"On Sundays I feel most in debt."
Deren and Weil
Reading Maya Deren in conjunction with Simone Weil for no other reason than I would like to introduce them.
Did they every meet? Chronologically possible— but unlikely. Deren had many friends, such as Anaïs Nin, who dances so beautifully. But Weil was in Morocco, writing letters to a priest on balancing intellectual pursuits with spiritual devotion, around the time Deren, in Los Angeles, started to consider buying her first camera— then bought it— and began making the short film Meshes of the Afternoon with her husband.
We taught Meshes of the Afternoon at Smith, no one ever mentioned that Deren studied English literature there.
(Deren and Weil together in Boulder, CO, Carl Sagan in the background, looking on)
The biographical similarities are too tedious to list, but enough that Maya Deren and Simone Weil would probably be introduced on the balcony at a party, smoking cigarettes, because they were both born Jews in Europe at the beginning of the 20th Century, and not have much else to talk about, unless one of them happened to mention how her interests in spirituality affected her position as an artist.
Weil does not rhyme with vile, but convey.
Deren’s short film Meditation on Violence orbits Weil’s essay on brutality in the Iliad / in human nature. In 1953, encouraged/ edited by Joseph Campbell, Deren wrote a book on her research and fieldwork as a Vodoun initiate in Haiti. Ten years earlier, Weil, studying Christian mysticism, Hindu philosophy, and Sanskrit, died in Kent, at age 34, of malnutrition due to a hunger strike, protesting the war. My mother was born in 1953. Eight years later, Deren would die, age 44, of a brain hemorrhage, also brought on by malnutrition.
Deren earned her Masters degree by age 22. By 22, Weil was teaching philosophy.
Maurice Blanchot was born two years after Simone Weil, also in France. He lived much longer. He read Weil, and wrote about her work in L’Entreatien Infini. A decade later, he wrote L’Ecriture du désastre— The Writing of Disaster. Blanchot most likely read this passage by Weil, before writing Disaster:
"It is not in the power of a being to destroy himself. The true reply consists only in consenting to the possibility of being destroyed, that is to say, in the possibility of total disaster, whether that disaster actually happens or not. No one ever inflicts disaster on himself, neither out of love nor perversity. At the most one can, under one or the other inspiration, take distractedly and as if unconsciously two or three steps leading to the slippery point where one becomes a prey to gravity and from which one falls on stones that break one’s back."