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The transubstantiation of Henry Darger Shields, Faith Ann 2007

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The Transubstantiation of Henry Darger by Faith Ann Shields A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL F U L F I L L M E N T OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE F A C U L T Y OF G R A D U A T E STUDIES (Interdisciplinary Studies) THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH C O L U M B I A May 2007 © Faith Ann Shields, 2007 Abstract Henry Darger (1892-1973), incarcerated as a boy, isolated and unknown during his life, has, in death, become one of the world's most wel l -known outsider artists. What do the work, life and afterlife of Henry Darger tell us about the ways normative society, and the d isabled themselves, deal with mental disabil i ty? I c la im there is something about disability — in this c a s e psychological disability — that is chal lenging to the normative "healthy" person or socia l institution. S o m e of those chal lenges are obvious and practical; some are more metaphysica l . Darger embodied both kinds of chal lenge: while alive he made strange no ises, refused to bathe and avoided socia l interaction. W h e n dead , he left a legacy of images and text that fascinates us.that we seek to enjoy and profit from, but which is a lso unsettling and even horrifying. I examine Darger 's life and work, in the context of his psychological disability, and some socia l and critical strategies appl ied to him. Th is thesis details how critics, curators, academics and helping professionals used, and continue to use, a ser ies of strategies: polit ical/bureaucratic, rel igious/theological, and aesthetic/ commodify ing to d issolve the discomfort Henry Darger 's p resence and work created and still creates for us. Ill TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract.... ii Table of Contents iii List of Illustrations iv Acknowledgements vi INTRODUCTION 1 CHAPTER 1 Touched: Political/Bureaucratic Strategies of Containment and the Life of Henry Darger 9 CHAPTER 2 As a Lamb Among Mad Wolves a Fish Hung on a Hook: Theological Strategies of Legitimation and the Work of Henry Darger 48 CHAPTER 3 Moonflawin the Brain: Aesthetic Strategies of Consumption and the Afterlife of Henry Darger 107 AFTERWORD 165 BIBLIOGRAPHY 173 LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS All Illustrations are by Henry Darger. Efforts have been made to locate copyright holders of source material. Where permission has been obtained, it is noted. Untitled .1 Penrod and his sisters are awfully hard on a double crossing coward. He ran away deserting them in time of danger. 15 At Jennie Richee. 2 of Story to Evans. They attempt to get away by rolling themselves in floor rugs 25 At Wickey Lansinia. Are placed in a death house 31 At Jennie Richee again escape 48 After the Battle of Drowsabella Maxillian. Vivian Girls find articles which they believe relate to the Aronburg mistery— smashed safe like box open and find box of moulded paper, three bloody knives, queer shaped pistol— and picture of child whose body has been slashed wide open with all the intestines exposed to view. 62 Vivian girl princesses are forced to witness frightful massacre of children-Vivian girls not shown in this composition. At Jennie Richee-via Norma. The children who are naked are made to suffer from the worst torture under fierce tropical heat imaginable.: 68 The Glandelinians "were" about to hang the brave little girls. See how they were "hanged" in next picture 83 They are almost murdered themselves though they fight for their lives. Typhoon saves them 103 V At Jennie Richee. They had seized a Glandelinian officer who had been in swimming, and though he is half naked, they had forced him to sign a pass through the foe lines, and tied him to a tree so he could not raise the alarm 107 At Jennie Richee. Assuming nuded appearance by compulsion race ahead of coming storm to warn their father 113 At Jennie Turmer. Children tied to trees in path of forest fires. In spite of exceeding extreme peril, Vivian girls rescue them 127 Calmanrinia.Strangling Children by revenge of defeat in battle 142 Untitled drawing [Glandelinian strangling child] 153 At Norma Catherine via Jennie Richee. Vivian girls witness childrens bowels and other entrails torn out by infuriated Glandelinians. The result after the massacre. Only a few of the murdered children shown here 157 At Jennie Richee. Have thrilling time running through a field of gutted bodies of children with shells bursting all around. Vivian girls wear purple rimmed hats. Others are girl scouts 165 Acknowledgments Thank you to my committee: John Wil l insky, (whose ongoing and except ional dedicat ion, careful reading, editing and critique has been invaluable to me, and who made it possib le for me to obtain cop ies of primary sources and to spend time in Brooklyn examining them in person), Mar ina Roy (whose acute insights, editing, l iaising and exemplary pat ience have been crucial), Ted Aoki (for his remarkable dedicat ion and encouraging words), and Doug Aok i (for getting me started). Thanks a lso to J u n e Aok i who was Ted ' s reader throughout. Thanks to my family: Gareth (for his editorial and technical skill and his unwavering intellectual and emotional support), L e d a (for her ongoing encouragement despite bewilderment over my cho ice of subject), Mik ias and Y o h a n n e s (whose recent arrival has had a catalytic effect, moving me on to complet ion). Thanks to the Staff at the Amer ican M u s e u m of Folk Art: Brooke Davis Ande rson , J a m e s Mitchell, and especial ly S u e McGu i re . I am indebted to John MacGrego r for his organizat ion and study of the primary materials and Mathew Michael whose website was especia l ly useful during the early s tages of my research. 1 INTRODUCTION Henry Darger, Untitled. Collage-drawing, 24 X231/2 in. © Kiyoko Lerner/ S O D R A C (2005). Henry Darger (1892-1973), incarcerated as a boy, isolated and unknown during his life, has, in death, become one of the world's most wel l-known outsider artists. His life, his work and his "after-life" (the critical and popular reception and celebrat ion of both work and life) illustrate political, institutional, aesthetic and religious responses to the socia l management and dulcification which character ize our responses to people with mental disabil it ies. 2 Who was Henry Darger? Until Darger 's writings and col lage drawings were found by his long-time landlord and prominent photographer/designer Nathan Lerner six months before his death, no one suspected what the odd and solitary person who worked at menial jobs in Cathol ic hospitals, refused to bathe, and would only talk about the weather, was creating in his two-room apartment in Ch icago . What Lerner found were severa l hundred pictures (some three metres in length), many stitched together to create three large books, and over 30,000 pages of fiction and diaries spanning six decades . The il lustrations— composed by tracing and col laging visual e lements from advert isements, comic strips, chi ldren's colouring books and other p ieces of popular culture, enhanced with hand-drawn detai ls and watercolour— place f resh-faced comic strip girls-in-curls, often drawn with pen ises , within scenes of extreme brutality. The effect is visual ly stunning and disturbing. T h e s e s c e n e s illustrate the elaborate cosmology and narrative Darger set forth in his v io lence- and rel igion-drenched 15,000 page s a g a The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion ("Realms"). In addition to this central work, Darger 's writings include personal journals (the first of which was written in 1911 and the last in 1972), ten years of daily weather observat ions (Weather Books written between 1958 and 1967), an autobiography entitled, The History of My Life, which he wrote from 1963 to 1971 and handwritten manuscr ipts entitled, Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy 3 House, in which the Viv ian Gir ls travel to Darger 's hometown and battle with brutal, sex -c razed demons who strip, rape and strangle little girls much like their human Glandel in ian counterparts in The Realms. Darger 's biography s e e m s to fascinate almost as much as his images and writings. In addition to his Dickens ian chi ldhood and impover ished adul thood, he w a s obsess ive ly religious. For most of his life he attended m a s s daily (four or five t imes per day after his retirement). He had no family and no fr iends. Paradoxical ly , the absence of an extra-textual record has tied Darger 's work to his biography more tightly than for any mainstream author. A lmost every article about Darger s e e m s to start with a descript ion of his life. Darger 's art has now been exhibited widely. It is usually c lassi f ied as "outsider" art and his texts as "outsider" literature. Although Darger 's v isual work has been public s ince 1977, and there have been many reviews and articles in the popular med ia , there are few publ ished academic articles on Darger. Th is is partly because Darger 's written work was virtually inaccess ib le until 2001 when it became the property of the Amer ican Museum of Folk Art. Prior to that art historian and psychoanalyst John MacGrego r spent many years sorting, decod ing, organizing and writing about Darger 's formidably prolific output. Al though I refer to many authors writing about Darger throughout the following chapters, it is the groundwork laid by McGrego r upon which I have depended most. His efforts have made researching Henry Darger through primary sources possib le. Not only did M a c G r e g o r spend over a decade sorting and making 4 s e n s e of the thousands of documents and images in Darger 's room, he was a lso central to organizing Darger 's work in the archive at the Amer ican Museum of Folk Art. A s well , his book, Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal (2002), at over seven hundred pages, is the only in-depth study of Darger to date. In addit ion to MacGregor ' s scholar ly work, the last decade has seen an outpouring of more popular interest and Darger- inspired productions. Darger Transubstantiated My approach to Darger 's life, work and posthumous critical and popular reception will be to examine it in light of the emerging field of disability studies. In addition to being a gifted visual artist and prolific writer, Darger was what we would now label mentally "ill" or "d isabled" and , as a chi ld, he was designated as "feeble-minded" in the more brutal lexicon of his day. His work exp resses a consistently violent and "abnormal" sexuality. There is no doubt at all that these and other features of his life and work— although somet imes downp layed— are a huge part of the explanation for his success . From the perspect ive of disability studies, his life, work and after-life can all help illustrate the strategies used to address the problem that the mentally ill and d isabled create for the normative producer-consumer . Henry Darger makes us (and I include myself here) uncomfortable. It is my posit ion that this discomfort in regard to Darger and his work s tems not only from the content of his work but from our perception of him as psychological ly d isabled or mentally ill. This thesis details how critics, curators, academics and 5 helping professionals used, and continue to use, a ser ies of strategies: polit ical/bureaucratic, rel igious/theological, and aesthet ic/ commodify ing to d issolve the discomfort Henry Darger 's p resence and work created and still c reates for us. The strategy that most shaped Darger 's life was the poli t ical/governmental strategy of creating a specia l ized bureaucracy to find technocrat ic solut ions to the problem the d isabled create. In Darger 's early life, the solution was institutionalization and the problem was understood in light of the new "sc ience" of eugenics . The institution Darger at tended, the Lincoln Asy lum for Feeb le -Minded Chi ldren, underwent a change for the worse while Darger was there as a result of this conceptual revolution. A s a young man, Darger tried to e s c a p e the Asy lum's farm severa l t imes, yet the adult Darger descr ibes his institutional exper ience in ambivalent, somet imes warmly nostalgic, terms. I attempt to engage the difficulties this reaction poses for us. The "strategy" for address ing suffering and marginal ization that is most evident in Darger 's work is the rel igious-theological one. Throughout his life, Darger combined great piety with b lasphemous threats and abuse directed at a G o d who would not heed his petitions. Darger quite literally responds to what he perce ives as God ' s injustice in his own life by visiting suffering on the Christ ian characters, usually chi ldren, in his fictional work. A s in orthodox Christianity, Darger 's response to the problem of theodicy is not a logical explanat ion for how G o d might permit suffering, but a new cycle of suffering imposed on the 6 innocent. Interestingly, a similar cyc le is used by critics to explain away the v io lence of Darger-as-creator: as Darger 's own suffering is used to make him a kind of virgin saint. The strategy that dominates Darger 's after-life is the aestheticizat ion and commodif icat ion of psychological i l lness and difference. Darger becomes a valuable commodi ty in part because his mental disability and life a s an impover ished isolate purportedly render him "authentic"—outside the contaminants of commerce or Western art history. Darger 's transubstantiation into "bread and butter" illustrates some of the paradoxes and quest ionable political economy of the outsider art movement and market. I conc lude that this market is structured so that surplus authenticity is necessar i ly drained from the marginal ized producers of this art, thereby reproducing their marginal izat ion. Al though I have written about Darger from what I call a disability studies perspect ive, it has been a tentative engagement with Disabil ity Studies. Disability Stud ies is a relatively new discipl ine, and as such , is dominated by the academics and activists. It is my hope that, in time, it will find more ways to allow for the d isabled who are not intellectuals or activists to be recognized and represented within it. Appropriate representation of others, particularly those who cannot represent themselves, is an explosive subject, but one which needs to be addressed , especial ly in a discipl ine such as Disability Stud ies which by definition includes those who cannot a lways sel f -advocate. Th is needs to be done if we seek to represent not only d isabled intellectuals and protestors, but 7 also, and however incompletely, vo ices who speak in unexpected ways like Darger, or those who do not "speak" at all. The strategies which I crit icize in the following pages are those that I a m party to. I am not immune to the prejudices and limits of my own time, educat ion and socia l c lass , nor do I c laim to be. Yet my participation and culpability does not nullify my critique; it provides me with insights. I know what I crit icize because it is my world and I am familiar with the attitudes and pract ices which character ize it. I chose not to study Darger from his own perspect ive, which I cannot know in any comprehens ive way, but from that of his admirers, detractors, promoters and the few people who knew him. I have tried to understand how it was that Darger 's difference, most clearly def ined by what we currently cal l mental i l lness, has colored and shaped our responses to him. I bel ieve that the strategies used to tidy up Henry Darger, both during his life and posthumously, have something to say about the ways in which we protect ourselves from the ethical and practical difficulties that the presence of people like Henry Darger poses for us. B e c a u s e Darger was a gifted artist, but a lso one with highly unsettl ing proclivities, he provided me with a way to examine issues of disability within a great deal of complexity. Crit iquing responses to Darger and his work al lowed me to explore the ways in which socia l institutions and traditions often "solve" the complexity of the mental i l lness with reductionist emoll ients. A thesis is, in some ways , another way to "clarify," to "explain," to "enlighten," or to defend a stated argument persuasively; this has meant that writing a thesis about Darger, is in some s e n s e , working at c ross-purposes to my own intentions. I hope that the 8 ensuing chapters present Henry Darger as fully, unpredictably human and deserv ing of analys is in keeping with the d issonance he brings. Note on Darger's Works All of Darger 's writings are in the Henry Darger Resea rch Arch ive at the Amer ican Folk Art M u s e u m in New York. They consist of two novels {Realms and Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House) totaling over 25,000 pages , diar ies dating from 1917 to 1973, 10 years of daily weather reports, and The History of My Life which is 5,084 pages long. Darger 's most famous work, Realms, has been microf i lmed, but finding specif ic p a s s a g e s is daunting as Darger used multiple page numbers, and John M a c G r e g o r dev ised an alternate system of paginat ion. A s librarian J a m e s Mitchell told me, neither of these sys tems of pagination match up to those on the microfi lm. The original writing is in a del icate and disintegrating state. I was fortunate to spend three days in October 2005 at the archive reading Darger 's texts — primarily History of My Life and Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House, portions of which I cop ied, and have on file. B e c a u s e of the inaccessibi l i ty of the primary sources , I have given secondary source references where they exist. 9 CHAPTER 1 Touched: Political/Bureaucratic Strategies of Containment and the Life of Henry Darger At what age and in what manner was any peculiarity first manifested? Self abuse from six years. Is the child very nervous? Yes. State any peculiar habits the child may have. Self abuse. Is the child given to self abuse or has it ever been? Yes. What cause has been assigned for its mental deficiency? Self abuse. Is it considered congenital or acquired? Acquired. Is the child insane, or has it been pronounced insane by a physician? Yes. 1 I was taken several times to be examined by a doctor, who on the second time I came, said my heart was not in the right place. Where was it supposed to be in my belly?...I did not know it at the time, but now I know I was taken to the doctor to find out if I was really feeble-minded or crazy...Had I known what was going to be done with me I surely would have run away. (History of My Life, 41-42, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 45) Unsoc ia l i zed, odd and "crazy" people create a problem for the rest of us. The problem may be the very practical difficulties family members , neighbours, and helping professionals have in deal ing with unpredictable or ant isocial behaviour. Or it may be the more metaphysical threat that the existence of insanity poses to 1 Henry Darger's application form for admission to the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children at age twelve (MacGregor 2002, 45). 10 the integrity of the "normal" self (Shildrick 2005). Henry Darger exempli f ied both types of problems. He w a s often unwashed 2 , occas ional ly hosti le, and a lways hard to unders tand. 3 The products of his mind, al though secret in his lifetime, have become public s ince his death, and are both disturbing and fascinat ing. Darger 's early life exempli f ied one strategy for avoiding the problem that those now referred to as mentally d isabled create for society. T h e s e d e c a d e s were the beginning of the Progress ive era in North Amer i ca , a time when intellectuals and administrators started to think that problems previously bel ieved to be endemic to the human condit ion could be so lved, not by the rehabilitation of morals, but by the judic ious appl icat ion of scientif ic expert ise and force. The particular manifestation of this Progress ive pragmatic can-do attitude in relation to the problem posed by the mentally d isabled w a s the ascendancy of eugenic theory. Mental disability, v iewed by eugenic ists as hereditary, w a s increasingly l inked to other supposed ly hereditary traits like criminality and immorality, including sexual pervers ion. 4 M a s s institutionalization w a s promoted as a way to reduce the immediate threat of cr ime and corruption of public morals posed by the physical ly 2 David Bergland, a neighbor, recalled, "We got him a doctor's appointment, and I took him. But Henry refused to bathe. The doctor took one look at him and said, 'You are to take him home, bathe him, and bring him back in three days." .. .He did not like a bath at all." (MacGregor 2002, 79) 3 Kiyoko Lerner, his landlord, reported that he would often respond to questions by making irrelevant remarks about the weather. (Yu 2004) 4 "Among the characteristics which many eugenists viewed as almost exclusively hereditary were mental retardation, mental illness, pauperism, criminality, and various other social defects including prostitution, sexual perversion and other types of immoral behaviour." (Muir 1996, 747-748) 11 and mentally d isab led. The less immediate threat - that their rampant sexuali ty would lead to hordes of d isab led offspring -- w a s to be dealt with by forced steri l izat ion. 5 During Darger 's lifetime socio-pol i t ical remedies appl ied to both physical ly and mental ly d isab led people resulted in incarcerat ion and , later, steri l ization. Darger exper ienced the first of these as a child and young man. A s an adult, Darger lived independently and escaped further incarcerat ion, but he did so by developing a strategy of lying low, of becoming less visible. The speci f ic pract ices of Darger 's early lifetime are now discredi ted, but bureaucratic/polit ical solut ions to the "problem" of mental disability continue. After inst i tut ional ization-as-progressive-solut ion c a m e coerc ive deinstitutionalization and , more recently, the widespread and somet imes coerc ive use of medicat ion. Despi te many changes in approach , fear of the d isab led, especia l ly those with psychological d isorders, has endured. Assumpt ions about their creativity, sexuali ty, and capaci ty for criminality continue. Darger 's status as a " feeble-minded" child and his d iagnos is of "self abuse" (masturbational insanity) profoundly inf luenced his life and his opportunit ies. This s a m e status should compl icate critical evaluation of his work. To ignore the role 5 "Eugenists also believed that these groups had a higher reproductive rate than other people." (Muir 1996, 748) 12 that (what we now call) mental disability plays in our analys is of Darger is to fail to notice how prominently it f igures in responses to his work. Cri t ics of Darger tend toward oppos ing theories - either that he w a s childl ike and sexual ly naive or that he w a s a predatory perver t . 6 Both are stereotypes of the mental ly d isab led. To move beyond these stereotypes, we must admit our profound discomfort with disability, and with the d isabled Darger, as well as identify the strategies of avo idance we employ to alleviate that discomfort. 6 Adam Mikos, reviewing a show of Darger's work at the Carl Hammer gallery in Chicago in 2000 writes: "The highbrow fascination with low brow perversion is very strange... Incidentally, next time you view Henry Darger's work, keep in mind that at a young age he was sent away to a hospital for the 'unwell,' for chronic masturbation in school" (Mikos 2000). Michael Bonesteel avoids the issue by presenting Darger's own recollection as if it were the actual diagnosis: "At the age of twelve or thirteen, he was examined by the school doctor. The diagnosis was that his 'heart isn't in the right place.' and he was transferred down-state to the Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children in Lincoln, Illinois." (Bonesteel 2000, 9. Emphasis Added.) 13 Henry Darger, 1 Place not mentioned. Penrod and his sisters are awfully hard on a double crossing coward. He ran away deserting them in time of danger. Collage drawing. Watercolor, pencil, and carbon on paper, 19x47in. Collection of Sam and Betsy Farber. © Kiyoko Lerner / S O D R A C (2005). Crazy Born in Ch icago , Illinois, in 1892, Darger lost his mother and newborn sister in 1896. His mother died in childbirth and the sister was immediately given up for adopt ion. Darger never met her. During the next few years, Darger l ived with his father, a tailor, and attended St. Patr ick 's Schoo l . Accord ing to his autobiography, The History of My Life, Darger was fascinated with both weather and fire (MacGregor 2002, 35). He could be violent and had an intense dislike of smal l children (36). In History of My Life, he c la ims to have engaged in "cutting up a teacher . . . ,s lash ing] her on the face and arm with my long knife... W h e n I was aroused I was dangerous." He a lso c la ims to have committed a number of assaul ts on other boys {History of My Life, 118, quoted in MacGrego r 2002, 38). 14 History of My Life w a s written when Darger w a s in his sevent ies and there is no way to verify most of the anecdotes he relates. The tone of braggadocio which somet imes intrudes suggests at least some degree of hyperbole and perhaps literary revenge against some who, in reality, may have bullied him. What s e e m s certain is that he w a s in conflict with both his peers and his school teachers at t imes. From his own accounts , Darger w a s a solitary chi ld. He s e e m s to have had no c lose chi ldhood fr iends. Read ing newspapers and books as well as painting, activities that were to occupy him for life, had their beginnings in early chi ldhood with his father. Darger tells us that his father taught him to read using the newspaper and that for Chr is tmas he received picture and story books. His paints he bought himself: "Once in a while to paint pictures or anything e lse , I had paint boxes , but I myself bought them and other interesting articles." (History of My Life, 7 & 18, quoted in MacGrego r 2002, 34) Somet ime around 1900, Darger 's father could no longer care for him. Darger, then eight, w a s p laced in The Miss ion of Our Lady of Mercy, a Cathol ic boys' home. As time passed on, my father grew worse in his crippled condition. I believe my uncles paid my father's way into the St. Augustine Poor House. (History of My Life, 20, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 39) Al though Darger connects his p lacement in the boys' home with his father entering St. August ine 's , records show that his father remained at their former 15 home address until 1903 (MacGregor 2002, 674-675). Pe rhaps Darger 's boasts about his violent behaviour were based on real events, and he was getting too difficult for his father to handle. M a c G r e g o r tells us the older Darger 's cause of death was listed as cirrhosis of the liver. If, as this suggests , he w a s an alcohol ic, it would have contributed to his difficulty in car ing for Darger. (674) Whi le at the boys ' home, Darger attended Sk inner public schoo l . About his first term at Skinner , Darger related: I w a s good and studious, but not mean ing any harm or wrong, I w a s a little too funny and made strange no ises with my mouth, nose and throat in my c lass room to the great annoyance of all the other boys and girls. A n d I thought they wou ld think it funny, and laugh or giggle. But they gave m e saucy and hateful looks. S o m e sa id if I did not stop it, they'd gang up on at me after schoo l and gave me the dirtiest looks. I def ied them. After severa l months of it, it c a u s e d my expuls ion from schoo l . (History of My Life, 31-32, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 44). W e don't know if Darger was really expel led from Sk inner in his first term. If he was , he w a s readmitted the next term. But at the age of twelve, he w a s a s s e s s e d as mental ly deficient and sent to the Lincoln Asy lum for Feeb le -Minded Chi ldren (45). The reason given for his institutionalization w a s insanity and the proof provided w a s Darger 's a l leged "self abuse" . 16 The Bughouse 7 The institution to which the twelve-year-old Darger w a s committed was undergoing rapid change, a change which exempli f ied the new Progress ive approach to mental disability. Old pract ices of moral management , which emphas ized rehabilitation, gave way to new, ostensibly scientif ic theories of genet ic degeneracy and correlative eugenic remedies. L incoln w a s the institutional successo r of the Exper imental Schoo l for Idiots and Feeb le -Minded Chi ldren, which opened in Jacksonv i l le , Illinois in 1865 . 8 The dominant phi losophy at the time w a s "moral management." Moral management , which originated in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, saw nervous i l lness as emerging from an emotional rather than hereditary imbalance. The French alienist, Phi l l ipe Pinel (1745-1826), w a s a strong influence on Amer i can practice. Pinel v iewed psychology as a "moral sc ience" and emphas ized attention to patients' emot ions, and the importance of developing self-control and self-discipl ine as a way of rehabilitating patients. Wil l iam Tuke , an Engl ish Quaker , founded the first asy lum, "The Retreat at York," in which 7 Darger relates that "the bughouse" was Mr. Allenberger's term for the Lincoln Asylum. (History of My Life, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 52) Allenberger seems to have been a staff member on the State Farm where Darger was sent to work in the summer. (MacGregor 2002, 676) 8 Lincoln Evening Courier, Section Three, August 26, 1953, 15 in Henson 2004. 17 Pine l 's ideas, including the non-restraint of patients, were implemented (Skul tans 1979, 57) . 9 In the mid-nineteenth century, insanity as a result of "self abuse" became a popular addit ion to the categor ies of moral insanity (69). It w a s a useful d iagnos is partly because masturbation w a s then, as now, a c o m m o n express ion of sexuality. It was therefore easy to d iagnose, as needed , in order to deal with otherwise difficult individuals, especia l ly those with d iverse "symptoms" which did not correspond to other accepted d iagnoses . A d iagnos is was a prerequisite to forcible confinement: Masturbatory insanity provided a new w a y of see ing the person, one that inc luded a set of symptoms so a l l -encompass ing that it opened the doors to the pathologizing of a wide array of behaviour , much of wh ich lay in the realm of indiscipl ine and d isobed ience . Masturbatory insanity, in other words , b e c a m e a tool of a lmost unlimited potential to force men into s h a p e — mental ly, physical ly, f inancial ly, and social ly . T h e s e men posed problems for their fami l ies and communi t ies : they were behav ing in inappropriate and disturbing ways , such that act ion w a s required—either of a medica l or discipl inary sort. (Goldberg 1999, 161) Ten years after it was founded, the original facility at Jacksonv i l le w a s overcrowded, and a new one w a s built on forty acres purchased for the purpose near L i nco ln . 1 0 In 1880, the Illinois Asy lum for Feeb le -M inded Chi ldren had an 9 Michel Foucault famously argued that moral management, despite the lack of physical restraints, controlled inmates in even more comprehensive and insidious ways through instituting a form of psychological restraint. "What had been blindness would become unconsciousness, what had been error would become fault, and everything in madness that designated the paradoxical manifestation of non-being would become the natural punishment of a moral evil." (Foucault 1973, 158). 1 0 Gehlbach 2001, quoted in Henson 2004. 18 inmate population of 2 9 6 . 1 1 By the t ime Darger entered it in 1904, there were 1,200 children and over 500 emp loyees (MacGregor 2002, 46). The number of inmates increased to 1,439 a year later (676). The original Jacksonv i l le institution w a s founded as an experimental schoo l , not a custodial facility, and its goal w a s to educate those who could not be accommodated by mainstream educat ion. The students would presumably re-enter society at e ighteen, having acquired s o m e bas ic educat ion and vocat ional ski l ls (ibid., 47). The growth in the number of residents at the beginning of the twentieth century, a long with the admiss ion of people with severe levels of retardation and changes in societal understanding of mental disability, meant that by the time Darger entered the Lincloln asy lum in 1904, the mandate had become primarily cus tod ia l . 