Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series Gravity and Grace Analysis
Although she remained formally outside the Christian church, Weil throughout Gravity and Grace affirmed the core of Christian teaching. She believed, for example, in the necessity of the Incarnation and suffering of God. Her understanding of suffering, sacrifice, and service was derived from the Gospels; she speaks approvingly of Paul, John of the Cross, and certain English mystical poets. Although she was never baptized, Weil believed herself intellectually, spiritually, and morally an heir to essential Catholic Christianity.
Since its publication, most of the critical attention given to Gravity and Grace has come from Christian, especially Roman Catholic, readers. Some have expressed dissatisfaction with Gravity and Grace. A few think that Weil’s reputation may have been harmed by the early and hurried publication of these extracts from her notebooks because they do not reflect her more developed thought. They argue that although Gravity and Grace reveals the spirit and outline of Weil’s thinking, the entries are too often fragmentary and too undeveloped to serve as proper introductions to her extensive writings. In spite of her acknowledged integrity and success in the aphoristic style, all agree that these selected extracts also contain embarrassingly pompous pronouncements. Weil’s opinion on beautiful drama, for example, is difficult to accept:Only drama without movement is truly beautiful. Shakespeare’s tragedies are second class, with the exception of Lear. Those of Racine third class, except for Phedre. Those of Corneille of the nth class.
If such judgments are unacceptable, some entries are incomprehensible as well. Few if any readers know what Weil means when she says, “The demonstrable correlation of opposites is an image of the transcendental correlation of contradictories.” Such abstruse writing, however, is infrequent. Nevertheless, examples of odd literary criticism and several unintelligible extracts have tended to make Weil’s readers wary of her judgments in other matters. Thus, Weil’s success...
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Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series Gravity and Grace Analysis
Weil’s tone appears to be highly philosophical upon an initial reading, but it does take cohesive form as her subject progresses. The central issue is the battle between good and evil. Gravity and Grace addresses the common teachings of Christianity, but it also condones the human tendency to sin. This seems contradictory, yet Weil argues that it is only through sin that one can acknowledge the existence of God. This duality is acceptable to her, because “Contradiction alone is proof that we are not everything. Contradiction is our wretchedness, and the sense of our own wretchedness is the sense of reality.” Humanity is capable of performing ill, which is the required counterpart of righteousness, and this design presupposes conflict. For Weil, the two poles of spirituality are in some instances one and the same: An excess of goodness yields to the beginning of evil, so no crystal distinction can be made between them.
Gravity is the force that keeps the individual grounded; it is separate from grace (and therefore isolated from God). It is, as it were, the womb of sin. Grace is a celestial energy which prevails over void and gravity. Weil introduces the void as that area between human gravity and heavenly grace. The void is imperative for the animation of God—without a feeling of absence, there would be no longing. Humans are not capable of crossing this threshold that unites them with God; only the Supreme Being may cross over to meet them. Instead, they must only accept this void in the hope of future completion. Gravity holds people to themselves, and this attachment is a selfish desire for the present truth. God repudiates His essence to create humans; humans in return must become nothing to welcome God. This notion of “de-creation” pervades Weil’s thought—the denial of one’s own worth directly enables one to seek, and ultimately to reunite with, God. As an individual releases the self, so does gravity release that individual. Still...
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English translations of Weil’s work have been published in a chronologically awkward fashion. All of her books were published posthumously, and most are composed of miscellaneous letters, articles, notes, and fragments, many of which were never intended for publication. Moreover, the English translations often gather these materials under different titles. As a consequence, Weil’s work has often appeared haphazardly, and the thematic integrity of her thought has been difficult to perceive. Thus, Gravity and Grace, while one of the first important publications of Weil’s work in English, needs to be read alongside other developed pieces. Attente de Dieu (1950; Waiting for God, 1951) provides, for example, access to Weil’s more personal voice. Composed of letters and papers in early 1942, Waiting for God not only clarifies the Weilian motif of “attending/waiting” but also describes her mystical experience, conversion, and subsequent relationship with the Church. L’Enracinement: Prelude a une declaration des devoirs envers l’etre humain (1949; The Need for Roots, 1952), regarded by many as her most brilliant and important book, is an extended meditation on the problems of rebuilding a just society in France after the liberation. It is the best explication of her sociopolitical thought, suggestions of which are provided in the final chapters of Gravity and Grace. Cahiers (1951;...
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