Gravity and Grace

From Wikiquote
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Action is the pointer which shows the balance. We must not touch the pointer but the weight.
The simultaneous existence of opposite virtues in the soul—like pincers to catch hold of God.
I am also other than I imagine myself to be. To know this is forgiveness.

Gravity and Grace (La pesanteur et la grâce) is collection of aphorisms written by Simone Weil and published posthumously in 1947.

Quotes[edit]

  • C’est cette présence de l’ordre supérieur dans l’inférieur sous forme d’un infiniment petit.
    • Every order which transcends another can only be introduced into it under the form of something infinitely small.
      • p. xix


  • Supernatural love has no contact with force, moreover it does not protect the soul against the coldness of force, the coldness of steel. Only an earthly attachment, if it has in it enough energy, can afford protection against the coldness of steel. Armor is made of metal in the same way as the sword. If we want a love which will protect the soul from wounds we must love something other than God.
    • p. xxii


  • What evil violates is not goodness, for goodness is inviolate; only a degraded good can be violated.
    • p. xxiv


  • Les êtres et les choses ne me sont pas assez sacrés. Puissé-je ne rien souiller, quand je serais entièrement transformée en boue. Ne rien souiller même dans ma pensée. Même dans les pires moments je ne détruirais pas une statue grecque ou une fresque de Giotto. Pourquoi donc autre chose? Pourquoi par exemple un instant de la vie d’un être humain qui pourrait être un instant heureux?
    • Beings are not sacred enough to me. May I never sully anything, even though I be utterly transformed into mud. To sully nothing, even in thought. Even in my worst moments I would not destroy a Greek statue or a fresco by Giotto. Why anything else then? Why, for example, a moment in the life of a human being who could have been happy for that moment.
      • p. 5


  • Impossible de pardonner à qui nous a fait du mail, se ce mail nous abaisse. Il faut penser qu’il ne nous a pas abaissés, mais a révélé notre vrai niveau.
    • It is impossible to forgive whoever ... has lowered us. We have to think that he has not lowered us, but has revealed our true level.
      • p. 5


  • Maux de tête. A tel moment : moindre douleur en la projetant dans l’univers, mais univers altéré ; doleur plus vive, une fois ramenée à son lieu, mais quelque chose en moi ne souffre pas et de même avec les passions. Les faire descendre, les ramener à un point, et s’en désintéresser. Traiter ainsi notamment toutes les douleurs. Les empêcher d’approcher les choses.
    • Headaches. At a certain moment, the pain is lessened by projecting it into the universe, but the universe is impaired; the pain is more intense when it comes home again, but something in me does not suffer and remains in contact with the universe which is not impaired. ... Treat all sufferings in this way. Prevent them from having access to things.
      • p. 6


  • A situation which is too hard degrades us through the following process: as a general rule the energy supplied by the higher emotions is limited. If the situation requires us to go beyond this limit we have to fall back on lower feelings (fear, covetousness, desire to beat the record, love of outward honours) which are richer in energy.
This limitation is the key to many a retrogression. ...
Tragedy of those who, having been guided by the love of the Good into a road where suffering has to be endured, after a certain time reach their limit and become debased.
  • pp. 7-8


  • Une être aimé qui déçoit. Je lui ai écrit. Impossible qu’il ne me réponde pas ce que je me suis dit à moi-même en son nom.
Les hommes nous doivent ce que nous imaginons qu’ils nous donneront. Leur remettre cette dette.
Accepter qu’ils soient autres que les créatures de notre imagination, c’est imiter le renoncement de Dieu.
Moi aussi, je suis autre que ce que je m’imagine être. Le savoir, c’est le pardon.
  • A beloved being who disappoints me. I have written to him. It is impossible that he should not reply by saying what I have said to myself in his name.
Men owe us what we imagine they will give us. We must forgive them this debt.
To accept the fact that they are other than the creatures of our imagination is to imitate the renunciation of God. [God causes the universe to exist, but he consents not to command it, although he has the power to do so.]
I am also other than I imagine myself to be. To know this is forgiveness.
  • p. 9 [The bracketed explanation is quoted from her Waiting on God, p. 97]


