The Ecole Normale Supérieure is the most stupidly named university I have ever crossed paths with. How can you be both normal and superior at the same time? The simple answer is you can’t, and I don’t know why anyone would try. The students here refer to themselves as ‘normaliens’ which I would translate as ‘the normal ones’. To add ‘superior’ to ‘normal’ has the same effect as adding the prefix –ab. The normality is negated by the simultaneous claim to superiority. In other words:
normality + superiority = weirdness
Most of the students here have little trouble with the ‘superior’ epithet, even if their superiority is limited to the realms of maths or physics. What they really struggle with is the aforementioned normality. Trying to be normal is a paradoxical pursuit- if you have to make a conscious effort to be normal you are undoubtedly a freak.
These superior mathematicians and physicists spend six days a week being superior solving complex equations. They devote one day a week to the futile pursuit of being normal- K-Fêt Thursdays. Although the K-Fêt sounds profoundly and joyously psychedelic, it is anything but. It elevates the worst elements of the k-hole- the claustrophobia, the paralysis, the disorientation, the dirt cheap economics and attendant penchant for excess- at the expense of any pleasantries that might be salvaged from such an experience. In the K-Fêt as in the k-hole, you perceive the horror that lies beneath the surface.
The K-Fêt is confined to the north-east corner of the basement. The first time you descend the staircase it is immediately and abundantly clear that the self-proclaimed ‘normal ones’ have failed miserably in their quest for normality. The chaos that greets you recalls the carnage of Picasso’s Guernica. And these creatures are indeed at war, only not with fascist forces – these creatures are at war with themselves.
It seems that alcohol does not only intoxicate the normaliens – it dismembers them too. You see bodies slumped at strange angles like exhausted paralympians. Arms, legs and heads are entwined in impossible formations. One normalien is lifting another from behind, bouncing him up and down as his head lolls on a limp neck spraying vomit everywhere. The lifter squeezes every last drop from his charge, milking him like a giant udder. A boy lies lifeless nearby. His face is on the floor and his large red instrument of smell is dangerously close to the vomit. What is remarkable is that it takes only a pint of Kronenbourg to do this to the normaliens.
I hear one boy lying to get laid. ‘I don’t work very hard. Work is bullshit. I party hard.’ This ancient tactic reminds me of Pinnochio and the phallic consequences of his dishonesty. The girl nods in approval, ‘Mmm… bullshit… parties.’ She is ready for his mendacious member.
I wander through the carnage, occasionally helping these ‘normal superior’ creatures, occasionally laughing, always horrified. It is sad to see them being sick on themselves. They are like fallen angels, so drunk their wings dropped off.
The devastation often spills up the stairs and out into the courtyard. One boy is asleep on the red carpet rolled out on the cobbles, homage to the greatness we will always aspire to but never attain. This is the courtyard where Sartre did his thinking. On Thursdays people don’t think here, they fuck themselves up. I walked into the courtyard one morning at 8am and saw the fountain was full of chairs and tables. My disgust initially caused me concern – does outrage mean I’m getting old? But then I saw the culprits – a hoard of normal ones who had moved into the foyer and were hurling croissants at each other- and I felt a deep sense of satisfaction that I was scorning them instead of joining them.
These so called normal ones are clearly not normal. But by describing them as abnormal I have almost tricked myself into thinking I am normal by othering the nutters. I bumble along in my own blind little bubble, oblivious to my own strangeness and happy to live by my perversion of David Cameron’s much maligned mantra, ‘learning and gurning’. Rene Magritte said, ‘Everything we see hides another thing.’ My own abnormality hides behind the weirdness of others. Like the back of your head you can never directly perceive your own weirdness. This is nice. Very nice. And that’s why I am so fond of these so called normal ones.