1 2 Darger lived at the asy lum from November 1904 until Ju ly 1909 - his father died in 1908 (MacGrego r 2002, 54). During this t ime there were still s o m e attempts at educat ing residents. Darger attended the asy lum schoo l , which emphas ized rudimentary academic ski l ls, supplemented by vocat ional ski l ls. There w a s a lso a library and a schoo l orchestra (MacGrego r 2002, 49). It is difficult to know what Darger learned there, although he likely had ample opportunity to develop the 11 Lincoln Evening Courier 1953, 15, quoted in Henson 2004. 1 2 Many residents remained in the Lincoln asylum their entire lives (MacGregor 2002, 53). 19 manual labour and janitorial ski l ls required at the hospitals he w a s to work in la ter . 1 3 In the second half of the nineteenth century, masturbation c a m e to be v iewed less as a moral problem and more a result of hereditary pathology (Skul tans 1979, 74). The solution to hereditary def ic iencies w a s not rehabilitation but steri l ization—the inability of the degenerate to reproduce w a s thought to provide a permanent solution to an untreatable problem. The rise of eugen ic theories in the early years of the twentieth century fundamental ly changed the treatment of the mentally ill in North Amer i ca . Not only was mental disability seen as hereditary and untreatable, but it w a s thought to connote degeneracy in a very broad sense—those with mental disabil i t ies were a s s u m e d to be pred isposed to v io lence and cr ime as wel l as sexua l dev iance. A s descr ibed by Gera ld Rober tson, expert wi tness, in a lawsuit brought by a w o m a n steri l ized in mid-twentieth century Alber ta : The concept of inherited criminality dates back to the second half of the 19th century, to the writings of the Italian psychiatrist, Cesare Lombroso, and those of other criminal anthropologists such as Morel. The school of criminal anthropology purported to provide scientific proof that criminality was hereditary. This work had a major influence on eugenic philosophy in North America, and intensified the demand for sterilization laws. Many eugenists in the late 19th and early 20th century accepted in its entirety the view that criminality per se was an inherited characteristic. 1 3 In 1909 a psychology department was added to the institution. In 1910 its name was changed to Lincoln State School and Colony (Lincoln Evening Courier 1953, 15, quoted in Henson 2004). 20 Others believed that while probably not hereditary itself, criminality was highly prevalent among individuals who suffered from conditions that were considered to be hereditary, such as mental retardation and mental illness. Hence, eugenists believed that there was a strong and indisputable correlation between mental disability (particularly mental deficiency) and criminality, and many claimed that negative eugenics would lead to a rapid reduction in criminality and other delinquencies. (Muir 1996, 744-745) The intellectuals and officials of the Progress ive era cons idered immorality, including masturbation, less a matter of free will and s in, and more as proof of hereditary degeneracy and insani ty . 1 4 S u c h w a s the emerging ideological cl imate when Darger arrived at the Lincoln asy lum in the early part of the twentieth century. Part ly b e c a u s e of the rapidly expanding inmate populat ion, the larger number of inmates were treated according to the "necessi t ies" of huge, regimented asy lums in which both day-to-day practicalit ies and theor ies of genet ic predestination undermined enthus iasm for, as well as efforts at, rehabilitation: As the asylum grew in size such individual attention was no longer possible and, with increasing numbers, the old methods of physical restraint and regimentation returned. (Skultans 1979, 138) H a d the treatments which character ized the ideology of moral management — rehabilitation and educat ion -- still prevai led at L incoln during Darger 's t ime there, his institutionalization might have been less horrific. But the crowded 1 4 In her memoir, Incorrigible, Velma Demerson includes a reference to a 22-year-old mother of two children, born out of wedlock, who in 1930 was sentenced to an industrial refuge and then transferred to a hospital for the insane. When she appealed her sentence (under the Female Refuges Act) and two medical doctors stated that she was not insane, the judge held that immorality was a symptom of insanity and denied her appeal (in Notes, 168). 21 condit ions at the Lincoln asy lum, a long with increasing belief in psychological determinism, changed the reality of residents' daily life. By the turn of the century the schoo l founded on hopes of f inding ways to successfu l ly educate the "feeble-minded" had become a catch-al l for the poor, the unfortunate and the unwanted:. [W]ithin a short space of time asylums had changed from small family-like units to vast hopeless units. Despite this transformation and obvious lack of success the asylum continued to grow. It became the refuge of a heterogeneous mass of people, including, in America, large numbers of immigrants. They were no longer classified, pretence to cure was abandoned and physical restraint was introduced. (Skultans 1979, 138 -139) By 1889, "criminals, paupers, the mentally ill, and more and more severe ly retarded people were coming [to Lincoln] in large numbers from county a lmshouses . " (Beaver 1982, 83 quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 48) The Lincoln asy lum s e e m s to have been a difficult, even appal l ing, p lace to spend one 's ado lescence . A n investigation of the asy lum in 1908, during Darger 's stay, revealed abuses : While Darger was still in residence there, the Lincoln Asylum was at the center of one of the most sensational scandals of the period. Claims of abuse and neglect were leveled at staff who allowed one resident's severe burns from a radiator to go untreated. Another inmate was burned while left unattended in a bathtub, and died. Harry G. Hardt, a supervisor at the asylum, was accused of tolerating physical violence by staff members, reducing the quality and quantity of food served, and stealing money from inmates. It was claimed that doctors there were drug addicts and that one assistant physician, Harriet Hook, had been storing the body parts of inmates, autopsied without the permission of their relatives, for use in 22 anatomy lectures, during wh ich she referred to the parts by the name of the d e c e a s e d (Bonestee l 2000 , 9 ) . 1 5 Yet it is important not to give a simplist ic and one-s ided v iew of L incoln. A s an old man, Darger expressed nostalgia and some fondness for the p lace. He wrote that "the meals were good and plenty" {History of My Life, 56, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 48), and that he ran away from the asy lum-owned State farm, where he worked in the summers , because he missed the asy lum itself. [B]ut still I don't know why but I did object to leaving the home [to go to the farm]. But as they s a y so you had to. A s will be written later that w a s the c a u s e of me running away two s u m m e r s later. {History of My Life, 58, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 53) The institution itself played a huge part in the economy of the town of L incoln, particularly in terms of emp loyment . 1 6 Inmates like D a r g e r 1 7 had a c c e s s to vocat ional training, training which may, in part, have qualif ied Darger for his future janitorial work. For the majority of residents, though, the ski l ls they acquired did not make it poss ib le for them to live independently. Their skil ls and free labour benefited the asy lum, not themselves. The activities of the residents 1 5 MacGregor quotes from the report of the investigating committee in some detail. (2002, 536-537) 1 6 Under the heading "A Career of Untiring Service to Suffering Humanity: The Ruth Henson Story", Leigh Henson writes: "The "State School" had seen many dedicated employees. One of them was my maternal grandmother, Ruth Ann (Webb) Henson. Ruth (still in her teens) and her itinerant farmer husband, John, had accompanied her mother, Parlee, to Lincoln, Illinois, in approximately 1917. Like many other people over decades in the nineteenth and 20th centuries, they had come from southern Illinois to Lincoln to find work at the state institution." Henson tells us that three generations of his family worked at the Lincoln State School, as it was re-named in 1954. (Henson 2004) 1 7 The Residents of L S S & C varied in the individual capacities and dispositions, and while some might receive training others were totally unsuitable for it. (Stringer, S . online letter 12-16-2004 cited as "Example of Training at the Lincoln State School" in Henson 2004. 23 over the years included smal l -sca le art isanship such as shoe and brush m a k i n g , 1 8 farm and maintenance work: In its heyday, Lincoln State School was a self-reliant, small-scale city. At various times over the years, residents not only made mattresses, shoes, and brooms, but cared for other residents and helped keep up the campus, working in the laundry rooms and cleaning the buildings. (Gelbach 2001 in Henson 2004) In addit ion to work, there is a lso ev idence that s o m e inmates received art instruction and were able to borrow from a circulating library. Darger, as one of the less severe ly d isabled residents, likely had a c c e s s to both art workshops and books. M a c G r e g o r writes: "In the Report of the Spec ia l Investigating Commit tee of the Illinois State Legislature, reference is made to 'c lay model ing, painting and art work.' "(2002, note 136, 676) The report a lso stated, "We have a lso purchased a number of books for the circulating library, picture books and story books for the chi ldren." (note 137, 676) Darger 's ability to learn new skil ls and his capacity for physical labour meant that he was chosen to work on the State Farm during the summer . The upheaval of leaving the asy lum proper s e e m s to have been difficult for him even though the work itself w a s not: The work was not hard we quit at four in the afternoon, started at eight in the morning, after milking the cows, and off again at four. We were off on 1 8 "Sometime in 1884 or the following year my grandparents moved to Lincoln, and granddad became a brush making instructor and L S S & C [Lincoln State School and Colony]." (Henson 2004) 24 Saturday afternoons and Sundays. We had our baths on Saturdays before dinner. [...] I loved to work in the fields. We worked on the farm only in summertime. During our working days we slept in a large place called the dormitory (Ibid, 60) At the approach of late fall we were returned to the asylum which Mr. Allenberger 'termed' the bughouse. I loved it much better than the farm, but yet I loved the work there. Yet the asylum was home to me. (History of My Life ,1963, 56-7, 61, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 52) Darger 's nostalgia must be read together with the fact that he tried to escape three t imes. O n e contributing factor, Darger tells us, w a s the necessi ty of summers away. Al l three of his e s c a p e s took p lace from the farm. Darger 's first attempt w a s unsuccess fu l : During the early summer of the 4 t h year I made my first attempt to run away. But that farm's cowboy caught me in a corn field, tied my hands together and made me run back all the way on the rear of his horse. (History of My Life, quoted in Bonesteel 2000, 255) His second e s c a p e attempt ended because after reaching Ch i cago , "after a storm I fool ishly gave myself up to the pol ice who had me sent back." (History of My Life, 62-63, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 54) At seventeen, Darger ran away one last t ime. He reached Ch icago and contacted his godmother, who helped him get work as a janitor at St. J o s e p h ' s Hospital . 25 Henry Darger, At Jennie Richee. 2 of Story to Evans. They attempt to get away by rolling themselves in floor rugs. Collage-drawing. 19X24 in. © Kiyoko Lerner / S O D R A C (2005). The rationale for escape that Darger explicitly provides for us--missing the asy lum while at the farm—would probably not have been sufficient reason for him to run away. After all, he knew he would return to it at summer 's end . There were other reasons. Darger c la ims that he should never have been p laced in the Lincoln Asy lum: "I a feeble minded kid...I knew more than the whole shebang in that p lace." {History of My Life, 43 , quoted in MacGregor , 2002, 44). Th is feel ing, compounded by the fact that Lincoln offered little to stimulate Darger 's 2 6 active intell igence and imagination, must have contributed to his desire to leave. It is a lso likely, consider ing the al legations of abuse leveled at asy lum employees during Darger 's t ime there, that his desi re to e s c a p e was driven by genuine distress at his surroundings. Despi te these factors, he remained stubbornly ambivalent about his stay there: I can't s a y whether I w a s actual ly sorry I ran away from the State F a r m or not but now I bel ieve I w a s a sort of fool to have done so . M y life w a s like a sort of heaven there. Do you think I might be fool enough to run away from heaven if I get there? (History of My Life, 74 - 75, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 54) Given the ev idence of w idespread abuse at L incoln, it is somet imes difficult to respect Darger 's own expressed ambiva lence, and even warmth, towards the institution. L ived exper ience is easi ly der ided as "false consc iousness" when it c lashes with what we post -Foucauld ians think we know about institutionalization. But d iscarding the test imony of the individual in favour of the themes of our favourite theorists, and our contemporary tendency to feel super ior to the past, is itself an act of arrogant power-knowledge. But the opposi te ideological c losure -of accept ing Darger 's descript ion of Lincoln as "a sort of heaven" as the authentic experiential truth to alleviate our moral unease - is no better. Both reflect the desi re to "solve" the problem that the mentally d isabled pose by willfully ignoring contradictory narratives. Whatever the elderly Darger 's interpretation, and giving it the respect it is due, Lincoln embodied a technocrat ic 27 strategy - a bureaucrat ic and political will to containment as resolution - that w a s ultimately coerc ive and violent. Degenerate Whi le a number of polit ical/bureaucratic strategies for the containment of the mentally d isabled coexisted during Darger 's lifetime, the dominant one, particularly among the up-to-date, was the pseudosc ience known as eugen ics (introduced above) . In North Amer i ca , enthus iasm for eugen ics as a vehic le for socia l reform w a s widespread in the early d e c a d e s of the twentieth century. This enthusiasm w a s expressed not only by those with unpalatable and racist agendas but by socia l reformers on the left who saw in it a humane antidote to poverty and disability. S u c h notables as Tommy Doug las , C a n a d a ' s architect of universal heal thcare, were initially enthusiast ic about the possibi l i t ies eugen ics presented. In 1932, Doug las wrote a Master 's thesis entitled "The Prob lems of the Subnormal Family", which advocated segregat ion and steril ization of the mentally and morally deficient as a solution to poverty ( M c L e o d & M c L e o d 1987, 39). The removal of the poor and d isabled - people like Darger -- from mainstream society w a s seen partly as an act of charity. It w a s a lso v iewed as an act of socia l se l f -defense based on the belief that disabi l i ty /degeneracy and criminality 28 were c losely l inked. In his report as an expert wi tness in Muirv. Alberta,™ Professor Gera ld Rober tson wrote: O n e of the most dominant and recurrent themes of eugen ics phi losophy in the late 19th and early 20th century w a s the emphas i s on this link between mental retardation and criminality, and the consequen t " m e n a c e " wh ich mental def ic iency posed to society. Darger 's incarceration in the Lincoln Asy lum in the early part of the twentieth century w a s one bureaucrat ic strategy of containment. At that t ime, few eugen ics laws had been enacted, and the movement had not ach ieved legislative change in I l l inois. 2 0 Darger w a s forcibly conf ined but not steri l ized. In order to leave Lincoln, Darger, who w a s otherwise law-abiding, w a s compel led to take on the role of law-breaker, by running away. It is ironic that Darger 's only hope for rejoining society required him to exhibit the stereotypical "criminal" traits expected of degenerates, by breaking the law. Yet , apart from his first e s c a p e attempt, when he w a s forcibly returned to the farm, no act ion w a s taken, either to make it harder for Darger to e s c a p e or to apprehend him. He w a s officially d ischarged from the Lincoln Asy lum on Sep tember 17, 1910, just over a year after his third e s c a p e . Whether he w a s ever informed of his official d ischarge is not known. (MacGrego r 2002, in notes, 171, 677) 1 9 Lellani Muir, institutionalized in 1955 and subjected to involuntary sterilization in 1959, successfully sued the province of Alberta in 1996. 2 0 Indiana was the first state to successfully enact sterilization legislation in 1907 and eventually thirty states and two Canadian provinces (Alberta and British Columbia) also passed sterilization laws. (PSAT 2004) 29 During the time period when Darger was first employed at St. J o s e p h ' s Hospital (1909-1922), containment of "degenerates" w a s increasingly being seen as inadequate (55). Progress ive thinking required a dec rease in degeneracy, not just the managing of it. The eugenic solution - which enjoyed increased public and legislative support - was , as ment ioned earlier, steri l ization. The most prominent North Amer ican steril ization c a s e occurred when the U .S . Sup reme Court cons idered the constitutionality of forced steril ization of the "unfit" in Buck v. Bell in 1927 {Buck 1927, in P o s n e r 1992, 103-104). It exempli f ied the thinking behind the eugenic movement at its height, less than two d e c a d e s after Henry Darger 's incarcerat ion, and while he w a s still a young man. The Sup reme Court opinion w a s authored by Ol iver Wende l l Ho lmes , Jr. , who w a s s imul taneously an influential judge and a modernist legal /phi losophical intellectual of s o m e distinction (Posner 1992). Carr ie Buck, who had been forcibly committed to a psychiatr ic institution prior to the trial, became the first person steri l ized under Virginia 's Eugenical Sterilization Act. The ev idence proving Carr ie Buck w a s " feeble-minded," and therefore a candidate for involuntary steri l ization, w a s highly subject ive and rested largely on unsubstantiated statements by acqua in tances of the Buck family and eugenic ists. That Carr ie Buck w a s an illegitimate child of E m m a Buck , and had herself given birth to an illegitimate chi ld, V iv ian , w a s a vital part of the ev idence which supposed ly proved hereditary degeneracy . Accord ing to the eugenic ists, i l legit imacy w a s highly correlated with feeb le-mindedness (Lombardo 2001b, 280). Harry H. Laughl in , an Amer i can eugenic ist and crusader for the steril ization of defect ives, submitted a damning 30 sworn statement at the trial which condemned the Buck family as morally degenerate and social ly inadequate, even though he had never met any of them (White & Hofland 2004). The fact that Carr ie Buck had been committed to the Virginia Co lony for Epi lept ics and the Feeb le -Minded by her foster parents after being raped by one of their relatives w a s not put in ev idence at the trial. Yet her subsequent pregnancy was used as proof that she w a s irresponsible, degenerate and unfit and her daughter w a s cal led a third generat ion imbeci le by the country's highest court (Lombardo 2001a, 253). Ol iver Wende l l Ho lmes 's opinion for the Sup reme Court contains a cruel and oft-quoted passage : Carrie Buck is a feeble minded white woman who was committed to the State Colony in due form. She is the daughter of a feeble minded mother in the same institution, and the mother of an illegitimate feeble minded child...We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the state for these lesser sacrifices. . . It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough. (Posner1992, 103-104) W e have no way of knowing if Darger w a s aware of eugen ics and steril ization laws, and there is no ev idence that he himself w a s subject to them. But Darger would have had to deal with the attitudes behind these laws: paternal ism, scorn and outright disgust. If the attitude of Ho lmes exempl i f ies the sophist icated 31 negative response to disability, the s a m e attitudes expressed in less " reasoned" and more uncensored terms may have been even more harsh and degrading. Darger did not write much about direct discrimination. What he did express was his confusion at being v iewed as crazy. He real ized too late that his behavior, strange to others but normal to him, was interpreted as mental def ic iency and disorder: I w a s looked on a s " C r a z y " and a lso ca l led crazy. Espec ia l l y for the strange way I threw with my left hand, like pretending it w a s snowing . H a d I known that, I only would have done it where I was not s e e n . (History of My Life, 39 quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 44) Henry Darger, At Wickey Lansinia. Are placed in a death house. Collage-drawing. Watercolor, pencil, and carbon on paper. 19 X 47 in. Collection Robert M. Greenberg, New York. © Kiyoko Lerner / S O D R A C (2005). 32 Running Amok R o u n d us all up, send us away that's what you'd really l ike to do But we ' re too strong proud unafraid in fact we a lmost pity you Y o u act from fear, why should that be what is it that you are fr ightened of the way we d ress the way w e meet the fact that you cannot destroy our love We ' re going to win our rights to lavender days and nights. (Bill ig & S c h w a b a c h 1920) During Darger 's lifetime, the logic of technocrat ic solut ions for the "problem" of the sick, odd and unwanted played out in counterpoint to the first recognit ion that the art of the mentally d isabled w a s worthy of ser ious study. In twentieth-century Germany , the forces that character ized Darger 's life and afterlife c rossed paths, with the repressive strategy winning outright over the aesthet ic one. G iven the lack of objective knowledge of Darger 's own exper ience of disability and isolation, we cannot say how much these currents directly affected him. Wha t we can say is that the attitudes they embod ied permeated Weste rn society at large, albeit not in as extreme form. The We imar Republ ic (1918-1933) was proclaimed following a revolution within G e r m a n y after the nation's defeat in the First Wor ld War . Emperor Wi lhelm II w a s forced to abdicate and the M S P D (Majority Soc ia l Democrats) and the U S P D (Independent Soc ia l Democrats) took power. The G e r m a n republic faced large-scale unemployment and hyperinflation, while dai ly life w a s character ized by poverty, hardship and socia l unrest. At the s a m e time the Republ ic 's liberal 33 constitution granted ci t izens greater personal and political f reedoms. Th is f reedom both nurtured and gave rise to a number of artistic movements : G e r m a n Express ion ism in its var ious incarnations of Fauv i sm, Die Brucke, and Der B laue Reiter, as well as Dada , Neue Sachl ichkei t and , in architecture, Bauhaus . Alternate lifestyles were explored and tolerated. W o m e n ' s rights, homosexual i ty, bisexuality, and abortion on demand , were s o m e of the formerly taboo topics that were now d i scussed , written, sung about and painted. In this a tmosphere of cultural f reedom, attention turned to the artistic products of the insane. In 1921 the S w i s s doctor Wal ter Morgenthaler publ ished his work on the art of a sch izophrenic artist, Adol f Wolf l i , Ein Geisteskranker als Kunstler2^ (Peiry 2001 , 22). The following year, the G e r m a n art-historian and psychiatrist Hans Pr inzhorn publ ished Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (The Artistry of the Mentally III). Pr inzhorn 's book, along with the large body of work by psychiatr ic patients that he col lected (the "Pr inzhorn Col lect ion") was d iscovered and celebrated by early twentieth-century artists such as Pau l K lee , Max Ernst, Pau l E luard, J e a n Arp, Soph ie Taeuber , and Andre Breton, as well as J e a n Dubuffet, the eventual founder of art brut (31), the genre into which Darger was later incorporated. 2 2 2 1 Published in English as Madness and Art: The Life and Works of Adolf Wolfli in 1921. 2 2 Discussed further in Chapter 3. 34 The sympathet ic studies of the art of the insane of Morgenthaler and Pr inzhorn built on earlier, hostile studies of "degenerate" art by the Italian criminologist C e s a r e Lombroso and his disciple, Max Nordau. Lombroso w a s seek ing an organic bas is for the "degeneracy" which typified the criminal, the mentally ill and the "genius". He v iewed genius as a form of moral insanity (94) and w a s interested in the creative output of psychiatr ic patients as ev idence of this connect ion (93). Morgenthaler and Pr inzhorn, in contrast, were interested in art by psychiatr ic patients as a new source of artistically meritorious work, relevant to cl inical approaches and providing insights into human creativity. Art w a s seen as a result of a patient's creat ive activities and gifts rather than as ev idence of pathology. The attitudes toward the mental ly d isabled which motivated studies of art like those of Morgenthaler and Pr inzhorn were, outside avant-garde art c i rc les, the except ion. The upheaval of W e i m a r w a s also generating harsher currents of thought. Mental disability, var iously def ined, w a s being increasingly cons idered ev idence of hereditary and moral degeneracy which posed a threat to the general populace. Eugen ic enthusiasts in Ge rmany looked to steril ization laws enacted in the United States with admirat ion. But for some , involuntary steril ization did not go far enough. In Germany , a polemic in support of "mercy death" w a s publ ished by legal scho lar Karl Binding and psychiatrist Alfred Hoche as early as 1920 35 (Friedlander, 2001 , 147). Binding and Hoche did not use the normal definition of euthanasia in their work ("the death of persons suffering from a painful, terminal d isease") but instead def ined "mercy death" as "the death of persons, 'unworthy of life' who were neither terminal or in pain" (147). Th is type of scholarsh ip provided a compl icated political and legal/bureaucrat ic rationale for what w a s to become m a s s murder. S o m e scient ists in North Amer i ca returned the compliment, advocat ing similar measures on the other s ide of the At lant ic . 2 3 Both the aesthet ic and the repressive fascinat ion with the mental ly ill were responses from a society in which traditional morality had lost its hold, whi le progress w a s understood to involve quest ioning everything and "solving" what had hitherto been cons idered fixed components of the human condit ion. The attitudes to sexual i ty and lifestyle which character ized artistic c i rc les in We imar Ge rmany would have been hard to contemplate from the ki tchens of Grant hospital and later St. J o s e p h ' s hospital where Darger worked as a d ishwasher . Amer i ca was also undergoing dis locat ion, in the Great Depress ion , and radical solut ions on left and right were being procla imed, but we cannot know how much Darger, a n avid consumer of war histories and newspapers , w a s affected by these developments . Das lila Lied (the Lavender Song) w a s a gay rights cabaret song . During Weimar , cabaret 's traditional satiric form w a s 2 3 One American scientist who later received an honorary degree, from the Nazis, was Foster Kennedy, a prominent member of the US Euthanasia Society and an advocate of the killing of the intellectually disabled. (Crook 2002, 371). 36 used to mount somet imes-scath ing crit iques of the status quo (Arnold 1981). Th is combinat ion of soc ia l crit icism and often ribald entertainment, a long with the leftist political affiliations of many of cabaret 's participants, were ana thema to the values of the Nat ional Soc ia l i s t s . 2 4 The Third Re ich re-introduced censorsh ip , including that of print media , radio broadcasts, books, f i lms, v isual art, theatre and music . Whatever did not meet with Nat ional Socia l is t approval w a s labeled degenerate. Homosexua ls were, like the mentally ill, rounded up, sent away and murdered, a cruel seque l to the cal ls for f reedom and rights of a few years before. Back in Ch icago , Darger w a s making his own chal lenging art in the thir t ies, 2 5 without the benefit of any such theoretical sophist icat ion. He did so secret ly for reasons we can only speculate about. He also struggled with poverty and demanding physical labour, somet imes exper iencing difficult working relat ionships with his employers at the hospital, the nuns: I w a s under another prime and severe one, sister Ruf ina . S h e had both Mrs . S tevens (Grant Hospi tal) and S is ter Depau l put together beat by a mile. If you talked back to her it wou ld a lso result in loosing your j o b . . . A s there w a s then an awfully seve re depress ion on [1929], and it w a s utterly imposs ib le to get a job with any p lace, I had to s tay there and go through a number of years of misery b e c a u s e of her constant nagging. (History of My Life, 96 & 98, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 66) 2 4 The most well-known of these were writer Bertolt Brecht, composer Kurt Weill and singer Lotte Lenya, who had worked together in Weimar Germany and all of whom went into exile. 2 5 MacGregor discusses the dates of Darger's artistic production and concludes it began in 1918 and continued until at least 1959 (McGregor 2002, 118 & 168-169). 37 In 1932 Darger moved to 851 Webs te r Avenue , where he lived in two rooms on the third floor for the next forty years (66). Life in the Great Depress ion w a s difficult for everyone; life for a former inmate of an asy lum for " feeble-minded" chi ldren w a s even more precar ious. But Darger - al though he compla ined frequently in journals about his employers, the weather, and his inability to adopt a child -- managed to keep his job and remain independent, as wel l as to continue to work, write, and produce his early col lage-drawings (67). In Germany , meanwhi le, the National Socia l is ts had come to power and those labeled feeble-minded were being marked for death. The d isabled were deemed a drain on national resources and a contaminant according to the doctr ines of Rassenhygiene (racial hygiene), the dominant G e r m a n branch of eugen ics (Fr iedlander 2001 , 147). T h e mentally ill were being forcibly steri l ized, not only in Germany , but a lso in North Amer i ca and other parts of Europe. Amer i can eugenicist Harry Laughl in 's Model Eugenic Sterilization Law deve loped in 1922 was the bas is for the German Law on Preventing Hereditarily III Progeny. (Crook 2002, 369) Laughl in , whose test imony had helped ensure that Carr ie Buck w a s steri l ized in Virginia in 1927, received an honorary medical degree from the University of Heide lberg, for his efforts in the "sc ience of race c leans ing" in 1936 (Lombardo 1983, 13). The Eugen ics movement was international, yet it w a s in Ge rmany that eugen ics deve loped into race hygiene and subsequent m a s s killing. 38 Under Hitler, the theories of Lombroso and Nordau linking insanity, genius and degeneracy found favour, and art by inmates of asy lums like that in the Pr inzhorn col lect ion w a s packed away or used as propaganda to exempli fy a threat to Aryan supremacy v ia genet ic contamination and moral and aesthet ic impurity: T h e s e pseudoscient i f ic ideas, most clearly embodied in the work of C e s a r e Lombroso , found their most influential express ion in the aesthet ic theories of National Soc ia l i sm, and specif ical ly in the doctrine of "degenerate art" {entartete Kunst) (MacGregor ,1989 , 237). The Entartete Kunst exhibit ion in Munich in 1937 sought to make a c lear connect ion between modern art, especia l ly Express ion ism, and moral and mental degeneracy . 