Gabriel García Márquez died a few weeks ago. Eerily enough, I had just finished One Hundred Years of Solitude three days before the news broke. For those familiar with the book, you can understand my fear that I killed him by reading the ending (and for those who haven’t read it, I urge you to immediately go to your local library or bookstore and get a copy). It’s a strange thing to mourn the death of an artist—what do you really know about his life except his work? It’s an even stranger thing to have killed one of the world’s greatest artists that you have never met. Instead of feeling guilty, I have decided to honor his life’s work through my last-ever column in Spec.
“Time was not passing … it was turning in a circle.” The concept did not originate in True Detective, I promise. The idea of time as a flat circle, constantly repeating, with all of us along for the ride by our own volition or not, did not originate with Matthew McConaughey, or with Gabriel García Márquez, or Kurt Vonnegut. Some ideas just seem to permeate through the generations.
When I applied to Columbia, for the question, “Why do you want to attend Columbia University in the City of New York?” I knew I couldn’t just put New York City, which was the real answer, so instead I put the Core. By some twist of fate, the Core ended up being one of my most meaningful experiences at Columbia. If the Core taught me anything, it’s that no idea is original, and as hard as you might try, any thought you have will just fit into some cliché that has been around for at least a few generations, if not hundreds.
As an avowed secular Jew, shockingly enough, my favorite reading in the Core was from the Torah: Ecclesiastes. I am convinced that nothing has ever been written or will be written (or be even put to a folk song) that can top the genius of Ecclesiastes. “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” In a curriculum of writing that emphasizes the universality of themes, Ecclesiastes is by far the most meta: All things must pass, and all things that pass shall return.
When I think of the idea of the cyclical nature of time, I am not arrogant enough to believe that I exist in every possible instance as in Slaughterhouse-Five, or that I am fated to relive every instance of my life, as in True Detective, or that everything that dies someday comes back à la Bruce Springsteen or The Band (or Hinduism). Instead, I believe in the Márquez or Ecclesiastes philosophy—time always marches forward but constantly repeats itself. People live and die, places come and go, but there are certain constants, certain questions that we will always ask, conversations that we will always have, and understandings that we will always settle on.
This may seem like a terrifying reiteration of the nihilistic futility of life, but as those who have read Nietzsche beyond The Big Lebowski know, the idea that nothing matters is, if anything, a joyful reaffirmation of lived experience. Unoriginality grounds us. We can solipsistically live as individuals and only picture our existences in self-importance, or we can realize that we are members of a much larger experience—one that is constantly progressing in terms of equality and how we treat each other, but with the same fundamental archetypes.
To make this less esoteric, let’s think of Columbia as our Macondo, the town at the center of One Hundred Years of Solitude. In less than a month, I will be leaving Columbia for good, spewed from the Broadway gates just as I entered four years ago, and fated to live an entire existence in “the real world.” My only solace is those who have come before me and those who will come after, and that I could be part of this experience. There will always be protests and counter-protests and counter-counter-protests. There will always be juniors who forget their greatest life aspirations and frantically apply for summer internships in finance and consulting. People will always sit on the Steps to discuss the meaning of life at 3 a.m. The Core will always exist in largely the same form (with hopefully some updated perspectives).
I made the bold assertion a few weeks ago that there is a certain universality to the Columbia experience, which, as everything ever said at Columbia, offended some people. The real shocker is that there is a certain universality to the human experience. Through my column, I have tried to capture the themes that I view as common denominators, that inform every walk of life and that transcend identity, culture, and time—the desire to leave a legacy, the search for meaning, the shaping of identity, the pull of nostalgia, the struggle between action and theory, and above all else, the power of shared experience. The function of the Core and education in general is to expose us to the fact that humans have been grappling with these issues for as far back as recorded thought goes, and that we’re not alone. We can use this grand body of knowledge to inform the present and strive for the one real goal of life, which is to find happiness and self-fulfillment. I can truly say that Columbia has put me in that direction. Thank you for everything.
Leo Schwartz is a Columbia College senior majoring in political science and Latin American studies. Rationalizing the Irrational runs alternate Mondays.
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