier Frenchman, she sought the highest in a solitary quest. She also would wait upon the “fire divine,” which Pascal struggled to put into words in his account of a consuming mystical moment.
Simone Weil did not write great or epic literature, and the ideas expressed in her notebooks and essays are often paradoxical, contradictory, and unfinished. Consequently, critics have attempted to analyze her rather than her writings. Alfred Kazin’s interest, for example, was in the manner and direction of her life. Because some suspected the odor of sanctity around her life, there have been few neutral reactions to her. She has been measured by the highest...
(The entire section is 588 words.)