  • Le bien est pour nous un néant puisque aucune chose n’est bonne. Mais ce néant n’est pas irréel. Tout ce qui existe, comparé à lui, est irréel.
    • The good seems to us as a nothingness, since there is no thing that is good. But this nothingness is not unreal. Compared with it, everything in existence is unreal.
      • p. 13


  • Ecarter les croyances combleuses de vides, adoucisseuses des amertumes. Celle à l’immortalité. Celle à l’utilité des péchés : etiam peccata. Celle à l’ordre providentiel des événements—bref les « consolations » qu’on cherche ordinairement dans la religion.
    • We must leave on one side the beliefs which fill up voids and sweeten what is bitter. The belief in immortality. The belief in the utility of sin: etiam peccata. The belief in the providential ordering of events—in short the “consolations” which are ordinarily sought in religion.
      • p. 13


  • L’attachement est fabricateur d’illusions, et quiconque veut le réel doit être détaché.
    • Attachment is a manufacturer of illusions and whoever wants reality ought to be detached.
      • p. 13


  • L’attachement n’est pas autre chose que l’insuffisance dans le sentiment de la réalité. On est attaché à la possession d’une chose parce qu’on croit que si on cesse de la posséder, elle cesse d’être.
    • Attachment is no more nor less than an insufficiency in our sense of reality. We are attached to the possession of a thing because we think that if we cease to possess it, it will cease to exist.
      • p. 14


  • La misère humaine serait intolérable si elle n’était diluée dans le temps.
Empêcher qu’elle se dilue pour qu’elle soit intolérable.
  • Human misery would be intolerable if it were not diluted in time. We have to prevent it from being diluted in order that it should be intolerable.
  • p. 14


  • La purification est la séparation du bien et de la convoitise.
    • Purification is the separation of good from covetousness.
      • p. 20


  • La présence du mort est imaginaire mais son absence est bien réelle ; elle est désormais sa manière d’apparaître.
    • The presence of the dead person is imaginary, but his absence is very real: henceforward it is his way of appearing.
      • p. 21


  • Qu’ils aient perdu je, cela ne veut pas dire qu’ils n’aient plus d’égoïsme. Au contraire. L’être est au contraire réduit à l’égoïsme nu, végétatif. Un égoïsme sans je.
    • Though they [the afflicted] may have lost their ‘I’, it does not mean that they have no more egoism. Quite the reverse. ... The being is reduced to naked, vegetative egoism. An egoism without an ‘I’.
      • p. 23


  • L’action est l’aiguille indicatrice de la balance. Il ne faut pas toucher à l’aiguille, mais aux poids.
    • Action is the pointer which shows the balance. We must not touch the pointer but the weight.


  • On se porte vers une chose parce qu’on croit qu’elle est bonne, et on y reste enchaîne parce qu’elle est devenue nécessaire.
    • We are drawn toward a thing because we believe it is good. We end by being chained to it because it has become necessary.


  • Les choses sensibles sont réelles in tant que choses sensibles, mais irréelles en tant que biens.
    • Things of the senses are real if considered as perceptible things, but unreal if considered as goods.
      • p. 45


  • Nous acceptons les fausses valeurs qui nous apparaissent, et quand nous croyons agir, nous sommes en réalité immobiles, car nous
    • We accept the false values which appear to us, and when we think we are acting, we are in reality motionless, for we are still confined in the same system of values.