2 6 It consisted of modern art shown a longs ide art by the mentally ill and the intellectually d isabled. It a lso included other examp les of "degenerate" art: work by Jew ish artists, work bel ieved to be connected to anarch ism or commun ism, and work inf luenced by "racially inferior" traditions such as Afr ican and South S e a Island art (MacGregor 1989, 241). This strategy is used in reverse, when comparisons between acknowledged masterpieces of art and contemporary outsider art by the mentally disabled are used to prove that artists like Darger do not belong in the "inferior" outsider category. (See Bonesteel 2000, 16-18). Attitudes to the art of the mentally ill continue to be characterized by the negative and patronizing stereotypes which persist regarding the mentally disabled generally. The art world's response to Darger's art, in the context of his status as a disabled person and his classification as an outsider artist, is discussed in Chapter 3. 39 The strategy of proving degeneracy by juxtaposing the art of the mental ly d isabled and that of the G e r m a n Express ion is ts , while simplist ic and literal, had already been used successfu l ly in 1928, before the Naz i takeover, by Pau l Schu l t ze -Naumberg . His popular book Kunst und Rasse (Art and Race) compared portraits and self-portraits of Express ionis t artists with portraits of the deformed, mental ly d isab led and mental ly ill (MacGrego r 1989, 239). Throughout the Entarte Kunst exhibit, contemporary artists and supposed asy lum artists were not only v iewed in c lose proximity, but were grouped together to equate them: Work ing from a very primitive concept of the nature of mental i l lness, they [the curators] attempted to create an envi ronment exp ress ive of psychopatho logy, extending the chaos they detected in the paint ings out beyond their f rames. P ic tures were hung at all levels and in cur ious groupings, and works of sculpture were p laced on the floor or at inappropriate heights. Crude ly written graffiti s landerous ly attacking both the art and the artists covered the wal ls . ( M a c G r e g o r 1989, 241 - 2 4 2 ) 2 7 The Naz is removed a great deal of modern art from public col lect ions in Germany . S o m e p ieces were burned, s o m e were sold to foreign col lectors, and some were used for propaganda purposes, as in the Entartete Kunst exhibition (MacGregor 1989, 240). The artists themse lves were persecuted to the point of being forbidden to paint: About the origins of these works MacGregor observes that although some of the works were loans from the Prinzhorn collection, "it is not known where [the organizer of the show], [Adolph] Ziegler, obtained the pictures in the exhibitions said to have been the work of mentally ill individuals." (242) 40 Painters were visited by members of the Gestapo who searched their houses for fresh paintings or wet brushes. The threat of imprisonment was very real. Armed with absolute dictatorial power, Hitler and his minister of culture, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, were able to all but obliterate the last traces of the German Expressionist movement. (MacGregor 1989, 240) A s a result of Naz i harassment , many artists and intellectuals left Germany . The mentally ill more rarely had the resources or opportunit ies to leave. In addit ion to murdering J e w s , R o m a and Sinti Gyps ies , Jehovah ' s Wi tnesses , political pr isoners and homosexua ls , the Naz is tortured and murdered tens of thousands of psychiatr ic patients and people with intellectual and physical disabil i t ies. The d isabled were to become the earl iest test subjects for the gas chambers (Fr iedlander 2001). Severa l of the artists in Hans Pr inzhorn 's Col lect ion -including Franz Karl Buhler, Pau l G o e s c h , Jose f Greb ing and Johann Fau lhaber - were among them (Brand-C laussen n.d.). The Pr inzhorn Col lect ion itself, following its misuse by the National Socia l is ts in 1938, w a s packed away until its rediscovery in the 1960s (Brand-C laussen n.d.). A Suitcase Without a Handle After the S e c o n d Wor ld War , enthusiasm for eugen ics waned in reaction to knowledge of Naz i pol ic ies and atrocities related to race hygiene. In the U.S. , conscient ious objectors working at mental institutions during the war were shocked by the sub-standard living condit ions they found. In 1947 s o m e of them founded the National Mental Health Foundat ion with the dual a ims of advocat ing for mental patients and educat ing the public about their treatment (San Franc isco 41 State University Disabi l i ty .Programs and Resou rce Center n.d.). Many left-leaning eugen ics enthusiasts a lso reversed their pos i t ions . 2 8 But what S tephen J . Gou ld descr ibed as "guilt by genealog ica l assoc ia t ion" (Gould 1985) remained alive and well in the second half of twentieth century. Many d isabled and otherwise marginal ized people in North Amer i ca cont inued to be steri l ized into the 1970s. Darger w a s not re-institutionalized although he c la imed he w a s threatened with it: O n c e in search ing for someth ing that got lost from me in a very dark enc losure of the out exit on the ground f loor... I sca red s o m e young w o m a n (she w a s coward ly and timid anyway) out of her wits accidental ly . W h e n S is ter R o s e heard of it, by s o m e o n e telling her, she sco lded me good , and sa id s h e sure ly be l ieved that I a m real ly c r a z y . . . S e v e r a l t imes whi le sco ld ing me for someth ing, whether I did it or not, she threatened to send me back to the L incoln asy lum. (History of My Life ,71-72, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 55 - 56) Darger avo ided institutions, in part, by cultivating a degree of invisibility. Des i res , such as adopting a chi ld, which might have raised Darger 's profile if acted on , remained secret despi te their obv ious importance to him. Two documents written anonymously , but actually by Darger, ask and answer quest ions about why 8 By 1944 Tommy Douglas, then Saskatchewan's minister of health, rejected recommendations for the application of eugenical measures. "After the election of the C C F government in 1944, he [Douglas] received two official reviews of the Saskatchewan mental health-care system, one from a liberal expert and one from a radical left-wing scientist. Both recommended that the new government undertake a limited program of eugenical measures, including some sterilization of the mentally handicapped. Douglas, as Minister of Health and Premier, rejected these ideas and moved towards a system that emphasized therapy for the mentally ill and vocational training for the mentally handicapped" (McLeod & McLeod 1987, 41). 42 Darger had not been able to adopt a chi ld. W h y had his prayers not been answered? To begin with s ince the year nineteen seven teen he had constant ly prayed for a m e a n s as it is cal led for his hopes of adopt ing little chi ldren and it is now the year nineteen hundred and twenty nine, and his petit ions are not yet answered . (Found on Sidewalk, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 67) Darger w a s not just naive. He was a lso reluctant to engage with the appropriate institutions. Hav ing been a n orphan and a ward of the state himself, he would have had some idea where to inquire about adopting had he been willing to do so . He wasn' t . Despi te his desperate desi re for a child he did not risk it. A miracle w a s preferable. Darger may have real ized that he would not be v iewed as an appropriate adoptive parent, but maintained the fantasy nonetheless. His attitude to actual chi ldren w a s one of grumpiness and hostility. W h e n A m y Lund , whose father w a s Darger 's landlord, was found by Darger in his room, playing with his clock, he did not admire her bright eyes and curly t resses, as might be expected of the "man of child worship" who authored The Realms. (MacGregor 2002, 261 & 688). He w a s outraged. "I used to say I w a s going to the bathroom and sneak in Henry 's room", s a y s Lund . "He had this really big clock. It had cha ins , I'd pull on them." O n c e she recal ls , "He caught me. He started sc reaming . He hovered over me , really en raged . I still remember the look on his face . H is eyes—there w a s fury." (Esk in 2000) In her 2004 film In The Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger, J e s s i c a Y u interviewed Darger 's neighbors and acqua in tances. Peop le remembered him, but many of their speci f ic memor ies did not agree with one 43 another. W a s his surname pronounced with a hard or a soft g? Where did he sit when he attended mass at his local par ish, St. V incent de Pau l? "...and he sat right up front—the front pew." - Regina Waters (Neighbor) " the back, he would sit in back pews because he had his own little pew in the back and nobody else would be around him." - Mary Rooney (Parish Bookkeeper) "Always in the middle. Never in back. Never in front. Always by himself..." -Mark Waters (former altarboy) S o m e o n e as unusual as Darger, had he cultivated relat ionships with the people around him, should have been more memorable . But he kept a low profile, perhaps in part because he w a s profoundly lacking in socia l ski l ls: He was in his own world. I would greet him and he wouldn't respond. I felt he didn't like women, he looked down and avoided my eyes. He scuttled. You didn't know what a person like that might do, but he never did anything. He seemed anxious to get back to his room. (1992 Interview with Mimi Lerner, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 78). Perhaps it w a s also because his fantasy world susta ined him in ways reality could not: He didn't have any human relationships, not really. I did not know Henry for twenty years. I don't think anyone knew him. While he seemed a lonely man without friends during the day, at night when he entered his room, his loneliness must have vanished. He was in his own world of imagination, surrounded by all of his creations. He spoke to them [aloud] and they answered [aloud in different voices]. The room was small, but the world he created there had no boundaries. (Lerner 1987, 4-5) Yet Darger a lso s e e m s to have been careful not to offend: 44 Henry was living above my apartment. He was a pleasant man. He was very quiet. He didn't make any noise. Nobody ever came to see him. He'd say hello, how are you, thank you, or goodbye, but little else. He wasn't talkative, and seemed very private. We weren't sure he was "all there." (1993 Interview with Mary E. Dillon, 1993, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 78) Keep ing a low profile is a survival skill by which the social ly unacceptable give the rest of society what it wants, and it wants the "problem" to go away. It is e a s y to think of the history of eugen ics and institutionalization as a matter of past injustices, now overcome by a more enl ightened society. Beginning in the 1970s, North Amer ican jurisdictions increasingly turned to "deinstitutionalization," and then to the use of pharmaceut icals, somet imes appl ied without consent, as an alternative to the pract ices of Darger 's lifetime. Whether this is a cause for celebrat ion is controversial . In Cruel Compassion, T h o m a s S z a s z contends: Many deinstitutionalized patients, especially if they have spent long periods in mental hospitals, beseech psychiatrists to let them remain in the hospital or readmit them... The forcible eviction of desocialized patients from mental hospitals is a moral scandal on par with the forcible involuntary mental hospitalization of persons who are not desocialized. (Szasz 1994, 184). De-institutionalization has decentral ized the physical housing of those deemed mental ly ill which formerly kept them away from the rest of us. It has not necessar i ly dec reased the socia l segregat ion and pressure on them to ensure we are not made unduly uncomfortable by their p resence. Pe rhaps there were people who were not p leased to have Darger in their neighborhood, but he "behaved. " H e w a s extremely private and saved his most overt eccentr ici t ies, like carrying on lengthy conversat ions with himself in a variety of different vo ices and 45 the obsess ion with little girls expressed in his writing and his art, for the privacy of his room. He did not attempt to share his work with anyone. Had he been less discreet, more frightening, or disruptive he would have certainly been evicted and forced to live e lsewhere: I r emember Henry s tanding out on the porch and looking at me . I think he expec ted me to say, " Y o u know, Henry, you are going to have to move . The building now belongs to me." It w a s so pathetic. I don't remember what I sa id to h im, but he just turned around and went upstairs. I s a w absolute ly no reason why a man who w a s certainly neutral and harmless should have to move.. . I can assure you, had I read s o m e of this stuff [Darger's writing] whi le he still l ived here, I would have been very uneasy . (Lerner 1987, 4 - 5). The concept ion of the d isabled as a potential threat or problem, call ing for a coerc ive solut ion, cont inues in political d iscuss ions and pol icies directed at those with intellectual, socia l or psychological d isorders. Involuntary treatment under c i rcumstances of " incapacity" is still the law in C a n a d a (Starson 2003). Treatment, as a lways recommended "in the best interests" of the individual, no longer defaults to the physical removal of patients but emphas i zes bio-psycholog ica l approaches , especia l ly medicat ion. Out-patient court orders can require that a person take medicat ion, and "medicat ion non-compl iance" can mean continued detention at psychiatr ic fac i l i t ies. 2 9 Darger 's life ended in the Saint August ine Poo r House in 1973, sixty-five years after his father had died in the s a m e place. Short ly after this final See for instance, Part 3: Admission and Detention of Patients in British Columbia's Mental Health Act, R .S .B.C. 1996, c. 288, s. 36. 46 institutionalization, his former landlord d iscovered his life's work. Subsequen t d e c a d e s led to wider c i rc les of popular and academic exposure, culminating in a twenty-first century Darger boomlet. The posthumous Darger is seen as once again in need of institutional aid and containment. The following chapters will d i scuss how prescriptive appl icat ion of theology, art theory and socia l theory have often diminished Darger in attempts to avoid what is unsettling about him. The way an enhanced Darger is projected by mainstream institutions suggests that although we may condemn the society which locked Darger up, we still fear the difference in him. This chapter has tried to show how one strategy that society uses to avoid the problem of the mentally d isabled - d iagnosis , institutionalization and medical izat ion - affected Henry Darger personal ly and worked out in his lifetime. Darger w a s incarcerated, albeit in a p lace he later looked back on with some nostalgia. Al though he would not have stood out at the L incoln Asy lum, he learned to stay inconspicuous once he re-entered mainstream society. During his lifetime, he hid his life work - for reasons we can only speculate about, but which must have included concern about how a dangerous outside world would v iew them. During Darger 's final i l lness, his work finally c a m e to the attention of that wor ld. The work fasc inates, but presents v isceral problems, more insistent than his own presence in life, for the world that has received it. N e w strategies — aesthetic, 47 consumer and theological - have been deve loped and employed to contain and avoid those problems, without ruining our enjoyment of the work he left behind. 48 CHAPTER 2 As a Lamb Among Mad Wolves a Fish Hung on a Hook:: Theological Strategies of Legitimation and the Work of Henry Darger Henry Darger, At Jennie Richee again escape. Collage-drawing, (Central panel of a three-panel composition) © Kiyoko Lerner / S O D R A C (2005). 1 Saint Margaret describes herself (Robertson 1991, 275). An early version of this chapter was presented at a conference in Edmonton: sociology is passe/la sociologie est passee, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta, October, 25-26, 2003. 49 Enough—I have heard enough! I am sick of your consolations! How long will you pelt me with insults? Will your malice never relent? I too could say such things if you were in my position: I could bury you with accusations and sneer at you in my piety; or whisper my easy comfort and encourage you with a word. (Job 16:2-4, trans. Mitchell 1994, 44) God is too hard to me. I will not bear it any longer for no one. Let him send me to Hell, I'm my own man. (Predictions and Threats, 295, quoted in MacGregor, 2002, 643) Bureaucratic-political strategies of segregation and "cure" are not the only ways to address the problem created for active, healthy producer-consumers by the presence of the disabled. Religion can be another. Explaining suffering, specifically in a cosmos believed to be ordered by God's love, is the traditional task of the branch of theology known as theodicy. Religion — in Darger's case, Christianity — solves theodicy's "problem of evil," not by a rational demonstration that an all-loving creator is logically consistent with debilitating disease, injury and psychological pain, but by transfiguring that suffering into sacrifice, martyrdom and redemption - by making it positive corporeal and psychological proof of God's existence. In this way, religious discourse becomes a significant part of the political economy of disability. For some experiencing physical or mental disability, religion's answers are a way —perhaps the way —of making suffering meaningful: for them, religion is the basis of their sense of agency. But as Job and Henry Darger protest, the religious economy of love-sacrifice-redemption can also impose the easy comfort of legitimation, by positing that everything (including inequality, pain and disability) is for the best and working in support of a higher purpose. This crudely 50 karmic Christianity serves the comfortable well, but delegi t imizes the exper iences of those who suffer. The d isabled have long been socia l repositories of myths, one of which is that of the suffering saint redeemed and transfigured by pain, socia l al ienation and material poverty. Adversi ty is v iewed as essent ia l to the transfiguration of those who, being inadequate or different, are in need of transformation. If the d isabled of the world do not acqu iesce to serving a higher purpose, then they do not properly complete the narrative: they are simply the wretched of the earth, who have refused to fill their symbol ic role in society, and their own s tubbornness is seen to perpetuate their suffering. Darger used his mytho-theological reading of the world in a different way. He never doubted the reality of divine agency, but he railed all his life against its injustice. G o d became a focus for his rage. At the s a m e time, he constantly propitiated G o d , with carefully documented acts of piety, and reproduced the suffering G o d imposed on him in the world of his own creat ion. Darger 's theology, and his grappling with the problem of theodicy, have not gone unnot iced. Unfortunately, some commentators have overstated his theological sophist icat ion. 2 Others have used undoubted paral lels between his work and 2 McGregor, for example, compares Darger to the Desert Fathers: "The Desert Fathers of the early church were also isolated from reality, seeking God and encountering the devil. Like them, 51 Cathol ic martyrology to normal ize Darger, instead of problematizing the tradit ion, 3 or have tied his spirituality into an overly neat narrative of Darger 's personal redempt ion. 4 My goal in examining both Darger 's theology and the theological use of Darger by others will be twofold: to show how religious narratives of suffering are used by both critics and champions of Darger to erase that suffering, and make us more comfortable with it; and also to see how Darger 's own theology s imul taneously perpetuated the Christ ian tradition of sacrif icing the innocent (the chi ld s laves in Realms) and resisted that tradition, by refusing to accept his own suffering as necessary and part of G o d ' s plan. I will look at how Darger 's unorthodox Catho l ic ism visited his frustrations and disappointments on (fictional) female bodies, and explore the paral lels between Darger 's Viv ian girls and the late medieval stories of virgin martyrs to show how pain, suffering and the violation of the female body are the raw material both for spiritual sanctif ication and cruder titillation. But I will a lso examine the ways in which Darger fought Darger too fell prey to monstrous visions, experiencing irrational arid uncontrollable outbursts of lust, doubt and rage. And like them he was strangely innocent, at once a child and a holy fool. His deliberate retreat from the world, his poverty and isolation, his compulsive contemplation of inner reality, and his near hallucinatory involvement with figures arising from within, brought him increasingly into relationship with God." (2002, 647). However, as McGregor would have to acknowledge, we have no reason to believe that Darger's "retreat" was deliberate, and McGregor in this passage somewhat sidesteps the monotony of Darger's complaints and the magical and literal conception he had of prayer. 3 Gerald Wertkin, former director of the American Folk Art Museum, compares Darger's imagery to that of Catholic martyrology, but he explicitly does so to make Darger seem "less threatening and strange, more transformative and redemptive." (2001, 126) 4 ' Vine 1998. See discussion below. 52 against Christ ian ideals of suffering as inevitable, deserved and acceptable. Finally, I will look at how Darger himself has been posthumously cast as a fool-saint, and how his suffering, too, has been used to promote an image of him which reassures art consumers and thus benefits those who profit in var ious ways from his work. I will start with what we know from Darger 's autobiographical History of My Life of his formal religious training and beliefs (83, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 18). Then I will turn to the religious themes in his Journals and in his major work, Realms. O n c e these have been descr ibed, it will be poss ib le to ana lyze Darger 's theology. Finally, I will look at how Darger 's religiosity has been received by the critics, with the aim of showing that they tend to ass ign him a role in their own redemptive narratives, including that of virgin martyrhood, and miss how Darger remains stubbornly unreconci led to the end. Early Catholic Influences Darger 's Catho l ic ism was a vital part of his identity, thought, work, and day-to-day life. A s a chi ld, his local parish was Old St. Patr ick 's and the first two schoo ls he attended were run by its clergy (MacGregor 2002, 37). Al though no record of his bapt ism has been found, he writes of it in his autobiography: "My Godmother had me bapt ized on the snowy afternoon, in St. Patr ick 's church on Desp la ins 53 and A d a m s street, Ch icago" (History of My Life, 74, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, note 77, 674). In 1900, Darger was p laced in a Cathol ic boys ' home. He tells us: M y Godmother , which until now I forgot to ment ion, who p roceeded at my Bapt i sm at eight years of age , took me to a p lace on J a c k s o n Bou levard , n i cknamed the N e w s boys home. T h e right name w a s "the M iss ion of Our Lady of Mercy. " (History of My Life, 20-21 quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 39). 5 At the Lincoln Asy lum for Feeb le -Minded Chi ldren four years later, Darger 's Catho l ic ism was cut off from any institutional roots. The asy lum did not s t ress religious observance: I w a s a bapt ized Cathol ic but in the asy lum, I even then knew all th ings of the rel igion, but a lso in the asy lum and on the State Farm they never even for us all showed any kind of rel igion. They s e e m e d even G o d l e s s , even in the schoo l there. (History of My Life, 5 1 - 52; 73-74, M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 50) Al though a Protestant minister was somet imes present at L incoln, opportunit ies for worship were limited to songs and prayers. Darger felt insulted by the lack of more substantial religious instruction: O n c e in a while in the schoo l hall on the ground floor we were entertained with shows , training exerc ises , and church meet ings or S u n d a y schoo l on S u n d a y morning. T h o s e who could s a n g hymns and recited prayer meet ing. T h e minister never gave any sermons. . . I s u p p o s e they had the idea that feeble minded could not all understand rel igious instruction. T h e n why were they to go to schoo l? (History of My Life, 73-4) 5 The identity of Darger's godmother remains a mystery. They seemed to have maintained some contact while Darger was growing up. MacGregor tells us that it was through her intervention that he got his first job at St. Joseph's hospital in 1909 (2002, 55). 54 After leaving the asy lum, Darger was employed at a ser ies of hospitals as a janitor, d ishwasher and bandage roller. Except for Grant Hospi ta l , in which he worked from 1922 to 1928, all of his employers were Cathol ic institutions. 6 Darger began work at St. Joseph ' s in 1909 and stayed for twelve years . O n c e there, he started attending mass , and his at tendance was frequent: "On the Chr is tmas Midnight mass , a cold snowy one in December , 1909, I received in their [St. Joseph 's ] chape l my first Holy communion. " (History of My Life, 72, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 56). His Cathol ic ism did not make him uncritical of his employers, the nuns: Sister Depaul had a bulldog like face, and seemed to have the disposition of one. I don't really believe any Catholic Sister should [have -JM] such a disposition. That is not Charity or Christ like. Though she was a Sister I had a very intense dislike for her and did my best to avoid her (History of My Life, 86, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 57). Nor did Darger 's piety make him uncritical of G o d . W h e n he was a chi ld, still living with his father, Darger c la ims, "In my younger days I forgot to mention when angry over something I burned holy pictures and hit the face of Christ in pictures with my fist." (History of My Life, 69; M a c G r e g o r 2002, 39) Th is animosity toward G o d goes unment ioned in Darger 's accounts of his life in both the boy's hpme and the asy lum, but is renewed once he is living independently 6 After Grant Hospital, Darger returned to St. Joseph's and stayed until 1947 when he was dismissed after being told the work was too difficult for him. A week later he began work at the Alexian Brother's Hospital where he stayed until his retirement at seventy-one in 1963. (MacGregor 2002, 66; 69; 72) 55 and involved with the church once again. As a young man, his anger at God is primarily re-directed through his fiction: Inlisted into the American army September 20 1917 in expectation of having chance of seeing great war. Reduced in health at critical time. Failure of limbs and right shoulder to support me in trying to make success in drilling. Eyes go on(?) the brim. Rejected from Military Service December 6, 1917. Receive Discharge papers December 29 1917. Sent home. Another cause why Christian defeat is impending most serious break of all. Will not relent in threatening safety of Christians. (Predictions and Threats, Dec. 6, 1917)7 The Realms of the Unreal God obsessed the adult Henry Darger, but his intense religiosity often took unconventional form. In the clutter of his room, along with newspaper clippings of raped, murdered and missing little girls and natural disasters, 8 were a Bible and numerous tracts, prayers, hymns and icons. Darger attended Mass daily, and several times a day on weekends. His public Christianity, apart from his supererogatory mass attendance, was typical. His private approach to God, 7 Darger was drafted in the autumn of 1917. Before the end of the year, he was honourably discharged -- officially because of trouble with his eyes and poor physical health (MacGregor 2002,57). 8 Lynne Warren, a neighbour and art student who saw Darger's room after he moved out, described it this way: "Newspaper clippings—most detailing brutalized girls or natural disasters— were tacked to the walls...balls of twine, nylon neatly wrapped to basebaH size, jute wound to bowling-ball dimensions; hundreds of bottles of Pepto-Bismol, scrubbed and aligned; piles of newspapers; stacks of books; boxes of decaying rubber bands; packets of maple syrup. All graced by a variety of miniature Madonnas. It appeared the only place Darger could sit, or even sleep, was a broken-bottomed wooden chair accessible via a path cleared through the accumulation." (Eskin 2000) 56 however, was direct, literal and combat ive. W h e n G o d would not answer his petitions, he responded by b laspheming and threatening. He a lso vowed to visit devastat ion on Chr ist ians in the world he created and control led - his literary world of Realms. Th is private, heterodox Christianity exhibits two features of the relationship between religion and the d isabled. O n the one hand, in his own world, Darger acted as an avenging deity - paradoxical ly visiting his vengeance on the most vulnerable and guilt less; on the other, Darger 's continuing, if somet imes infantile, argument with G o d exhibits a refusal to capitulate to accept "the will of G o d " as a sufficient answer to his own suffering. Darger began writing his most significant fictional work -- The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion ("Realms") - soon after he left the Lincoln Asy lum in 1909. 9 The world of Realms is populated by "thrillions of men and hundreds of thrillions of women and chi ldren" (vol. 1, introduction, 1-2, quoted in Bonestee l 2000, 39) some of them from good, Chr ist ian, abolitionist nations (primarily Abb ieann ia , Calver in ia and Angel in ia) , and s o m e from the land of evil and god less child s lavers, Glandel in ia : The scenes of this story, as its title indicates, lie among the nations of an unknown or imaginary world or countries, with our earth as their moon...The names of these nations are Angelinia, Abyssinkile, Protestentia, and Abbieannia, four great Catholic nations, there being no Protestant nations. 9 Darger gives us three start dates: 1910, 1911 and June 1912. (MacGregor 2002, 59) 57 Other Catholic nations, but rivals of Glandelinia also are Mormounuia, Hickenile, Hickencile, Condennencia, Glandlina, Spoonnia, Creetoria, Madorria, Claresinia, and Pruetinia. Next to Abbieannia, Glandelinia is the most powerful of them all, and three quarters of the population are as wicked as wickedness can be. There are scores of other nations, but their names are not given. The two nations Glandelinia and Abbieannia alone have in this story hundreds of thrillions of men and many thrillions of women and children. The names of the oceans are the same as the nations. (Realms, Vol. 1, Introduction, 1-2, quoted in Bonesteel 2000, 39) The 15,145 page narrative (MacGregor 2002, 89) of Realms and the accompany ing i l lustrat ions 1 0 combine epic battles and "girls' own" adventures with torture s c e n e s worthy of de S a d e . W h e n Darger 's fictional Realms is examined a longside his Journals," it is c lear that the fates of the Christ ian armies, the heroic Viv ian girls, and the chi ld s laves they are attempting to free, are intimately connected to the daily occur rences and unfulfilled longings of Darger 's actual life. Together Realms and the Journals offer a running commentary on Darger 's level of spiritual satisfaction and , more often, dissat isfact ion. They tell us how he reacted to his own suffering both by indignantly blaming and threatening G o d and by inflicting further suffering vicariously on chi ldren in his fiction. If Darger 's epic story is unusual , conveying the solution to suffering a s lyin in more suffering reflects the convent ional Christ ian relationship between theodicy and atonement. Darger created an end less supply of sacrif icial chi ldren, "other Chr ists" as he 1 0 Darger began experimenting with collage as early as 1918; in the 1920s and 1930s Darger began illustrating Realms (MacGregor 2002, 159). His collage-drawings depicting Realms are the basis for his deserved fame as an artist. 1 1 The Journals begin in 1911 and (with some gaps) end in 1972. 58 referred to them, (Realms, vol . 