The Cantabrigian Ego

I would like to use this post to move a little bit from the usual themes to my experience in Cambridge. I am now in the second week of Lent Term, and I am sufficiently acquainted with the system and its peculiarities to draw some opinions. Moving from here to the United Kingdom has not been the greatest effort, on the contrary my transition has been smooth. In this regard, I should probably thank the British efficiency and the whole college environment, definitely a safe space for students. Rather, I found the greatest struggle in redefining my own identity in a totally new context as university, and Cambridge especially, may be.

I arrived here with a whole bunch of experiences, ideas, and preconceptions. In this regard, my case is not different from anybody else’s. We rely on schemes to live and act, they are adaptations to the surrounding context and they generally work because of its relative stability. The new context forced me to redefine my social attitude, smooth my assumptions, and adopt a more careful behaviour. Indeed, this has not been traumatic, but not immediate at all. In fact, I was asked by the circumstances to leave behind many of the structures that had defined my life so far, and the most mundane side of my mentality. Whether this has sharpened my personality or not, I am not going to judge now. However, returning home for Christmas, I awkwardly found the opposite situation. Up to that point, I was changed, but my parents weren’t, nor my friends, nor my town, nor Italy indeed. I left an empty room and I found an emptier room back. I was asked again to find a stable position.


Mystery and Melancholia of a Street – Giorgio de Chirico


I reckon that the last four months deeply questioned me as a person, as happened to all my fellow students. The first day, each of us was the uncomfortable union of three labels: a name, a subject, a college. It is up to us to redefine our own image in this new context, as we are free from the stereotypes which characterised our life at home. Even if it might seem a tempting condition, it also poses a dreadful task: rebuilding one’s life from scratch, alone, with no parents to guide or friends to support you. These were the first day. However, the situation proved to be anything but unpleasant. When people complain about the heavy workload, it is often a mere trope. We are not supposed to relax, true. At the same time though, essays and lectures are well-mixed with parties, conferences, concerts of classical music and whatever one might think of.

By the end of Michaelmas term, I realised how self-focused my last eight weeks had been. I spent my time doing what I wanted, with few or no restrictions, developing a personal taste in areas which were unknown to me. I was and I am the sovereign of my days. You are actually the only sovereign of your days, and everything revolves around your own pleasure; the pleasure of studying a beloved subject in a beautiful context, mixing it with your own passion. In this, I have perceived the risk of turning totally on myself and forgetting  home, my friends, great moments. Cambridge is a golden bubble, and we all play a second life in it.

Detail from The Disquieting Muses – Giorgio de Chirico

I believe that I have received a great opportunity to improve myself and experiment more. Yet, I acknowledge the necessity of respecting the layers of years I have lived so far. I have chosen to illustrate this post with paintings from Giorgio de Chirico. He himself felt the burden of relating past and present, although artistically. At the time, the Avantgarde was cutting every tie with the tradition, thus walking on the edge of relativism. Through his metaphysical painting, he intended to reconcile the necessity of progress with the love of tradition. Similarly, I hope to live fully this new experience, remembering of what has led me here in the first place.



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Mystery and Melancholia of a Street

The Disquieting Muses

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Alessandro M. Rubin Written by:

Cambridge History of Art alumnus. Passionate early-modernist, curious about contemporary art and aesthetic theory.

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