  • Perdre l’illusion de la possession du temps. S’incarner.
L’homme doit faire l’acte de s’incarner, car il est désincarné par l’imagination.
  • We must get rid of the illusion of possessing time. We must become incarnate.
Man has to perform an act of incarnation, for he is disembodied (désincarné) by his imagination.
  • p. 48


  • Croire qu’on s’élève parce qu’en gardant les mêmes bas penchants (exemple : désir de l’emporter sur autrui) on leur a donné des objets élevés.
On s’élèverait au contraire en attachant à des objets bas des penchants élevés.
  • We believe we are rising because while keeping the same base inclinations (for instance: the desire to triumph over others) we have given them a noble object.
We should, on the contrary, rise by attaching noble inclinations to lowly objects.
  • p. 48


  • Crainte de Dieu dans saint Jean de la Croix. N’est-ce pas la crainte de penser à Dieu alors qu’on en est indigne ? De le souiller en le pensant mal ? Par cette crainte, les parties basses s’éloignent de Dieu.
    • Fear of God in Saint John of the Cross. Is this not the fear of thinking about God when are unworthy; of sullying him by thinking about him wrongly? Through such fear the lower parts of our nature draw away from God.
      • p. 49


  • Le chair est dangereuse pour autant qu’elle se refuse à aimer Dieu, mais aussi pour autant qu’elle se mêle indiscrètement de l’aimer.
    • The flesh is dangerous in so far as it refuses to love God, but also in so far as without fitting modesty it pushes itself forward to love him.
      • p. 49


  • La volonté de combattre un préjugé … constitue un effort tout à fait stérile pour s’en débarrasser. La lumière de l’attention en pareille affaire est seule efficace, et elle n’est pas compatible avec une intention polémique.
    • The determination to fight against a prejudice ... constitutes an utterly sterile effort to get rid of it. In such a case the light of attention is the only thing which is effective, and it is not compatible with polemical intention.
      • p. 49


  • La lumière de l’attention … n’est pas compatible avec une intention polémique.
    • The light of attention ... is not compatible with polemical intention.
      • p. 49


  • All the Freudian system is impregnated with the prejudice which it makes it its mission to fight—the prejudice that everything sexual is vile.
    • p. 49
  • We do not have to acquire humility. There is humility in us—only we humiliate ourselves before false gods.
    • p. 54


  • Belief in the existence of other human beings as such is love.
    • p. 56


  • Everything which is vile or second-rate in us revolts against purity and needs, in order to save its own life, to soil this purity.
    • p. 58


  • The beautiful is that which we cannot wish to change.
    • p. 58


  • To assume power over is to soil. To possess is to soil.
    • p. 58


  • To love purely is to consent to distance, it is to adore the distance between ourselves and that which we love.
    • p. 58


  • The soul is the human being considered as having a value in itself.
    • p. 59


  • It is a fault to wish to be understood before we have made ourselves clear to ourselves.
    • p. 59


  • To wish to escape from solitude is cowardice.
    • p. 59


  • Monotony of evil: never anything new, everything about it is equivalent. ... It is because of this monotony that quantity plays so great a part. A host of women (Don Juan) or of men (Célimène), etc.
    • p. 62


  • A certain inferior kind of virtue is good’s degraded image, of which we have to repent, and of which it is more difficult to repent than evil—The Pharisee and the Publican.
    • p. 63


  • That which is the direct opposite of an evil never belongs to the order of higher good. It is often scarcely any higher than evil! Examples: theft and the bourgeois respect for property, adultery and the ‘respectable woman,’ the savings bank and waste, lying and ‘sincerity.’
    • p. 63


  • Good considered on the level of evil and measured against it as one opposite against another is good of the penal code order. Above there is a good which, in a sense, bears more resemblance to evil than to this low form of good.
    • p. 63


  • When we are the victims of illusion we do not feel it to be an illusion but a reality. It is the same perhaps with evil. Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty.
    • p. 64
  • Most people have a sense of duty about doing certain things that are bad and others that are good. The same man feels it to be a duty to sell for the highest price he can and not to steal, etc. Good for such people is on the level of evil, it is a good without light.
    • p. 64


  • The false God changes suffering into violence. The true God changes violence into suffering.
    • p. 65


  • The crime which is latent in us, we must inflict on ourselves.
    • p. 66


  • The most criminal weakness is infinitely less dangerous than the very slightest treason, even thought this should be confined to a purely inward movement of thought lasting no more than an instant.
    • p. 67


