Genres can be slippery things. Those of us who dabble in fiction sometimes find it difficult to describe what we do. Writing is individual expression and it may have elements of this and that. Given my disposition, much of my fiction has some horror features but I tend to think of it as something else. My wife recently sent me an article on Book Riot about the genre Dark Academia. The piece by Adiba Jaigirdar begins by asking the question of what exactly dark academia is. The label conjures up books about something untoward happening in the halls of learning, and that certainly qualifies. It’s difficult to be more precise because it’s different things to different people. Some of my fiction, in my own mind, falls into that category. Things go wrong in higher education all the time. Why not preserve it in fiction?
I’ve attended, and worked at some gothic places. The contemporary university, such as Rutgers—although it’s old by American standards—has continuously modernized and although I don’t know it’s history well, I suspect gothic was never its aesthetic. The same is true of Boston University where I went to seminary. Edinburgh University, while also modernizing, has retained much of its gothic feel. That’s certainly true of New College, where I studied, in the heart of the medieval old town. There’s a gravitas to such dark settings. They invite strangeness. My first teaching job was at the intentionally gothic Nashotah House. Although I didn’t agree with the politics I loved the setting.
I seem to have slipped from Dark Academia into Gothic Academia. Indeed, it’s difficult to keep the two distinct in my mind. When I taught I maintained the tweed jacket and somewhat disheveled look of someone who has something else besides grooming in mind (this is entirely genuine). Indeed, that’s one of the great charms of higher education. You need not constantly worry about each hair being in place—they’ll take care of that when they shoot the movie. Not many people, and probably a diminishing number given the state of things, experience full-time life in academia. It can be well lit and modern. If done right, however, it should take you into odd places. Discovery is generally messy. Perhaps that’s part of the dark of dark academia. When we use our brains we end up in unexpected places. I’m not sure I understand dark academia, but I have a feeling that I’ve lived it even without my fiction.