Stumbling on a Resonating Aesthetic
As many of us do I often spend a significant chunk of my week scrolling through the social media sites, reading blogs, articles and consuming various YouTube content. Whilst my passion for the subject of the paranormal is obvious and the main concern of most of my writing, I also often find myself looking at content to do with productivity, books, films and much more. It was during one of these relaxed days scrolling through YouTube content that I happened upon the term ‘Dark Academia’ and without knowing exactly what it was, found myself drawn in to discover more.
Hours later and I realised something a little strange! Although I had not started to wear tweed yet, it could be said that I already prescribed to this aesthetic and actually quite enjoyed it. It’s also worth mentioning that, I may not have started to wear tweed, but I certainly have been known to dress in the Victorian style for some séance type experimentation in the past. If I am honest too, I quite like the Victorian times.
What is Dark Academia?
So, what is Dark Academia exactly? I have to admit on first hearing it you being to visualise possibilities of secret societies existing as a part of highly prestigious universities, like Oxford or Cambridge. It’s not that, but also kind of is too. After all, that’s what Dead Poets Society was right. Okay, granted that was a film, but its a film that fits the Dark Academia aesthetic too.
Dark Academia is an aesthetic that appears to have its basis around the drive for self-discovery, a passion for knowledge and learning. It also has some ties to classical literature too, which is where it really began to resonate for me. On many occasions I have been asked about some of the activities I do in my spare time, one of which is reading – in fact I think I have now got to a stage that if I am not reading at least one book currently, then I become quite depressed an possibly really annoying. However, when those discussions about reading begin often the other person heads straight towards fiction books and their authors, whereas I prefer to read more factual. Don’t get me wrong I like a nice fictional book from time to time, but even then its got to be something that is held in high regard. Something you may find some excellent quotes in for example. Look on my bookshelf for non-fiction and you will find the works of Doyle – as I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. You may also find the works of William Shakespeare too. The presence of your standard airport novel is somewhat lacking though. However, without really realising it, this love of books and ones which fed my passion for knowledge, was already fitting of the Dark Academia aesthetic.
Visually speaking Dark Academia appears to stem from European cultures, but has many variations as it isn’t really a uniform so to speak. I am no expert, but I would assume that if someone presents themselves visually to align with Dark Academia, then that is more a statement of choice. Allowing others to understand what they are interested in without really having that conversation. In the paranormal, we used to joke that this was often identified by wearing your black polo shirt or hoody with your teams logo on it. Nothing wrong with doing that, but then you instantly knew that person was a ghost hunter affiliated with a particular team. An approach that I have not really embraced over the years, although I did receive a very nice SPR bag at last years conference.
Dark Academia, from what I understand, is more about where it takes its inspiration from and whilst this may suggest its something purely for book lovers; it actually extends beyond that to film, TV, music, art, comics and so very much more. Whilst these areas are more of a suggestive link in my opinion as they make that connection with the aesthetic, there are a few standard classics, a guideline if you will. Books wise; Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’, to Leo Tolstoy’s ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’ and other works by Dante, Byatt, Lockhart, Wilde, Bronte, Homer, and more. This also includes the works of the great philosophers too, like Plato, and Aristotle. In fact philosophy can play a large part in Dark Academia. In fact the list of authors is massive and may include a few you probably wouldn’t have guessed; my beloved Sherlock Holmes appears in a few lists I have seen and I have even seen Harry Potter in a few lists too. Fundamentally, its about what you take away from all these fantastic works of literature that is important, whether that is a philosophy for life or a simple anecdote on love, each helps that thirst for knowledge in its own right.
What struck me though was that the aesthetic of Dark Academia reached beyond just books and embraced the world of film and TV too, a medium that is far simpler to consume these days. As I looked through further lists on the internet related to Dark Academia, I once again found that some of these films and TV shows resonated with me. Such films as ‘Dead Poets Society’, ‘Good Will Hunting’ and even the more recent ‘Tolkien’ were featured. Films I have enjoyed appeared throughout the list. Even TV shows like ‘Sherlock’ were on the lists too. I was beginning to think perhaps I had best buy a nice tweed suit! The lists go on and extend into theatre, art, music, comics and basically all aspects of life.
Whilst not each and every aspect of the Dark Academia aesthetic resonates with me, many of its aspects does appear to resonate with me greatly. As strange as it may seem, it even had me question whether or not my choice to go with an Oak coloured desk and bookshelf was all part of this strange aesthetic. Not to mention the desire to own old books too. In fact, one YouTube video mentioned about the smell of books – no comment!
One final aspect that really resonated without question with me was journaling. Those that know me will know that I journal daily and whilst my current ones follow the Bullet Journaling approach, I do have a number of journals that could be more related to Dark Academia. In fact they are custom made leather bound journals, that look like they are straight out of the Victorian times. Personally I use a journal for a few things, which may surprise a few considering I work in the technology field. Firstly, I use a journal to organise my life – everything that is coming up in the next year is in there, then broken down into months, weeks and days. The ideas for blog posts are outlined in the journal as are other pieces of writing too. On a daily basis I make time to write in my journal to process what is going on in my life. For years, at the advice of many in the paranormal I attempted to meditate, but was never able to settle my mind enough. Journaling allows me to meditate in a different way, which works better for me. In fact as a direct link to perhaps Dark Academia, journaling was something some ancient Greek philosophers and leaders like Marcus Aurelius done too. It is also something my Nan would do too, and since her passing our family has located a huge number of her journals. In relation to films, I remember seeing ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ in Indi’s father keeps a journal full of details on the Holy Grail. When I first started to investigate the paranormal I would keep a journal, detailing the places I visited and the research on the location. In fact this very blog began life as journal, which is now on that Oak coloured bookshelf next to the leather bound journals and the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. So, journaling is heavily linked to Dark Academia and something that is a part of who I am.
How Does Dark Academia Relate to the Paranormal?
By now you’re probably thinking that this is all really interesting Ashley, thanks for sharing, but how does it relate to the paranormal? In reality, its not paranormal so to speak and will not apply to many in the field at all. However, there are a few out there that I know personally that will read some of this, do a little research of their own and then realise that perhaps some of their own approaches to the paranormal resonate with aspects of the Dark Academia aesthetic.
Personally for me, my paranormal journey is more about learning, about research, understanding, investigating, theorising and writing than it is ghost hunting. Although, as I always say – I do love a good ghost hunt. In more recent years I have become fascinated by the greater research available out there through organisations like the SPR and many Universities too. I enjoy attending their lectures and conferences to learn more too, that pursuit of greater knowledge holds greater importance to me than anything else. Which is why I focus more on my writing to share what I learn either in blogs like this, or magazine articles and perhaps journal entries of my own in the future. All aspects which could be said to fit with the Dark Academia approach.
I feel I should also mention my leather reading chair too. At the time I got this, which was free by the way, I did not really understand why I wanted it. However, this chair is where I journal and where I process most of my work. It’s like my thinking chair. In reflection of the Dark Academia aesthetics, perhaps this too is related. Although my children seem to think its ‘Bill’s Chair’ – comment below if you understand why?
There are many aspects within the paranormal or at least that are associated with many of those that investigate the paranormal that have a few crossovers with Dark Academia. The books, the thirst for knowledge and to learn constantly, some of the films perhaps, a love of older stuff (like my weird leather chair) and much more I am sure.
What do you think? If you have read this and think you may have some interests that crossover into the realms of Dark Academia, whether they are paranormal or not, please let me know in the comments?