Simone Weil and Detachment

Simone Weil once said, “Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can only be attained by someone who is detached.” I have not read Weil at length though I think I will, having come across this statement this morning. And though I’m going to be critical of the tenor of her thought, I deeply admire her passionate faith and stubborn commitment to her beliefs. She definitely thought “out of the box” and, yes, I’m sure that her “god spot” was usually in over-drive. Yes, if prozac had existed back then, she could have had the gentle life of a nun, or school marm, or doting mother to occupy that mind that was fated to run amok with “big thoughts.”

I too am “detached” much like Ms. Weil but I have come to believe that one needs to be careful with any approach to life lest he/she take it (and self) too seriously and thus relegate everyone else to the category of “them” where, I am sure, there will always be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Even more so, a clinical awareness would have told Ms. Weil just how careful she needed to be with this “detachment.”

Life is to be lived and not merely noted. This detachment is a necessary stance that we need to bring to life and is sorely lacking so often. But too much of it will leave one in the position of Emily Dickinson who lived her cloistered life in her father’s attic, noting on one occasion, “Life is over there, on a shelf.” She saw life as a mere curio on the shelf for idle amusement; and, yes, I’m glad she lived her life that way as it provided us stunning poetic observations about life. But the price tag for my dear friend Emily was a very isolated and lonely life.

This detached perspective on life usually involves an analytical mind, a mind which is obsessed with making “observations” which is merely imposing the categories of one’s own subjective imprisonment onto other people. And, “mea culpa” but mercifully I have learned, and will continue to learn how to turn this feature of my cognitive apparatus off from time to time and allow others to “be” in their own right.

This does not mean that my “detachment” is wrong. It is my “gift” though I am not for sure what I have done with it or will and sometimes in private reverie fear I will one day stand before that Great White Throne and hear God say, “Well, IlliterateLew, that is not what I had in mind for you at all!” This is just who I am and it carries a price as does any stance in life, any perspective, or “cognitive apparatus” that we trot out each day of our life. But I must remember as must each of us that there is always another way of looking at the world and each day and moment of our life we need to be conscious of the need to open up our world view and give more space to some of the people we meet and especially to the ones who closest to us. I recently read someone who suggested that the real, etymological meaning of the New Testament Word “repentance” was to “let go of your small mind” and take on a larger mind that is more inclusive. In other words, Jesus was saying, “Hey, look at life a different way. That person or persons who you have subjected to banishment into “them” need to be included, to be embraced by your approach to the world.”


3 thoughts on “Simone Weil and Detachment

  1. Scotch Jameson

    Jesus’s words “Be in the world but not of the world” come to mind. This is a tough thing. I just can’t wrap my head around how the world works well enough to do this. “Above all else, guard your heart, for out of it comes the wellsprings of life.” That’s another Bible verse I like that speaks to Weil’s message here. Weil is an inspiration and lived through a lot more than I do. But I still wake up and face my family and make myself go to work for reasons I don’t understand–fear? Love? The Beach Boys have something to say here too in figuring this stuff out: “That’s not me.”

    I’m not sure Dickinson was lonely, or at least, I think you can be just as lonely out and about. I think it’s about being where you’re supposed to be. But if you find yourself not where you’re supposed to be, how do you find yourself again and get to the place you belong?

    A detached perspective in a human mind overwhelmed with emotions is rough. But something to strive for. Not sure “strive” is the right word here, though, when I just need to relax.

    How would apply Weil’s philosophy to the everyday grind I just described to you?


    1. literary lew Post author

      Bro, thanks so much for your heart felt response. You touched me. I relate to your effort with the “day to day grind” of your life and i wrestle with that issue myself though I do not have children. I would suggest you “keep on truckin'” as you apparently are, paying attention to the “chopping wood, carrying water” part of life but then letting your heart ponder of this and other similar issues from time to time. I often quote W. H. Auden who said, “We wage the war we are.”

      I don’t know where you are, my friend, geographically or otherwise, but I’m glad our lives crossed paths this morning. I needed your thoughts and I trust that I’ve said something that provides consolation and strength to you. I do believe that Consolation and Strength is always available and it is never merely “out there” but is deep in our hearts also as the “kingdom” is within also.

      Have a good afternoon.



      1. literary lew Post author

        I just got a new response from you that is not listed here in comments yet. But, thank you for your thoughts. Yes, I think you and I blog for the same purpose. It really helps me a lot.



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