Lately, I’ve noticed that our everyday vernacular has become riddled with a colloquialism that is at once specific and entirely ambiguous, “I’m not even a real person.” To understand this phrase it must be deconstructed. I have most habitually heard it used to communicate an understanding by the speaker that at the present moment he or she publicly appears disheveled, stressed, and overwhelmed. Of course, the subject of such a statement is intrinsically speaking not unreal. But what kind of reality is the subject excluding from him/herself? What is reality if not lived human experience – which evidently encompasses a spectrum of emotions and behaviors? The kind of reality, or lack thereof, from which the subject precludes him/herself is emphatically perverse. In this sense, to be real is to ignore all the violence and messiness of the human condition; to condemn our less marketable emotions and experiences as base, despicable, and worthy of erasure.
Why is it so appealing to occupy a position that abbreviates and anesthetizes? Perhaps, we concede to the title, Dartmouth, as if it rests on laurels. Let us consider Dartmouth as a single, authorial source which every year graduates some twelve hundred students, its annual oeuvre. Dartmouth, as a unifying principle, unites its student body with themes, motifs, techniques, and points of view across its students, which, in turn, constitute Dartmouth. This identity aims to incorporate discrete, and complicated experiences into one coherent idea of Dartmouth. Graduates, sourced from Dartmouth, are able to communicate, posture, and economize on their educational experience – the Dartmouth experience. If one reads, what will eventually exist line on a resume, to discern a principle of continuity across Dartmouth’s collected student body, totaling some four thousand students, the consequence is inevitable – the oversimplification and erasure of many students’ lived experiences for one easy label: Dartmouth.
I am assuming that beyond these walls, a Dartmouth degree is a commodity that is at once sought after and rapidly consumed. My aim is not to extol the miseries of this coherent, easily-digested Dartmouth capital, or the risks of understanding one’s education as tangible capital; rather, I want to decipher an infectious colloquialism that I frequently hear. Upon examination, the phrase exposes our entrapment within the disparity between the dominant Dartmouth discourse and the lived Dartmouth experience. I want to understand the extent to which Dartmouth functions both as an institution and as a dominant discourse to elide the unpleasant, unresolved, and disordered lived reality.
As the speaker of the phrase understands it, in order to be socially digestible one must fit seamlessly into a culture of effortless perfection. And, in moments of weakness, he/she must issue a social-advisory warning. Within this concessive self-deprecation, it is obvious that the reality to which the speaker frantically tries to subscribe is fabricated and perpetuated by the very individuals left at its bitter mercy. Having been enmeshed in the constant comparing of ourselves to everyone around us, life becomes a relentless self-assessment against an unreachable standard. This statement, or more accurately, confession, endures as an effort to sardonically isolate the current condition apart from reality. Lived Truth, in its tension and disorder, is rejected in favor of an artificial world, populated by individuals who are internally racked with indecision. The implication of this trade-off is unavoidably treacherous: by excluding disorder from the realm of the real, the subject waives his or her right to imperfection, only propagating the silence that shapes the Dartmouth discourse.
This perverse reality to which we sheepishly proscribe, is, in fact, at its essence, the dissolution of the lived, human experience. However, for as long as we submit to an impetus for highly-compartmentalized, illusory perfection, the Real person will remain silenced. Only by acknowledging the mess, the violence, and the disorder, will we open the discourse from within to validate a multiplicity of experiences, and truths; to free ourselves from an artificial notion of reality.
These issues are at once deeply personal and systemic. We fear rejection in the face of honest exposure; to be revealed as weak in our of times of struggle. When the pursuit of success is not only widely accepted, but applauded and rewarded, it is neither reasonable nor effective to advocate against. However, to graduate with a Dartmouth degree announces triumph and tells a very specific success story. Though we spend four years in order to assume the title, Dartmouth graduate, we are rich and problematic people, we are full of experience, talent, and history. As long as we are isolated, deprived by the walls that have been built within ourselves and between others, we remain hungry.
I think it is easy to assign fault to a place such as Dartmouth, rather than examining the things one can do to promote change. By rejecting the status quo, one risks being labeled a quitter, an aimless wanderer. But not all those who wander are aimless. Especially not those who seek truth beyond tradition, beyond definition, beyond the image—for those who try to be real.