The following passage is adapted from the opening of Albert Camus’ The Plague, which is a description of Oran, a city in French Algeria, in the 1940s. I have translated it into English and into the setting of Princeton in 2013 (office jobs become classwork, going to the movies is replaced by the more common pastime of the Internet and so on), but those are the only changes I believe I have made.
It is usually easiest to get acquainted with a place by exploring how people there work, love and die. In our little campus, perhaps due to the climate, these all happen together, with the same frenetic and absent air. That is to say people are bored and apply themselves to forming habits. Our classmates work a great deal, but always to get ahead. Naturally, they also have a taste for simple joys, like sex and TV and trips to New York. But, very reasonably, they reserve these pleasures for Fridays and Saturdays, dedicating the rest of the week to racking up accomplishments.
In the evening, when they leave their classrooms, they meet up at fixed times for meals, they take walks along the same pathways or else they relax in their common rooms. The desires of some are violent and brief, while the vices of others go no further than nights spent on trash TV and low-proof alcohol, pre-formals parties that begin at 4 PM, and circles where much money is staked on the wiles of the cards.
It can no doubt be said that this is not particular to our university and that essentially all our contemporaries are the same. No doubt nothing is more natural today than to see people work morning to night and lose in coffee and chatter and the Internet the time they have left to live. But there are campuses and towns where people sometimes have the suspicion that there is something else. It usually does not change their lives. But the suspicion has been there and that counts for something. Princeton, on the contrary, is a place without suspicions, meaning that it is a thoroughly modern campus. It is consequently not necessary to specify the way in which people here love. They either devour each other quickly in what they call the act of desire or else embark on a long habit of being together. Between these extremes there is rarely a middle ground. There is nothing original about this, either. At Princeton just like elsewhere, for lack of time, people have no choice but to love each other unknowingly.
These few points may give an adequate idea of our campus. That said, I should not exaggerate. What needs to be emphasized is the banal aspect of campus and life. But one lives out one’s days without difficulty once one has habits. Insofar as Princeton fosters these habits you could say everything is for the best. From this perspective, no doubt, life is not terribly interesting. At least here disorder is unknown. This campus with no cars, no surprises and no soul starts to feel relaxing and you end up falling asleep in it.