7,500, ibid, 629) a s a response to personal frustration. The content of Realms is legit imized by the purported goal of abol i t ionism. The Glandel in ian practice of child slavery so enraged the Christ ian nations that they dec lared war. Th is issue of child s lavery provides Darger with a formal explanat ion for the conflict and al lows him to indulge his interest in, and knowledge of, the Amer ican Civi l W a r (History of My Life, 19-20, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 43 ) . 1 2 A s the story deve lops, though, child s lavery increasingly serves a different purpose. It provides Darger with a rationale for depicting recurring (and play-by-play) torture and murder s c e n e s . 1 3 Cons ide r the death of chi ld s lave C la ra Hortense: feeling for her neck in the darkness, after tearing off her clothing, and having got hold of which he at once lifted her halfway, dragged her backwards tward a large sink, prostrated her body halfway over it, while she screamed piteously. "Help me, Help me, Oh God, help me." After which the fearful Glandelinian got a fresh hold of her neck and then all was still, except that her assailant saw was her protruding tongue and bulging eyes, and he 1 2 In History of My Life Darger writes, "I once told my teacher...that I believed no one truthfully knew the losses in the battles of wars (including our Civil war), because each history told different losses...I had three histories that told different losses at the civil war battles, including, Pittsburg Landing, Antetam Run Np 2, Gettysburg, and so on, and it is true," (19, 20 in MacGregor 2002, 43). 1 3 John MacGregor, who has read more of Realms than anyone to date, believes that, "[W] referred to as "child slavery" is really only an excuse for presenting the systematic deprivation, torture, and murder of children, largely little girls. The little girls are simply victims of sadistic, sexually motivated attacks by adult males, with Darger making very little real effort to connect the institution of slavery in The Realms with real economic exploitation of children's labor." (541) Michael Bonesteel suggests, less convincingly, that despite the violence inflicted upon them, Darger's depiction of the child slaves allows us to "see how much compassion he felt for children like himself" who suffered (2000, 20). 59 pressed and squeezed so hard that her tongue seemed to protrude farther. He heard the cracking of bones. The child died quickly, the blood streaming out of her eyes, nose and mouth. (Realms vol. 2, 118, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 449-550) Or the Glandel in ian delight in the prolonged roasting of live chi ldren: The Glandelinians who went near this furnace, had the same lotion on them that is used to save human beings from suffering from the intense heat. The lotion put on Gertrude and Mary only protects them from death but not from suffering...They tried to get out for their suffering was unbearable, but the Glandelinians only laughed, and stirred up the fire to make it hotter...The children tried desperately to climb the walls to get out of the reach of the cruel flames, but it was useless. The children with all their vehemence tried to get out, and beat at the Glandelinians, for they had left the door open to see the performance as they called it.. .At last when the lotion threatened to wear off from the heat, the Glandelinians pulled the children out with long hooks and flung them rudely on the floor, where they writhed in indescribable agony. (Realms, vol. 3, 571 quoted in MacGregor 2002, 562, 563) In addit ion to child slavery, the other principal reason for war was the "Aronburg Mystery": The Aronburg mystery as well as the murder of the Aronburg child, had threatened the doom of the three Christian states, for the whole length of the great Glandeco-Angelinian war and it was predicted that the solving of the Aronburg Mystery and revenge on her assassins was the only hope for any chance of the Christian nation winning the war. (Realms, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 93) The "Aronburg mystery" was l inked to a specif ic event in Ch i cago , the abduct ion and murder of f ive-year-old Els ie ParOubek in May 1911 (MacGregor 2002, 59). Darger had cl ipped her photo from the Chicago Daily News, lost it, and then became o b s e s s e d with this loss, petitioning G o d for its return, building a shrine, 60 and repeatedly threatening the death of Chr is t ians in Realms if it did not reappear . 1 4 Storming H e a v e n for Peti t ion. Erect ing mimic altar to pray before in order to obtain petition before destruct ion of Chr is t ians arr ive. Sacr i f ice will a l so be made for the granting of Peti t ion. Mak ing the mimic chape l neat and c lean no matter how much work. Buy ing mater ials of all sorts for shr ine. R e a d Bible every evening and s a y all the Li tanies when shr ine is f in ished. (Journals, March 1, 1916). O n account of the loss of manuscr ip ts and pictures of chi ldren the huge d isaster and calamity at G r a h a m s lanes will never be a toned for no matter if even the lost art icles should be back even now. It would be more d isast rous if the Chr is t ians went into act ion there aga in . T h e l osses of sa id art icles shal l be avenged to the uttermost limit no change will be g iven now. (Journals, undated page between M a y 15, 1916 and M a y 16, 1916, p. 45) O n Augus t 16 C lub through reasons not stated here w a s broken up. Great loss in pictures on account of it m a k e s situation for Chr is t ian c a u s e worse . A u - Alter pul led down. ?a in to be payed to Chr is t ian nat ions. 1 5 Chr is t ians will be s a v e d now only if G o d permits me to gain the m e a n s of owning property s o that I can adopt chi ldren without suffering them the dangers of unsupport . On ly c h a n c e now left. There will be no other under any condi t ion—condi t ion s o ser ious that progress in manuscr ipt is de layed . (Journals, Augus t 11, 1916) 1 6 1 4 MacGregor believes it is possible that Darger may have been Paroubek's killer (2002, Note 210, 677), although there is no concrete evidence to support this idea. 1 5 The club Darger refers to was likely formed with his only known friend Whilliam Schloeder (MacGregor 2002, 64- 65). It appears that Darger was angry about the destruction of an altar built in Schloeder's barn in order to petition God for the return of the Paroubek photograph (MacGregor, 2002, 59). Darger. seems to have known Schloeder since the early 1920s when he worked at Grant hospital (63), but possibly as early as 1910. When Schloeder moved with his sister to Texas Darger wrote letters to him until his death in 1959 (65). Schloeder appears in Realms in Christian and Glandelinian forms (246). 1 6 MacGregor writes that, "While Darger never spoke of the possibility of finding his lost sister, he did very frequently raise the issue of adopting a little orphan girl. Indeed, as we shall see, one of the central issues in his personal quarrel with God concerned his desire and his inability to adopt a child." (2002, 628, 67, 68). 61 In a compensatory act, Darger makes Paroubek a Christian character in his story: Annie Aronburg, child rebel leader (Bonesteel 2000, 10). 1 7 In Realms, there are two lost pictures of Annie/Paroubek. General Henry Joseph Darger takes one photograph of Annie from her body, after witnessing her murder. Annie's killer is General Phelan (MacGregor 2002, note 210, 677), a demonization of Darger's former roommate, Thomas M. Phelan (58), whom Darger blamed for the loss of the Paroubek picture as well as some of his manuscripts. 1 8 The second newspaper photo is stolen: Ann ie Aronburg habited in her nighties, had been probably occupy ing her mind for s o m e time by planning for victory, when the brute se i zed her by the hair which w a s loose and f lourishing a razor about her face. . . instant ly he began to choke her, tearing her nightie to tatters, then with one determined s w e e p of his muscu lar arm he nearly seve red her ches t open with his razor . . . . (Realms, vo l . 12, 2256-2257 , quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 504) " June 1911 or 1912," sa id genera l V iv iana sharply and with ardent susp ic ion , "I thought you rece ived the picture from her wa is t?" "I d id , but I lost it. I had rece ived another in a newspaper that told of the tragedy, which w a s a lso stolen with many others I had. " [said Darger] (Realms, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 503-504) 1 7 The link between Paroubek and Aronburg was initially made by Michael Bonesteel. (MacGregor 2002, note 209, 677) 1 8 Bonesteel's brief summation of these events has a different slant. "In his story, which Darger wrote himself into, he witnesses the brutal slashing with a razor and strangulation of Annie Aronburg, who had given him a picture of himself that he later loses." (10) Bonesteel does not back this up with text from Realms. 62 Henry Darger, After the Battle of Drowsabella Maxillian. Vivian Girls find articles which they believe relate to the Aronburg mistery — smashed safe like box open and find box of moulded paper, three bloody knives, queer shaped pistol — and picture of child whose body has been slashed wide open with all the intestines exposed to view. Starring destroyed the picture. Left panel of a three-panel collage-drawing. Watercolor, pencil, carbon, and collage on paper. 48.1 X 178.1 cm. Gift of Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner. 1980. 102R, The Art Institute of Chicago. All rights reserved. © Kiyoko Lerner / S O D R A C (2005). The loss of the newspaper cl ipping was a cause of obsess ive consternation in Darger 's real life. His reaction to this was to impose consequences on G o d , which were played out in Realms. 63 The writing of the Glandeco Angelinian war started in June 1912 and still progressing up to January 1916 without change on account of the loss of the said picture of little Miss Annie Aronburg taken from the Chicago Daily News of June May or July. In case of no return by March 1916 the Glandelinians will not be forced into submission but shall progress better than before whipping the Christians to the bitter end. Petition for return of same said picture was requested some time in March 1915 and a year from then only can give chance for Christian success. (Predictions and Threats, August 1912) "Late this morning before the battle began today a soldier came to me and told me there was a man who lost a picture of the Aronburg child whose name was Annie Aronburg. The picture was not exactly lost, but stolen on him with a lot of other pictures of children, or burned or something. He claims that this battle, which extended fifty miles along the Conservatory Run, will never be won unless it is recovered" [said the Christian General Baldwin] (Realms, vol. A, A-29, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 497) Darger, whose fictional wars were caused by the plight of ens laved and abused chi ldren, avenged himself against an apathetic G o d by having these children tortured and killed in large numbers. His loss of Paroubek 's photograph d is t ressed him, but his tribute to Paroubek, cast ing her as Aronburg, is compl icated not only by her murder in Realms, but a lso by its c i rcumstances. Darger, as a character in Realms, watches as Aronburg/Paroubek is (the account suggests) raped, strangled, and then d isembowel led by a Glandel in ian "brute" {Realms vol . 12, 2256-2257, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 504). Darger punishes G o d for the lost photograph, but his vengeance takes the form of destroying the object of his desire, the reason for vengeance in the first p lace. The appearance of Ann ie Aronburg in Darger 's story cannot really be expla ined by Darger using the loss of Paroubek 's photo "in a creative or positive fashion by channel ing this personal crisis into his art," as Michael Bonestee l suggests 64 (2000, 11). The complex relationship of Darger to the photo of Paroubek, whom he symbolically rescued and resurrected as a hero only to subject to a second rape, torture and violent death (with himself as audience), resembles the strange logic of Christianity more than art therapy. This logic, which demands suffering to transcend suffering, reveals an equation in which sado-masochism will be satisfied one way, another, or both ways, since much of humanity, is still destined for the lake of fire. The most celebrated heroines of Darger's story are seven "little saints" (Realms, vol. 1, 69 quoted in MacGregor 2002, 94), the Vivian sisters, young Catholic crusaders from Angelinnia. The father of the Vivian girls is Robert Vivian, governor of Angelinnia (MacGregor 2002, 94) or emperor of Abbieannia (Bonesteel 2000, 20). Darger gives their names and ages as: Violet Mary 9 1/2, Joice Catherine 10, Jennie Frances 10, Catherine Cecelia 7, Daisy Gertrude 7, Hettie Annie 8, and Angeline (or Evangeline) Celestine 9 (Crazy House, vol. 1, 26, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 293).19 Despite the differences in their ages, the girls are indistinguishable from one another. The Vivian girls are princesses, blond, beautiful and meticulously costumed. Darger describes the reaction of his fictional alter-ego, Jack Ambrose Evans, guardian of the Vivian girls (Bonesteel 2000, 20), and of some soldiers on meeting them: 19 Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House is a sequel to Realms. 65 At first they were overawed at the presence of the little saints, and were at first almost afraid to touch them, but Violet, knowing the reason of their silence, said, "my name is Violet Mary Vivian, and these are my sisters, Joice, Jennie, Angeline, Daisy, Hettie, and Catherine Vivian, real flesh and blood, and not celestial children which no doubt you are mistaking us for. So there is no need to be afraid of us. We cannot help our appearance." (Realms, vol. 1, 69 quoted in MacGregor 2002, 94) The Vivians (like other children in the illustrations to the Realms) are hermaphrodites (295). 2 0 Almost indistinguishable from each other, the sisters are distinguished from all other children by their courage: Violet and her sisters were not afraid to be alone being afraid of only sin. (Realms, vol. 2, 272, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 616) Violet and her sisters proved themselves to be dangerous spies to the enemy, and spies whom they could never hold when captured. (Realms vol. 1, 397-401, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 321) The Vivians are notable as well for their superlative beauty and purity. In a somewhat creepy paraphrase of the biblical Song of Solomon mixed with romance novel cliche and original Dargaresque phraseology, Penrod, 2 1 the boy hero, holds forth to the girls: "How can I compare or overdo seven little celestial girls who are so fair and lovely that the best author groups [gropes - JM] in vain for words to describe their beauty...even the language of the angels and the Saints has not words to express the love I have for you and your sisters. The hair of every one of 2 0 As far as I have been able to determine, Darger's texts identify the Vivian girls and female child slaves simply as little girls (Prokopoff 1996, 4/5). It is only in his art that we see that they have penises. There is a great deal of speculation about this, but no satisfactory explanations. 2 1 MacGregor notes that Darger's Marco Shoefield Penrod was inspired by Booth Tarkington's boy hero, Penrod Schoefield, in the children's story "Penrod," published in 1914 when Darger was in his early twenties (262). Darger's Penrod sometimes operates as a spy disguised as Adeledefob, a Glandelinian boyscout. (264) 66 you little girls is as spun gold, your eyes are purple pools of light into which when I gaze my heart is almost charmed from my body. The skin of you beautiful beautiful little girls is smooth and sweet as the petals of the fairest flower in all the world, and your crimson lips were surely made for kisses from Our Blessed Lord Himself. Fair are your beautiful little bodies, oh my lovely sisters, and shapely your white little limbs. When any one of you lie in my arms with your heart beating against my breast, my unworthy breast, and her lips on mine." {Realms vol. 10, 286, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 617) In the latter parts of Realms, Darger describes the sisters as "angel possessed": But to give the reader ease of mind I would say never worry [about-JM] them. Violet and her sisters seen the end of the war and the glorious effects of the victory, and Heaven knows how long they lived after that. But in this story where people and children are so good, angel possessed children, for angel possessed they were, do not die until they go to heaven alive. They can be killed of course, but do not die naturally. They are in the same position as people in the Oz land, and angel possessed children stay children until they go to heaven and then they are most beautiful children ever imagined. (Realms, vol. 10, 692, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 617) The Vivian girls stand in for the virgin saints of Catholicism. They are simultaneously heroic, erotic, virtuous, and underage. The indistinct masses of child slaves — less beautiful, less devout and lacking backbone — on the other hand, are "poor hopeless wretches," an interchangeable, sentimentally useful bunch, sinners all, who provide the chosen ones with a purpose and highlight the results of their good breeding: high-grade moral fiber, unflappability, fight and cuteness. The Vivian girls suffer too, but mainly they witness (in their roles as child-warriors and spies) horrors visited on others. They are not always immediate in their heroic ministrations to the pitiful child slaves. Sometimes, for the long-term good of the Christian cause, they must watch in silence. Darger 67 al lows himself to v iew atrocities, often at length, by see ing them via the adventures of the Viv ian girls, and through their eyes : Jus t a s they entered ten chi ldren had s w o o n e d under a terrible beat ing from iron p iked lashes . It w a s worse than anything they had ever s e e n before. T h e little chi ldren str ipped naked were literally mang led by the cat-o-nine-tails which tore their sk in like kn ives. Violet and her s isters could s e e the horrible g a s h e s on the bodies of the chi ldren who in truth had d ied under the scourag ing . T h e n the Glande l in ians before their very eyes had torn their bod ies open and scat tered the entrai ls all over the floor, it indeed being a horrible sight for the Viv ian girls to wi tness, but they did not dare betray themse lves and s o they cou ld do nothing (Realms., vo l . 4, 1599, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 546). 68 Henry Darger, Vivian girl princesses are forced to witness frightful massacre of children-Vivian girls not shown in this composition. At Jennie Richee-via Norma. The children who are naked are made to suffer from the worst torture under fierce tropical heat imaginable [third panel of three panel collage-drawing, watercolour, pencil, carbon on paper, 22 X89 in., Kiyoko Lerner /SODRAC 2005. Darger 's bas ic storyline is a familiar one, including the voyeur ism it entails. Many stories (and all societies) have d isposable members whose status as "the wretched of the earth" are used to serve the narrative and ideological (and somet imes erotic) drives of the more comfortable, and whose suffering is used 69 to enhance the images of others as compass ionate and humanely heroic. Darger, as a d isabled man and an orphan, is often represented as a variation of the wretched nobody, the "harmless creature" (Steinke, 1/3), who, in Darger 's c a s e , was d iscovered to be "somebody" after a l l . 2 2 Lost sou ls , s inners, and heathens, in the Christ ian salvat ion/damnation narrative, like Darger 's chi ld-s laves and society 's "nobodies," are reduced to illustrating spiritual, moral , and soc ia l general i t ies. Darger creates his own version of pitiful wretches and ministering angels . The child s laves and the Viv ian girls are an idiosyncratic imitation of the stories, soc ia l , f ictional, and religious, which surrounded him. The chi ld s laves provide a convenient supply of pass ive vict ims: gener ic, damaged , dying and dead bodies. Al though Darger s e e m s to have made some attempt to write about the heroics of the child s laves during the rebell ion (Darger Vo l . Ill, 332, 334, quoted in Bonestee l , 83-86), he s e e m s to have had difficulty sustaining his own interest in their activities. Apart from his descr ipt ions of a few singular child rebels like Ann ie Aronburg, Darger s e e m s to have found descr ib ing hell more engaging than evoking heaven. In this, he has many p redecessors including such notables as the painters Brueghel and B o s c h and the writers Milton and Dante. 2 2 The quote in context reads: "By all accounts Henry Darger was also a strange and harmless creature. In his threadbare work shirt, black electrical tape holding the frames of his glasses together, he traversed his Chicago neighborhood, going to mass three times a day and collecting bits of string. But Darger was much more than a local eccentric; he was also an artistic innovator, appropriating images from newspapers and coloring books for his own work 20 years before Warhol and Lichtenstein began the practice." (Steinke 2000,1/3). 70 Darger -- who creates multiple good and evil Darger characters, and Darger alter egos , and at t imes identifies strongly with the Viv ian girls -- does not create the child s laves in his own image, although he may have drawn on s o m e of his own exper iences in creating them. The child s laves are an occas ion for depict ions of v io lence rather than a convincing reason for the war in Realms. They are vict imized repeatedly, usually anonymously , with very occas iona l pious as ides : Dead cut up bodies of little children lay in rows, or heaps, while rows of them hung by chains their little bodies frightfully sliced. Blood covered the floor, while the walls of the lower parts were besmearched with gore. In the small straight rows, hung the hearts of the butchered innocents, the lungs and the wind pipe attached to it, while the rest of the intestines lay all over the floor. Skeletons were also hanging in rows. (Realms vol. 3, 521, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 548-549) If this story were true, these, also probably among victims of massacre, disasters, and dying child slaves would be Chosen Bands in Heaven, so like the Holy Innocents, First Flowers of Christ's Coming, yet so different, who would be terrible witnesses against all things recorded against the Glandelinians recorded already in these many volumes so far. (Realms vol. 7, 500, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 629)23 But in rare moments Darger s e e m s to identify with and feel sympathy for the child s laves. At these moments, he quest ions G o d ' s justice: "There is no use calling on the Lord—he never hears us." said the boy most steadily. "I don't even believe there is a God, or even if there is, He has taken sides against us. Don't you see from the way the christians get licked so hard, and they are fighting to free us. All goes against us, heaven and earth. Everything is pushing us slaves into hell. .."(Realms, vol. 5, 86, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 627) This somewhat confusing statement about the murdered child slaves is, according to MacGregor, a reworking of an [unspecified] religious text. (Notes 62 & 63, 706). 71 In contrast to the dispensabi l i ty of the child s laves , Darger is strongly attached to his creat ions, the Viv ian girls. Al though he threatens repeatedly, in his early Journals, to harm them, and does , he cannot bring himself to kill them off. Most of the story acquaints us with the adventures (heroic and romantic) of the girls, emphas iz ing their singularity and favour in the sight of G o d and man. W h e n he does harm them, it is in response to what he exper ienced as catastrophic developments in his real life. In 1910, a portion of Realms went miss ing. Th is loss angered Darger increasingly over the years . T ime after t ime his threats had been ignored. Omnisc ient G o d , who must have known its whereabouts, refused to return it to him: On account of the loss of the manuscripts in September 1910, it is found impossible to cause the capture of Calverinia by sea. The accounts of this wonderful feat was in that manuscript alone and only the return of the manuscript can cause this wonderful adventure to occur. Other wise this wonderful feat will be willfully held back come what may. Its loss shall be avenged to the uttermost limit {Journals, 47, page before May 16, 1916). Darger 's first journal/diary is titled Predictions and begins in June 1911. By August of 1912, Predictions has become Predictions and Threats.24 In the world of Realms, the Christ ian body count rose along with Darger 's anger. Predictions Versions of "Predictions and Threats" exist in several places: in Darger's journal, and in the first and the last volumes of Realms (MacGregor 2002, note 199, 689). 72 and Threats ends with a list of terrible consequences to come. Darger, obviously angry, stated that the 27 big disasters "caused by enemy" in Realms had grown to 32 and would likely continue up to 150. By the autumn of 1918, it was c lear to Darger that despite the magnitude of his threats, the manuscr ipts would not be "returned." He was incensed. In desperat ion, he threatened to kill his beloved Viv ian girls: Vivian Girls almost fatally injured. Their lives will be readily lost on July 4 1919 if last of manuscripts are not returned by that time. (Predictions and Threats, September 1918) The Viv ian girls were Darger 's trump card. He was their creator and in var ious gu ises their lover, friend, guardian and saviour. He refused to resign himself to his disappointments, such as the loss of the manuscr ipts and the Paroubek photo, or to the failure of G o d to respond to his petition for their return. In retaliation, he caused the girls to be ser iously injured by an exploding landmine. W h e n Darger 's disf igurement of the Viv ian girls was complete and his petitions nevertheless remained unanswered, rather than execut ing them as threatened, he had them transfigured, to a state more beautiful than before. Yet this did not mean his resentment and threats against the Almighty c e a s e d . With the failure of his most ser ious threat, he simply went on protesting by having the other chi ldren tortured, injured by natural d isasters, and kil led. He cont inued in this way, in what As the last dated entry in the journal is December, 17, 1917, the list was likely compiled in late 1917 or early in 1918. 73 became a habitual method of revenge (and probably t i tration) to fight in his fiction against perceived injustices in his own life in the seque l to Realms, Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House, and in the equal ly violent History of My Life, which he worked on until shortly before his death. In Realms, the Chr ist ians are Cathol ic and the Glandel in ian unbel ievers are lapsed Catho l ics who have broken with the c h u r c h . 2 6 Genera l John Manley is one such villain who has turned his back on G o d : Hard and reprobat a s the G o d l e s s Glande l in ian genera l J o h n Man ley s e e m e d now, there had been a t ime when he had been rocked on the b o s o m of a Saint ly mother, c rad led with an o c e a n of prayers and Catho l ic Hymns , his now sea red brow bedewed with the waters of Holy Bapt ism {Realms, vo l . 4, 1407, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 620). Glandel in ian "unbelief" is not a denial of the ex is tence of the divine order; it is a pass ionate, heretical and sacr i legious mocking and provocation of G o d . The Glandel in ians have become cruel , evil and b lasphemous in order to defy the Chr ist ian G o d , rather than because they dispute his ex is tence . 2 7 "We are G o d ' s foe it is true, and we do hate him and all that is his, but that does not make us 2 6 MacGregor believes much of Realms was written during a period when Darger broke with the Catholic Church. According to Found on Sidewalk (referred to in MacGregor, 2002, 641 and in Notes, 214, p. 677), Darger quit attending mass and receiving the sacraments for four and a half years. Yet his daily rapport with God (threatening and petitioning) continued in his Journals. In Realms, the "godless" Glandelinians, like Darger, remained obsessed with God. 2 7 MacGregor consistently uses the word "atheist" to describe the Glandelinians. In his Notes he claims that, "Darger uses the term atheist on occasion and clearly understood its meaning...He also refers to the enemy as Glandelinian anarchists" (note 33, 705). If Darger understood the meaning of atheist, and still applied it to the Glandelinians, then he purposely misused it, perhaps as a generic derogatory term. 74 ignorant, that no matter what we try we cannot get the best of him." {Realms, vol. 13, 3186) Within Darger's Journals, the Catholic and lapsed Catholic provides some echo of these warring factions. Particularly as an old man, his entries consist of the number of times he attended mass (daily) and the frequency and severity of his "tantrums" in which he defied God. In his eariy Journals, though, Darger's entries consist mainly of angry threats to empower the Glandelinians if the Almighty does not answer his petitions satisfactorily: The Glandelinians anger God by worshipping false Gods on purpose to defy Him...They even worship stones, animals, dogs, sticks, and wicked things, even the walls and houses, and clouds, hills, nay the very devils themselves are adored as Gods...The weak and helpless children taken from the vanquished nations are made as slaves, the poor, the old, and the sick, are treated with a barbarity that only the most frightful selfishness can explain. All this they do knowingly to displease God, because they hate him bitterly, as the worse bitterness can explain (Realms, vol. 1, 116-117 quoted in MacGregor 2002, 195). Graham's bank went in smash. Great sum of savings lost. Lost or threatening to be lost. Loss irreparable, inexcusable. Either Vivian girls or Christian nations shall suffer if money is not returned within January 1, 1919. No mercy will be shown. Am against Christian cause, and desire with all my heart to crush their armies and win war for the Glandelinians. Results of too many unjust trials. Will not bear them under any conditions, and vengeance will be shown if further trials continue. (Journals, August 1917) But it is not only in Darger's Journals that we find him reacting to God in both pious and impious way. In his story, Darger plays himself in many guises, both cruel and blasphemous, pious and heroic. Just as he was eventually to keep detailed accounts of his tantrums, measured against his attendance at mass, Darger attempted to balance his evil deeds in Realms with good works. Darger's acts of vengeance against the innocent children, although imaginary, were 75 something he took ser iously enough to counteract with a modicum of mercy. He ba lanced the saint and sinner in Realms by incarnating himself as many different characters. S o m e of these characters are heroes: Genera l Henry J o s e p h Darger, who " longed to fold [the Vivian girls] in his strong arms" (Realms, vol . 13, 13-216 [3342], quoted in MacGrego r 2002, 248); Hendro Joseph Dargar, Chief of the Abb ieann ian Gemin i Society of "sp ies and great thinkers" (Realms, vol. 3, 112, quoted in MacGrego r 2002, 239); H.J . Darger, war correspondent who "taking in s c e n e s of Glandco-Angel in ian war made d iscover ies that great war is more terrific than it was ever expected to be" (vol. 1, 295, quoted in MacGrego r 2002, 243); and var ious other minor characters named Darger or variants such as Dargin and Dargarus (MacGregor 2002, 250). The Dargers who are Glandel in ian vil lains include Genera l Dargin, "the Glandel in ian butcher" (Realms, vol. 12, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 245), another Genera l J o s e p h H. Darger (MacGregor 2002, 238); Genera l J u d a s Darger; and Frederick Darger (Bonesteel 2000, 20). The two principal Genera l Dargers share the s a m e name and title, but fight on oppos ing s ides of the war, perhaps representative of Darger 's approach to coping with his own mixed feel ings and impulses: Anyway it seems to be a man either on the Christian side, or on the enemy's side by the name of Henry Darger. This is also suspicious besides mysterious. 