At the moment, I’m reading Adriaan van Dis’ Dubbelliefde and I’m enjoying it immensely. Mostly, I think, because of it making fun of the idea of a certain intellectual aesthetic – let’s call it dark academia, as that is the most occurring form of this kind of aesthetic that I see going around on the internet. Everybody knows these kind of styles: tweed, piles of books, reciting certain poets, strolling through neogothic university buildings. I absolutely have to admit that I have a soft spot for these things and that I am in the possession of more than one item of tweed clothing, that my house is completely stuffed with books and that in the last months I might have spent a few evenings reading or writing by candlelight. So I’m not exactly immune to the lures of this aesthetic.
However, I do get a bit uneasy when solely addressing this style as an aesthetic. Dark academia wants to go for a certain kind of intellectual vibe, but the moment is becomes more about the “look” than the actual intellectual activity it reaches a superficiality that seems completely in contradiction with the passions that are supposed to be behind it. I understand all the nice things an aesthetic can do – it can get you into the right mindset, keep you motivated, but I have a hard time not becoming too judgy when it becomes all about the looks. I especially clash on this subject when it comes to Romantic poetry – a literary era I do not like, but which is revered in dark academia. Apparently I should quote Oscar Wilde when wearing my tweed blazer, but I prefer quoting Claudia Rankine or Dorothee Sölle or any of my other favourite poets.
These “aesthetics” can be very specific and do not always leave room for personal taste. In my opinion, Dubbelliefde plays with this idea. The main character knows quite clearly what he likes when it comes to literature or style, but constantly has to make concessions because what he likes is not considered of that time. He wants to fit in – with the theatre people, in the gay community, with his fellow students – but is told that he doesn’t read the right things or dresses the right way. It is a wonderful attack on the closed minds of certain communities (especially during the 70s, when most of this book takes place). The main character loves theatre, but is shunned by the theatre school because his taste is too old-fashioned. He gets criticized by a left-wing group of freedom fighters when he expresses a desire for individual freedom, to just be who he is. He is constantly fighting against his urge to wear a small golden necklace, which he adores, but is hated by almost every group he wants to please.
Now, maybe it’s the quarantine but I’m a bit more easily influenced by the academia style at the moment as well. As I already said, it’s something that appeals to me normally as well, but I think that being cooped up in my house makes me long for dressing up and visiting the places that are important to me, like universities, museums and old city centres. But naturally this also makes me question this desire: isn’t it superficial? Isn’t it just capitalism trying to lure me to retail therapy through all these beautiful pictures on Pinterest? Is it even achievable, and not just one of these filtered ideals which just makes you feel disappointed in yourself at the end because it doesn’t look exactly like the pictures? I want to appreciate my own individual style apart from the specific aesthetic as well, and not lose myself in those expectations.