There is an ancient tradition at the University of Cambridge amongst art students, which I honour here today: taking a cool-sounding quotation from an intellectual source, and repurposing without context. My title for this post is taken from F.R. Leavis in Two Cultures (no, I haven’t checked the citation, on the principle that I’ve graduated.) Let’s just ignore whatever Leavis was actually talking about; I want to follow, with some photographs, an ‘essential Cambridge’ of peaceful beauty, which exists just adjacent to the real world, exists in spite of the frequent ugliness of the university’s character.
Cambridge is beautiful in the golden light of evening, in the snow, in the warmth of Autumn. I have walked around the centre hundreds of times over the course of my degree, and these photographs mark just a few of my explorations.
How can this beauty exist in spite of the terror of Cambridge ? the eating disorders, the anxiety, the depression, the never being good enough, the cool academic dismissal of months of work, the 16 hour work days, the relentless pummelling of undeveloped minds, the coldness, the history of slavery money, the financial inequality, the friends so stressed that they scream at you when you suggest coffee, the choir directors ruling students’ entire lives, the snobbery, the rudeness, the endemic lack of empathy …? The beauty feels like an illusion.
Of course I can counterbalance. Obviously, there were friends and opportunities and brilliant times. But I feel frustrated that people have to continue to endure this unnecessary discomfort in order to gain the magical Cambridge degree. Focus on the landscapes: they almost make up for that casual cruelty.