76 "And he looks the same like the one whom we returned the manuscript to [Henry J . Darger, author]." whispered Jennie. "I don't like this. It is either he is treacherous, or there is something else. He seems to wear the purple on one day and the gray the next. We will have to watch them, or him." (Realms, vol. 12,12-295, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 238) The good and bad Dargers of the s to ry 2 8 parallel the more mundane good and bad Dargers revealed in his Journals, who combines the Glandel in ian quality of def iance with Christ ian piety. Darger may have given up hope that G o d would change things like the weather to meet his demands , but he never s topped believing that G o d was responsible and should be defied and made aware of Darger 's dissatisfact ion at the failure to al leviate his discomfort: Bad words at Heaven and defiance of God because of heat. Masses and communion before this not kiss. Life History. (Journals, Wednesday August 21,1968) Weather (and geological) events have a lways played a significant role in theodicy, s ince destructive weather represents "natural evil," as opposed to "moral evi l" expla ined by the misuse of free will. Darger was fascinated by weather all his life. In History of My Life he writes: 2 8 Within the story, there are also other characters which appear to be Darger alter-egos. Some of the most prominent are Jack Ambrose Evans, guardian of the Vivian girls, (MacGregor, 2002, 274), the French-Canadian boy scout hero, Penrod (262), who sometimes disguises himself as the Glandelinian boy scout, Adeledefob (264). Penrod's best friend, James Radcliff, the Rattlesnake boy (who unbeknownst to Penrod is a girl) (265), Walter John Starring, "boy scientist and investigator"(253), also a guardian of the Vivian girls, and his evil brother Gerald Starring (256), leader of the Glandelinian boy scouts (257). These multiple personas allow Darger a wide spectrum of emotional experiences and vicarious adventures, heroic, romantic and murderous. They also allow him to get close to the Vivian sisters in the more appropriate form of a little boy. 77 I was very interested in summer thunderstorms (still am old as I are) and during winter (cold) could and would stand by the window all day watching it snow, especially if there was a great big blizzard raging. I would also watch it rain with great interest, also short or long showers. (Realms, 10 quoted in MacGregor 2002, 35) Extreme weather and natural disasters play a prominent destructive role in Realms. There are blizzards, floods, earthquakes, forest fires, tidal waves and volcanic eruptions (445), usually on a massive scale leaving many dead. Often there is some question as to whether or not the Glandelinians had a hand in causing the disasters. The catastrophes are recounted in detail: Shrieks and prayers and screams from the unhappy beings imprisioned in the floating masses and debris from the wrecked houses pierced the air...There were countless unknown numbers of men, women and even little children held down on the upper layers of the floating jams and were compelled to watch with indescribable agony and terror the flames creeping slowly tward them until they were burned to death, and even those who were not burned quickly enough were either slowly roasted or even frozen to death, (ibid, vol. 4, 16, in ibid, 458) Darger speculates that Mother Nature has taken the Glandelinian side: But has Nature—if we are justified in personifying the laws and forces of the universe—Has Mother Nature begun to take sides with the Glandelinian foe, and is she in the mood to help Glandelinia sweep the christian countries like leaves from her path? (Realms, vol.8, 8-184 [366], quoted in MacGregor 2002, 412) Darger spends thousands of pages describing natural catastrophes and their devastating aftermaths,2 9 in which Nature inflicts death and suffering upon the earth. Nature provides an opportunity for Darger to vent his rage and indulge in MacGregor says that "most of the more than 15,000 pages comprising this enormous work contain detailed descriptions of the destructive effects of nature out of control." (417) 78 his fascination with the macabre on a more grandiose sca le than even the Glandel in ian atrocities. Storm, fire, and flood become retaliatory dev ices , al lowing him to make more expans ive good on his threats against G o d . Nature, like Darger, is furious. At this moment Robert V iv ian c h a n c e d to g lance up, and behe ld in its [the typhoon's] approach an appal l ing canopy of c r imson c louds spread ing over the sky near the zeni th, and moving forward with the most amaz ing rapidity. It had a resemb lance as if the judgement day, and hell 's immense c louds , had c o m e at the very s a m e time, and the vaery c louds s e e m e d to roar in the most relent less rage with the cont inuous roar of rolling thunder growing louder and nearer every moment the rage of the approach ing storm seeming to defy anybody, even the heavens . {Realms, vo l . 1, c h . 2, 1 9 - 2 1 , quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 414) [N]ot a wind but a whirl of supernatural power s e e m e d to grasp thousands of bui ldings at every breath, and in a twinkling of an eye sent them careen ing into pi les upon pi les, of twisted c h a o s and wreckage . (Realms, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 415) T h e f lood really had fits of fury beyond anything known, seeming to abandon itself wholely to rage, having for four days been exceeding ly dangerous . (Realms ,vol. 4, 1362, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 464) 3 0 Lytle S h a w has pointed out Darger 's " transcendental aesthet ics" of weather, both in his Journals and in Realms (Shaw 2001). Darger 's characters share his obsess ion with meteorology. Darger fol lows the Judeo-Chr is t ian tradition in his use of storms as emblemat ic of divine wrath, but in Realms the wrath is often his own, directed at the G o d who rules the real universe, and manifested in punishment of the good within the universe that belongs to Darger. More rarely, Darger uses Nature as an intervention to save the Vivian girls. An example is the collage-drawing, "At Norma Catherine. But wild thunderstorm with cyclone like wind saves them." in which the Glandelinians are dispersed by a storm 'mid-strangle.' 79 At the simplest level, the contents of Realms s e e m to fit its widely promoted image as a universal story of good triumphing over evil (Anderson 2001) and faith in G o d supplant ing the dismal abyss of unbelief (Vine 1998). Realms ends with a grand victory for the brave and virtuous Viv ian sisters, and Christ ian nations, when they finally tr iumph over the evil Glandel in ians and the surviving chi ld s laves are f reed 3 1 . The Glandel in ian general , Johnston J a c k e n Manley, is captured, repents, and is forgiven by the Viv ian girls and the Christ ian forces: "I know," he had sa id to Violet and her s is ters, "that I have persecuted you a lot, but it w a s mostly for spy ing , and not the mot ives that my two w icked s o n s had persecuted you for. But for all I have done, I do ask pardon... I shal l a tone for all the chi ldren who have been s la in , and a lso will a tone for all the ravages that my war has c a u s e d . . . a n d when I return to Glande l in ia I hope I will be a better man . A s for the little Viv ian g i r l s . . .We must be fr iends now s ince the war will soon be over, and hope to stay fr iends a s long a s we live." Manley is al lowed to shake hands with Violet and her sisters, and then all of the Christ ian generals shake hands with him (Realms, Vo l . 13, 13-317b/13-318 [3542-3545], quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 2 3 0 ) . 3 2 Manley is then "led outside, and he passed through the long fi les of Christ ian infantry, seated upon his own magnif icent horse, and rode off toward his own native home" (Realms, vol . B, pp.317/s ide b-318/side a , quoted in Bonestee l 2000, 232). The Utopia that fol lows is descr ibed in Vo lume O n e : It comprises 16 of over 15,000 pages (MacGregor 2002, 229). 3 2 MacGregor ( 230-231) tells us there are two endings, one at the end of Realms and one fifty pages into volume 1. The "ending" in Volume One portrays the Glandelinian nation in more desperate straits. General Manley is captured while trying to commit suicide. He is sent back to Glandelinia to "make her better and more christian like." {Realms, vol. 1, 50) 80 All the while that Violet and her s is ters had been back in Abb ieann ia s ince the war ended , the weather had been good and perfect, though scorch ing-hot at t imes. N o severe s torms had ever showed themse lves , except heavy rainstorms, but that is not the kind I m e a n . . . T h e f lowers were plentiful and what w a s to make the scenery still more beautiful w a s the appea rance of s o many beautiful B leng ig lomenean creatures everyday.Vio let and her s is ters enjoy the sights of s o many brilliant creatures, and a lso enjoyed still more those two whom they had invited to remain in their own private g a r d e n . (Bonestee l 2000 , 232) Darger 's fiction and art do not, in any obvious way, seek to explain the suffering they depict. But the old adage "show; don't tell" is one he inadvertently fol lows. Darger suffers and then fights back by inflicting suffering. He punishes G o d by imitating him. Within Realms, as in Christ ian cosmology general ly, the cyc le of v io lence does not end , but is magnif ied. Darger does not simply lock his fictional chi ldren into institutions, as was done to him, but he sacr i f ices them to his anger, recounting their horrible deaths at length and in great detail again and again. Whi le Darger stops short of sacrif icing those he loves most, the Viv ian girls, the Christ ian G o d orders killed his "only begotten" son (John 3:16), whom he loves, in part, because of his wi l l ingness to d i e . 3 3 How is it that violation and death are the answer to suffering which a G o d of love provides? Darger 's own attempts to play G o d in Realms replicate the acts of G o d as if G o d were Henry Darger. At one point he even has chi ldren crucif ied, a strange combinat ion of tribute to the "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again" (John 10: 17, KJV). 81 crucifixion of Christ, and sacr i lege, accord ing these murdered children the s a m e importance as the son of G o d : 3 4 Children unable to work or overcome from Tortures lasting months were cruelly crucified, nailed to crosses by their fingers and toes and hands and feet combined—and stripped of their clothes—even little girls, and scourged with iron spiked lashes as they hung there. Nay, the crucifixion was similar to that of our Lord, and equally horrible, and thorns were crushed upon the heads of the dying children. (Realms, vol. 12, 168, quoted in MacGregor 2 0 0 2 , 626) Darger 's Realms can offer us an opportunity to see convent ional Christianity defamil iar ized. There is nothing ennobl ing about crucif ixion. Our horror at Darger 's crucif ied chi ldren is a horror appropriate to the slaughter of J e s u s and others like him. W e comfort ourselves with metaphors and avert our eyes , but Darger 's chi ldren al low us to see the cruelty of our own narrative and religious traditions anew and think about their implications. Despite his many bizarre, fascinat ing and extreme contributions to the good vs. evil narrative, Darger does not contravene the basic Christ ian tenets of love, the sacrif icial innocent, and redemption. Rather, he promotes convent ional Christ ian patterns, obsess ive ly duplicating the intrinsic necessi ty for sacri f ice and suffering found in Christianity. It is possib le to speculate that Darger struggled, on some level, with fundamental quest ions of how to come to terms with his belief in G o d within a world in which suffering proliferated, and that the usual answer—create more suffering-- did not MacGregor interprets this as heresy. "By crucifying two dozen innocent little girls at once the overwhelming significance of the death of Christ is called into question" (2002, 626). 82 always satisfy. M a c G r e g o r rightly s e e s Darger 's rages as , at least in part, a manifestation of his spiritual anguish: But from chi ldhood on, Darger w a s in conflict with G o d . H e couldn't unders tand G o d ' s failure to answer prayers. His inability or refusal to prevent the suffer ings of chi ldren, or to punish those who might harm them. Darger w a s tormented by G o d ' s evident s i lence in the face of evi l . Throughout his life, his s imple but profound belief c a u s e d him terrible angu ish ; often provoking him to rage, l ived out in The Realms of the Unreal. (MacGrego r 1998, 16) Henry Darger, The Glandelinians "were" about to hang the brave little girls. See how they were "hanged" in next picture. Central panel of a three-panel collage-drawing, 24X231 1/ 2. 19 X 70 in., © Kiyoko Lerner / S O D R A C (2005). 84 Darger 's aesthet ic sense , as shown by the text and illustrations of Realms—the gore, the excess , the unapologet ic sent imental ism and moral didact ic ism -demonstrates familiarity with religious iconography and Cathol ic lay doctrine. However , the obvious Cathol ic inf luences and the generic good-overcoming-evi l ending in Darger 's work should not be used by readers as a strategy of avo idance, to normal ize the excess ive sad ism in this work. Gerard Wertk in, former director of the Amer ican Folk Art Museum, explicitly uses the Cathol ic tradition to e a s e our discomfort: " R o m a n Cathol ic martyrology is replete with the stories of young girls who suffer and die for the faith... S e e n in this context, Darger 's accounts of cruelty s e e m less threatening and strange, more transformative and redemptive." (Wertkin 2001 ,126 ) In my view, this is the wrong reaction: seen in the context of Darger 's work, Cathol ic martyrologies should appear more threatening and strange, as should convent ional morality tales which tell us that suffering and disability are somehow for our own good. The most explicit example of Darger 's mimicry of Cathol ic imagery is his portrayal of the Viv ian sisters. His descript ions and images of the beauty, courage, sanctity and tortures of the Vivian girls parallel (presumably without direct influence) the extreme and sexua l ized violence imposed on innocent female bodies present in the medieval tradition of female martyrology. If Darger disturbs us (and I bel ieve he should), then he also raises the political and moral problem of how we avoid the implications of narratives which require the 85 suffering and violation of innocent bodies in order to reach an obligatory redemptive conc lus ion. In both martyrologies and Darger 's stories, v io lence against the bodies of traditional victims (women and children) is constitutive of a cosmic order based on sacri f ice leading to transfiguration. Their suffering is an opportunity for them to glorify G o d and to prove themselves worthy of redemption. The royal Viv ian girls epi tomized beauty for Darger. Phys ica l beauty and noble birth are a lso l inked to virtue in hagiographies of female saints. C l e m e n c e of Bark ing, a nun writing in the thirteenth century, begins the story of Saint Cather ine as fol lows: -In the city of Alexandria...there lived a young girl of high rank and great beauty. The maiden was eighteen years old, and her name was Catherine... When she entered in full view of everyone, they gazed upon her and marveled at the inexpressible beauty through which her goodness was manifested...Her gentle features demonstrated clearly the wisdom in her heart. At that time, there was no one on earth as beautiful as this handmaiden of God.(Wogan-Browne and Burgess, 5; 12) M a c G r e g o r remarks: "For much of The Realms, Darger plays with the reader, building an ever greater c a s e for the sanctity of these little girls, elaborat ing on the mystery of their seemingly supernatural qualit ies. Strangely, it is general ly their physical beauty rather then their behaviour which conv inces everyone of their more than human perfection." (616) In the context of traditional martyrologies, it is understandable why Darger uses the Viv ian girls' physical 86 at t r ibu tes-seven (the number of sacraments in R o m a n Cathol ic ism) blonde images of perfection and royal blood -- to substantiate his vis ion of their role as morally and spiritually precoc ious heroines. But it is not enough to be beautiful and innocent: there must a lso be pain. In Catho l ic ism in particular, the redemptive suffering of Christ is imitated by the suffering of holy Chr ist ians. Hol iness increases in proportion to suffering. In medieval Christianity, female salvation was l inked to the female body . 3 5 Darger endowed the Viv ian girls with intell igence and courage but it was their physical beauty that truly held him. A s he [Penrod, now the adopted brother of the Vivians] l istened to her [Jennie's] si lvery vo ice , he w a s admir ing again the perfection of the profile of her and her s is ters, the c reamy smoo thness of her and her s is ters ' sk in , and watching fasc inated the gentle rise and fall of her b o s o m beneath her purple s i lken uniform jumper. T h e touch of her golden hair on his c h e e k s a s he bent his head c lose to hers, ostensib ly to study the maps set his pu lse throbbing and he had to curb the wild des i re to hug her in his a rms then and there, and smother her with k i s s e s . . . N o lover ever loved his sweethear t a s Penrod loved his beautiful s isters, and a holy love it w a s too. His primitive instinct w a s st irred. {Realms, vo l . 10, part 1, 10-201 b [236], quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 269) El izabeth Rober tson d i scusses the role of corporeality in medieval female hol iness: Robertson traces this female link with corporeality to Aristotle. "Conceiving of the soul as possessing nutritive, sensitive or appetitive and reasonable faculties, Aristotle saw women's souls as deficient in all three aspects, but especially in the faculty of reason. Aristotle's opinions about the nature of the soul as well as his reproductive theories that associate women above all with matter, because they define women through their bodies alone, are fundamental to the concept of female spirituality we see in The Life of Saint Margaret (1991, 269-270). 87 Because a woman can never escape her body, her achievement of sanctity has to be through the body. Her temptation by the devil will be through the body and most probably will be sexual. She can overcome that sexual temptation only through her body, primarily by countering her physicality with her endurance of extreme physical torture. (269) But physicality "is not only a woman's problem, however, it is also her solution. Physical suffering was the primary corrective to female sexual temptation." (272) This emphasis on physicality and sexuality is reflected in the coupling of "holy love" and primitive instinct which accompanies Darger's portrayals of the trials and adventures of the Vivians. Darger probably did not read translations of medieval martyrologies, but the aesthetic he brings to Realms shares something with them. For him, the corporeal torment of the Vivians was a necessary, and at times titillating, step on the road to their eventual transfiguration. There is, of course, little correlation between saints or Vivians and the everyday suffering of those with debilitating or disabling conditions. The Vivians' suffering is enhanced by their continued physical appeal, even in the midst of torture: Jennie [Vivian] remembered when the Glandelinians had turned on her sisters and grasped their fair necks in a vise like grip...she had seen their fair golden heads thrown back and their protruding tongues...she had seen the streams of blood come from their nose, mouth, and ears. {Realms, vol. 7, 99, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 550) The story of Saint Christina presents us with a medieval counterpart to the Vivians. Christina, at eleven, seems to have stirred her own father's "primitive instinct": 88 Seeing how Nature had endowed her With unsurpassable beauty. Urbain felt a deep love for his daughter, And could not spend a day without kissing her eyes and face (Cazelles 1991, 139). Ra i sed a pagan, Chr ist ina converts to Christianity. Th is eventual ly leads to her torture by Urbain. After being str ipped, hung by her hair and beaten, she is still defiant, flinging a chunk of her own f lesh at him. S h e is f logged en route to the stake and the crowd is moved by the suffering of such a beauty. L ike the Viv ian girls, but unlike those who actually suffer disf igurement and d ismemberment , virgin saints remain stunningly attractive, which in turn elicits sympathy, and proves their spiritual superiority: Blood flows down from her breasts. The women spectators lacerate their faces, When they witness the torments endured by their lady. Alas!' they all say, 'one has never seen Such a beautiful body endure so shameful a treatment. (148) Between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Cathol ic Church promoted lay religious instruction by the abr idgement and translation of saints ' l ives from Latin to the vernacular (Winstead 1997, 64). The legends of virgin saints translated during this period downplayed devotional aspec ts of the earlier Latin legends (65) and focused on the more reliable attractions: sex, v io lence and death. Chr ist ina exempl i f ies the spirit of these saints: articulate - i n d e e d frequently caust ic, physical ly aggress ive, and- - in keeping with the prevail ing t o n e - fiery and hyperbol ic. The Vivian girls are similarly outspoken and can fight and kill when necessary : 89 Manley, seeing who had fired at his men, rushed upon the little girls with a wild curse, and struck poor little Jennie down from her horse with a terrible blow of his saber, wounding her severely and dangerously. He turned to rush Violet but she swept aside, and struck him a blow in the eye with her pistol butt crying "Take that you rascal and enemy of God, John Manley. I hate you you abuser of Our Lord." Blinded by rage he rushed Catherine to strike her down with his sword...Catherine avoided him, by a rush, and put a bullet neatly between Manley's eyes. He fell down from his horse dead, having been killed instantly. (Realms, vol. 13, 13-194b, 3300, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 227) One difference is that the courageous Vivian girls, although tortured, are not required to sacrifice their lives. The child slaves fulfill that role. Medieval virgin saints, despite their strong personalities and fighting spirit, end up dead. Shortly after the Vivians are mutilated by land mines in what Darger calls "Tragedy at Brigano," Darger writes in his journal that "their lives really will be lost on July 4, nineteen fourteen" if his lost manuscript isn't found. But, in the end, he cannot bring himself to let them die (Predictions and Threats, March 16, 1916). 3 6 Instead, they face the possibility of being "disfigured and crippled for life": Indeed, the little girls were horribly mangled and were fairly tossing in agony. Their bodies had been frightfully lacerated...The doctor who was preparing to operate on them had great doubts if the little girls would live, but afterwards he declared that they could be saved if kept perfectly quiet, but that nevertheless they may be horribly disfigured and crippled for life..."I'm doing my best." said the doctor [to General Vivian]...only the good God can prevent what is coming to your daughters. Pray to him, and offer him a reward, and probably they may come out of it all right." (Realms, vol. 12, 12-178b 2437, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 284-285) "March 16, 1916 passes. Little hope of Christian successes now. War may surely be lost. Year already close to end it being November...Tragedy at Brigano. [Be]cause of Aronburg mystery. Vivian Girls almost fatally injured. Their lives will really be lost on July 4, nineteen fourteen if lost manuscript is not returned by that time...The loss of pictures of children, manuscript and rejection from Glandelinian army shall be avenged." (Realms, vol. 1, 295 ff., in MacGregor 2002, 284) 90 Mutilated bodies are part of the hagiographic tradition. W h e n Chr ist ina is submitted to fire and venomous snakes , and has her tongue cut out and her breasts cut off by her third and final torturer, Ju l ian, she "walks about, singing with the angels" unharmed in the furnace, the "vipers l icked her feet, the asps c lung to her breasts . . .and the cobras wrapped themselves around her neck and l icked her sweat," while milk, rather than blood, f lows out of her chest. Chr ist ina takes her severed tongue and throws it at Ju l ian, hitting him in the eye and blinding him (Voragine 1997, 67). But then Chr ist ina 's voice is restored to her. Without her tongue, "she spoke even better and more clearly than before of divine things and of the one b lessed G o d . . . " (Brownlee 1991, 124) Angry that the Viv ian girls have been injured by mines set by Chr is t ians to kill Glandel in ians, Genera l Viv ian (their father) lashes out at Genera l Jack E v a n s who set them. Evans , who is a lso a guardian of the girls, is devastated: "I suppose because they will be disfigured for life and crippled you will lose your love for them," said General Vivian [to Evans]; Evans answers, "Beauty, Ha. I detest outward beauty more than the devil...Their condition now only makes me saddened and almost broken hearted, and when I think of their being disfigured and crippled for life— Oh, I can't—bear to speak—of it." (Darger, Realms, vol. 12, 12-202/12-202b [2484-2485], quoted in MacGregor, 286). It is following this near-death incident that their transfiguration takes p lace. No matter how angry Darger was with G o d , and even though he was capab le of maiming his heroines as an act of retaliation against a real life disappointment, Darger could not bear to leave them in a damaged state. He f inds the means not 91 only to keep the Viv ian girls al ive and to restore their beauty to them but a lso to enhance it to such an extent that they are unrecognizable to those who knew them: [Jack Evans]37 saw sitting on the porch four fair little girls, really ten times more [beautiful] than the Vivian girls could ever have been...Then he paused in overpowering emotion and awe, for from these pretty children a strange fragrance as of the most sweetest flowers, a strange odor that was completely divine, that filled the air, as he gazed at them, he discovered that they were etherically beautiful and wore the most beautiful white guazy dresses, whiter than the most great whiteness could ever be dreamed of... to hisfJack Evans] surprise he fancied he saw a luminous golden halo appear above the fair heads of each of the little girls. A feeling of strange awe came over him, an overpowering sense of being among the celestial inhabitants of God's heavenly kingdom (Realms, vol. 12, p. 12-202/12-202b [2484-2485]; 12-279 [2618], quoted in MacGregor 2002, 286-287). Darger's transfiguration of the girls contains many of the classic elements of traditional transformations: white flowing robes, enhanced beauty, a sweet smell, a halo. Consider this example of St. Faith's transfiguration: As the dove hovered fluttering over her it began to shake its wings gently. With the dew that fell from them the red coals grew black, and therewith Faith's pains grew less; with the dew that fell on her, all her wounds were perfectly cured. She was immediately clad in a snow-white gown and mantle, and then the dove set the glorious shining crown on her head. (Delany 1992, 75) And though her body was kept unburied for four days after her death, no evil odor came from it but, rather, an odor of solace that marvelously comforted all who entered the place to visit the body (Delany 1998, 194-195). Jack Evans - a Christian soldier, hero and guardian of the Vivian sisters, is one of Darger's alter-egos. (Macgregor 2002, 274-278). 92 The seven lovely Viv ian girls are genuine heroines. They are presented as intelligent strategists, f ierce and ski l led fighters and , in the final analys is, the only ones who can secure victory for the Chr ist ian forces and f reedom for the child s laves. But in order for them to fight the good fight there must be evil and almost unimaginable cruelty to pit them against. Th is is how not only their bravery, but a lso the slaughter of child s laves and the torture of the Viv ian girls themselves serve the narrative. Late medieval vernacular legends of virgin saints, like Chr ist ina, display a similar tendency. S h e taunts her persecutors and , in the c a s e of Ju l ian, physical ly attacks him, using her severed tongue a s her weapon . In spite of her f ierce asser t iveness, she is tortured horribly and dies. Feminist approaches to this tradition of martyrology have therefore been somewhat ambivalent: on the one hand, the narratives are clearly a celebrat ion of v io lence against women ; on the other hand, they have a possibly subvers ive aspect in their depict ion of female agency. Similarly, with Darger, we have to ask what the ethical and political implications are of these somet imes highly violent texts and images that s imul taneously tell of the degradat ion and "thrilling" adventures of his heroines. W h e n Chr ist ina finally d ies after having her heart cut out we are told: To all those who will honor this holy day In the name of the maiden whose earthly sojourn did not last long. It was on a Thursday that she left this world, Her white and tender flesh all tortured. 93 A n d it w a s on account of her torments that she w a s we l comed to Pa rad i se . (Caze l l es 1991, 150) A s in the Realms, Chr is t ina 's story ends happily (in Parad ise) . The claim is a lso made that the extreme and sexua l ized v io lence visited on this e leven-year-old girl was necessary for her eternal happiness/redempt ion. Darger, although he indulged in considerable v io lence in telling his story, did not explicitly c la im that the violation of young children (the V iv ians and the chi ld s laves) was needed to secure their redemption. By compar ing Darger 's account of the saintly Viv ian girls with the story of Saint Chr ist ina, we s e e in Darger a defamil iar ized replaying of what is most problematic in Christianity: the perverse displacement of wrath and v io lence onto the innocent object, in an economy of love. Despi te the recognizable inclusion of Cathol ic imagery and sensibil ity in Darger 's work, it is important not to exaggerate the sophist icat ion of Darger 's theology. He never appears to doubt G o d ' s literal reality, but he frequently rails against G o d when his petitions go unanswered. Darger 's "tantrums" are a result of not getting what he wants, and in this way, his relationship with G o d was quite literally like that of a chi ld to a Father who is not for thcoming. 3 8 What is most valuable in Darger 's theology is precisely his unwil l ingness to passively "accept" his fate. Darger, like his G o d , rages at injustice, and like his G o d , he visits his rage on the most innocent "objects" he can find. The circuit is both undeniably perverse, and MacGregor has suggested that Darger's tendency to blasphemy and sacrilege via the Glandelinians was an attempt to provoke a response from an unresponsive God (2002, 626). 