The Ethereality of Dark Academia

The Ethereality of Dark Academia

Haven’t we all been obsessed with the idea of going to a boarding school in New England and getting up to like mischief with our friends and learning all about poetry and literature? Without a doubt, this might have reminded you of the Harry Potter series and the film ‘The Dead Poets Society’.

Even though it went unnoticed, all these are a part of a particular aesthetic. Aesthetics is generally understood as a branch of philosophy concerned with the study of nature and beauty.  Under this diversified branch of aesthetics, a list of thematical academics exists, for example, light academia, dark academia, pastel academia, etc. can be seen. The tag “Dark Academia” originated sometime around 2015 on Tumblr and had a relatively smaller reach. However, at present, it is extremely popular essentially due to the trending social medial platform TikTok.

Among these lists of aesthetics, Dark Academia certainly takes the lead. It is an aesthetic that revolves around classic literature, the pursuit of knowledge, and academics. It is linked to old universities like Oxford and Cambridge, to authors such as Oscar Wilde.

When digging into Dark Academia, you will realize that an aesthetic is ultimately rooted in how you behave and act. It is not just about how you look, and Dark Academia is not just within the walls of a performative aesthetic. It is something that is practiced; writing notes by hand, dipping a pen in ink and staining fingertips black, writing long letters with poetic references to people until your fingertips are numb, endless reading books deep into the night mainly that of Wilde, Dickens, romantic poets or maybe reading about Frankenstein shivering under a full moon.

The main body of work that initiated this aesthetic was ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt. This novel focuses on the humanities, liberal arts, and also on heavy gothic aesthetics. The same can be said with the film ‘The Dead Poets Society’ which includes a group of teenagers who learn to see the world through the likes of poetry, art, and literature as taught by their unorthodox English professor. Even though we do not necessarily see these aspects in the Harry Potter series, for example, it promotes the concept of Dark Academia primarily through the entire setup. The setting of Hogwarts itself brings out the gothic style of architecture which mirrors the structure of universities that is embraced by this form of academia and through fashion as well, such as; turtlenecks, sweater vests, cardigans etc. And ‘Hermoine’ who is a part of the ‘Golden Trio’ becomes a very apt representation of ‘Dark Academia’ through her endless pursuit for knowledge.

Even as the list goes on there is, however, a visible amount of high criticism regarding what is dark about ‘Dark Academia’. The main complaint that people have towards Dark Academia is its extreme lack of diversity. Though it is named as ‘dark’ academia it is essentially ‘white’. The origins of things (books, movies, fashion, etc.) considered to be part of this aesthetic are from either ancient Rome or Greece, or from present-day European countries. For example, some of the most popular books among Dark Academic followers who live and breathe this aesthetic are ‘The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue’ by V. E. Shwab which revolves around an invisible, immortal French girl who only travels within Europe in all of her 300 odd years of life. The clear disregard towards Asian or African countries was highly criticized. Even popular movies based on this aesthetic lacks diversity, for example, ‘The Dead Poets Society’ where all the six characters were European in nationality.

Dark Academia has also been criticized for its aestheticization of unhealthy behavior in the pursuit of both the aesthetic itself and academic achievement. Stress and procrastination related to education, depression and its symptoms, unhealthy sleep habits, including both under and oversleeping, and excessive consumption of coffee, are frequently referenced and discussed in Dark Academic communities. Another backlash in this regard concerns the affordability of this particular lifestyle. In order to portray oneself as a part of this aesthetic you need to own tweed coats, shelves full of classics, and sometimes even the need to attend a boarding school. Essentially, it is of utmost importance that you should be from the upper class. When looking into the costs, if you have ever walked into a bookstore and taken a peek at the price tags of hardcover classics, drowning in books can be more costly than you ever imagined.

Regardless of the darkness in Dark Academia, the aesthetic itself is quite compelling and life-giving. Amidst the desperateness out into this pursuit, let me bid adieu in welcoming your aesthetics to lure you in while I sip on tea from an antique China teacup while listening to Tchaikovsky adoring the breeze of the monsoon…

– Rtr Gethmi Adikari

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