OLIVIER REY, What might Simone Weil have thought of the Encyclical Laudato Sí , Cahiers Simone Weil, ÉCONOMIE, ÉCOLOGIE, CIRITQUE DE CAPTALISM CHEZ SIMONE WEIL, III, TOME XXXX –No. 1, Mars 2017 (pp 17-32, Revue trimestrielle publiée par l’Association pour l’étude d la pensée de Simone Weil, Paris.)
[ . . .]
Let us begin with some problematic issues. In her writing, Simone Weil always expressed herself in a language quite as exempt from any level of affectation as it was precise in terms employed. If one believes, as did she, that “wherever there is a serious error in vocabulary, it is difficult for there not to be a grave error of thought” (“The Person and the Sacred,” in her London Writings, p. 11 of the French edition) one cannot prevent oneself experiencing a certain level of unease upon recognizing the repeated use of a particular terminology throughout the entire encyclical. As happens to be the case with the word “planet”. Planês, planêtos, in Greek is an adjective meaning “errant,” “vagabond” –a sense taken up in exactly the same way in Latin. From which it follows that earth only turned into a planet once the Copernican system had arrived on the scene. And what is more, it has not turned into such except as an object of astronomy. Designating the Earth by means of the word planet is similar to adopting the expression homo sapiens from modern biology as our way of referring to human beings. In terms of those who would maintain earth and planet as being the same thing, it should be enough to think in Saint Frances’ song whose first words give their name to the encyclical. Saint Frances praised “the sister that our mother earth is.” Words so inspired that, were “earth” to be replaced by planet, they would sound absurd. Towards the end of his life, Ivan Illich was heard complaining about too many compulsive references to the planet. “Earth is something that one can feel, he said, that one can flavor. I do not live on a planet.” [Following David Cayley’s interviews with Ivan Illich; my translation from the French, not necessarily identical with the wording as it may appear in the original interview.] The planet is earth seen from beyond, earth from the point of view of the astronaut, which gives strength to the notion that our earth would be an entity bound to total manipulation. The whole of the encyclical flowing in a direction contrary to such an idea, one can see that in fact what is involved is a vocabulary issue—a matter to which Simone Weil would certainly have remained sensitive. The latter being the case, one would have to determine in which language it was that she had read the encyclical. The encyclical, in effect, was first written in Spanish before going on to be translated into other languages, among them, Latin. And in Latin, tradition only holds firm: the earth has not been turned into planetes or planetae, since it continues on as orbis terrarium. It is true that soon Latin, following our leadership’s wishes, will soon become not only a dead tongue but also one definitely “interred” –or, as perhaps we are bound to find ourselves saying, implanetted.