94 undeniably Chr ist ian. Darger 's worki is valuable in expos ing this circuit so starkly and without the accoutrements of sophist icated theology and venerable tradition. The Transfiguration of Henry Darger: Critical Responses After his death, Darger 's work was received into a new context of highly educated and sophist icated critics with very different theological assumpt ions from either the Cathol ic ism in which he grew up or his idiosyncratic personal religious notions. Virtually all of Darger 's critics have noted the religious themes in his work. John M a c G r e g o r observed that the writing style of Realms suggests , "the poetic phrasing of the Bible. . . the oratory of sermons, and the naive religiosity of Christ ian tracts and moral tales." (106) Gerard Wertkin writes, "Often the epic reads like chapters from the lives of the saints. Even its language—Calver in ia , Angel in ia , Abb ieann ia—is reminiscent of the Latin of the Cathol ic liturgy" (126). Michael Bonestee l cal ls Darger a Cathol ic artist: A Catholic artist [ working] firmly within a tradition that has.historically prized the physicality of experience—the Word, as it were, made flesh...The combination of ethereal exaltation and carnal suffering can be found in a fifteenth century painting such as the Martyrdom of St. Erasmus by Dirck Bouts. It can be found in a contemporary piece like Catholic artist Alfonso Ossorio's painting of the flayed corpse of St. Bartholomew. And it can be found in the child-slave disembowelings of Henry Darger's art. (2000, 30-31) Crit ics have evolved a number of strategies to deal with Darger 's unusual , literal, and unsophist icated theology. The first misreading is to character ize Realms as 95 a s imple moral fable of good triumphing over evil. Anderson , for example , writes: "Whi le throughout the tales there is much death and destruction, in the end the Viv ian Gir ls prevail: good tr iumphs over evil, and the ens laved children are freed from their captors" (2001, 12). Th is reading gives too much importance to the ending. G iven Darger 's Catho l ic ism and penchant for chi ldren's s to r ies , 3 9 the sentimental happy ending is no real surprise. However, the gore and sexua l ized v io lence against child s laves and the Viv ian Gir ls in considerable portions of Darger 's text and images, and his lifelong rages against G o d recorded in his Journals, do not support the interpretation of Realms as an innocuous morality tale. The ending of Realms, which includes the repentance of the Glandel in ian leader, Genera l Manley, and a subsequent outpouring of Christ ian forgiveness, is borrowed by Darger from the trite religious t rac ts 4 0 and sentimental chi ldren's stories so familiar to him. The Glandel in ian defeat, p receded by vo lumes of Glandel in ian debauchery can be read as a concess ion to conventionality, rather than an indicator of Darger 's spiritual ascent , and does nothing to establ ish that Darger ultimately reconci led himself to an unresponsive G o d . Darger's collection of books included The Wizard of Oz and its thirteen sequels, Heidi, several novels by Dickens and many other less famous children's novels. (MacGregor 2002, 99-101) 4 0 Darger's library contained many religious tracts, books, prayer books and a Bible. (MacGregor 2002, 106) 96 The retaliatory v io lence in Darger 's fiction conveys his refusal to accept G o d ' s failure to listen and respond to Henry Darger. Diary entries from the end of his life tell us that he cont inued to resent G o d ' s apathy and remained unrepentant about his revolt: Over cords fall ing down angry temper spel l with s o m e b lasphemies . A lmost about to throw the ball at Chr ist statue. B lame Him for my bad luck in things. I'm sorry to say so . I'll a lways be this way, a lways was , and I don't give a d a m n . (Journals, Apri l 6 , 1968 ) Another common reaction to the religious themes in Darger has been to normal ize the shock ing v io lence as part of a corporeal Cathol ic tradition, a move which, accord ing to Gerard Wertkin, al lows us to see Darger 's work as " less threatening and strange, more transformative and redemptive" (2001, 126). Th is strategy is a lso ultimately object ionable, not because the connect ions are nonexistent, but because the sado-masoch ism conveyed should increase our unease with the martyrological tradition rather than diminish our shock at Darger. A more interesting strategy uses Darger 's own life story to complete the sacrif icial circuit by turning Darger himself into a sacrif icial lamb who is redeemed through suffering. Th is effectively dea ls with the feeling of discomfort over Darger 's impover ished and marginal ized ex is tence by transforming it into the solution to the discomfort created by his violent and sadist ic imagery. Disability and marginal ization are reinterpreted as innocence and his suffering as necessary to Darger 's personal psychological redemption. However, viewing 97 suffering as redemptive p resupposes a "sinner" in need of redemption. In addition to being deserved, that suffering becomes obligatory, a necessary working out of atonement, a process which should not be interrupted nor the suffering rel ieved. In this s e n s e , then, Darger becomes the sacrif icial lamb, the naive, the childl ike one whose suffering brings forth art and literature and gives us something to write about, while reconfirming our convenient belief that there is nothing we can or should do to help minimize that suffering: H e basica l ly c a m e from a very traumatic ch i ldhood. H e grew up to be emot ional ly d is turbed a s an adult. But he w a s able to save himself, to keep himself funct ioning, by having this life goa l , this creat ion to live for. H is real life w a s a pale s h a d o w of his creat ion. That s a y s a lot about the heal ing power of art in this man 's life . Art can s a v e your life. (Bonestee l in Esk in , 4/6) H e did not do this to gain fame or make money. H e did it to s a v e his life. A n d though he fought with G o d over it and r isked losing his sou l in the p rocess , it worked . (Bonestee l 2000,7) This strategy is exempli f ied in a 2000 piece by Darcey Ste inke in the Village Voice Literary Supplement. Ste inke acknowledges the v io lence in Darger 's work, while minimizing it by reference to his Cathol ic background: "Chi ldren were his icons and he used them as spiritual vectors, as Catho l ics have long prayed to gory depict ions of the saints" (3/3). However, the chief achievement of Ste inke's rhetoric is to make Darger himself a virgin martyr, whose suffering brings forth a miraculous redemption: Darger had the sort of life that dr ives people to therapy, but instead of joining the culture of compla int he worked for 50 years on the story of s e v e n brave little girls fighting injustice. Darger en l ivened and mythologized the themes of 98 his own life. By telling himself a story he made someth ing miraculous out of his pain and lonel iness. S o m e people s a y he w a s crazy, but a s my father exp la ined to me long ago , even c razy people get a c h a n c e to redeem themse lves . (3/3) At first g lance, pointing out that Darger did not pursue expens ive therapy or attend personal growth retreats s e e m s odd, s ince neither his income nor his socia l c lass made these anyway-anachronist ic options avai lable to him. But v iewed as a rhetorical strategy to establ ish Darger 's authenticity (especial ly in relation to the presumed readership of the Village Voice Literary Supplement), it makes sense . L ike a virgin saint, Darger must be "innocent" and to Ste inke 's aud ience a person innocent of the "culture of complaint" is innocent of life. Ste inke 's rhetorical moves embody what Slavoj Z izek refers to as the "perverse temptation" ~ the love for the outcast precisely for being an outcast, a love which therefore requires the outcast to remain marginal ized (Zizek 2000, 125). Richard V ine a lso situates Darger in the traditions of martyrology and theodicy, and uses a (somewhat inaccurate) account of Darger 's life to tell a narrative of salvat ion: The Realms of the Unreal covert ly a d d r e s s e s the prob lem of evi l : how c a n a perfectly benevolent , al l-powerful deity permit suffering and death to exist? Th is phi losophical conundrum marks the modern sch i sm between the secu lar humanis ts like Dos toyevsky 's Ivan K a r a m a z a o v , for whom no spiritual K ingdom, however glor ious, can ever justify the unmeri ted tears of a s ingle infant, and devout rel igionists, who accept the necess i ty of evil "on faith"—either a s a logical entai lment of virtue (since "good" cannot be conce i ved apart from it, a s St. August ine argued) or a s the occas ion for a more wondrous salvat ion. (1998, 5/7) 99 In a medieval twist, V ine even invokes Darger 's cel ibacy, and a purported ca lming of his sexua l urges late in life, as part of his story of redemption and acceptance, pointing out that Realms was a 'product of the cel ibate Darger 's most sexual ly volatile years. " (3/7) V ine 's account of Darger 's solution reads: Long before TV brought carnage into our living rooms with the evening news, he depicted—in images of heartbreaking directness—the arbitrary carnage of "total war," indeed of all man-made and all natural disasters. That he did so without, in the end, losing either his religious faith or his appreciation for childish beauty suggests a "solution" completely at odds with comforting post-modernist ironies. In his scenario, evil derives from sin, and sin derives from misguided free will. It is only when Darger finally accepts the loss of the Aronburg photo (and by extension, the loss of his sister and his own juvenile freedom)—only when he subordinates his illicit desire to an inscrutable Divine Will—that the war can draw to its proper close, in the hard-won Christian victory that brings a "peace which passeth all understanding. However, this account is f lawed, as there is no ev idence that Darger obtained "peace" in his old age, nor does he s e e m to have lost his fascinat ion with v io lence. Th is excerpt from his journals a few years before his death makes this clear: Had trouble again with twine [?] Mad enough to wish I was a bad tornado. Swore at God {Journals, April 16, 1968). Darger fulfilled this wish in History of My Life. The 5,084 handwritten pages of History of My Life starts off autobiographical ly, but after 206 pages (MacGregor , 2002, 670) it b e c o m e s instead the tale of a very bad tornado named Sweet ie P ie : January 1, 1971. Also 1th of February 1971. - From Friday 1969 to Monday February 1th 1971 From Friday 1970 til Monday 1971. Everything I did was 100 the same including writing a fictional story of a huge huge twister called "Sweetie Pie" and the unbelievable horror it did. (Journals) Sweet ie P ie is a c loud formed in the shape of a child being strangled. In Darger 's descr ipt ions of her, her eyes bulge and her tongue protrudes and when her own belly is r ipped open it becomes a tornado (History of My Live, vol . 3, 3110, 3113, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 511) which strips, strangles, d ismembers and s laughters just like the Glandel in ian soldiers in Realms and the demons in its seque l , Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House. Darger 's tastes in v io lence remained remarkably consistent over six decades and the majority of the v io lence in History is still, predictably, directed at chi ldren. The playground presented an appalling appearance bodies of children and even nuns and others stripped totally naked by the fierce explosive force of the wind lay dead about the ground, many children with their bodies, bellies and chest torn wide or torn away completely, and the crowd of injured were also torn up every which way helpless and suffering some of which may even die. I saw to it that prompt assistance were rendered to the injured and the poor-tortured children hospitalized as soon as possible. I have omitted to mention that out of one hundred Sisters that was in charge of the Orphanage none survived. (History of My Life, 4357) In once instance that morning I saw the body of a half naked pinioned among the branches of what was left of an uprooted tree and it wasn't in the grounds either. The body was horribly torn and lacerated as hit for two hours by a cat o-nine tails the most horrible of whips and she had evidently lain amid the branches to die. (History of My Life, 4356) V ine c la ims, without ev idence, that Darger 's internal conflicts found a convent ional , religious resolution: "[Darger's] traveling show now reveals the 101 techniques he used to convey an internal 'civil war' that could find resolution only in religious grace." (Vine, 1/7) It would be truer to Darger's actual history to claim that he was never reconciled to his disappointment in God's will, although he always alternated blasphemy and complaint with ritual devotion and prayer. Two Masses and Holy Communion. Partook of a hot dog sandwitch. Tantrums and bad words. Life History. (Journals, May 11, 1969) Darger maintained his contradictory attitude of pious defiance to the end. Tantrums and bad words galore. Life History Never all my life have I ever stood for or put up for things going wrong. No matter what the consequences I never will. (Journals, January 18, 1969). The theological legitimation of visible suffering related to difference, and attempts to justify the way it is visited most dramatically on a specific group of people, are as old as the comforters of Job, and the reaction of defiance is as old as Job's response. The moral danger in any theological discourse is that it will answer the cosmic problem caused by the presence of visible suffering, isolation and difference by suggesting it is necessary and even good. This response permeates Christian teachings. In one of his Journals, Darger copied out a prayer which began, "Oh Jesus by a most unjust judgement, thou was condemned to a most bitter death, that thou mightest deliver us from eternal damnation, through the abyss Of thy mercy...."(Property of Henry Jos. Dagarius, "Friday"). He knew that acceptance of "God's will" as it pertained to him was expected, but he refused to acquiesce. 102 Both V ine and Steinke exemplify the two-sided nature of the theological appropriation of pain. O n the one hand, they are able to appreciate Darger, his conflict and his work, by looking at it in a religious light. But by placing his life in a ready-made narrative of redemption, they falsify it, and posit the difficulties he exper ienced as necessary and unavoidable. More important, they participate in the depersonal izat ion of the child s laves, and normal ize what is properly disturbing in Darger 's work - the repeated sexual ized v io lence against chi ldren. Th is theological answer to the victimization and sacri f ice of the innocent is ultimately mythological, and is no answer at all. The unexplained suffering of chi ldren, of the "innocent," is resolved by V ine and Steinke by pointing to the "greater" pain of someone e lse (Darger/Christ). The "secular humanist" can see that this answer may be psychological ly satisfying to many, but this psychological resolution is at the s a m e time a political strategy of making moral s e n s e out of suffering, and therefore perpetuating or perpetrating it, rather than seek ing to alleviate it. Darger himself reenacted the sacrif icial economy on his fictional creatures, but while he never doubted the reality of G o d , he never s topped struggling with Him either. Darger was a lways part Glandel inn ian. 103 Darger's Theology and the Economy of Love-Innocence-Suffering Henry Darger, They are almost murdered themselves though they fight for their lives. Typhoon saves them [left panel of triptych], water color, pencil, carbon on paper, © Kiyoko Lerner / S O D R A C (2005). 104 Christianity, like the narrative of Realms, is built upon a necessary horror vital to the fantasy it supports. S ince violent acts can in no way be l inked to verif iable notions of love and redemption, how is it that we find them paradoxical ly knotted together in both Christ ian dogma and Darger 's illustrated fiction? Slavoj Z izek d i scusses fantasy as that which both grounds and susta ins notions of a cosmic order. I would contend that the Z izek ien idea of fantasy a lso underl ies what can be termed the Christ ian fantasy, in which the ultimate act of v io lence (the crucifixion of Chr is t /God) is understood as an absolute and fundamental act of love. T h e paradox is thus that, far from simply deranging/distort ing the 'proper ba lance of things, ' fantasy at the s a m e t ime grounds every notion of the ba lanced Un iverse : fantasy is not an idiosyncrat ic e x c e s s that de ranges c o s m i c order, but the violent s ingular e x c e s s that sustains every notion of such an order (Zizek 2000 , 86). For Darger, as for contemporary North Amer icans general ly, the paradigm of " innocence" is the prepubescent chi ld. A s a result, his imagery of suffering is more disturbing than convent ional representations of the crucif ixion, or even the suffering of ear ly-adolescent female saints. For this reason, Darger poses more visceral ly the moral and sexual sad ism of the economy of sacri f ice, which is the root of those other traditions: evil is overcome and love tr iumphs precisely through v io lence against innocent bodies. The reception of Darger 's work presents ev idence of a complex and ubiquitous sadist ic economy which al lows an elite of culturally-knowing readers to enjoy their Darger without guilt, but serves to normal ize and perpetuate suffering. 105 S o m e interpretations of Darger suggest that he wrote and illustrated Realms as a way to point out the terrible suffering of chi ldren and to act as their "protector." A saintly man who frequently attended Mass, Darger saw himself as the ardent protector of children. He could, therefore, in his own works and images, subject his creatures to terrible trials from which it was in his power to rescue them (Prokopoff 1996, 4/5). 4 1 Others, like Ste inke, employ feminist (as well as religious) themes to make us more comfortable with his work (2000). The "agency" of the Viv ian girls is used to make politically acceptab le what would otherwise be reprehensible. Yet the obv ious and painful conclus ion is that Darger 's search for answers led him instead to perpetuate suffering in his fiction. In this, Darger c o m e s to a Christ ian conc lus ion. Orthodox Christianity a lso "solves" the problem of everyday suffering through the one cosmic sacri f ice of the altogether innocent. Rather than normalizing the suffering in Darger 's own life and that which he inflicts on his fictional characters, readers may cons ider how Darger 's story de-stabi l izes and critically cha l lenges the normative economy of sacri f ice we function within and perpetuate both on institutional and individual levels. Darger refused to accept the ideological erasure of his own suffering a s constitutive of greater meaning. Th is refusal and the difficulty critics have in resisting a redemptive ana lys is of Darger 's life, despite his own rejection of such an This interpretation is favoured by many in folk art and outsider art circles and will be explored further in Chapter Three. 106 interpretation, tells us something about the socia l barriers the d isabled face when attempting to interact as equals, rather than filling an appointed symbol ic-redemptive role. The economy of love-suffer ing-innocence offers a theological explanat ion of suffering which obscures its actual c a u s e s and its effects. Darger, through his obsess ive duplication of this economy in his fiction and art, and through his struggle against it in his actual life, highlights the inadequacy of Christ ianity's redemptive narrative and the need for its re-evaluation. 107 CHAPTER 3 A Moonflaw in the Brain: Aesthetic Strategies of Consumption and the Afterlife of Henry Darger Henry Darger, At Jennie Richee. They had seized a Glandelinian officer who had been in swimming, and though he is half naked, they had forced him to sign a pass through the foe lines, and tied him to a tree so he could not raise the alarm. Collage-drawing. Left panel of a three-panel composition. 19 X 70 in.© Kiyoko Lerner / S O D R A C 2005. It would have made the moon faint (Darger, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 190). The first few years of the twenty-first century have seen a bull run in the art of Henry Darger. Darger remained relatively little-known through the 1970s, '80s and into the '90s, but now fetches some of the highest pr ices in the self-108 taught/outsider art market. In 2003, Chr ist ie 's held its first spec ia l ized auction for "outsider art" - formely obscure, now a smal l but establ ished component of the mainstream art market -- generat ing revenues of over US$1 mill ion. Darger 's p ieces were among the most valuable, setting new auction records for outsider art approaching $100,000 a piece. In Apri l 2004, a Co logne art fair included, among the more traditional offerings of art and ant iques, a floor in the exhibition hall dedicated to art brut and Outsider Art (Thorncroft 2004). In 2005 Forbes informed its readers: "today Henry Darger is the most bankable outsider artist s ince G r a n d m a M o s e s , his pictures fetching up to $100,000" (Jones 2005). Not only Darger 's art, but his fiction, journals, and even the proverbial sink from his former room at Webster Street, have become valuable. Darger 's writing, sketches, source material, and more mundane effects have been saved and are in the p rocess of being made avai lable to the public. His writing is now housed in New York Ci ty 's Amer ican Folk Art M u s e u m along with twenty-six of his paintings and selected source material, tracings and other ephemera (Anderson 2001 ,11 ) . The Museum opened a Henry Darger Study Center in 2001 . A year prior to that, through a combinat ion of gift and purchase, Intuit (the Ch icago -based "Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art") obtained the remaining contents of Darger 's room, which had been kept relatively intact for almost thirty years (Jones, 2005). Intuit p lans to recreate Darger 's room, to sca le , and fill it with his "meager personal possess ions" : furniture, typewriter, sc rapbooks and the aforementioned sink, "to { 109 construct an authentic environment that provides insight into the life and art of Darger," (Driever, 2004, 14), who is descr ibed by a student researcher at the center as "one of the most enigmatic, creative gen iuses of recent art history." (14) J e s s i c a Y u ' s 2004 documentary about Darger, entitled In the Realms of the Unreal and narrated by child star Dakota Fanning, won critical adulat ion and did well in the art house circuit. Pau l C h a n ' s digital animation, Happiness (Finally) After 35,000 Years of Civilization —After Henry Darger and Charles Fourier (2003), debuted at the Greene Naftali Gal lery in New York to great acc la im, and cont inues to be exhibi ted. 1 Darger has inspired a book by Amer ican poet John Ashbery (Girls on the Run: A Poem) and has been cited as an influence by the Turner prize-winning ceramic artist G rayson Per ry . 2 He has inf luenced a growing number of works and other forms of tribute, including websi tes (Michael n.d.; Ayers 1997-2006; Whi tmore 1997) , 3 an Austral ian punk band cal led "The Viv ian Gir ls" (Vivian Gir ls & Ninety Nine 1999), a Natalie Merchant song (Merchant 2001), an online video g a m e , 4 severa l other f i lms, 5 a Barb ican show , 6 dramatic 1 Chan also made a three-minute video 34 Flower Types for Henry Darger (Chan 2001). 2 Darger and Perry's work were also exhibited simultaneously by the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh in the fall of 2005.( bk_issue/2006/spring/feature3.html) 3 Michael n.d. is a comprehensive site on all things Darger, which initially alerted me to some of the Darger-influenced works. 4 Sissyfight, found at 110 theatre, 7 a modern dance p iece , 8 and a ser ies of paintings by P a u l a R e g o . 9 Darger was even featured along with several other self-taught/outsider artists in the April 2005 issue of House & Garden. Severa l ser ious books about Darger have been publ ished in Eng l i sh—one in 2000 by Michael Bonestee l and the other --the most comprehens ive book to date and the one frequently cited here - in 2002 by John M a c G r e g o r . 1 0 In 2001 , the Amer ican Folk Art Museum also publ ished a book of se lected images from their col lect ion. The book included an e s s a y by Michel Thevoz , curator of the Col lect ion de I'Art Brut in L a u s a n n e . 1 1 A n addit ional book based on the exhibit ion, "Disasters of War " (2000), featuring work by G o y a , the C h a p m a n brothers, and Darger was publ ished in: 2004. 5 MacGregor writes that the earliest film was shot in Darger's room in 1973 by Colleen Fitzgibbon and Michael S. Thompson. He mentions a short documentary also filmed in Darger's room by Claudia Polley and Nigel Noble for the American Folk Art Museum. (2002, 12) Thompson is currently working on a film called, Henry Darger, Lee Godie, Mr. Imagination: 3 Self-Taught Chicago Artists for Bullet Proof Films, 6 Joe Coleman/The Delgados/Carlo Gesualdo/Henry Darger/Harry Partch/Wesley Willis, in Only Connect: A Series of Extraordinary Live Events, Mar 22, 2001, The Barbican, London, (posted by E. Simpson: .html 7 Mac Wellman's, Jennie Richee—or Eating Jalooka Fruit Before It's Ripe,(2001 -2004), and The Girls Who Saw Everything by.S. Dixon (see , This Magazine, November, 2002) 8 The Vivian Girls (2003) Pat Graney Company. 9 Vivian Girls (1984), reviewed in Jaggi 2004. 1 0 S e e also MacGregor 1996 and MacGregor 2000. 1 1 See also Biesenbach 2001. 111 With the except ion of MacGrego r ' s exhaust ive psychobiography of Darger, the other books are primarily useful in helping to make reproductions of Darger 's art widely avai lable. The illustrations for Realms —"three huge bound vo lumes. . .severa l hundred pictures, many over 12 feet long and painted on both s ides" (MacGregor , 19) — were first shown in 1977. They are now in a number of col lect ions, so impossible to v iew together. Darger 's posthumous s u c c e s s is due, no doubt, in part, to the arresting effect of his impressive images, which were not publicly avai lable during his lifetime. But, as any exper ienced market participant can testify, a boom cannot be understood only by looking at the supply s ide: it is important to consider demand as well . Darger, when d iscovered, fit ideally into the pre-existing market for "outsider art ." 1 2 The genre is an outgrowth of art brut, founded by J e a n Dubuffet in the 1940s and based on his ideas of authenticity and of an art "uncontaminated" by cu l t u re . 1 3 Thanks to Dubuffet 's original quest, outsider art has now become an establ ished genre which can quicken the pulses at Sotheby 's or Chr ist ie 's. 1 2 It was in the 1980s that outsider art first emerged as having significant market value. "New supplies of noncommercial, and therefore uncorrupted, art were discovered in the works of many individual geniuses who were not overt players in the market game...The 'outsider artist' (the Other among us) had gained great notoriety and success by the mid-1980's..." (Rawlings 2001, 45) 1 3 l n Dubuffet's words: "We understand by this term [art brut] works produced by persons unscathed by artistic culture, where mimicry plays little or no part (contrary to the activities of intellectuals). These artists derive everything—subjects, choice of materials, means of transposition, rhythms styles of writing, etc.—from their own depths, and not from the conventions of classical or fashionable art. We are witness here to a completely pure artistic operation, raw, brut, and entirely reinvented in all of its phases solely by means of the artists' own 112 Both art brut and outsider art have given exposure to the work of brilliant mentally d isabled artists, including Darger. But aesthet ic iz ing psychological disability as "genius" or "authenticity," al lows those involved in the market s ide of outsider art to avoid the reality of d isabled lives and render disability a commodity, one that the d isabled themselves rarely benefit from. This chapter will cons ider the posthumous career of Henry Darger and how it il lustrates strategic cho ices of avo idance, censorsh ip and commodif icat ion by those who stand to gain from promoting specif ic interpretations of Darger 's life and work. It will look at the ways in which outsider art is designated as such and the implications of this for the d isabled and otherwise marginal ized artists. It will d i scuss the supposed authenticity and unfettered creativity demonstrated by the mentally ill and the socia l and f inancial price that marginal ized/disabled artists pay for their designat ion of authenticity. It will examine the implicit and explicit censorsh ip pract iced on Darger so that he fits into the legitimizing myths which define his p lace. impulses. It is thus an art which manifests an unparalleled inventiveness, unlike cultural art, with its chameleon-and monkey-like aspects." (cited in Maizels 1996, 33-34) 113 Branding Darger Henry Darger, At Jennie Richee. Assuming nuded appearance by compulsion race ahead of coming storm to warn their father. Collage-drawing. Watercolor, pencil, and carbon tracing on assembled paper. 9 X 70 14 in., Collection of the American Folk Art Museum, New York. © Kiyoko Lerner / SODRAC (2005). The increased monetary value of self-taught art is hard evidence of its new prestige. The higher stakes have intensified wrangling over what constitutes authentic work. You can't be too poor, too uneducated, too psychologically or physically disabled, or too lacking in self-interest, when your outsider status is at stake. Steve Slotin of Slotin Folk Art Auctions describes the ideal, as well as the necessary compromises: Everyone hopes to find that one-armed illiterate sharecropper who is creating amazing, totally uninfluenced pieces. But those days are over. Fortunately, there's so much in attics and barns waiting to be found. People don't throw away crazy Uncle Eddie's naked paintings anymore. They recognize their value. (Cerio 2005, 102) 114 Convenient ly for the distant relatives, the dealers, and the col lectors, as long as Unc le Edd ie is truly authentic, he would never seek recognition and profit from his naked paintings himself. A Slotin web page entitled "What is Folk Ar t?" tells us, "Self-taught artists do not seek out the art world. The art world, col lectors and dealers, passionately seek them out" (Slotin 2001). Or, as auct ioneer Kimbal l Sterl ing says : "No true Outs ider artist cares about money. Often it's tough to buy a masterp iece from a real Outs ider artist. They love that p iece more than you ever can . " (Cerio 2005 , 102) J e a n Dubuffet 's insistence that art brut artists be free from the contagion of culture meant that many of the artists he col lected were institutionalized, usually in insane asy lums. Today, as a result of the dec reased supply of institutionalized producers and increased demand for product, the criteria for outsider art has of necessi ty become somewhat b roader . 1 4 The constant is that whether a work of art is legitimately cons idered "outside" is primarily based on the artists' life and socia l status rather than their art. Character ist ics crucial to the story of an outsider artist include disability, t rauma or misfortune (preferably all three), low soc ia l , economic and educat ional status, a refusal or inability to s e e their art as a viable source of income, and a lack of desire to alter their low status. S u c h people, it is a s s u m e d , have unmediated a c c e s s to the primitive, instinctual, 1 4 Dubuffet collected before deinstitutionalization and the development of medications which minimize psychotic episodes, so "his" artists produced art under more "ideal" conditions: under isolation and with an intensity of expression presumably not dulled by medication. 