  • We believe that thought alone does not commit us in any way, but it alone commits us, and license of thought includes all license. Not to think about a thing—supreme faculty.
    • p. 69


  • Two conceptions of hell: the ordinary one (suffering without consolation); mine (false beatitude, mistakenly thinking oneself to be in paradise).
    • p. 72


  • The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering but a supernatural use for it.
    • p. 73


  • Time leads us whither we do no wish to go.
    • p. 74


  • To say that the world is not worth anything, that life is of no value, and to give evil as the proof is absurd, for if these things are worthless what does evil take from us?
    • p. 76


  • Alexander is to a peasant proprietor what Don Juan is to a happily married husband.
    • p. 78


  • Leaves and fruit are a waste of energy if our only wish is to rise.
    • p. 80


  • In order that we should realize the distance between ourselves and God it was necessary that God should be a crucified slave. For we do not realize distance except in the downward direction.
    • p. 81


  • To be innocent is to bear the weight of the entire universe. It is to throw away the counterweight.
    • p. 83


  • God gives himself to men either as powerful or as perfect—it is for them to choose.
    • p. 83


  • A lever. We lower when we want to lift. In the same way, “He who humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
    • p. 84


  • We must be like the father in heaven who does not judge: by him beings judge themselves. We must let all beings come to us, and leave them to judge themselves. We must be a balance.
    • p. 85


  • Bad union of opposites (bad because fallacious) is that which is achieved on the same plane as the opposites. Thus the granting of domination to the oppressed. In this way we do not get free from the oppression-domination cycle.
    • p. 91


  • The simultaneous existence of opposite virtues in the soul—like pincers to catch hold of God.
    • p. 92


  • Method of investigation: as soon as we have thought something, try to see in what way the contrary is true.
    • p. 93


  • The sword affords deliverance (whether through its handle or its point) from the intolerable weight of our obligation.
    • p. 95


  • The most commonplace truth when it floods the whole soul is like a revelation.
    • p. 105


  • The wrong way of seeking. The attention fixed on a problem. Another phenomenon die to horror of the void. We do not want to have lost our labour. The hear of the chase. We must not want to find: as in the case of excessive devotion, we become dependent on the object of our efforts. We need an outward reward which chance sometimes provides and which we are ready to accept at the price of a deformation of truth..
    • p. 106


  • It is only effort without desire (not attached to an object) which infallibly contains a reward.
    • p. 106


  • There are some kinds of effort which defeat their own object (example: the soured disposition of certain pious females, false asceticism, certain sorts of self-devotion, etc.). Others are always useful, even if they do not meet with success.
How are we to distinguish between them?
Perhaps this way: some efforts are always accompanied by the (false) negation of our inner wretchedness; with others the attention is continually concentrated on the distance there is between what we are and what we love.
  • p. 106


  • Love is the teacher of gods and men, for no one learns without desiring to learn.
    • p. 107


  • Truth is sought not because it is truth but because it is good.
    • p. 107


  • As regards temptations, we must follow the example of the truly chaste woman who, when the seducer speaks to her, makes no answer and pretends not to hear him.
    • p. 107


  • In solitude we are in the presence of mere matter (even the sky, the stars, the moon, trees in blossom), things of less value (perhaps) than a human spirit. Its value lies in the greater possibility of attention. If we could be attentive to the same degree in the presence of a human being, ...
    • p. 110


  • The recognition of wretchedness is difficult for whoever is rich and powerful because he is almost invincibly led to believe that he is something. It is equally difficult for the man in miserable circumstances because he is almost invincibly led to believe that the rich and powerful man is something.
    • p. 110


  • Extreme purity can contemplate both the pure and the impure; impurity can do neither: the pure frightens it, the impure absorbs it. It has to have a mixture.
    • p. 111


