First Year Reflection
Updated: Mar 14, 2021
By Palvasha Khan
Red Desert opens with industrial wasteland and Monica Vitti. Monica Vitti, who, in her verdant coat, is the only colour among the petrochemical debris she stumbles around. All that is seen and heard is the looming shadow of industry. Factories ensconce the cityscape while the fog of production suffocates it—plumes rise from the smokestacks and poison the soil, leaving detritus to fester in mud. Foghorns sound. The atmosphere is as much a character as Vitti. His first colour film, Michaelangelo Antonioni bypassed the glories of technicolour for grey sterility. In fact, Antonioni, so adamant that he “paint his film as one paints a canvas”, ordered for all the trees and grass of Ravenna be painted white. If Vitti’s character is severely unhappy, Antonioni seems to say, it is only the natural outcome of her setting.
My first year has the ennui of Antonioni’s cinematography and none of Monica Vitti’s glamour. University en pandemmie stultifies. University online is university stripped bare—without the charm, without the foibles, without the bustling vitality, reduced to imitate the original experience. Without the rituals marking this new phase (the orientation, pushing through the heavy masses of students, standing in the Vic courtyard where Frederick Banting may have first thought of insulin and where Donald Sutherland definitely heaved after a kegger), I do not feel like a university student. First year has become the Year of Nothing: a stretch of time, like a perverse elongation of grade twelve without the familiarity of high school.
There is some good. University administrations have tried, but not even they can mismanage the core purpose of their institutions: learning. Perhaps not to the fullest degree, and perhaps not enough for the $8 000 fee, but I have learned. I have found things worth learning, and professors worth learning from. Look forward to your professors. And their readings. And the resources that come with it all (Kanopy is one of the few free things in university. Make use of it).
Atmosphere makes the event. Devoid of the atmosphere, the bustling of campus life, the event, entering university, has been relegated to the background. To study online, to work online, to live online is overbearingly drab. Hope can be salvaged, if not by incidence then by will. But if first year alienates, it is only the natural outcome of our settings.
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