Paul Goma: “Who am I?”

Paul Goma died last week in France of coronavirus. For those who do now know about him, read the short article about his works and about his activities as a dissident to the communist regime in Romania. Below, you can find a text about himself but also about how people tend to place others (and most often themselves) into categories. It is my translation of the introduction of his The Colors of the Rainbow ’77 (Humanitas 1990). His words speak of freedom.

Photo from: https://www.romaniajournal.ro/society-people/romanian-dissident-writer-paul-goma-dies-of-coronavirus-in-france-media-report/

There have been many years since I approach a mirror, unless I shave. Even then, I don’t do it to see myself–I know me to the point thatI’m indifferent to myself–but rather to avoid cutting me.

However, since I arrived in the West, I surprise myself before a mirror, even without intending to shave. I know me, and I don’t really care for the face across the path; however, I repeat others’ questions:

What are you, Paul Goma? Are you a dissident? An opponent? A communist, a fascist? An anarcho-syndicalist, a free-tradist? Are you on the right, on the left? Are you on the center-three-quarters-toward-the-north-east-faced-to-south-south? What are you?”

Knowing me to the point of indifference, I don’t answer. If I were asked–even through me–“Who are you?”, I would have answered, “I don’t know,” but this would have been an answer. However, “What are you?” is not a question, but an aggression. A violation. An insolent, imbecile summation, as any summation, which does not require an answer but only requires of me to “choose” a certain group, a certain rubric, to choose, I, a numbered cell.

Since I came in the West, I have been always asked:

What was the movement for human rights in Romania, in 1977? A reformist movement? A movement of opposition? Possibly free-tradist? An annex to Charter 77? A nationalist spurt? Was it a soviet diversion? A version à la roumaine of Trotsky-socialisant euro-communism? What was it?”

Since it was no longer about me (even doubled in the mirror), I was forced to answer, to explain not what it was, but what it was not; questions vitiated answers.

Incidentally, I am a writer. By structure, education, formation, incidentally I think and I act according to a moral code. All the political Talmuds scare and sicken me. At home, I learned to be for good and against evil–any color it may have, regardless of whether it has the swastika or the hammer and sickle on the forehead, regardless of whether it dictates in the name of nationalism of internationalism.

[…]

Incidentally, I am a writer: that animal who narrates that which he knows, even if, at times, he does not know what he narrates.

Love in isolation

Photo by David Smith.

I am in isolation for 14 days. No virus problems, but we switched to online work and encouraged to stay home. I’m almost thankful for it. I was increasingly worried that I may become the one through whom others would get the disease. Now, with the isolation, it feels as if I were given the gift of the freedom to not get others sick.

This makes me wonder about my other problems: the “viruses” that I often carry with me into the world. My anger, my judgments, my lack of patience, my passions… Those aspects about me get others sick, often without me knowing. Words that I carelessly say, phrases expressed in anger or out of a perceived harm, eat at the goodness and positivity of others. Contrary to Corona or other viruses, these other “spiritual” viruses don’t murder people physically, but don’t they contribute to their spiritual death?

Still, I am given the freedom to carry them with me into the world. I, part of God’s creation, am placed within His larger creation with the power to murder it. Terrible situation: to be called to love the world while being allowed to uglify it. This seems to mean that if I truly love this world, if I am called to love God’s creation by affirming its beauty within me, I am called to personal purification not for my sake, but for the sake of Beauty: creation itself. I need to work towards curing my “viruses” not for my sake, but for the sake of the constellations in which I participate.

So I am thankful for isolation. But even in this isolation, I am not isolated: I can harm the ones I love the most: those who are isolated together with me, my family. Isolation is not then a break, but a reminder of how I need to change for the sake of everyone in my life, and thus for the sake of the beauty of God’s creation.

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In the Orthodox Church, we are during Great Lent, a period in which one is faced with one’s own shortcomings. It is a period of renewal of the entire creation, for it ends on the Sunday of the Resurrection. We are required to separate a bit from the world, so that we can remember we have the power to harm it without even realizing and also the responsibility to love its beauty. And we look into ourselves so that we can fully and authentically be with all others.

The Friday of the Crucifixion and the Sunday of the Resurrection: there is no one without the other.

Persons and individuals; taking all in one’s heart through forgiveness

Immigrant on Earth


There are no individuals in Dostoevsky’s work, but we often encounter situations in which characters treat others as individuals. I actually think that the beauty of Dostoevsky’s writings stems also from the fact that he explores our failure to treat others as persons. The difference between “persons” and “individuals” is often discussed in Orthodox Christianity, and Dostoevsky is of course influenced by it. So what does this difference mean?

Photo taken by Andrei, who has a relationship with Mishu


Let’s say that individuals are always replaceable, in the same way in which we replace pieces of furniture. At times, people treat animals as individuals. Suppose my cat Mishu dies. If my relationship with him was the relationship I have with a cat, any cat, then I did not treat him as a person and I can replace him with any other cat who will engage in “cat-activities.” So I can…

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