  • We must not try to change within ourselves or to efface desires and aversions, pleasures and sorrows. We must submit to them passively, just as we do the impressions we receive from colors, according them no greater credit to them than in the latter case. ... We must compel ourselves by violence to act as though we had not a certain desire or aversion, without trying to persuade our sensibility—compelling it to obey. This causes it to revolt and we have to endure this revolt passively, taste of it, savor it, accept it as something outside ourselves, as the pink color of the room with the red window. ... Each time we do violence to ourselves in this spirit we make an advance, slight or great but real, in the work of training the animal within us.
    • p. 113


  • When a main trains a dog to perform tricks he does not beat it for the sake of beating it, but in order to train it, and with this in view he only hits it when it fails to carry out a trick. If he beats it without any method he ends by making it unfit for any training, and that is what the wrong sort of asceticism does.
    • p. 113


  • The source of my difficulties lies in the fact that, through exhaustion and an absence of vital energy, I am below the level of normal activity. And if something takes me and raises me up I am lifted above it. When such moments come it would seem to me a calamity to waste them in ordinary activities. ... I could consent to the anomaly of behavior resulting from this; but I know, or I believe I know, that I should not do so. It involves crimes of omission towards others.
    • p. 114


  • Whatever I may have to bear, when God sends me suffering, I am inescapably forced to suffer all that there is to suffer. Why, when it comes to duty, should I not in like manner do all that there is to be done?
    • p. 114


  • The mysteries of faith are degraded if they are made into an object of affirmation and negation, when in reality they should be an object of contemplation.
    • p. 117


  • I can make efforts to discover truths, but when I have them before me they exist and I do not count.
There is nothing nearer to true humility than the intelligence. It is impossible to be proud of our intelligence at the moment when we are really exercising it.
  • p. 117


  • The Greeks believed that only truth was suitable for divine things—not error nor approximations. The divine character of anything made them more exacting with regard to accuracy. We do precisely the opposite.
    • p. 119
  • The use of reason makes things transparent to the mind. We do not, however, see what is transparent. We see that which is opaque through the transparent—the opaque which was hidden when the transparent was not transparent. ... Reason should be employed only to bring us to the true mysteries, the true undemonstrables, which are reality. The uncomprehended hides the incomprehensible and should on this account be eliminated.
    • p. 119


  • Justice. To be ready to admit that another person is something ... completely different from what we read in him.
    • p. 121


  • We read, but also we are read by, others. Interferences in these readings. Forcing someone to read himself as we read him (slavery). Forcing others to read us as we read ourselves (conquest).
    • pp. 121-122


  • To love our neighbour as ourselves does not mean that we should love all people equally, for I do not have an equal love for all the modes of existence of myself. Nor does it mean that we should never make them suffer, for I do not refuse to make myself suffer.
    • p. 129


  • We should have with each person the relationship of one conception of the universe to another conception of the universe, and not to a part of the universe.
    • p. 129


  • It is better to say, ‘I am suffering’ than ‘this landscape is ugly’.
    • p. 131


  • As collective thought cannot exist as thought, it passes into things (signs, machines ...). Hence the paradox: it is the thing which thinks and the man who is reduced to the state of a thing.
    • p. 139


  • Our science is collective like our technics. ... We inherit not only results but methods which we do not understand.
    • pp. 139-140


  • How has unconsciousness infiltrated itself into methodical thought and action? To escape by return to a primitive state is a lazy solution. We have to rediscover the original pact between the spirit and the world in this very civilization of which we form a part. But it is a task which is beyond our power on account of the shortness of life and the impossibility of collaboration and succession. That is no reason for not undertaking it. The situation of all of us is comparable to that of Socrates when he was awaiting death in his prison and began to learn to play the lyre. At any rate we shall have lived.
    • p. 140


  • The spirit, overcome by the weight of quantity, has no longer any other criterion than efficiency.
    • p. 140


  • Capitalism has brought about the emancipation of collective humanity with respect to nature. But this collective humanity has itself taken on with respect to the individual the oppressive function formerly exercised by nature.
    • p. 140


  • Man is a slave in so far as between action and its effect, between effort and the finished work, there is the interference of alien wills.
This is the case both with the slave and the master today. Never can man deal directly with the conditions of his own action. Society forms a screen between nature and man.
  • p. 141


