Simone Weil on Morality and Literature

Publication Type

Book Chapter

Year of Publication



Dunaway, John Marson


Dunaway, John M. Springsted, Eric O.


The Beauty That Saves: Essays on Aesthetics and Language in Simone Weil




Mercer University Press

Place Published

Macon, Georgia




'the good'
metaxu (intermediaries)


Dunaway begins with a brief overview of the relationship between art and morality in modern French literature before looking at their relationship in Weil's work. He goes on to discuss the role of beauty as a mediator (mexatu) between humans and God. He then look at Weil's essay "Morale et littérature" and a shorter letter, "Les Responsabilités de la littérature", both published in Les Cahiers de Sud and both addressing morality and literature. Here he notes Weil's claim that evil in fiction is portrayed as something interesting and exciting whereas in reality it is more banal and boring. He goes on to discuss Weil's contention that humans tend to live in a fictional world created in part from their own imaginations until we are confronted with some affliction, which shatters this false image. He goes on to note Weil's contention that the work of great literary genius can also awaken us from this false state of being. Dunaway next discusses two problems that arise from such a claim: What is the value of the work written by those who fall below the level of genius? and what are the criteria to be used in judging the greatness of a piece of art and the level of genius of its creator? This is complicated even further Dunaway argues by "Weil's insistence that no work of artistic genius is compatible with anything less than exceptional moral character in its creator" (p. 101). Dunaway briefly discusses the role of necessity and affliction in the creation of art, the relationship between beauty and 'the good' and the difference between the personal and impersonal within the artist and her creation. Dunaway also considers what he describes as a 'perplexing paradox' arising from Weil's postulation of the existence of pure art and the 'artistic elite' who create it and her contention that the 'spiritual food' existing in great art is accessible to all no matter their level of ability. Dunaway then looks at the 'Christian stoicism' he says lies at the root of Weil's views on art followed by an interesting consideration of the various forms:’ fiction, philosophy, folk and fairy tales' all of which can potentially serve as carriers of artistic truth. He concludes the essay with a brief presentation of Weil's views on a selected few modern artists.


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