Joyce Carol Oates on Simone Weil and Sainthood

“In what was she [Simone Weil] deluded…? Not initially in religion, but in philosophy. In Absolutes. There are none, of course, except in texts and (temporarily, for conversational purposes) in people’s minds. But she behaved as if there were. As if there must be, should be. One dies on earth in terms of an Absolute elsewhere, like an actor whose suffering is being witnessed and recorded… and if it turns out there is no Absolute, no elsewhere, one never learns; one is simply dead. What is the ethical difference between a person who dies in terms of an Absolute, as Simone Weil did, or one who dies out of spite, stubbornness, a simple wish to die and have the complexities and disappointments of life finished…? People who believe in the divinity of words would have the former a saint, the latter a suicide. But it doesn’t seem to me so clear-cut.

How intellectuals deceive themselves! – with what timid gusto they elevate one of their own to sainthood! It would be hilarious if it were not so dismaying.”


Joyce Carol Oates – “1977” in The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates