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The Dartmouth
June 23, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Do: On Getting Wasted

Would it be a waste of time to think too much about getting wasted?

 For the linguist J. L. Austin, an utterance can be constative and/or performative. That is, it can simply make a descriptive statement or it can actually perform the articulated action. Austin would judge the performative speech act by its degree of “felicity”: an utterance should be considered “happy” if the action actually takes place and “infelicitous” if not. At Dartmouth, it is hard to make felicitous utterances –– i.e. to make something happen just by saying it. For example, many would say “let’s have a meal soon” to others, without ever having one. Similarly, when one says “I will study with my friends on FFB,” one will not necessarily study while sitting there. But on this campus, when one announces to the world that “I’m going to get wasted hard tonight,” one will almost certainly manage to look wasted hard that evening. This felicitous speech act, once uttered, guarantees students a rare kind of happiness.

Does the figure of speech “wasted” have anything to do with the active verb “to waste”? Each Dartmouth student, it should not be forgotten, constitutes a human resource capable of being productive. Beyond sleeping, eating and using the restroom, most of us are also pre-programmed to study, exercise, work on-campus jobs, look for real jobs, take part in clubs, maintain relationships etc. Dartmouth’s brutal 10-week terms only strengthen this desire to be productive, at once fostering the repressive paranoia of wastefulness. But maximal productivity can be tiring, and I suspect that all students must entertain some troubling and even inexplicable desire to escape, rebel and be a wasteful entity once in a while. In this sense, I wonder if getting wasted allows students to forget the pace of their hectic term and ignore whether they are wasting their time, effort or potential. The feeling of being wasted, quite like the feeling of being wasteful, becomes a cathartic response to the negative emotions of competition and productivity, namely stress, anxiety, insecurity and so on.

Effortless though it might sound, getting wasted requires a great amount of labor. Drinking liquids (and getting them out of the body) takes up physical energy, not to mention all the dancing, screaming, crying or attending BASICS that can occur afterwards. Getting wasted, like attending a class on game theory, also requires some serious preparations. And speaking of preparation, one should not forget how society has often pressured a woman to expend an additional hour of dressing up before she can go out. In short, getting wasted remains the ultimate time , energy and alcohol consuming task of the college experience.

Is it worth it, though? The answer, I believe, should still be yes. Getting wasted, as it turns out, is only wasteful in one sense, while surprisingly productive in another. This activity may not put out any physical commodity or intellectual capital, but it does create a wealth of social, communal and intersubjective experiences –– a form of bonding with peers, a sense of belonging to a community, a method of being oneself by getting lit with others and even a process of establishing and signaling a college-student identity. On party nights at Dartmouth, during which it is often true that “I drink therefore I am,” many would labor away so as to not feel alienated.

Because getting wasted involves being both wasteful yet productive and leisurely yet rigorous, the typical narrative of a wasted subject often unfolds in a vicious circle: one might declare that “I am stressed right now, so I will get wasted hard tonight to destress,” only to admit later that “I am now so stressed because I got wasted too hard last night.” Literary scholar Lauren Berlant would call this a situation of “cruel optimism,” an affective phenomenon that exists “when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing,”she writes in her book “Cruel Optimism.”

In addition to the cruel illusion of unwinding, getting wasted also encompasses the transcendental delusion of being a superhuman. The wasted subject often imagines various possibilities regarding his, her or their capacity beyond its actual limits. But while still sober, let’s stick with reality for a moment. One cannot romanticize such imagined superpower without acknowledging the real structure of power that has for so long haunted this community. An immaterial form of labor, getting wasted can generate various kinds of social capital. And in this economy of intoxication, the control of production means conveniently grants power to a few. There are no secrets as to who, at which places, are more allowed, and thus more likely, to serve alcohol to others on this campus. Should they indeed be the upperclassmen in male-dominated spaces, I wonder if the word “upperclassmen” has come to mean “upper-class men” while the phrase “male-dominated spaces” would simultaneously suggest “spaces of male domination” in this context.

All at once, getting wasted sounds like a socially symbolic, individually iconic and potentially problematic act. This piece cannot do justice to the variety of forms and functions of this night-time practice. But if Dartmouth is serious about transforming its social spaces, the College should try to fully examine the effects, ideologies and power structures that govern this seemingly non-productive yet extremely laborious activity, or else such efforts might get wasted.

Do is a member of the Class of 2020.

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