L'Abstrait et Le Concrète: Studying from Home

A screengrab from the movie "The Blob"Written by: Jhanvi Thakur, 2nd Year Health Sciences 

Photo from: The Blob, 1958 American science fiction/horror film  

I’m not sure why I decided picking up this topic was a good idea. I have scrapped two drafts of this article now, so let’s hope this one sticks.

Writing this article is difficult for me because my first year (the one I completed from the comfort of my parent’s unassuming subdivision in Markham, Ontario) is so... indefinite. It reminded me of this very extra quote about slime from Jean-Paul Sartre (French philosopher):

“Only at the very moment when I believe that I possess it, behold by a curious reversal, it possesses me...I open my hands, I want to let go of the slimy and it sticks to me, it draws me, it sucks at me...That sucking of the slimy substance which I feel on my hands outlines a kind of continuity of the slimy substance in myself. These long, soft strings of substance which fall from me to the slimy body... symbolize a rolling off of myself in the slime.”

That’s what online school feels like. Working, studying, socializing, eating, sleeping, Netflix, and chilling in the same room, with the same people, in the same pajamas was like the slime of academia fettering my life, changing its configurations and eroding its landscape. The lush rainforests of my social life and the barren deserts of my emotional life were homogenized into a banal limbo of nothing and everything at once. It felt like a leech sucking on my spirit, possessing it and contaminating it against my will.

You’re probably thinking I’m being dramatic. “It wasn’t that bad.” or “I’m sure I’ll be better off.” Dear reader, you are half correct. It did not always feel like this. There were adventures and misadventures, but the seasons changed, the Earth spun... Life happened. But reader, I am human; I too have a propensity for mythologizing my past. However, it would be folly to discount my narrative altogether.

Indeed, online school makes it harder to distinguish between your academic, social and personal life. They are distinct in-person because we visit different places, wear different clothes and interact with different people for each chunk of our lives. Our brain can easily tag these experiences as social, emotional, academic, etc. This doesn’t happen organically when you’re online, which is why burnout happens much faster. Your leisure time doesn’t feel like leisure. It feels like work.

Sartre said the reason why we fear slime (see: The Blob (1958), The Thing, (1982), The Stuff (1985), etc.) is that it is abstract. The Abstract, by its nature, resists definition, and I still feel my description of my year above is lacking no matter how many times I revise it. I suppose this is the nature of subjective experience. As I accept the limitations of communication, I hope you can accept your own limitations whether or not university is online while bearing in mind the adjustments you may have to make for each case. Good luck.

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