In Memory of Paul Gochet 1932-2011
by Claire Ortiz Hill

Pictures of Paul, his faire-part and him with me Guillermo Rosado Haddock and Jacques Sommet s.j. in 1999 and 2000

Paul Gochet died during the night of June 21, the longest day of the year and the first day of Summer.

Paul had been ill for many years. Over the years, he told me that, since he had ignored the early signs of his illness, the doctors were having difficulty treating it effectively. He faced his illness, and what must have been grueling treatments, courageously.

Paul believed in the English tradition of sending Christmas cards before Christmas. So as Christmas 2010 approached, I began to feel worried because I had not received a card from him. On Christmas Day, he sent me an email with the tragic explanation. In his words: "Two months ago, while I was in the hospital for chemotherapy, the toxic liquid spread into my right hand and my right arm. I failed to inform the nurse. My hand and my arm are partially paralyzed. Most of the nervous cells have been burned. I will undergo hand surgery in February but the outcome is uncertain. I took a lot of cortisone. The treatment caused general muscular atrophy. I can hardly walk, even with a cane. This accident might very well put an end to my work in philosophy. Handwriting is impossible and working with the key board very hard."

In March, Paul wrote to me that he was "peacefully dying in a four star hospital in Brussels." Though he never said so or ever complained, the previous months had been terrible.

In emails that he sent to me from the hospice (centre de soins palliatifs), he wrote to me that he was reading with immense interest Howard Callaway's Memories and Portraits. Explorations in American Thought and had really discovered the depth of Emerson's and Dewey's contributions to American philosophy. He told me that he was of course praying with confidence and that, although there was no hope that he would recover, he was fully satisfied with his present life.

A friend of his of thirty-five years spoke at length with Paul during his hospitalization. He has been kind enough to correspond with me about Paul's last months, during which he engaged in very deep reflections on many aspects of life and met with theologians and various other people with whom he considered many fundamental questions.

According to this friend, Paul was too ill to speak with him on June 17th, but the next day, he was in splendid condition. He dictated two last letters to the authorities of his university and the Belgian Academy. Then, rising in his bed, opening his arms, and with a big smile such as his friend had not seen on his face for a long time, he said: "For the first time in my life, I am completely in order." This friend was at his bedside holding his arm or hand during his last evening and night. That night they listened to the same Bach CD two or three times. Paul had a very quiet and peaceful end.

Paul's funeral took place on the morning of June 27th. Although he received the last rites, because of the distinction he made between his private and public lives, he chose not to have a religious funeral. The short ceremony opened with the last several minutes of the 4th part of Gustav Mahler's 9th symphony. This was followed by talks by representatives of the Royal Academy and the University of Liège and then the adagio part three of Mahler's 4th symphony. It closed with Mahler's 'I have come to take leave [of you] and this world' as translated into French by a friend.

For Paul, I have smashed up Shakespeare's sonnet 'Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day:'

But your Summer shall not fade,
Nor death brag you wander in his shade.
So long as friends can breathe, or limbs can move,
So long lives this, and this gives life to you.

It was a great honor to be Paul's friend. Signed, Claire Ortiz Hill

How I Met Paul Gochet

I met Paul at a conference about Twardowski and the Warsaw-Lvov School in early November 1995. I had taken an overnight bus from Paris to Wroclaw, where I spent the day with friends of friends and then traveled to Warsaw, where I had a room in a convent in the old town. The next morning, I walked to the University where I was to meet the other participants to travel to Lvov by chartered bus. I spotted the “French” group, which consisted of Kevin Mulligan (University of Geneva), Jan Sebestik, the Czech Bolzano scholar and a Polish researcher, both from the CNRS in Paris. There was also a man whom I did not know. I asked him who he was. He said Paul Gochet. I said that I had used his work in my Master’s thesis.

We boarded the bus and Paul and I sat together. We got to know one another during the long bus ride to Lvov. When we stopped for lunch, I lunched with him, Kevin Mulligan and a person who identified himself as the Anti-Christ. I guess he did so because I was wearing a cross. I guess he thought I was a push-over, because he told me a lot of ridiculous things which were easy to refute. One that comes to mind is that there was no evidence that Christ even existed. Well, I scared him badly enough that after that he ran away every time he saw me coming, even though I told him that I would be happy to continue our conversation.

We had a big problem when we arrived at the border. We were made to wait for several hours. We were finally told that we were in trouble because we had lied. We had said that we were an international group and we were in fact a multi-national group. For this lie, each one of us had to pay two dollars in cash. I didn’t have any one dollar bills. So Paul lent me the money. After further negotiations, it was determined that we weren’t so bad after all and the money was returned.

This means that we arrived in Lvov at about two in the morning. And there we had a nasty surprise. They person who was supposed to find us rooms had pocketed the money and we didn’t have any rooms. I was integrated into a group of some Polish women philosophers who spoke Russian and Paul and other members of the “French” group (minus Kevin Mulligan, who went to a hotel) into a group of men philosophers. We were sent out into the cold, snowy night to look for rooms in student residences. So we trudged with our luggage in the snow from student residence to student residence until we found we found one that accepted us.

We girls were all put in a room with several beds. There was no heat and the window was broken. We hardly had any blankets and it was by now about four in the morning. We slept in our clothes as we could, and in the morning we were shown our quarters for the rest of our stay. They were on the ninth floor and there was no elevator. We climbed the stairs with our luggage. The walls of the rooms were newly painted a light green color and were still very wet. So we couldn’t touch them. What is more there were slugs crawling all over everywhere. We were supposed to share the bathroom with the men, but there was no door and it was absolutely filthy. I walked down the hallway and found an unattached door that we could at least place over the doorway of the bathroom to have a little privacy. The next morning, we were served breakfast, which was mainly a very strange gray gruel.

Then we were off to the meetings, which began at nine o’clock. Amazingly, everybody was pretty coherent. A nice lunch was arranged for us in a restaurant. Then it was back to the residence for the night. At breakfast, the next morning, another person who identified himself as the Anti-Christ wanted to discuss with me. This was Jan Srzednicki. I told him that he had some competition because I had already dined with someone else who said he was the Anti-Christ. He criticized me for being a typical member of the French school of Jacques Derrida. I responded that I had not read a single page of any work of Jacques Derrida and that I didn’t think that people who support my work, I named Ruth Barcan Marcus and Barry Smith, would do so if I were his disciple. Srzednicki also attacked for being a Catholic, to which Paul responded that he was one too.

The Polish girls went out and found us inexpensive rooms at the Hotel George, a grand hotel founded in 1793, where Balzac had stayed three times. I willingly accepted to go with them, and we invited Paul, but said he was satisfied with his accommodations in the student residence. I had brought quite a lot of gifts for people in the Ukraine. The Polish girls and I thought it would be good to leave them in this God-forsaken student residence. So we made a sign that said “gifts” and left them there.

The next day, Paul asked me whether I thought he could come to the Hotel George too. He said that it wasn’t because of the conditions at the student residence, but because there was no place where he could work there. So we arranged for him to come to the Hotel George.

Paul was again my bus partner on the way back to Warsaw. The Ukraine was in a terrible state when we were there. The economy was absolutely collapsing and they didn’t even have money. They used “coupons.” To obtain coupons, you went to a sort of booth with a curtain. A hand reached out from under the curtain, took your money and then handed you coupons back. There was a pervasive look of terror in people’s eyes. At the meeting in Warsaw, Paul gave a special speech about the responsibility of intellectuals to make people aware of the terrible conditions people experience in the countries that they visit.

Those were the circumstances under which Paul Gochet and I became friends.