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 Since Pomeranz is also clearly arguing for a spiritual rather than an intellectual élite the difference between them seems to turn mainly on where that élite is to be found. We have seen Solzhenitsyn's sympathetic interest in the development of the Russian 'ruralist' school of literature which suggests that, however debased the peasantry might be, it was still towards those who still had some connection with the soil that he looked for relief whereas Pomeranz was looking to, well, if we wanted to put it very unkindly we might say the sort of people who would be attracted to practising yoga. But I am not so unkind, I find Pomeranz's thinking, the little I can see of it, interesting.

In an interview given in 2004 (he died in 2013) he describes an experience of the camps very different from Solzhenitsyn's:

'After the war I was arrested and spent four years in one of Stalin ’s camps – up to 1953. It was in the far North. I had amazing experiences there. For example the white nights. The sky was suffused with the most varied colours, colours so beautiful that I "swam" or "dived" into their beauty. In this sky I felt the transcendent oneness, this light that never dies, that is never extinguished. It was something real and tangible to me. Many of my friends laughed at me: I was so absorbed by the sky, I was almost unaware of the barbed wire around the camp. I was after all in prison. But the sky set me free. It was an overwhelming experience.

'In the camps we had access to books. I found support for my experiences in the literature of the great traditions. I felt most affinity with Zen Buddhism, which I first read about only after my internment. Because it is not related to any dogma you are expected to believe in, Zen throws the student into the same abyss that I had thrown myself into. But this is not the only path to understanding. Another path is through love for a personality who has experienced the depth and has described it in some way. How can one come to such a love? In the camp I made a discovery. One must be able to come second ... One must root out one’s feeling of "I am the most important". One has to be ready to come second.' (5)

5 Egge Christian: 'Conversations in depth - Grigori Pomerants' Herald of Europe, Issue No 2, 01.02.2005. Available online.

This suggests, incidentally, that the 'Gulag archipelago' might have been a more varied phenomenon than one would think from reading Solzhenitsyn's account.

Pomeranz describes how he had been thrown out of his early sympathy with the Soviet world view (though the fact that some four years later - Pomeranz was born in 1918 - his father, an enthusiastic Communist, was arrested in the 1937/8 purges might have had something to do with it):

'I first came into contact with this problem when I was 16, reading Marx, Engels and Lenin. Confronting Lenin ’s materialism and his "empiriocriticism" [sic. Should obviously be 'Lenin's Materialism and Empiriocriticism' - PB], an abyss opened up before me. I was filled with fear. Reality was presented as "a material infinity". The infinite existed in the external, in matter – not as an inner infinity of the soul or self. This abyss of external material infinity threatened the meaning of my existence. I pushed this problem away and it was not until four years later that I dared to confront this abyss. I studied Russian literature at Moscow University. I recognised my own problem in poets and novelists. Tjutchev, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. A poem by Tjutchev made an indelible impression on me. Translated word for word it goes like this:

'Nature knows no past. Our illusory years are unknown to it. And in meeting it we acknowledge as in a fog that we ourselves are nothing but the dreams of nature. By performing its unnecessary feat, nature blesses all its children equally, with its all-engulfing and peace-bringing abyss. 

'Reading Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground I was inspired to go to the bottom of the existential problem, to throw myself into the abyss so to speak. I asked myself a question similar to a Zen-Buddhist koan ("riddle"), even though I had never heard of Zen:

'"If infinity exists as pure materiality, then I do not exist. And if I exist, there is no such pointless infinity."'

This is in response to the interviewer who has quoted 'Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick, who mapped the structure of the DNA-molecule. In his 1995 book The Astonishing Hypothesis he says:

'The Astonishing Hypothesis is that "You", your joys and sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.'