A complete examination of even one topic is probably too much for a book review, but for point of comparison, take Weil’s notion of the creative act. For Weil, all truth and goodness emanate from God, and all creativity begins with modeling what Weil took to be the essence of God’s creative act in emptying the self of itself. As Miklos Veto explains in The Religious Metaphysics of Simone Weil, “For God, the act of creation was not an expansion of self, but much more a renunciation or abdication. This universe is an abandoned kingdom; its price is the withdrawal of God, and its very existence is the cause of separation from God.” Therefore, creativity is ultimately tied to a sacrificial impulse. Without it, we’re trapped in what Weil called “the imagination”—a solipsistic self-referentiality in which we find ways to quite literally “fictionalize” the fellow souls we encounter, making them unreal in order to serve the purpose of maintaining a personality ourselves. In Weil’s harsh metaphysics, to desire existence is both self-defeating and sinful. Of course, literal suicide would be to kill oneself before the act of renunciation—putting the cart before the horse, as it were, and possibly echoing the same bright moments of self-forgetting that the philosopher feels as he chases the top. It’s also nearly the same spirit in which Olsson herself lunges after the ineffable ghosts of her own personality, illustrating the exact opposite of what she took creativity to be: an expansion of self into the imagined figures of the past. A colonization of silence by personality.
But this is exactly why Olsson’s book is useful. Of course, it’s enjoyable to read, and there’s much to learn about the life of Weil’s genius brother and the biographies of a few other mathematicians. Olsson has a natural, clean, and sophisticated voice. But most importantly, The Weil Conjectures is a counter-demonstration of Weil’s principles. It represents all of the emotionally vibrant bourgeois spiritual lassitude that Weil lived her very life against. And so, in the end, its faults are a kind of fascinating felix culpa.
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