Reading Taubes in Constellation

(2021 – 2022)

Susan Taubes was a philosopher and experimental novelist active in the 1950s and 60s whose work is experiencing a renewed readership through the republication of her novel Divorcing as well as publication of her philosophical writing. Simone Weil was a mystic-philosopher who is known both for her critical Marxist activism and her anti-institutional, Catholic-infused but non-conformist theology of suffering as a means of experiencing God’s love. The Reading Taubes in Constellation (RTIC) reading group explored Taubes’ uptake and critique of Weil via the topic of suffering. From November 2nd – December 7th 2021 at Hopscotch Reading Room (Berlin), RTIC read Weil through Taubes, Taubes through Weil, and Taubes/Weil through multidisciplinary contemporary thought on suffering, ranging from comparative literature to Black and political thought.

Taubes’ 1956 PhD dissertation, The Absent God: A Study of Simone Weil, in which the subtitle “On the Religious Uses of Tyranny” is erased but still faintly visible, emphasizes the relationship between Weil’s political activism and later theological writing. Taubes argues that for Weil, the theological extreme of loving an absent God is the only way to save a piece of the human soul in a violent world that political solutions cannot rectify. Taubes posits that Weil’s theological idea of an absent, impotent God who can only be loved by the embrace of suffering and an eventual “de-creation” of the human self is a form of accepting evil that aids and abets totalitarianism. But this analysis was never simple: Taubes draws upon Weil’s critiques of Marxism, bureaucracy, and total war and likewise explores the radical potential of human suffering. RTIC explores this idea of suffering as a paradoxical vessel for community-making and erasure of self, rejection of institutional power, and scaffolding of fascism.

The Reading Taubes in Constellation reading group was structured around texts from Susan Taubes, Simone Weil, Christina Sharpe, and Wendy Brown; it also featured a session organized by editor, writer, and educator Samir Sellami. RTIC is initiated by writer and researcher Rachel Pafe. It is a follow-up project of the 2020 Reading Scholem in Constellation.

Out now: the Reading Taubes in Constellation publication! Featuring essays, fiction, and poetry, the RTIC publication will feature a multidisciplinary range of thinkers reflecting on the Weil, Taubes, and their thought in constellation.

Funded by a microgrant from Paidea: The European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, designed by Danae Io, cover art by Charlotte Murdoch, and printed at Colorama Press (Berlin).