Below are quotations from Ilit Ferbers Language Pangs and Robert Zaretskys The Subversive Simone Weil. Both bear on the problem of extreme pain, or what Weil terms le malheur, affliction.
I want you to carefully consider each passage, reading them closely and analytically. In a short essay (about three pages?), trace the continuities and resonances of thought you find in each. The passages clearly demonstrate one major, common concern. What is it? How is it differently expressed in each? Where are the other strands of common or similar ideas? Be sure to show the actual language in which you find these continuities or echoes. What words or phrases resonate with each other? Then, look for ways in which the passages diverge. Does one of the passages move beyond the other? Does one include ideas not found in the other? Be sure to cite specific language.
When youve finished your analysis, think about the two passages as a whole and create a thesis statement that you can include in your introduction. What does a close comparison of these passages yield, would you argue?
Be sure to write your introduction with your thesis, which you cant write until youve done the analysis. Then start a new paragraph when you commence discussing a new idea. The care with which you organize your thoughts and examples is critical to this assignment. Write a very short conclusion in which you restate your thesis and make a brief comment about what you have learned from your comparative analysis of these two passages.
Here are the passages
From Ferber, Language Pangs
The intensity of the experience of extreme pain is almost unmatched . . . Pain is not simply something we have or feel; it does not merely color our world or our physical experience. It soon becomes the dominant mode of our very being. . . . With the emergence of pain, our most basic sense of self is violated, posing a fundamental challenge to our fragile, composite existence as our unity of self is utterly devastated. . . . [P]ain has to be portrayed as humanitys most ferocious antithesis and a state that fundamentally threatens everything humanity stands for. . . . [P]ain does not merely deprive us of our humanity; it is also our vulnerability to pain that makes us human in the first place, that pins our humanity down, so to speak. We cannot fully experience the world and our existence in it without having some level of sensitivity to pain. Finally, while the experience of pain might mark a boundary between our feeling of ourselves and the feeling of others, it is at the same time the most direct and immediate manner by which we connect with other human beings. It is the pit from whose depths alone we can directly connect with other human beings, by empathizing or identifying. Pain encloses us in a hermetically solipsistic sphere, and yet it has an equal power to completely open us up to the possibility of sharing, participating, and reciprocating our pains with others (Ferber 13).
From Zaretsky, The Subversive Simone Weil
Weil worked [i]nside the walls of these dim and deafening places [i.e., factories], yoked to machines where she was condemned to repeat the same motions countless times, . . . [It was here that] Weil made one of her most disturbing discoveries: le malheur. . . . The desire to blot out not just your life, but also your birth, helps convey the reality of malheur. . . . Best translated as affliction, this inhuman state was both physical and psychological. [Weil] insists that those who have never experienced affliction cannot hope to understand it. [She] insists upon the malignant and monumental character of this affliction. It overwhelms our comprehension, she writes; it is as impossible to make a fellow human being understand it as it is to describe sounds to anyone who is deaf and dumb. Reduced to a machine-like existence by their relentless and repetitive physical labor . . . the working conditions bred distrust and despair. In this kind of life, Weil realized, those who suffer arent able to complain . . . Its humiliating, since [the worker] has no rights at all and is at the mercy of the good will of the foremen, who decide according to her worth as a worker, and in large measure capriciously. These conditions, Weil grasped, bred something greater and grimmer than mere suffering. In effect, the foreman judged Weils status not just as a worker, but also as a human being. Affliction resulted less from physical suffering than from psychological degradation. Ridden by stern foremen and driven by production goals, workers were shorn of their human dignity (Zaretsky 8, 21, 23).