Michelle Ty (Berlin) on “On Self-Forgetting”

Étant en usine, confondue aux yeux de tous et à mes propres yeux avec la masse anonyme, le malheur des autres est entré dans ma chair et dans mon âme. Rien ne m'en séparait, car j'avais réellement oublié mon passé et je n'attendais aucun avenir, pouvant difficilement imaginer la possibilité de survivre à ces fatigues.

Simone Weil, "Attente de Dieu", 1942

This is our conference death | text | resonance Simone Weil and writing to(wards) death in July 2020.

We invited scholars from different fields to choose a text by Simone Weil or a somehow related writer or thinker to read and discuss.



Michelle is assistant professor of English at Clemson University.

Simone Weil draws thought toward that drift in which “extreme attention” becomes identified with “prayer.”  In lieu of an act of “interpretation” that would actively produce textual signification out of the materials that lie at its disposal,  she gestures toward a practice of looking at objects—and continuing to look upon them until “the light suddenly dawns.”  Reading is thus a kind of self-forgetting—that is, not so much a total annihilation than a suspension of intention, and in that suspension, an emptying of thought into a readiness to receive the object as it enters le vide that thought has necessarily become in order to be thought.  Such an orientation toward understanding realizes an auto-dislocation from conventional epistemological and phenomenological centerings around the I that grasps what is around and brought before it.  I would like to lend time to the relationships that are traced between this being en attente; the ego’s relinquishment (particularly as it is enacted in and through writing-as-waiting); and the arrival of illumination from without.  Touch-points that offer lines of sight for this exploration include literary moments of preoccupation with a mirror that holds no face in view (an image that recurs in the writings of both Virginia Woolf and Clarice Lispector); and the notion of wu wei in Taoist philosophy, which translates into a non-programmatic principle of nonaction.  What forms of sustenance and disorientation attend this seeing without a self to hold that looking?  And how does the extremity of an anti-narcissistic stance avoid re-consolidating the grounds of the I through the concentration on its absence?  In what senses might decreation be scarcely exhausted by obliteration?  And how might Weil’s notion of attention be re-thought without the presumption of a self that was.

Here, you can download the passages that Michelle is referring to:

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