115 unconsc ious or spiritual knowledge that the rest of us lack, and they offer us a way to exper ience it secondhand . Their " innocence" must be protected, especia l ly from corruption by the art market: paradoxical ly, it must be so protected in order to maintain the very monetary/status value that is the source of the "corruption." Darger is in many ways the ideal outsider artist: his work really is visual ly stunning, his content strange, and his life story attests to his marginality. His death prior to d iscovery s idesteps the issues of contamination of authenticity s ince his s u c c e s s is posthumous. Whi le Darger was alive he was an isolate, poor, psychological ly d isab led, with limited educat ion and a traumatic ch i ldhood. He made no known attempts to show or sel l his art, but he produced and preserved a substantial amount of it. In addit ion, Darger has no known relatives to argue over his es ta te , 1 5 so those who promote his work are given a free hand. Th is "free hand" has been used to build an outsider legend which, combined with Darger 's cons iderab le skill and originality as a v isual artist, have made him a "something for nothing" bestsel ler: [Darger] never worked in the real art world, he never made any enem ies or al l ied himself with fact ions, and he d ied before he w a s d i scovered . W h i c h m a k e s him ideal fodder for people who "interpret" art, g iven that he can't a rgue back, or art iculate any mean ings of his own work. 1 5 Ed Park of the Village Voice writes that John MacGregor was able to gain access to Darger's work, "after assuring Nathan [Lerner] that he had no intention of tracking down any possible Darger relations—which might have meant contesting the rights to the artwork." (2002) 116 T h e d iscovery of his [Darger's] work, after his death, p lays into another fantasy, the "something for nothing" thing that fasc inates the mains t ream artworld, the des i re to d iscover unknown, top-quality, marketable art, like d iamonds lying on the ground. (Kennicott 2005) Michel Thevoz's essay in Darger: The Henry Darger Collection at the American Folk Art Museum provides an excellent example of the ways in which Darger's image is accessorized to meet the requirements of art brut and the outsider art market. Darger is presented as culturally and artistically innocent, damaged, disabled and isolated, working from a position of unmediated and primal creative expression, his work unacknowledged by "fine arts" institutions (2001, 15) presumably because its raw power is a threat to the status quo. This lack of conventional success also assures us that Darger is special, understood only by connoisseurs, and that he never sold out. Unlike the more "gee whiz" descriptions which characterize much North American writing about Darger's work, Thevoz makes it clear that he is writing as an intellectual by invoking the language and ideas of Freudian and Kleinian psychoanalysis, surrealism and structuralism.16 In six short pages, he references the Nabis, symbolist and neo-Expressionist movements, Picasso, Velazquez, Lucien Freud, Edward Hopper, Raphael and other painters, Nietzsche, Kafka, Camus, Levi-Strauss, Foucault, and medieval mystery plays; he borrows his title In his apparent fondness for psychoanalytical ideas and terms Thevoz differs from Dubuffet who, when asked about Freud by John MacGregor, replied, "I don't like him at all! I don't like his theory, and I don't like all psychoanalysts." (MacGregor 1989, Note 50, 359) 117 "The Strange Hell of Beauty..." from J e a n G e n e t . 1 7 Thevoz ' s intellectual scaffolding se rves to emphas ize the distance between his own acculturation and Darger 's a l leged lack of it: "how could a poor, uneducated man who explicitly denied any graphical or pictorial ability create such undeniable beauty and maintain it from painting to paint ing?" (2001, 15) T h e v o z begins his essay by suggest ing, I think correctly, that our discomfort with Darger is not solely due to his subject matter, "the child nudity, the transsexual i ty, the v io lence, the voyeur ism, the sad ism—these themes burst onto the art world long ago" (2001, 15), but has something to do with the fact that we cannot really know what Darger 's intentions were: "Does the artist support this horror, or does he condemn it? Is he a moral izer or a pervert?" (15) Most art, even when it includes shock ing content, c o m e s with a point of v iew or a rationale. Even if we do not agree with the artist's intent, the ability to s e e it within (or as challenging) a recognizable intellectual, art historical, political or aesthet ic framework makes it less threatening. Hans Bel lmer 's poupees rival Darger 's images for their explicit v io lence against the female body. But Bel lmer w a s a surrealist and he provides a motivation: "I wanted to help people, come to terms with their instincts" (Foster 2000, 107). Whether we accept Bel lmer 's rationale or hot, his intellectual framework - a combinat ion of surreal ism and 1 7 The quote from Nietzsche, "Happy is the poor spirit who harbors within himself not just one immortal soul but a thousand mortal souls," which Thevoz uses to bolster his idea that Darger's sense of "self" was undeveloped ("childish polymorphism", 18), is also used by him in "An Antimuseum" to describe the "loss of ego" (72) essential to true makers of art brut. 118 psychoanalys is — is familiar. This familiarity creates a bond of comfort which in turn makes his work s e e m likely to represent something bes ides misogyny. W e don't have an explanation from Henry Darger. The second reason Thevoz gives for why we find Darger disturbing is less convinc ing, but does reveal how Darger 's "outsider" status can be rhetorically establ ished and promoted. Accord ing to Thevoz , "our discomfort is aggravated by work that has not been formally approved and ratified by the institutions of 'fine arts.'" (15) In fact, art by Darger is in a variety of public col lect ions including those of the Museum of Modern Art ( M O M A ) , the Art Institute of Ch icago , the New Or leans M u s e u m of Art and the Walker Art Center in Minneapol is (Andrew Edl in Gal lery 2006). The context of Thevoz 's statement — a publication sponsored by the Amer ican Museum of Folk Art, which he refers to as "a prestigious New York City museum" (21)—makes his claim all the more incongruous . 1 8 It could be argued that a museum of folk art is not an institution of "fine art," but in that case , given the conservat ive tastes of the folk art world, Darger 's accep tance by that community would signify that his work was seen as less, rather than more radical. In any event, s ince he was d iscovered, Darger has never really lacked the b less ing of the art world. In light of this, Thevoz ' s contention that Darger is too "radical" for the convent ional world of fine art is When Dubuffet was asked by John MacGregor "if he would be in favor of the burning of the museums" he "agreed this would be beneficial."(MacGregor (1989) Note 40, 359) 119 clearly an attempt to enhance Darger 's "outsider" status and hence increase the c la ims of authenticity and singularity which are seen to character ize works of art brut. Thevoz - who previously descr ibed art brut as "an art free of the dictates of tradition or fashion, an art l iberated from all socia l compromise, an art indifferent to the app lause of initiates, an art which draws its strength from an impass ioned way of thinking, an almost autistic inner necessi ty" (1994, 63)—now posit ions Darger within the genre. Thevoz character izes Darger 's art as amora l , primal, highly individual, but a lso universal: A priori, this work is neither edifying nor sacr i leg ious; it d o e s not at all state a truth, nor d o e s it take on an underlying ethical s tance. It c o m e s from a much more primal level . A supernumerary of the human spec ies made it up for his own private use a s the f ramework of his inner feel ings and thoughts, a s an imaginary s p a c e where his most antagonist ic impulses and outpour ings could find a vo ice . It is not a s p e e c h but a language that cou ld be used in all poss ib le s p e e c h e s . (2001, 19) This characterizat ion replays a longstanding theme in the critical treatment of art brut w o r k . 1 9 Thevoz descr ibes Darger as having spec ia l , unmediated a c c e s s to the unconsc ious by virtue of his status as a supernumerary, an actor without a speak ing part, moved by forces beyond his control. Darger 's disability, his mental i l lness and his fundamental "deprivation" are vital to creat ing the condit ions 1 9 Consider this statement by Fred Licht: "But [art brut] artists such as Wolfli or Aloise live outside communal time. There is as yet no practicable way of relating their work to each other or to the events, fears and hopes of the time in which they lived. All notions of style that we have formed since the beginning of art history and art criticism are thoroughly exploded by their expressive art." (Licht 1986, 35) 120 which, according to Thevoz , al low Darger to exemplify the "game of 'who loses wins' remarkably well." (19) 2 0 Darger becomes a primal force, contact with which acculturated individuals crave. Thevoz offers proof of Darger 's authenticity in the form of a recitation on deprivation: Henry Darger 's cruel fate w a s that he w a s depr ived of everything, including his mother, his sister, family affect ion, and a chi ld 's right to a real educat ion, and a s a result w a s depr ived of the most normal adult relat ionships. T h e label "c razy" would fol low him until his death. Darger w a s not asoc ia l ; it w a s society that made him an outcast . He w a s not retarded but w a s held back by unfortunate c i rcumstances . From his early ch i ldhood on , Darger w a s depr ived over and over aga in of formative images of all k i nds—images of his parents, mirror images identifying cultural mode ls . H e w a s thus left to grapple with terrifying mood swings using only his own emot ional resources to cha l lenge this pr imeval internal struggle. (18) S o Darger produces highly original work, not because he functions as an agentive individual, but because he does not. "Darger does not control anything; he is not the master of painting, nor is he even a master 's ass is tant—he is a sorcerer 's apprent ice." (18) The insistence that Darger was someone who did not control anything means that, while Darger could produce work, it must be interpreted by educated others — such as Thevoz . Darger b e c o m e s a compuls ively productive tabula rasa, a warped medium for, rather than an agent of, meaning. In the preceding sentence he says, "The language (verbal or figurative) of outcasts and, especially, the language of those deemed mentally ill is very likely to one day convey the most meaningful expression because it says that which is the most unspeakable, voices the most radical contempt and makes the most major claims." (19) 121 Gary A lan Fine talks about the importance of a non-agent ive identity in authenticating self-taught works of art such as Darger 's : I explore the creat ion of the idea of personal legi t imacy a s part of the market for self-taught art a s a m e a n s of valor iz ing aesthet ic authenticity, sponso red by the cultural authority of e l i tes. . .Thei r soc ia l posi t ions—their ident i t ies— natural ize the product ion of their art, separat ing them from groupings b a s e d on similarit ies of form, content, or intention. T h e s e artists are categor ized by m e a n s of the definition of their identities a s authentic in the product ion of objects, unburdened by assumpt ions of strategic career ism or lofty intel lectual izing. In this, in their outsider role, separa te from images of a corrupt elite, they are ostensib ly ennob led in a form of identity pol i t ics—but, in this, perhaps they b e c o m e noble s a v a g e s with the co lon ia l ism that such a troubling designat ion impl ies. (Fine 2002 , 155. E m p h a s i s in original) The necessi ty that Darger be "deprived of everything" m e a n s that his knowledge of the world outside himself must be played down. In fact, Darger managed to absorb quite a lot of information about the bourgeois world which sur rounded him. He was a Civi l W a r buff (MacGregor 2002, 43 - 44; 103), read newspapers (104-105), and had within his col lection of books works by Frank L. B a u m , Cervantes , Ju les Verne, the brothers Gr imm and Harriet B e e c h e r Stow. In his writing, Darger refers to Dante 's Divine Comedy and John Bunyan 's Pilgrim's Progress (Bonesteel 2000, 24). Darger 's source material included comic and coloring book pictures, as well as magaz ine illustrations, reproductions of paint ings, 2 1 photos from magaz ines , and cop ies of religious i c o n s . 2 2 At one point 2 1 Darger's "At Jennie Richee while sending warning to their father watch night black cloud of coming storm through window" contains "a collaged reproduction of American painter Martin Johnson Heade's 1868 'Thunder Storm on Narragansett Bay' taken from the February, 1945 issue of Ladies Home Journal." (Bonesteel 2000, 17) 122 in The Realms, Darger mixes an actual work of art by George Grey Barnard being exhibited at the M u s e u m of Modern Art ( M O M A ) into his fiction: I wonder if any of you boy and girl scouts , and you dear p r incesses have ever s e e n a group in the Metropol i tan M u s e u m of Art in Ange l in ia Aga th ia city? "I did once" sa id Pen rod . "It is ca l led 'The T w o Natures in M a n ' and the sculptor has represented the eternal struggle a s a wrest le to a f inish between two great big wrest lers. In the group M a n ' s lower nature is down but not out. Man ' s Higher Nature s tands over the prostrate form, and I c a m e away wonder ing which will f inally del iver the fatal b low?" (Realms vo l . 11, 456 , quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 6 4 4 ) 2 3 The idea that Darger was innocent of culture and that his work was primarily a product of his unconsc ious is more difficult to sustain when his texts are taken into considerat ion. Even the title of his most well known work The Realms of the Unreal acknowledges the un-reality of his fantasy life. At one point in the story the Viv ian girls d iscover books written by "Henry J . Darger, Author." The books tell a history of the wars which they are currently involved in {Realms, vol. one, 138, quoted in MacGrego r 2002, 20, 96). The girls a lso d iscover s o m e of Darger 's pictures: Every picture s e e m s to look you straight in the face a s if you had s o m e secret to tell them, or a s if you suspec ted them of knowing your thoughts." "And probably he had them to use a s company , a s he w a s chi ld less." " M a y b e that is so , and he wanted them all to look a s if they were paying attention to him," sa id Jenn ie . Some good examples of these can be found in the "Selections from the Archive" section of the book on Darger published by the American Museum of Folk Art (2001). 2 3 MacGregor 2002 identifies the sculpture as "Struggle of the Two Natures in Man" by American sculptor George Grey Barnard, given to MOMA in 1896 (Note 131, 707). 123 " H e must have been a very odd man. " "I wouldn't mind see ing him." sa id Violet [Realms, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 22). Thevoz does not address Darger 's texts. He does , however, d iscuss the objection that Darger 's use of pop culture images as source material compromises his outsider status: What c a n we say about Darger 's d e p e n d e n c e upon magaz ine images that c o m e from his v isual cul ture? T h e issue is precisely this d e p e n d e n c e , a lmost infantile or perverse (terms that are not necessar i ly contradictory). Darger works openly in all " innocence, " in the s a m e way that officially recogn ized artists would rather hide their sou rces and cover their t racks. (17) It is unclear which "officially recognized artists" Thevoz is referring to. His use of the present tense would s e e m to suggest artists from the late 2 0 t h and early twenty-first century. S ince that is a time when a generat ion of postmodern artists' critical mandate included exposing their sources , the comment is puzzl ing. Pe rhaps T h e v o z is referring to the period in which Darger created his art. Accord ing to John MacGregor , "As early as 1918, and perhaps earlier still, he [Darger] had begun to create pictorial images . . . " (2002, 118). Yet even if Thevoz is referring to this earl ier t ime period, his claim s e e m s willfully d ismiss ive of work by artists such as Max Ernst and Marce l Duchamp. For instance, Ernst openly used material from varied sources including popular culture, psychotic art, and 124 "primitive" art. MacGrego r writes that, "Even in his later painting and sculpture, [Ernst] frequently adopted things whole, undisguised, bringing together easi ly identified fragments from meaningful ly se lected pictorial sources" (1989, 278). In 1919, Marcel Duchamp added a moustache and a beard to da Vinci 's M o n a L isa renaming it " M o n a L isa L H O O Q . " The s u c c e s s of Duchamp 's provocation was explicitly tied to the recognizabil ity of its original s o u r c e . 2 5 Ernst and Duchamp 's motives may have been less "innocent" than Darger 's and it is unlikely that Darger was directly inf luenced by either of them. But it can't be c la imed that the use of borrowed pop or m a s s cultural images—in the twentieth century—shows a particular independence from the artistic mainst ream, or is likely to create discomfort in sophist icated art purchasers. S o m e of the technological , soc ia l and economic inf luences which affected Darger 's artmaking—the capacity to reproduce images and texts cheaply and in great numbers, easy a c c e s s to mass-produced publications such as newspapers and paperback novels, and the spread of popular culture v ia magaz ines and comic books -- are a lso reflected in the work of his contemporar ies. He may have produced his art without educat ion and in soli tude, but he was nevertheless an 2 4 MacGregor traces Ernst's interest in the "art of the insane" back as far as 1910 (1989, 277). 2 5 The Mona Lisa, with variations continued throughout the twentieth century. Duchamp's was followed by Dali's "Self portrait as the Mona Lisa (1954)", Warhol's serigraphs of the Mona Lisa (starting in 1963), Botero's "Mona Lisa (1977)", and others, until by the end of the century the image of the Mona Lisa had literally been burnt into slices of toast in Tadhiko Ogawa's "Mona as Toast" (1997), and been presented pregnant, as part of Yasumasa Morimura's Self Portrait as Art History series (1998). For an exhaustive list of all things Mona Lisa see Baron n.d. 125 artist of his time. Many of his methods, although deve loped independently, were shared by other artists. Pe rhaps Darger 's " innocence" is really ignorance romant ic ized, however impressive the resulting artwork. Duchamp 's motive (provocation) was quite different from Darger 's (compensat ing for his limited skil ls as a draughtsman) . 2 6 It was out of necessi ty and resourcefu lness that Darger produced, in comparab le isolation and with limited a c c e s s to and knowledge of contemporary art, a v isual language which pre-dated the widespread use of appropriated images and text from popular culture by pop and postmodern artists. Thevoz reinscr ibes lack of knowledge and lack of skil ls as magica l : Academic art is distinguished from so-called primitive or prior art (and art brut, in particular) in that the academically trained artist attempts to control all forms of artistic expression. He resorts to materials that are pliable and manageable, such as oil paints and specialized tools that leave no mark, in order to obtain a transparent, unequivocal language of expression. The academic painter rigorously controls his expression and suppresses any interfering static; he emits or tends to emit a "message without noise." Conversely, the so-called primitive or archaic artists or artistes bruts, are inclined to amplify the primary "noise" emitted by the enchanted materials that fall into their hands. (17) Thevoz descr ibes Darger 's work as "the exact opposi te" of academic art: Darger, of course, does the exact opposite [of an academic painter]. He steals his images, lifts them from conventional narratives, common everyday journals, and sentimental stories. He takes them out of context, disorients them, and reenchants them. Indeed, he uses these images to reconstruct For a thorough treatment of Darger's methods see Ch . 3 "Adopted Images: The Invention of the Collage-Drawing" in MacGregor 2002 118-181. 126 another narrative ensemb le , but in the p rocess , the images do not reject their origin but persist like foreign bod ies , bod ies with a disquiet ing s t rangeness . (17-18) But much art of the second half of the twentieth century was intent on deconstruct ing what Thevoz so belatedly crit iques: representation and authorship. It did this partly through the appropriation and use, out of context, of m a s s cultural images. Darger 's methods were certainly motivated by other concerns , but they cannot reasonably be said to be the opposite of "academic art." Darger may be unusual , but it is surely not because he appropriates images. Instead his methods may help explain his current popularity; he speaks a v isual language recognizable to contemporary consumers of art. 127 Henry Darger, At Jennie Turmer. Children tied to trees in path of forest fires. In spite of exceeding extreme peril, Vivian girls rescue them. Left side of a two panel composition. Collage-drawing. Watercolor, pencil, carbon tracing and collage, 18x47 % in . , Collection of the American Folk Art Museum, New York. © Kiyoko Lerner / S O D R A C (2005)| It is not Darger 's style and methods which differentiate him from other twentieth century artists, but his independent development of t h e m 2 7 and his intent and highly personal point of view when employing them. Other twentieth century artists (Dada, Surrealist, Pop) used appropriated and m a s s produced materials, "In the absence of art training, he was often forced to invent his own solutions to problems for which solutions had long existed...Darger arrived often at traditional means of pictorial construction via utterly unconventional and personal routes, which essentially had nothing to do with the making of works of art." (MacGregor 2002, 179) 128 overpaint ing, col lage, photographic duplication etc. to actively chal lenge establ ished art pract ices, bourgeois va lues and the transcendent rhetoric and single med ia preoccupat ions of high modern ism. Although Darger 's art was driven by personal rather than socia l and critical concerns , his capacity to grasp the technical and aesthetic possibi l i t ies offered by new modes of re-production and to tap into popular culture as a creative resource suggests intell igence, ingenuity and agency. Even though the motivations for Darger 's innovations differed from those of the avant-garde chal lenges to the prevail ing art establ ishment and soc io- political and economic structures, Darger managed somehow to tap into the changes afoot in visual culture: Throughout his life Darger w a s remarkably attentive to var ious aspec t s of the popular culture of A m e r i c a , particularly its pictorial mani festat ions. Without being consc ious of what he w a s do ing, he created an art form, the co l lage-drawing, which in its obv ious exploitation and manipulat ion of popular v isual culture, ant ic ipated many aspec ts of P o p Art. H is work represents a superb examp le of the way in which the spiritual and aesthet ic preoccupat ions of an age enter unconsc ious ly into every artistic mani festat ion, even those occurr ing "natura l ly , " free of any consc ious awa reness of evolving deve lopments in art (MacGrego r 2002 , 180). Darger 's fame and his emerging position in the art market should be awkward for Thevoz , who wrote in "An Ant i -Museum": Natural ly the insolent d isregard of constraints implicit in s u c h an exorbitant adventure of the imaginat ion [art brut] can have no truck with the p romo t iona land commerc ia l strategies which regulate the normal art wor ld. (1994, 64) Sure ly it is obv ious that if one were to try to introduce such people to the art market, one would only lead them to their doom. (73) 129 True makers of Art Brut, by definition, recoil from any operation which seeks to integrate them within a system devoted to promoting and selling their work. (72) 2 8 Although authenticity makes material benefit impossible for the artist, it need not do so for his estate. Thevoz , seemingly in contradiction to earl ier statements about Darger 's "non-ratif ication" by institutions of art (2001, 15), now cites Darger 's posthumous s u c c e s s as ev idence of status: An uneducated man among the uneducated, he shows up in the most spectacular way in the most beautiful museums in the world; mute among mutes, he is the creator of work as communicative and touching as ever existed; a poor man among the poor, he demands a healthy price on the world market. (19)' In 1994, a s the art brut and outsider market f lourished, Thevoz wrote, We functionaries who are interested in Art Brut with no thought of financial gain...launch a salutary challenge: to discover and to collect works before they become the object of prohibitive valuation from whose profits, in any event, their makers will receive no more than a few crumbs, and try to protect the vulnerable among them from the more aggressive buyers by reintroducing the convention of the pseudonym, as was once the practice in psychiatry, though for different reasons." (73-74) 2 8 It is interesting to note that Adolph Wolfli, a major figure in art brut, was given to demanding widely varying prices for his work. In his 1921 publication, Madness & Art: The Life and Works of Adolf Wolfli, Walter Morgenthaler wrote, "The value he places on his pictures is extremely variable. They almost always reach, in his eyes, an extraordinary price which one can harldly pay, even with millions of Swiss francs. Then it just as easily occurs to him to decide in a will that a volume should be sold for 3.5 francs. At other moments he will give someone a sheet as a gift, saying apologetically that the recipient must have children who will enjoy looking at a colorful picture."(25) Wolfli does not appear to have shown the requisite financial disinteredness Thevoz prizes, despite his unorthodox pricing practices and inability to "integrate" with the art economy. 130 In short, the artists get neither money nor credit. Thevoz ' s heartfelt concern for the vulnerable s e e m s open to quest ion, while his desire to monopol ize the field of art brut with an extensive col lection in Lausanne s e e m s completely s incere. Finally, Thevoz admits there is something uncomfortable about the promoting and marketing of Darger 's art. His solution to this discomfort is to b lame Darger: Collecting and exhibiting this work, which was intended for private consumption, is in essence embezzlement—embezzlement which, we must remember, Darger himself practiced with his stolen drawings. We have only redirected the tinkering to another level, recovering it and taking responsibility for it ourselves. When all is said and done, Darger unloaded the problem onto us. Since that time, he has also given us the responsibility of making sense of it (2001, 21), Darger 's s u c c e s s is in s o m e ways Thevoz ' s own. He curates the Col lect ion de I'art brut in Lausanne , Swi tzer land, to which Kiyoko Lerner (the wife of Darger 's landlord Nathan Lerner) donated a significant number of Darger 's w o r k s . 2 9 The more effectively Thevoz conv inces his readers that Darger is authentic the more his col lection is enhanced by Darger 's inclusion in it. Darger as Outsider While Thevoz has held that Darger meets the stringent criteria for art brut, . Darger is usual ly c lassi f ied as an outsider artist, the criteria for which are a little less austere. Art historian Roger Card ina l , who co ined the term "outsider art" in Twenty paintings according to Allen 1998 or thirty according to Eskin 2000. 131 the 1970s (Cardinal 1972), favours a more inclusive definition than the one Dubuffet employed for art brut: And while our conception of Outsider Art would become pointless if it did not carry an expectation of a high degree of innovation and creative independence, I submit that it no longer makes sense to belabor the stipulation of utter pictorial innocence. (Cardinal 1994, 31, emphasis in original) Nonethe less, Card ina l does not want standards to drop too far: "One aspect of Dubuffet's prejudice is worth preserving. He was , I bel ieve, entirely right to contend that creativity alters its character once the creator is made aware of the expectat ions and aesthetic standards of other people." (33) 3 0 Card ina l attempts to craft an "outsider aesthetic" and to move away from the almost complete rel iance on biography and "extra-aesthetic considerat ions" which typically estab l ishes a work a s authentic. But whether strict or loose, it is a lways biography that is the central marker of authentic "outsider" work. Fol lowing his f ive-year study of the self-taught art market, Northwestern's Gary A lan Fine tells us that: This is in contrast to Dubuffet's definition: "What we mean by this term [art brut] is work . produced by people immune to artistic culture in which there is little or no trace of mimicry (as is invariably the case with intellectuals); so that such creators owe everything—their subject-matter, their choice of materials, their modes of transcription, their rhythms and styles of drawing, and so on—to their own resources rather than to the stereotypes of artistic tradition or fashion. Here, we are witness to the artistic operation in its pristine form, something unadulterated, something reinvented from scratch at all stages by its maker, who draws solely upon his private impulses." (Dubuffet 1949 in Cardinal 1994, 23). Cardinal responds as follows: "What is awkward about Dubuffet's celebration of "antimimetic" tendency is that it confuses formal training in the fine arts with a defense of the naturalistic, as if art schools were historically frozen at some point long before Cubism." (30) As we have seen, Thevoz engages in a similar confusion in relation to Darger's use of source materials. 132 The biographies of self-taught artists justify their authenticity, serving as a primary criterion of evaluation. To be sure, the work itself matters, as many people have interesting biographies, but the biography invests the material with meaning. As dealers sell objects, they provide biographical details, details that are not equally emphasized by neighboring galleries that specialize in contemporary art. (2003, 162-163) At the extreme, a biography of a self-taught artist may be the primary commodity rather than his or her work. A s a col lector of outsider art told Fine in an interview: In many cases with this work, the story is far more important than the art is, and people are buying the story as opposed to the piece of art for art's sake, and, you know, who's to say that's a problem...There are artists I've supported financially just because I like them, and I like their story, but not because I believe the pieces are outstanding. (2003, 172) Many consumers / fans of Darger 's art find ev idence of his authenticity in select aspec ts of his biography. Unl ike with some artists, the facts of Darger 's story — including a difficult chi ldhood, psychological disability and an impover ished and solitary adulthood —are indisputable. A s dealer Randal l Morris says , "Those artists whose authenticity is 'beyond argument' are the ones who can sel l their work in the six-figure range." (Fine 2003, 165) Cons ide r these examples from a cross-sect ion of Darger 's public in which his story is used to introduce and authenticate his art: Journalist (San Francisco Chronicle) For those not yet initiated into the cult of Darger, he was a Chicago janitor who suffered the early deaths of both parents, spent most of his teenage years in a mental asylum and as an adult led a lonely, reclusive, religion-obsessed life. (Ganahl 2004) 133 Undergraduate (The Schoo l of the Art Institute of Ch icago) A highly prolific artist, Henry Darger 's output dwarfs most other bod ies of creat ive work . . .The impetus behind the material izat ion of an oeuvre of such magni tude der ives from a depr ived and tormented ch i ldhood. Darger 's formative exper iences were encumbered by immense persona l loss and abandonment , which left the janitor-cum-artist with deep emot ional sca rs . (Dreiver 2003) Independent Feature [Film] Project (IFP) Sc reen ing Announcemen t Henry Darger w a s known, during his life, a s a reclusive janitor, living a lone in one room in downtown C h i c a g o without f r iends or family. H e is now cons ide red the greatest "outsider artist" of the 2 0 t h Century. In J e s s i c a Y u ' s latest work, we look at Darger 's t ranscendence over poverty and isolation through his wildly creat ive and highly controversial art. (Promot ional material for Y u 2004) F a n websi te Darger 's main inf luences weren't images or writing but the events of his life. H e w a s fil led with anger at the adult society that had mistreated him, a s is .