It was with much sadness that I learned about the passing of Grigory Pomerants (Григорий Померанц) in Moscow this past weekend. On the evening he died, as it turns out, I sat at a friend’s kitchen table and admired this extraordinary man’s 1990 collection “Открытость бездне” [Openness to the Abyss]. What a strange coincidence. Grigory Pomerants, in fact, authored one of my favorite quotes: “Дьявол начинается с пены на губах ангела, вступившего в бой за святое и пpавое дело.”
Devil begins with froth on the lips of an angel entering battle for a holy and just cause.
He formulated this in 1970, while contemplating Dostoyevsky’s “Demons”. On his page, he adds:
Everything turns to dust: people, ideologies, — but eternal is the spirit of hatred in a righteous struggle, and that’s why evil on earth has no end.
The style of discussion is more important than its subject. Subjects change, but styles create civilizations.
With apologies for these imperfect translations, I mourn the passing of Grigory Solomonovich with a recollection of Andrei Sakharov’s address to the Congress of People’s Deputies in 1989, when a gentle but firm challenge to the war in Afghanistan was crushed by the outraged audience. (Seen here.) One does not need to understand Russian in order to sense what Pomerants might have called the “style” of Sakharov, and of some of the People’s Deputies. For me, this remains one of the most difficult things to watch. But it’s a reminder of things that create our civilization, and of what these things do to people like Andrei Dmitrievich.
In memory of Grigory Pomerants,
philosopher, dissident, human rights activist, scholar
13.03.1918 — 16.02.2013
Я был счастлив по дороге на фронт, с плечами и боками, отбитыми снаряжением, и с одним сухарем в желудке, — потому что светило февральское солнце и сосны пахли смолой. Счастлив шагать поверх страха в бою. Счастлив в лагере, когда раскрывались белые ночи. И сейчас, в старости, я счастливее, чем в юности. Хотя хватает и болезней и бед. (из “Записок гадкого утёнка”)
I was happy en route to the front, with shoulders and sides battered by heavy equipment and a piece of dry bread in my stomach, — because a February sun was shining, and the pine trees smelled of resin. I was happy to tread above fear in battle. Happy in the labour camp, when the white nights blossomed. And now, in old age, I am happier than in youth. Though neither illnesses nor misfortunes are lacking.