David Levine walks us through the plot of Weil’s play, making his case for why it might justify our attention this evening, and why it in particular might provoke the complicated conversation we’re hoping for: “The attempt to stage it raises all kinds of questions about what we want our art – and our lives – to be …”
Colleen Werthmann now presents a brief sketch of Weil’s life. Details stand out: a 6 year old going without sugar in sympathy for French soldiers at the front in WWI … an adolescent in 1920’s Paris adopting an androgyous wardrobe shapeless coats, unkempty hair, coke-bottle glasses … a diet of cigarettes and coffee … a pathology of behavior that some have called anorexia (though others view it in light of Christian martyrdom) … working in factories to better understand the plight of workers … fighting in the Spanish Civil War …
A collective wince at the image of Weil stepping into a pot of boiling cooking oil, an injury that drives her from the war – sometime after her departure, the rest of her unit dies in combat with the fascists.
Weil’s death in London in 1943 from tuberculosis exacerbated by her refusal to eat out of sympathy with the partisans in France.
Gideon Lewis-Kraus talks about Weil’s writing. “The worst thing you could do to a conquered people is to destroy its city.”
[In her notes to the play, Weil makes regular references to the destruction of Carthage, Persepolis, of the carnage wrought by Cortez in America …]
But complicating this natural sympathy, the questionable character of 17th Century Venice, a police state propped up by a culture of torture, informants, and mercenaries …