Let us rejoice therefore

Posted in 1 by Editor on September 14, 2009

The new academic year is around the corner. Students will soon pour into the Msida labyrinth. Most first-years will not wish to be dropped off by the “old” gate by their parents. That’s for kids, they will argue. But if their papa and mama insist – those who have not themselves had the opportunity to attend University, first and foremost – then first-years will condescendingly please them but with the paternalism of someone who has already made it. Roles are switched. The first-year becomes father or mother; their fathers and mothers become children. In any case, when they are out of the car, first-years rarely look back to wave back at their idiotically-waving parents. They dive into the crowd and pretend they came alone.

The others, those who’ve been there for a year or two, will tend to look down on first-years. You do so by feigning an air of world-weariness, of impatience with the self-important and apparently purposeful strutting of first-years around the campus. The second-years are the best in this regard. If the first-year stands erect and adopts a studious posture (armfuls of books are determinant), the second-year slouches, adopts a meticulously studied who-cares look, carries no books. Third-years and beyond don’t care what you think anyway; they’re too busy worrying. The aesthetic considerations of first-years and second-years are none of their concern.

“Ubi sunt qui ante nos in mundo fuere?” (Where are they who before us went into the world?). This, many will have recognised it, is the first verse of the oldest surviving part of De Brevitate Vitae (On the shortness of life), the student hymn sung all over Europe and beyond since mediaeval times and better known as Gaudeamus igitur (Let us rejoice therefore). The contrast between the sombre ancient core of the hymn crowned by its dead serious correct title and the jolly fun bits (where sex gets top priority) crowned by the famous title, could not be starker.

Ubi sunt qui ante nos in mundo fuere?                                                                                                                                                                                                    Vadite ad superos
Transite in inferos
Hos si vis videre
(Where are they who before us were in the world? Go to the heavens. Cross over into hell. If you wish to see them.)

These verses, probably from a 13th century penitential hymn, are more congenial to world-weary students in their second year and beyond than to the first-years. One academic year is, however, more than enough to realise that the out-there world is full of former students, many of whom ought, by rights, to be rotting in hell and a few who probably deserve to be in heaven after having suffered for half a dozen eons in purgatory.

The idea of the university as an ivory tower unreachable by the evils of the “out-there” world is, of course, a naïve one that the student soon learns to abandon. The second-year with a minimum of intelligence (don’t be duped by the apparent asininity, it is a survival tactic requiring great skill and constant practice) knows that whatever is in the “out-there” – in our society – is also “in here”, in the apparently “other” world of academia. The second-year has seen it all. The experience of her/his first year at University has confirmed what s/he suspected all along. Maltese society is not for the innocent.

Students in the so-called Middle Ages, especially those whose student life was about to come to an end and who were about to go into the world out there, knew that it was going to be tough. The latter – modern, if you wish – parts of the song indicate various possible life strategies one might wish to adopt in these circumstances.

In view of the shortness and brutishness of life “out-there” – of which, I repeat, they had a taste in the ivory tower – the Gaudeamus igitur suggests that one ought, first of all, to be nice to those in power. First of all kowtow to your lecturers: “Vivat academia! Vivant professores!” (Long live the academy! Long live the professors!). But the place of honour is reserved to those above the university and the professors, those who wield state power.

Vivat et respublica
et qui illam regit.
Vivat nostra civitas,
Maecenatum caritas
Quae nos hic protegit.


(Long live the state as well. And he who rules it! Long live our city. [And] the charity of benefactors, which protects us here!) Substitute “benefactors” for the state that pays your stipendium and it all fits together nicely. Hence, the pragmatism of the third-years. Two and over years of the University of Malta have impressed upon them the necessity of bowing to those in power. It’s a certificate in your kowtowing proficiency today. It will be a government job tomorrow. Or whatever you might need and are unable to get without intercession.

Finally, because a people must be discouraged from taking too close an interest in the affairs of state and the panem et circenses trick still works, the old hymn exclaims: Pereat tristitia! (Perish sadness). In words written before universities opened their doors to women, the student is encouraged to go to Paceville.

Vivant omnes virgines
Faciles, formosae…

Mario Vella

This article appeared in Dr Vella’s column in The Times of Malta on September 14, 2009.  The original may be accessed at http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090914/opinion/let-us-rejoice-therefore


2 Responses

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  1. Gracchus said, on October 25, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    The University of Malta….The University which kills creativity (which is a rare trait anyway in the average Maltese student). At least now it’s evolving into a “University of Sex”, as some prolific writer told us on The Independent ha ha

  2. Mark A. Sammut said, on December 8, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Proprjament mhux ghall-pubblikazzjoni u mhux dwar “Let Us Rejoice Therefore” imma dwar “Is it the end of history?” li deher fit-Times.

    Tislet lil Derrida li jghid: “let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that, never before, in absolute figures, have so many men, women and children been subjugated, starved or exterminated on the earth”.

    Indipendentement mill-punt centrali tal-argument (li nastjeni milli nesprimi ruhi fuqu), jidhirli li Derrida ma huwiex korrett fin-ness kawzali li jara, u dan peress illi qatt qabel fl-istorja tal-umanita’ ma kien hemm F’CIFRI ASSOLUTI tant nies li gew soggogati, maqtulin bil-guh jew sterminati ghas-semplici raguni li QATT fl-istorja tal-umanita’ ma kien hawn tant popolazzjoni kbira! Mhux minn ewl id-dinja li jekk il-ghadd globali ta’ bnedmin huwa bla precedent, anki F’CIFRI ASSOLUTI l-imwiet ikunu bla precedent?

    Likieku Derrida tkellem dwar PERCENTWALI, kieku kien ikollu ragun. Imma Derrida ma setax jitkellem dwar percentwali ghax ma tezisti l-ebda statistika li tista’ tfornih bil-materja prima halli jasal ghal konkluzjonijiet ta’ dan it-tip.

    Isegwi li Derrida qieghed – u hawn forsi koerentement mal-argument propost minnu – jirromanticizza l-passat, jimmiticizzah u jaghtih dimensjoni li analizi spassjonata ta’ dak li jirrizulta minn dak li nafu dwar il-passat ma tistax tiggustifikaha.

    Fuqiex jibbaza l-prezunt (implicitu) tieghu Derrida li l-kampanji horox ta’ Darju u ta’ Alessandru Manju ma hallewx herba akbar minn dik/dawk tal-epoka moderna? (f’termini relattivi…) Fuqiex jibbazah li matul l-Invazjonijiet Barbarici / Voelkerwanderung ma mitux aktar nies? Fuqiex jibbazah li fil-konkwista tad-Dinja l-Gdida ma ntilfux aktar hajjiet? Kif jista’ jkun tant cert li fl-ebda mument qabel fil-grajjiet tal-umanita’ ma kien hemm distruzzjonijiet ta’ hajjiet akbar u aktar numeruzi?

    Fid-dawl ta’ dawn il-kunsiderazzjonijiet, jidhirli li DAN il-kumment ta’ Derrida huwa minghajr bazi empirika imma biss illazzjoni, u allura qalja kondivizibbli.

    Kont qieghed nikkontempla li nibghat dir-risposta fit-Times… imma ma xtaqt inpaxxi ‘l hadd li jahseb li ta’ din-naha qed jikkwistjinjaw bejniethom (fis-sens il-hazin tal-kelma).



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