  • To be in direct contact with nature and not with men is the only discipline. To be dependent on an alien will is to be a slave. This, however, is the fate of all men. The slave is dependent on the master and the master on the slave. This is a situation which makes us either servile or tyrannical or both at once (omnia serviliter pro dominatione) . On the contrary, when we are face to face with inert nature our only resource is to think.
    • p. 141


  • The notion of oppression is, in short, a stupidity: one has only to read the Iliad. And the notion of an oppressive class is even more stupid. We can only speak of an oppressive structure of society.
    • p. 141


  • To have to deal directly with things frees the spirit. To have to deal directly with men debases us if we are dependent on them, whether this dependence be in the form of submission or command.
    • p. 142


  • Revolt, if it does not immediately pass into definite and effective action, is always changed into its opposite through the feeling of utter impotence which results from it. In other words the chief support of the oppressor lies precisely in the unavailing revolt of the oppressed.
    • p. 143


  • The only way to preserve our dignity when submission is forced upon us is to consider our chief as a thing.
    • p. 143


  • The powerful, if they carry oppression beyond a certain point, necessarily end by making themselves adored by their slaves. For the thought of being under absolute compulsion, the plaything of another, is unendurable for a human being. Hence, if every way of escape from the constraint is taken from him, there is nothing left for him to do but to persuade himself that he does the things he is forced to do willingly, that is to say, to substitute devotion for obedience. ... It is by this twist that slavery debases the soul: this devotion is in fact based on a lie, since the reasons for it cannot bear investigation. ... Moreover, the master is deceived too by the fallacy of devotion.
    • pp. 142-143


  • The collective is the object of all idolatry.
    • p. 144


  • That which we want is the absolute good. That which is within our reach is the good which is correlated to evil. We betake ourselves of it by mistake, like the prince who starts to make love to the maid instead of the mistress.
    • p. 145


  • It is the social which throws the color of the absolute over the relative.
    • p. 145


  • He who is above social life returns to it when he wishes, not so he who is below.
    • p. 145


  • The power of the social element. Agreement between several men brings with it a feeling of reality. It brings with it also a sense of duty. Divergence, where this agreement is concerned, appears as a sin. Hence all returns to the fold are possible. The state of conformity is an imitation of grace.
    • p. 146


  • Nothing seems evil to those who serve it except failure in its service.
    • p. 148


  • ‘He to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.’ This concerns someone with whom social virtue occupies a very large place. Grace finds little room to spare in him. Obedience to the Great Beast which conforms to the good—that is social virtue.
A Pharisee is someone who is virtuous out of obedience to the Great Beast.
  • p. 148


  • It is impossible for an order which is higher and therefore infinitely above another to be represented in it except by something infinitely small. A grain of mustard seed, an instant mirroring eternity, etc.
    • p. 150


  • A future which is completely impossible, like the ideal of the Spanish anarchists, degrades us far less and differs far less from the eternal than a possible future. It does not even degrade us at all, except through the illusion of its possibility. If it is conceived of as impossible, it transports us into the eternal.
    • p. 154


  • We must wish either for that which actually exists or for that which cannot in any way exist—or, still better, for both. That which is and that which cannot be are both outside the realm of becoming.
    • p. 154


  • The constant illusion of Revolution consists in believing that the victims of force, being innocent of the outrages that are committed, will use force justly if it is put into their hands.
    • p. 155


  • We have to turn all our disgust into a disgust for ourselves.
    • p. 158


  • To strive from necessity and not for some good—driven not drawn—in order to maintain our existence just as it is—that is always slavery.
    • p. 159


  • Workers need poetry more than bread. They need that their life should be a poem.
    • p. 159


  • It is not religion but revolution which is the opium of the people.
    • p. 159


  • May the eternal light give, not a reason for living and working, but a sense of completeness which makes the search for any such reason unnecessary.
Failing that, the only incentives are fear and gain—fear, which implies the oppression of the people; gain, which implies the corruption of the people.
  • p. 159