In the shadows of myths, a new entity builds itself. It is called Dark Theory, and in the dark, it grows. From the broken pieces rubble, it constructs a new mortar, pasting itself up from the midden pits of cultural discards, the unwanted substance of thousands of years of stories and folktales, naming conventions, official designations, and jurisprudence. This excised material, this societal negative space, reassembles into a sprawling favela of unmapped streets. Like ancient books resurrected into new artwork by a counter-culture with insurgent spirit and a taste for its own blood, the darkness is cataloged, analyzed, and bootlegged, becoming dangerous and feral, in that it has been pried out from its history, and set upon new, machined legs.
It is with myths that we color the outlines of our cultural terrain. We collide with the shapes whether we like it or not, but it is with narratives that we shade in the fields, providing us with a sense of depth at a distance. With this color, we more easily recognize repeated patterns from afar. We know the difference between the sea and the sky, and we give ourselves an aesthetic sense of the cyclical changing of the seasons, and of the differences in light frequencies between sunrise and sunset.
Each literal visible color frequency has its own narrative significance, but just like our actual photoreceptors, we have more rod cells that detect the relative brightness of this storied light than we do the cones that differentiate frequency. The light and the dark is our archetypal means for determining the shape of the world around us, and across this colorblind topology we struggle to maneuver. We travel as if by night, the pale reflected light of our many cultural satellites sketching shaded outlines of the spectral structures in the blank stone and canvas of the horizon.
In it is this darkness that Dark Theory finds its own mythos. This new ethic disassembles the old gods--the shadowy villains, the darker races, the black hearts, and the dearth of healing lights. It takes this lack of colorful zoning, and in the indistinctness and undifferentiated murk, it constructs its own way of doing things, proven by the rapidly educating evolution of dangerous back streets.
Dark Theory could most certainly be said to be of the streets. It is unofficial, unregulated, and unobstructed by the rules and norms typical of things we call “Theory”. Not because it escapes the notice of the powers that be, but because it is constituted by those who the power regimes cannot fully grasp. Dark Theory is a method that finds its overarching science in its own ineffable utility--the means of doing what needs to be done. Dark Theory is a market with a black logic--not observing generally accepted accounting principles of profit and loss, but extracting its value from the system itself. Dark Theory is a religion that seeks out the sacred not in the shibboleths of belief and theological practice, but in hackable necessity, in the accessible technology of occult results.
The color and shade it has chosen as its namesake is not derived from any particular thematic aesthetic, but from what was already anathema. It is mainstream culture that has chosen to demarcate the lines of Dark Theory on the societal map with darkened hatching and bold, diasporic lines. It is no particular entity or group who has decided to reclaim this space, to decolonize this visual frequency, or to brazenly bust the blockades, intruding into these areas that are condemned. The Dark was already there, and needs no authority or authenticity to become active. It is the shadow under the glint of the knife, and when it slashes, the Dark moves along beneath it.
Dark Theory is both new and old. But to elucidate, if not to illuminate the ongoing practices of Dark Theory, it would be useful to review a number of the areas where Dark Theory finds itself reestablishing the darkness, coloring in the faded black paint, and erecting new shades to produce more shadow. There is nothing that can be properly said to either “be” Dark Theory or “not be”. It is impossible to tell whether the dark is due to neglect, or to attention; there is no distinction between negative value established by the mainstream, and positive value repaired by the undercurrent. The only thing that can be said is that Dark Theory has an interest. There are places where Dark Theory focuses its attention, like a pack of wolves turning their heads in recognition of an unfamiliar scent, whether prey or predator. Like rainwater, black and silent, nestling into the depressions of rock and soil, Dark Theory invests itself, collecting liquid potential across the pores and gullies of terrain, seeping down to pool in saturated dirt within the basin of rock, below. It is here that we will look for it, taking an interest in where it interests itself. Let us sink these wells, and drink of what rises to the surface.
Once, it was a common practice to attempt affecting the natural world through supernatural means. But with consolidations in sovereignty in Europe came a cultural hegemony to reinforce the singular regime attempting to draw all power to itself, regardless of whether than power centered itself in the physical plane, or otherwise. By the Fourteenth Century, all non-Canonical magic had become anathema, demonic, and heretical. This was the birth of the color division between “white”, styled as protective, divinatory, or healing magic; and “black”, or harmful and offensive magic. From churches to homes, from festival to nation-states, the light pursued its self-appointed antithesis, driving back this simultaneously useless “superstition” and dangerous “subversion” from the practice of the people. While certain post-Christian magic traditions disavow the stark moral distinction between black and white magic today, Black Magic still refers to “a corruption or misuse of rituals, using them to self-serving or destructive ends without regard for the cultural morals.”
