The unbearable lightness of Erasmus


Alessio Vagaggini

Alessio Vagaggini

Is the Erasmus light or heavy?

v “Over the town,” Marc Chagall, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

The title of this brief piece that I am about to write is inspired by the masterpiece of Milan Kundera the unbearable lightness of being. The Czech writer, taking back Parmenide’s reflections, reasons on the meaning of the dichotomic poles of heaviness and lightness, providing the keys for reading it: both to historical-philosophical level and lowering the abstractness of the two terms in a magnificent love story. Here, as soon as I think about the period that I am living in this small college town in the North of Europe, it is impossible for me not to think of this question: is Erasmus light or heavy?

First of all, Erasmus is a ‘heavy’ experience. It is primary heavy for you are leaving your certainties and your loved ones. Your usual daily routine is nullified, your acquaintances change completely, your alimentary habits are revolutionised. Even the way in which you view the global map changes because it makes you see the world and your country in a completely different manner. However, the ‘heavy’ aspect of this Erasmus experience overall relates to the changes in habits and in the human body maturation due to these worthwhile experiences. Changing your paths, meeting people that speaks languages different from yours, smiling and noticing how that smile has different values for different people, Erasmus leads you in a constant challenge that leads you to grow. For better or worse, what characterises our body as material, is heaviness. We have somehow to take care of it is the starting point from which we can cultivate and make our reflections grow, through them we can look for a sense.

On the other hand, Erasmus is also lightness. The thoughtlessness with which we write the name of our destination, without caring, it is just one place or another. A word, a name, a city that can represent opportunities, dreams and relationships one completely different from the others. The lightness with which, teenagers for a second time, we look at the stimulating afternoon lessons and we get blinded by the lights of the night. The heaviness, the material part of being, makes born and grow the lightness, the critical and free from the constraints of materiality thought, the supreme expression of human perfection. Therefore, as Kundera speaks of the drama of central Europe and of its lost cultural identity, with this light project we rather lean out in a complicated thematic. We lean out there in a European scenery that gets more and more lacerated by the disenchantment, by ethnic conflicts and youth unemployment.

The Erasmus, in the lightness of its idea, is the project that has engraved more concretely on the life of millions of individuals. It does not aim to make you become Europeanist or paladin of who-knows-which political party, but just to experiment the endless value of freedom and the knowledge of the other. It teaches you to remain yourself, but lightly, in the way of living, in the awareness of the differences between people: differences that we must recognize, for only through the knowledge of the different one we can recognize him, respect him and not to be afraid of him.

Erasmus is not a tool for pointing a direction, is the manual that gives you the means for building social life, our civic growth. For no coincidence, these people with different ideas, languages and nationalities have met and they feel now pushed to share ideas and experiences with the common aim of an only system of values in the respect of the plurality of positions and solutions.

The heroism of originality

I am walking through the beautiful city of Utrecht. The sky is pierced by occasional sun-rays and the city seems to be magical. The traffic-light is red. I stop and

Once again, lightness plays a key role in the randomness of our meeting: the resulting heaviness triggers the channel of this common sharing space. What unites the two terms is not the assignment of a value, but the perceiving of the deepest meaning and the gathering of the enormous wealth that an experience of this kind can transmit. Erasmus, as metaphor of losing ourselves for then find us again renewed, perfectly reflects the perfection, the wealth that this dichotomy has given not only to the literature but to the humankind too.

The heaviness of the experience, the lightness of the thought.

Or, maybe, the lightness of the experience and the heaviness of the thought?

Good question…

In the end, neither Kundera succeeds in explaining us whether life is lighter or heavier, also for being caught up in the doubt if the love among the human beings is light for the feeling or heavy for its concreteness.

When you will be intent to study head down in view of an examination in a different language from yours, when you will not understand a single word of what the cashier of the supermarket tells you or when you will wait for the person that you love standing under the rain, just smile.

Smile in any case.

You are dancing the one-time waltz of life.

Alessio Vagaggini


The unaberable leightness of being, M. Kundera, Adelphi editions, 1982

The tragedy of central Europe, M. Kundera, The New York Review of Books, 1986


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