Course Details

964: Simone Weil On Tragedy: Lessons From a Poem and a Play

February 9, 10, 11, 12
1:45 PM - 3:15 PM

Towards the end of her life, the French philosopher and political activist Simone Weil (1909-43) was working on a tragedy, Venice Saved. The largely completed play was recently published in English for the first time. It explores the depths of Weil's thoughts on tragedy. Venice Saved is the story of a horrific evil abated, even though evil later demanded its murderous due. A city—its beauty, heritage, and citizens—survives thanks to the merciful actions of the lead character, Jaffier, who was part of a group of Spanish mercenaries who plotted to sack the city in 1618. Nonetheless, Jaffier's actions, noble as they are, trigger deadly consequences for his friends, the co-conspirators—consequences of the kind doled out by the Nazis, whose brutality was being exercised when Weil penned her play. Written with engaging style and imagination, the play cuts a wide dramatic and philosophic swath akin to something Albert Camus might have envisioned. The play was written in the light of Weil’s 1940-1941 essay titled "The Iliad, or poem of Force." Central to an understanding of Venice Saved is Weil's notion of force, the idea that was the philosophical and psychological centerpiece of her powerful essay on the Iliad.

Class Format: Lecture and Discussion

Hours of Reading: 1-2 hours/session

Study Group Leader(s):

Ronald Collins
Ronald Collins is the former Harold S. Shefelman Scholar at the University of Washington School of Law. His areas of specialty are jurisprudence and constitutional law. He has authored some eleven books including The Death of Discourse (1996), The Judge: 26 Machiavellian Lessons (2017) Robotica: Speech Rights and Artificial Intelligence (2018), and People v. Ferlinghetti: The Fight to Publish Allen Ginsberg's HOWL (2019). He is also the co-director of the History Book Festival. Last year he taught three classes at the Lewes Public Library on Simone Weil. His writings on Weil have appeared in the journal Cahiers Simone Weil and in the book Simone Weil's Philosophy of Culture (Cambridge University Press, 1993), and most recently in the Los Angeles Review of Books ("On Simone and André Weil: An Exchange with Karen Olsson").

Reading List:

The Iliad, or Poem of Force (Simone Weil) | 0: Available via Chicago Review for free: | Required
Venice Saved (Simone Weil) | 2019: | Required