In the combination of useless superstition and dangerous subversion, Dark Theory hears its old haunting ballad. Corruption and misuse, self-serving and destructive--rather than a lack of regard for cultural morals, the Dark’s interest flows towards the active thwarting of morality.
While the various genres and thematic distinctions of “metal” music are perhaps as diverse as traditions of magic, Black Metal is considered to be specifically hostile to mainstream culture--a decidedly underground genre. Lo-fi recordings and art design are typical of the genre, as is overt hostility to Christianity (especially in Scandinavian scenes) not to mention a general cultural rejection of humanity in general. Said musician Aaron Weaver from the group Wolves in the Throne Room: "I think that black metal is an artistic movement that is critiquing modernity on a fundamental level saying that the modern world view is missing something".
With minimal resources, Black Metal has concentrated a density beyond its mass, falling out of mainstream culture while questioning its values and presuppositions via recordings, visual art, and performance. Dark Theory stirs in the company of such imagery, iconic in its wholesale violation of norms, and its rejection of the commodified tokens of the entertainment business. The aesthetics of oil-sheened steel, of blackened bone, of dark leather--these indicators clothe a inimical rejection, and a deep vein of anger hiding beneath the fallen and rotting gravestones of cultural archetypes. In the roar carried on wind between night trees, is a bit of what Dark Theory looks for.
Crust punk is a major seat of the “Punk-DIY” ethic, and appreciates similar lo-fi aesthetics to Black Metal in recording and graphic design, not to mention certain musical similarities. Dark Theory collects on the edges of Crust not just because of its dark music style, but because of its dark fashion style. The clothing is largely black. It is cheap, tough gear, meant to be worn day in and day out, affecting a “street punk” or traveling lifestyle appearance. It is customized by each user, with hand-drawn designs and patches, sewn with dental floss or whatever thread is on hand. Metal spikes applied to the clothing increase the look of toughness and ruggedness. Julian "Leggo" Kilsby of the band Deviated Instinct describes crust clothing as "a punk-y biker look, more akin to Mad Max. Mad Max 2 is the crustiest film ever made!"
Whether worn to blend in with the street, or worn to survive on the street, Crust is an aesthetic concealing stains, the lingering sediment of food, dirt, and blood. Dark Theory can be found both in the grit of the gutter and the clean blankness of poorly lit bourgeois homes, but there is something particular is the repetition of clothes worn day in, and day out. In the lack of creases and shining buttons of this dark uniform, Dark Theory collects, not like a residue, but like the passage of time.
The black bloc, of growing media fame, is a street protest tactic meant to serve as a defense against aggressive police action. Aspects of the tactic include dark clothing and facemasks to prevent identification, shields, gas masks, or other defensive armor against chemical and impact weapons, and most importantly, group movement as a unit, to prevent dispersal or being singled out by police for arrests or beatings.
Unlike Crust fashion, the black clothing of the black bloc is not decorated or custom to the wearer, as it is meant to portray a unified whole, and not the individual. And yet, the appearance of a bloc is a striking image. It represents a confrontational defensive act, the audacity of armoring against blows. The black bloc does not turn the other cheek, and its refusal to adopt the socially-accepted response to violence absorbs criticism as it does light. The bloc is black, not only in uniformity, but in rebellion. It’s membership is unmarked, unidentified, unauthorized, and unilluminated. The black bloc has been referred to as a cancer, but its nature is more of a fungus. Its net runs deep and distributed, only rising to the surface when conditions are right, to fruit, and release spores from the shaded moisture of fertile humus, resilient units of Dark Theory that will carry on the wind and wait in the dust, until they finally land in advantageous spot.
Black operations, or black ops, are generally military missions that are highly secret, though any organization could run secret programs and designate them as such. Black ops are often operations of so-called “plausible deniability”, in which the responsible party could conveniently disavow that it had any knowledge of or participation in the action. These sorts of military missions are often performed in uniforms and with equipment without identifying insignia, or in the case of “false flag operations”, with alternate insignia, to implicate other parties. These sorts of programs are typically those that are illegal, immoral, or would have other high risks associated with the actors being identified, such that the care taken to remain “black” is worth the trouble.
