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...
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