A lot has been written in a lot of Carletonian columns over the years about what happens to campus as we start the last quarter of the term. Almost as much as we like to talk about our papers and projects on 4th libe, we like to talk about what they mean to campus culture. Obviously, I’m as guilty of this as anyone – I’ve spilled thousands of words about stress in the last few weeks alone, and a lot of my thoughts around this time of the term center around different aspects of the slide towards finals – the lack of free time, the pressure, the gradual retreat towards hermeticism, and the struggle to hold all one’s different activities together and stay fed, rested and clean at the same time.
But I confess that that’s not really what I find the most interesting about these last few weeks. They’re the low-hanging fruit, as it were, the easiest things to write about because they’re so close to the front of the mind. But what I find most fascinating isn’t the way campus culture disintegrates – it’s the way it stays together.
It might seem tautological to say that even as every single student on this campus picks up more and more reading, gets more and more tired, skips more and more showers and tears out more and more of their hair, the campus itself, as a whole, still functions somehow. Obviously it keeps functioning – campus publications keep coming out, meals come and go like clockwork in the LDC, and classes grind on. Why even talk about it? The simple fact that everything on this campus exists from day to day shouldn’t surprise us any more than it usually does.
I do think it’s remarkable, though, when you think about it, that campus doesn’t gradually go into hibernation between 7th and 10th week. Obviously, we can expect meals and classes, but considering the amount of things we have to do every day it seems amazing that things like film screenings, Athenaeum talks, and comedy shows still happen and still pull enough of an audience to be successful. Obviously, there’s still some free time on everyone’s radar until reading days, but it dwindles rapidly, and the pace of campus events doesn’t break stride until the end of 10th week. In fact, a lot of highly-attended things like Players productions and Semaphore performances take place around 9th week, just when work is at its most intense, and they’re still highly attended.
I can’t think of a definitive answer for this phenomenon, but I can narrow it down to a few.
One is that as the amount of work we have to do increases, so too does our need to get away from it once in a while. All of us need to stop doing work once in a while – it seems natural that the more work we have, the more desperately we need to forget about it at times. But this seems simplistic to me – all of us are quite capable of prioritizing work over fun, and this capacity often increases once we’ve gotten our first midterm back. I don’t think that participating in campus culture is nothing but an escape.
I think a much better explanation is that, as we become more and more aware of how much work we have to do by the end of the term, “work” begins to encompass campus culture. Group meetings and film screenings blur together. I was getting at this last week – I think that by treating stress relief as a kind of work, we imbue it with stress of its own.
Obviously, this is a little disturbing, but I wonder if there’s a good side to it. It’s worth remembering that our work, which generates so much stress, presumably has a teleological end, whether it’s cultural enrichment, the furthering of human knowledge, financial security, or your abstraction of choice, and presumably the stress is worth it if we’re able to achieve that abstraction. The nice thing about going to talks, plays, and dance performances is that there’s no abstraction to worry about. If campus culture becomes a kind of work, if we think of it as obligation, then the stress at least doesn’t ruin the experience of the events themselves.
I don’t mean this to lionize our treatment of campus culture as another form of work. On the contrary, I think we should ask ourselves if the abstract goals we expect out of our work proper have gotten too abstract – if the stress that’s an inevitable corollary of any kind of serious, committed work has poisoned the enjoyment we should be getting out of the work itself.