When the ethical presuppositions of war have become an aporia of doublespeak and a duplicitous self-serving lie, the efficacy of transparency and its healing light become themselves suspect. What truth could be trusted as not one more intended layer of subterfuge? The only truth becomes the mystery, the lie, and the blank uniform of force, outside of any governing institution. The structure that remains, is of course, beholden to Dark Theory. In the roots, where the deadly poisons do their work, is the primary battlefield. Heroism falls before anonymous weapons, constructed from tinted, milspec steel, designed to absorb any frequency of reflection that might given away its presence and dull its efficacy.
"Black Power" expresses a range of political goals, from defense against racial oppression, to the establishment of social institutions and a self-sufficient economy for people identifying as Black. The phrase came into wide use in the 1950s and 60s, during the Civil Rights Era in the United States, but now is used by a variety of causes and political groups throughout the world. Stokely Carmichael, when with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, defined it thusly: "For the last time, 'Black Power' means black people coming together to form a political force and either electing representatives or forcing their representatives to speak their needs."
Black Power seizes upon a negative, subaltern position, catapulting it to a rallying point. From the edges of blinding white normalization, rises an intervening shadow to cool the fires of hatred. This ethical reevaluation became a powerful movement, working in parallel veins to Dark Theory. At the edges, in the marginalized, of the ignored, out in the streets, around the roots penetrating the core--this is where Dark Theory grows, despite the attempts to eradicate it from the surface. It is a language that will be spoken aloud.
Solid black flags have been raised by a number of armies and groups over the course of human history, including anarchists, pirates, worker uprisings, Confederate troops in the US Civil War, and for a time, the nation of Afghanistan. The black flag is often explained as in contrast to the white flag, universally meaning surrender. Additionally, the colorful nature of nation-states’ flags and the totally red flag of communist interests make the black flag appeal to anarchists, also by way of opposition.
A flag in opposition to flags is the only banner that could be flown for Dark Theory. One on hand, it continues a dualistic counter-principle, but on the other, stands in opposition to the principle overall. More specifically to pirates, anarchists, uprisers, and secessionists, Dark theory finds it curious that so many outsiders--and from the perspective of history, generally defeated parties--would choose to represent themselves by this anti-representationalist gesture. Does the black flag doom those whom it represents? Only if one believes that flags have such power. Dark theory makes a note of how many groups have fled towards that darkness, and continues its investigation.
Darknets are computer networks that are separated from the rest of the world wide web and other publicly-accessible protocols, by being largely invite only, or unlisted, encrypted, obscured, or in other ways anonymized or pseudo-anonymized. The method by which Darknets are hosted are typically peer-to-peer (P2P). While technically not dissimilar from the way the rest of the Internet functions, these P2P networks have only limited, dedicated traffic, and so they are constituted primarily by those who use them, as opposed to the dedicated servers and internet service providers in use by the wider, more populated networks. Because of this, those running the P2P network have more control over the way it operates. Therefore, Darknets are often considered “secret” or “underground”, out of sight from the law enforcement or other authorities, and they are used by those whose activities would benefit from such obscurity.
While there might be a perception of secrecy and privacy to Darknets, this is not always the fact. Depending on the technology employed, the “darkness” of the network might be nothing more than wishful thinking. Perception differs from technical reality, and Dark Theory collects in this realm. The full use of Darknets has not yet been thoroughly explored. As much as Dark Theory may flow towards cryptography, the keyword in the case of Darknets might be better assigned as “cryptic”. This is a place of the uncoded, and not-yet-coded, as much as it is the encoded.
Dark Euphoria is an aesthetic, popularized by a Tumblr and other online artists. The term was first coined by Bruce Sterling, who said: “Dark Euphoria is what the twenty-teens feels like. Things are just falling apart, you can’t believe the possibilities, it’s like anything is possible, but you never realized you’re going to have to dread it so much. It’s like a leap into the unknown. You’re falling toward earth at nine hundred kilometres an hour and then you realize there’s no earth there.”
And perhaps this is a fitting conclusion to this first analysis of Dark Theory. Because in darkness, is emptiness. There are countless places, things, beings, and practices that are dark, but what unites all of these instances in darkness is really a lack of light. Even as it opposes, it hardens, it decays, and spreads its strangeness, the most quintessential quality of Dark Theory is that we don’t know precisely where it will be found next. Whether inside a corpse, behind a well-used door, in the most common of words, or in those we see every day but simply ignore, there is always a fermenting bit of mystery. Underneath anything known, there is at least two conspiracies. Dark Theory is the first, and the second is that fearful element, known as the future--the possibility that everything will change completely, from one second to the next. It is this sort of unrealized becoming that builds Dark Theory, and keeps it.