On Slytherins and Sonnenrads
Hundreds of thousands want to sit among cold stone walls, to write essays on obscure and esoteric subjects, and to suffer and be beautiful for it.
However, I’m not quite so sure Dark Academia and the many other aesthetics (Light Academia, Cottage Core, etc.) on Tumblr and other online platforms represent some hidden longing for elitist spaces.
I honestly think it’s more of a longing for *beautiful* spaces -- interior as well as exterior -- as a gut reaction to the aesthetics of the current post-industrial, brutalist, conveyor-belt age. A longing for more beauty (of the traditional kind) in our everyday lives and a slower pace of life.
Today’s universities are too woke and politically correct. Rather than superficial identity politics, they ought to be teaching Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and the great minds who make the West worth preserving. This is the real reason for dark academia; people are hungry for an authentic classical education.
"You are Slytherin because you like dark aesthetics and heavily value status. I am Slytherin because I desire Total Muggle Death. We are not the same."
there's an inescapable and pervasive sadness about the whole Tumblr aesthetic subculture, of which Dark Academia is just one example. the common denominator i see in all of them is a longing for agency. the elitism is a byproduct of the underlying fantasy, which is to be somebody who's recognized for doing important intellectual work: you can cosplay as a person who Knows Things, has read the Big Books and gained access to a kind of academic occultism, even if you're really just a regular wage slave with a mundane service job. ostensibly, this knowledge has given you a special place and a purpose in the world (or at least the financial security to buy all those expensive tweeds). just as cottagecore is built around the fantasy of being someone with the means to own a cottage, Dark Academia is a fantasy of having important, fulfilling work to do—plumbing the depths of all those shadowy mysteries—and living in a society where you're provided with the material resources to do it. in real life, for the vast majority of non-wealthy people, studying the Classics is a one-way ticket to poverty—just like owning a pastoral cottage with a vegetable garden is now a hobby for rich people, rather than an accessible livelihood for the working class. but people still cling to the aesthetics because they can't access that agency in real life, even though they crave it.
What we need is Dark Academia music and fashion. Let’s go full subculture with it.
BTW, the Sheila Metzner fashion photo is mesmerizing. It does not quite go with the essay, but who cares?
Interesting stuff about the libidinal forces at work on the fringes of our culture but the Dark Academia phenomenon seems like the latest, greatly diluted, derivative of Romanticism. Like Romanticism itself it is an aesthetic reaction to the disappointment and disenchantment of modernity. As the mass middle class of the West disintegrates the longing for alternative lifestyles and relief from pauperisation, exploitation and insecurity grows.
The craving for the exceptional, the obscure and the refined will always exist and the appropriate parties will adjust their marketing strategies appropriately.
The reception of Donna Tartt's novel by fans of Dark Academia brings to mind the popularity of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED in the 80s. Quite a few youngsters in the Ivy League took an interest in the subject matter and aesthetic but were often only familiar with it through the TV series, not the book itself. It is all a reminder of how shallow and performative everything has become.
Beauty is THE most powerful weapon. If what we write is not sexy/attractive we might aswell give up. Nice article.
I dropped out of university because I didn't like postmodern philosophy, and took a detour in Occultism before finding light in Julius Evola's books. Long story short, I love this way of restoring true wisdom and traditional beauty.
Hadn't heard of Dark Academia but I wish it well. Have any prominent names emerged yet?
I think part of this urge is private spaces. Everything now has to be inclusive. There are fewer mens clubs because women invaded them. I think this is something people yearn for. A private or exclusive space they don't need to justify.
Lots of interesting ideas to work with here. While I'm not sure that loving Harry Potter and a tendency to favour more gothic, nostalgic aesthetics is in-and-of-itself a sign that a woman is a secret aristocrat (and indeed, if the idea were broached to one who is she would wholeheartedly deny it), it's hard to disagree with the idea that these brands are notably popular with those women who have the nobility of spirit to intuit that something is not right today - even when their senses and everything else tells them that everything is fine.
The Slytherin-sonnenrad parallel, however, is spot on.
Beautiful and hopeful essay. The human spirit can be suppressed but not eliminated. The images are magnificent. It is what we are made for and can only be denied for so long.
All of the worlds problems begin, and end, in the ability to sit quietly in a room and contemplate one's brilliance. What people ultimately long for I believe, is this same ability to sit in peace and quiet, in a room of their choosing, that allows them to express their individual, creative talents to the ultimate degree. We have the power of Oxford in each of us, but must be willing to sit down and select books, rather than elect mainstream novels like Harry Potter.
I love your thought process and psychological insights Johann.
You no doubt were a liberal arts Psychology major? I jest.
I think it’s worth noting that this movement surged during the pandemic. High school graduates who had been expecting to begin the usual rituals of university or college - lectures, dorms, socialising - suddenly found themselves sitting at home attending lectures via Zoom, their lives on hold. They were expecting a rite of passage - instead, they got stuck in a strangulating drabness.
In response, they created a fantasy academia, a darkly romantic portal in which to escape the pain of stolen dreams.