-ev idenced by the whole theme of a war between chi ldren and adul ts, fought over chi ld s lavery. His compuls ive commun ion with G o d and the act of writing himself into his book could both be s e e n a s symptomat ic of his intense lonel iness. His obsess ion with young girls and his d ist ress over losing the picture of "Annie Aronburg" s e e m intimately tied in with the loss of the s i s t e r h e never knew. (Whitmore 1997) A c a d e m i c T h e sca le and intensity of Darger 's work, over such a long per iod of t ime indicate a complete immers ion in a se l f -made wor ld. Darger 's work is a react ion to his own dissat isfactory reality. His feel ings of anger a n d despa i r are t ranslated into the persecut ion of the innocent V iv ian Gir ls . They suffer horrific ac ts of v io lence hinting at the author 's own need to exp ress his emot ion. (McNal ly 2005) Ho l lywood producer "I think he w a s a very brave guy just to exist," B e s m a n sa id . "Whatever c a m e out of his work w a s b e c a u s e he m issed his little sister." (Allen 1998) 134 Darger 's biography dominates the reception of his work. That his biography, rather than the work itself, guarantees he is "genuine" is a typical valuation in the outsider art arena. It is what J o a n n e C u b b s cal ls the "relentless fetishizing of difference." (1994, 89) Outs ider artists like Darger are proven to be original in part by "the exaggerat ion of the work 's perceived singularity, and in the exploitation of the maker 's often real-life marginal izat ion." (89) There are those within the outsider art market who d isagree with what they s e e as "a heavy rel iance upon the extremism of the story and not consistently on the works of art" (Carl Hammer , Ch i cago dealer, in Fine, 2003, 170-171) , but they are few. A s F ine points out, while the mainstream art world p resumes the pr imacy of work over life story, this ranking is a content ious issue in the world of self-taught art (171). In 1999 the San Diego State University sponsored an outsider art show in conjunction with the Kaplan Collection of Self-Taught Art. In their Media Release SDSU gives a profile of an outsider artist: Many of the artists lead traumatic lives punctuated by, poverty, broken homes, illiteracy, mental disability and unrelieved bad luck. Several of them such as Jimmy Lee "the Mud Man" Sudduth have been in jail. But through their art, they were able to find joy in their life. And they were able to transform that "spontaneous overflow" on the canvas. (Callo 1999,2/3) F ine recounts an interview he conducted in which a dealer suggested "that the status system of this market is upside down. The dealer reported that at a party he overheard a portion of conversat ion about an artist: '"Is he educa ted? ' 'No, ' 135 'oh, good. ' 'Is he b lack? ' " (Fine 2003, 163) Another anecdote recal ls a col lector who had d iscovered that a work done, in her words, by a "really untutored" artist she had admired and bought was "bogus." (166) It was bogus because he wasn't poor: S h e expla ins that he is the wealthiest person in his (rural) town, living in a "nice new rustic house" and adds : " W e lived with it for two w e e k s before we began laughing at i t . . .We fell for it. Everything is s o overdone. S o hyped. Th is guy is rich! (166) Fine found that: "Although the domain of self-taught art is ostensibly def ined by the fact the artists have not been formally trained, in practice self-taught art is know through the socia l position of the creators, and , thus, I label it as Identity Art." (155) He conc luded: "The identity of the [self-taught] artist is embedded in the definitions of the field and in the pract ices of sel l ing." (163) Part of the outsider identity is the attribution of unencumbered a c c e s s to creative urges which are then channeled into original and express ive artworks. Maur ice Kap lan of the Kap lan Col lect ion of Self-Taught Art tells us: "The beauty of Outs ider Art is that there is no form, no logic, no formal discipl ine. They just turn out what 's in their imagination, crafting their art with whatever they have." (Cal lo 1999, 2/3), Charma ine Kap lan (also of the Collect ion) explains, What interests me about 'Outs ider Art' i s its spontaneity. Here are people who don't understand or apprec iate convent ional art fo rms yet are creat ing art for their own happ iness and b e c a u s e it m a k e s them feel good . T o me that is what art is all about . . . coming straight from the soul onto the canvas . (1/2- 2/3) 136 Even Michae l Bones tee l— who quest ions Darger 's inclusion in the outsider g e n r e 3 1 — expresses his admiration for Darger in ways that s e e m tied to notions of outsider authenticity. Bonestee l s e e s Darger as able to reveal the deeply myster ious, unconsc ious and childl ike: W e stare transf ixed by awe and fascinat ion a s a self-taught savant pee ls back the sk in of the creat ive p rocess , expos ing sh reds of s u b c o n s c i o u s angu ish and ecs tasy . In the end , Darger invented a luminous and bewi lder ing hybrid of prose and art, history and fantasy, unfettered ch i ldhood bl iss and unremitting psycho log ica l torment. (2000, 7) Roger Card ina l descr ibes "an extreme state" where outsider artists mediate "something t ranspersonal , even otherworldly", which he, like Thevoz (2001, 77) cal ls "possess ion" : A s an enhanced locale of affectivity, the " tautness" of the self-taught artwork c a n transmit an a lmost erotic appea l , pulsat ing and insistent. Another c o n s e q u e n c e of pass ionate sel f - involvement can be the compu ls ive product ion of separate p ieces . . .where fertility is mani fested at s u c h a pitch a s to suggest not se l f -possess ion but possession pure and s imple ! At the ext reme, artists may abandon themse lves to the creat ive act s o utterly a s to enter into those emot ional and physica l states var iously desc r ibed a s ecs tasy , jubilat ion, or frenzy. S u c h states appear strangely "se l f less" in s o far a s the creat ive c o n s c i o u s n e s s s e e m s here to connect with fo rces beyond its boundar ies , and to mediate someth ing t ranspersonal , even otherworldly. Ye t 3 1 While Bonesteel resists what he sees as the ghettoizing of Darger as an outsider artist (2000, 15-18), he still recreates him as a sympatheticxliche of a tortured artist who works out his "issues" via his art. Bonesteel would like to distance Darger not only from any nastiness but from the overemphasis on his apparent mental illness to the detriment of.his skill as an artist. He complains that "MacGregor has called Darger 'the single most important American example of outsider art in existence' and by alluding to 'Darger's pathology,' MacGregor has placed the artist squarely among the mentally ill segment of the Outsider art population" (2000,15, 16). Bonesteel is right that the label of art brut or outsider comes with some unwieldy and problematic baggage. Yet if Darger must be reinterpreted and distanced from any evidence of psychological disorder or disability in order for his work to be valued as equal to "high" art, then this tells us less about the quality of Darger's work than it does about ongoing views of the mentally ill as necessarily second-class: creatively, intellectually, and as agentive, moral beings. 137 this very selflessness may turn out to be the creation of a struggle to press the centre of the private self up to that sublime point where, as it were, it coincides with the axis of a superior cosmology. (2001, 77, 78) Critic Hal Foster suggests that modernists of the early twentieth century also "saw the art of the mentally ill according to their own ends only—as expressive of an aesthetic essence, revelatory of an innocent vision, or defiant of all convention—and for the most part it was none of these things." (Foster 2001, 3) Similar assumptions were perpetuated by Dubuffet, mid-century, and today by Thevoz and Cardinal. Foster questions Dubuffet's motivation: Like other primitivists before him, Dubuffet targets academic art first and last; in this regard his outsider logic is finally an insider move, a gambit designed to win a place within avant-gardist lineages"(15). What implications arise from promoting Darger's work as the product of unconscious divination (art brut), or as the ultimate in "overcoming" by the mentally disabled and traumatized innocent outsider who transforms his pain and often transcends it, via art and writing? In either case, the field of self-taught art is dependant on a narrative of genius enhanced by disability and disadvantage. Darger, whatever his reality actually was, cannot be portrayed as simply miserable, mentally unstable and talented. He must be seen to be making lemonade out of life's lemons: In a real sense, Henry Darger remained a child, not intellectually but emotionally...Darger only felt at ease with children. Not real children, imaginary ones, primarily little girls. He found them abandoned in the garbage: in magazines, in coloring books, as fashion illustrations in the newspapers, and in the comics. Little girls no one wanted, he brought home to his room...It would never have occurred to Darger that these serious and 138 secret activities had anything to do with "Art." For 60 years Darger played with his children in an imaginary world-cutting and pasting, tracing and colouring in. (Anon. 2002) Un less we de-mythologize this t ranscendent version of Darger 's life story and psychological disability, we risk making suffering and overcoming suffering the price Darger (and outsider artists generally) must pay for our enjoyment. The secu lar sacral izat ion of psychological disability, isolation, poverty and misfortune, accompan ied by the view that these are in some way transformative for Darger, al lows the rest of us distance and reduces any guilt we might feel when we enjoy that misfortune vicariously, at tached as it is to our definition and enjoyment of outsider art. W e can view Darger from a safer intellectual and emotional d istance a s the archetypal victim whose compensat ion was to be a possesso r of a specia l insight. Convenient ly, for those who benefit from this transformation, if fate has already compensated outsiders like Darger with this insight, our only responsibil i ty to them is to recognize their gifts. Those who benefit from that spec ia l insight are able to view any material benefits that accrue to them as a result as a tribute to Darger himself. . A n over-rel iance on the signi f icance of certain aspec ts of Darger 's life story a lso leads to viewing Darger as someone whose work is good only because he was d isabled: "Thus from the beginning, art brut was set under the sign of madness , in Dubuffet's eyes the quintessence of invent iveness." (Thevoz 1994, 64) Th is romantic image convenient ly ignores the practical, soc ia l and f inancial difficulties 139 of living with a psychological d isorder and the somet imes acute discomfort the state of "madness" is accompan ied by. F ine tells us that self-taught artists are defined by what they don't have (their "lack") rather than their attributes: T h e artists' sha red lack of training—the quality of being self-taught... connec ts their var ied soc ia l posi t ions into a s ingle identity category. Wh i le the concept of self-taughtedness has blurry boundar ies , in pract ice these artists are uneducated , elderly, black, impover ished, mental ly ill, cr iminal , or rural. Within the art market, they lack social capital, t ies to elite communi t ies , and are not fully integrated profess ionals in this mains t ream art wor ld. It is their lack, rather than their attributes, that def ines them. (2003, 156. E m p h a s i s in original) Curator/crit ic Joanne C u b b s writes: Project ing the image of nonconformity and rebell ion onto individuals w h o s e l ives and work may or may not contest cultural norms and artistic tradit ions, the d iscourse of Outs ider Art imposes a fa lse intentionality upon s o m e makers , obscu res the original subvers ive content of others, and finally asser ts its own hegemony of meaning over those it v iews a s culturally d i sempowered in a way that is similar to the sys tem it protests (1994, 86). The canonica l art brut artist Ado lph Wolf l i , who was incarcerated in the Wa ldau Sanitar ium near Bern , Swi tzer land, in 1895 (Morgenthaler, 1992, 10), exper ienced hal lucinations and paranoia. Walter Morgenthaler, who treated him and wrote Ein Geisteskranker als Kunstler(A Mental Patient a s Artist) about his prose, poetry, musica l composi t ions and drawings, d i scussed his behaviour "under the sign of madness . " Although he acknowledges that Wolfl i probably exper ienced "state[s] of inspiration" especial ly during the initial acute phase of sch izophren ia" (1992, 23), more often his hal lucinations made him irritable and violent: 140 In 1897 he began to have massive hallucinations which ended in acts of violence so that on two occasions he had to be placed in seclusion. In February he admitted hearing voices but blamed the doctors, since, he said, it was they who made people sick or well as they pleased. He saw himself being driven to the brink of death and stayed in bed until noon; then he would recoup his energy and said that he wanted to get married but that the doctors prevented him from doing so. He often became sexually excited, was irritable, and worked very little. In March he claimed all of a sudden that another patient had sexually assaulted a young girl; with great agitation he threw himself on this person and knocked him down. When he was consequently transferred to another section he defended himself vigorously; he grabbed a bench and threw it at the guard and violently kicked the head guard. (11) Many authors of autobiographical accounts of psychosis, schizophrenia and other psychological disabilities write about terrifying and painful experiences. These accounts, place the "glorification of madness" by promoters of art brut etc. in a disturbing light. E.A. Daniels, in a biography accompanying her on-line art, identifies herself as an expressionist artist who has survived childhood abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia. The short text below accompanies her visual work, "Daisy Killer": This is a zombie that I saw rip my pug, Daisy, to pieces when I was walking her one day. I saw blood spatter everywhere. It was horrible. I didn't see things back to normal for about fifteen minutes after I came back inside" (Daniels 2003). C o m p a r e this to Thevoz 's fatuous statement: "Indeed what he [Dubuffet] cons iders to be pathological is not insanity but, instead, sanity and academic standards." (1994,64) . In History of My Life, Darger makes it c lear that he objected to his status as feeble-minded —"I a feeble-minded kid...I knew more than the whole shebang in 141 that p lace" (43, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 44) — and crazy —"I was looked on as "Crazy" and a lso cal led crazy. Had I known that, I only would have done it [throwing his left hand in the air] where I was not s e e n " (39, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 44). Hal Foster says Dubuffet's imaginings about the mentally ill were not just inaccurate, but the opposite of the truth. The insane artists were trying desperately to create a system of stable meaning for themselves: Far from the anticivi l izational heroes , a s Dubuffet wanted to imagine them ("insanity represents a refusal to adopt a v iew of reality that is imposed by custom"), these artists are despera te to construct a surrogate civi l ization of their own, a s top-gap symbol ic order in default of the official one that, like the ange lus novus, they perceive to be in ruins. (Dubuffet quoted in M a c G r e g o r — p . 303 , Foster , 16,17) In his introduction to Morgenthaler 's monograph on Wolf l i , psychiatrist Aa ron , H. E s m a n says something similar, citing Wolf l i 's work a s an example: "The driving motive behind the creative act in the mentally ill, at least, is the human need for coherence , meaning and order" (1992, xvi). Of course Darger, being dead , cannot literally be harmed by misrepresentat ion or romanticization of his life and work, but the ways in which his work is interpreted and promoted still matter. The story of Darger a s told by others tells us about generic representat ions of disability and marginal izat ion, attitudes which need to be critically examined and chal lenged. The example of Darger a lso shows how a life story, and the art at tached to it, can become a status good 142 for those seek ing to buy the " innocence," "spontaneity" and "primal energy" they lack, to differentiate themselves from whatever herd they happen to belong to. Binding Sweetie Pie Henry Darger, Calmanrinia.Strangling Children by revenge of defeat in battle. Collage-drawing. Watercolor, pencil, carbon on paper. 18 14 X 35 % in. Collection of Robert M. Greenberg, New York. © Kiyoko Lerner / S O D R A C (2005). Using Darger 's work a s an opportunity for marketing authenticity is not the only possib le reaction from the art world. Another is outright censorsh ip . Most outsider artists present an image of non-threatening eccentr ics. Much of Darger 's 143 work, in contrast, is disturbing. It does not fulfill the happy nai'f's obligatorily weird but charming narrative structure. Darger 's fictional worlds upset. His violent subject matter is an except ion in the M u s e u m of Amer ican Folk Art, not only among the weathervanes, household furnishings and other decorative arts, but among other outsider works such as Sister Gertrude Morgan 's quirky, overtly evangel ical Christ ian work, Minnie Evan ' s intricate flora, stars and faces, and the Amer ican landscapes of J o s e p h Y o a k u m . This means that Darger must be modif ied in more overt ways , not only to make him marketable, but in order not to offend too much. Darger 's History of my Life is an autobiography 5,084 handwritten pages long. O n page 206, and for the remainder of History, Darger 's life story b e c o m e s fantasy (MacGregor 2002, 83)—the story of a rampaging tornado "Sweet ie P ie " which takes the shape of a naked girl-child being strangled: "I went to the window and s a w a vast c loud s h a p e d like a little girl 's head turned s ideways . " she descr ibed . ' T h e tongue w a s st icking half way out and the head w a s incl ined slightly downward . Hand -shaped c louds were at tached to the neck a s if strangl ing the ch i ld . . .The neck s e e m e d to s q u e e z e in, the tongue protruded more out, and suddenly from the inward part of the tongue; c a m e a shaft of twisted s n a k e - s h a p e d l ightening that made the oncoming b lackness blinding bright... ." (History of My Life, 3160 , quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 436) Sweet ie P ie ' s protruding tongue, at a pivotal point re-enters her mouth, and then exp lodes through her abdominal wal l , after which the funnel of the tornado issues from her burst abdomen and visits destruction on the earth (MacGregor 2002, 437). A s MacGrego r points out, the havoc wreaked by "Sweet ie P ie " is 144 focused on little girls and her style of torture and murder is similar to that of the Glandel in ians in Realms (509): There were chi ldren, both girls and boys with amputated hand, feet or parts of a rms. Broken bones busted noses . A n eye or so gouged out teeth knocked out, bad b leeding cuts and s tabs . A l s o stuck with p ieces of t imber in arms, legs, ches ts , or a b d o m e n and shou lders . A l s o badly b lackened eyes , one or both lacerated c h e e k s or ch in . Everything you c a n think of. O n e strange thing. Three chi ldren two boys and a girl str ipped totally naked and hog tied by ropes {History of My Life 4760 , quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 438). Al l the dead mostly chi ldren blown from the supermarket were stark naked , their clothing apparent ly having been torn away from their bod ies like s o much t issue paper. In the vast majority the way they must have been f lung every which way s e e m s to have been the so le cause of death. Great numbers of the bod ies have been burst asunder by the force of the terrific wind and lie d i sembowe led . . .The re were many of the little v ict ims who died with their bel l ies torn open (History of My Life 4863 , quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 438). Although attractive to a cult fol lowing, this aspect of Darger 's imagination is a problem for a typical curator or publ isher promoting self-taught art. O n e thing that makes Darger 's image mal leable, and amenab le to being shaped to meet the needs of the market, is that his images are shown widely, but his text is difficult to a c c e s s . The more of Darger 's texts one reads, the more one understands MacGregor ' s character izat ion of Darger as "a man with pretty ser ious problems" (in Park 2002). There does not s e e m to be a push to publish more of Darger 's writing in addit ion to the excerpts quoted in MacGrego r and Bonestee l 's books: likely for practical rather than conspiratorial reasons. Darger 's full textual work totals over 30,000 pages (Anderson 2001 ,11 ) . His original 145 writings are falling apart, his art is not a lways consistent with the textual narrative of Realms from which most of the images are de r i ved , 3 3 and the cal ibre of Darger 's writing, with the except ion of a few descr ipt ions or turns of phrase, is not nearly as good as the ar t . 3 4 M a c G r e g o r tells us that Darger 's descr ipt ions of battles are "strangely static and unconvincing." (2002, 103) The work is highly repetitive: "The interminable and cumulat ive effect is of a single, endless ly var ied sentence being repeated again and again." (103) In my own exper ience the descript ion of end less interminable repetition can be expanded to include many events in Realms and in Darger 's fiction generally. After I read the fictional portion (4,878 pages out of 5,084) of History of My Life and large chunks of Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House and Realms, Darger 's obsess ions became undeniably clear, as certain e lements and events are repeated with unsettling regularity over thousands of pages . T h e s e are descr ipt ions of chi ldren, usually girls, str ipped naked, injured, I was fortunate to spend 3 days in October, 2005, at the museum's storage facility reading Darger's texts -- primarily History of My Life and Further Adventures in Chicago Crazy House (portions of which I copied). Realms is on microfilm at the museum library, but because Darger used multiple page numbers and MacGregor used his own and because none of these page numbers corresponded to those on the microfilm (Mitchell 2005), examining Realms was not the best use of my limited time. Fortunately, substantial chunks of it are included in MacGregor and Bonesteel's books. 3 3 An obvious example is the visual inclusion of hermaphrodites which appear nowhere in Darger's writing. 3 4 Based on her reading of excerpts of Realms from Bonesteel's book, Deborah Markus writes: "Reading Darger is like listening unrelievedly to a child chatter all day long. There are going to be funny bits, even brilliant ones, and little unexpected phrasings that will make you smile or blink; but by nightfall, those clever moments are going to shimmer as oases in a vast desert of repetitious nonsense" (2002, 51). Bonesteel writes that, "There is really no plot..." (2000, 19) 146 tortured, strangled, d isemboweled or killed in s o m e other way. Hundreds of pages of lengthy, s tomach-churning descript ions of this sort make the violent content of Darger 's art harder to rationalize, sanit ize or d ismiss . B e c a u s e of this, the lack of a c c e s s to Darger 's texts is significant. They are not irrelevant to his art, but inform one 's reading of it. Cal l ing Darger a "saintly man" (Prokopoff, 1996, 4/5), or someone with a contemporary counterpart in Harry Potter 's creator J .K . Rowl ing (Anderson 2001 ,11 ) , would not be feasible if the texts were widely known. Darger had a knack for combin ing the whimsical and the creepy, with promoters playing up his whimsical s ide and downplaying violent or pedophil ic content. A good example of this is the way in which the dragon-l ike B leng ig lomeneans (Blengins) in Realms are presented to the public. Blengins love children and are naturally enemies of those who harm them, such as the Glandel in ians: "To see a child crying makes a B leng ig lomenean serpent cry, to s e e a child injured by a Glandel in ian s e e m s to make a hell enter a B leng ig lomenean serpent. . . (Realms, vol . 1, 172, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 347 ) . 3 5 Fol lowing the definitive Christ ian victory, which conc ludes Realms, B lengins, along with freed child s laves and the 3 5 Over the course of the story these cave dwelling, dragon-like creatures mutate from the form of winged serpents to that of an animal-human hybrid with the head and torso of a human and a dragon's body and tail, to their final incarnation as hermaphrodite children with ram's horns, spectacular wings and a dragon tail. (MacGregor 2002, 347; 353; 377) 147 seven Viv ian girls, inhabit tranquil Abb ieannian gardens (398-399). B lengins appear to be a strange but safe part of Darger 's imaginary world. Images of Blengins are s o m e of the most commonly reproduced. This is partly because Blengins populate the more innocuous examples of Darger 's art (few pen ises on display and less violence) and make non-controversial il lustrations for mainstream publ icat ions. In addition to appear ing on the dust jacket of Michael Bonestee l 's book, B lengins feature prominently in other books and ar t i c les 3 7 and on webs i t es . 3 8 Blengin l i kenesses are a lso showcased in Darger- inspired works such as The Vivian Girls by the Pat Graney dance company. Darger 's image entitled "Spang led Blengins, Boy King is lands. O n e is a young Tuskerhor ian, the other a human headed Dortherean" was used to promote J e s s i c a Y u ' s film. Blengins, because of their novelty, beauty, and Darger 's child-l ike execut ion of them, shore up the image of Darger as an outsider innocent lost in dreamland. Rev iewers descr ibe Blengins as fol lows: - b e n i g n dragonl ike beas ts (Hughes 1997, 2/2) - b e n e v o l e n t dragonl ike be ings (Cotter 1997, 1/3) 3 6 For a detailed exploration of Blengins, see chapter 7 of MacGregor's book.(2002) 3 7 Jablonski 1980; Steinke 2000; Lieber 2000; Anderson 2001, Inside Cover; Markus 2002; MacGregor 2002, inside cover; Leddy 2002; Swislow 2003. 3 8Contemporary Center and Henry Darger Center 2007. The introductory image of Anderson 2005a; Michael n.d.; Ayers 1997-2006. 148 --friendly dragons (Allen 1998, 2/8) -some have butterfly wings; others seem quasi-human; but, much like guardian spirits, they exhibit protective concern for the Vivian girls (Polanski 2000, 5/7) -dragon-like Blengins that love children as fiercely as Darger (Karlins 2000, 3/8) - weird butterfly-winged dragonlike creatures, nicknamed Blengins, who protected children from cruelty (Karlins 1997, 94) -Sometimes butterfly winged, dragonlike, or satyred humanoids, the Blengins exhibit maternal care for the Vivian girls. Their role is of guardian angel (Larsen 1997, 3/5). But if we look at Darger 's text, we d iscover something e lse about the apparently inoffensive Blengins: "They have three membranes in their mouth. A huge tongue, a long forked tongue a lso, and a long sharp hollow thing in their mouth attached it s e e m s to its tonsi ls, which has the form of a thin blue or yel low lance or needle." (Realms, vo l . 1, p. 43 , quoted in MacGrego r 2002, 373) The third membrane - "the lance"-- can be used to pierce the skin of a child and to inject a "fluid of a very sweet smel l " into "the blood vesse ls of a little girl or boy": (Realms, vol . 1, 172, quoted in MacGrego r 2002, 374) "What was the membrane the creature did it with?" asked Evans of Violet, "Did you or any of your sisters ever see it?". "No, we didn't," said Violet. "After the attack, it put us all into a deep trance or sleep, and when we revived, we felt as if all the sorrows of the world was gone from us. But we never saw anything but that the creature embraced us just before the happiness came. They did not reveal the lances to us." (Ibid, quoted in MacGregor 2002, 373-374) 149 Blengin injections s e e m to be modeled on a combinat ion of inoculation and penetration. "Injected" chi ldren are left with a smal l spot of "a beautiful pinkish hue" {Realms, vol . 1, 172, MacGrego r 2002, 375) and are protected from d isease and harm by creatures, earthly or otherworldly (Realms, vol. 1, 44, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 375). They become happier than other chi ldren and when the "spot" is touched exper ience bl iss: I examined the red spot on the chi ld 's breast, and accidental ly touched it, with the s a m e result that has and still happens to my little n ieces , a sudden st range happ iness striking her a lmost prostrate. (Realms, vo l . 1, 165, quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002 , 377) Darger 's sexua l longing, exempli f ied by the Blengins and their lances, is an important counterpoint to the sexua l ized v io lence which character izes the Darger/Glandel in ian attacks on chi ldren. Th is violent s ide to Darger 's sexual fantasies is readily apparent in his art, but the "romantic" Darger is obvious only in his writing, with the action somet imes generated by Blengins and somet imes by the affection permitted between the Viv ians and var ious Darger alter egos , such as their brother Penrod ("Penrod was just then hugging Jenn ie in the f lame of his holy pass ion for her." (Realms, vol. 10, pt. 1, 10-204 [241], quoted in M a c G r e g o r 2002, 269) and Genera l Darger: "Darger loved Violet and her sisters as strongly as E v a n s [their guard ian—JM] did though he hardly had them in his embrace as yet (Realms, vol . 13, 13-216 [3342] quoted in MacGrego r 2002, 150 248). The Blengin images, although able to more readily escape censorsh ip than other Darger paintings, are incomplete without the texts which reveal the sexua l ized aspec ts of their relationship to the Viv ian G i r l s . 4 0 It is evident —not just in Realms, but in its sequel Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House—that the objects of Darger 's sexual desire were little girls. Naked and half-naked girls appear again and again throughout Darger 's fiction. Th is in itself adds a layer of meaning even to the most whimsical of Darger 's landscapes populated by prepubescent girls. Al though admitting Darger 's ongoing sexua l ized fascination with little girls adds an element of discomfort even to Darger 's most idyllic images, it is critical to understanding his work. T h e upper part of her [Angelina's] body w a s bare and more than half of her legs too and all of her a rms too but never the less it w a s a very beautiful little body to look upon, one so dainty and s o well reformed [box drawn around "re"] that youd long desperate ly to have her for your own. Her little neck w a s fantastical ly mou lded her a rms perfect and legs too and her (legs) sk in w a s pear l white (Crazy House, 1594-1595) Pedophi l ia is clearly a tricky subject for an institution promoting Darger 's work. Michel Thevoz briefly d iscusses. the "burning quest ion that is difficult to avoid concern ing the work of Henry Darger: The question of pedophi l ia." (2001, 18) His psychoanalyt ic explanation is a quick sketch rather than a real study. Thevoz 3 9 MacGregor tells us that this statement is followed in Darger's text "by thirteen dots, four exclamation points, four dots, and four more exclamation points." (248) 4 0 Some reviewers have identified the Blengin lance (Homes 1997; Vine 1998; Cronenberg 2007) 151 says that the death of Darger 's mother caused him to remain in "a maternally dominant pre-oedipal world" of "polymorphic perversion" (implying that Darger is psychological ly a child and as a result his sources of sexua l p leasure are multiple and undifferentiated). Thevoz bel ieves that given the possibil ity that Darger retained a "pre-oedipal fixation," the longed-for girls and hermaphrodi tes of Darger 's work should be cons idered an aspect of his autoerot icism rather than ev idence of pedophi l ia (18). Th is analys is is not necessar i ly wrong, but it does not really del iver on its promise to answer "the burning quest ion of pedophi l ia." Darger 's paintings, when examined with his texts, suggest autoerotic acts, but pedophi l ic thoughts: To her dread the key would not turn in the lock. She was locked in. As she turned she saw a horrible apparation. It had a human form in some respects with gigantic black feather like wings. It seemed as if the toe nails and finger nails of the huge hands were like five scythes and six hoes and a head that had such hedious features that Sally screamed....screaming fearfully curseful [?] blasphemies it aimed to grasp at Sally. She shrank back speechless with terror. Fifteen feet high it lunged twards her, turned into a ball of singing flame and disappeared. Then instantly she felt a sensation that made her cough violently and steadily and tried to scream but only gurgled and gasped. She tried to make for a win[dow] to jump out, but something unseen held her fast by the throat, increasing the pressure She was slowly rising into the air and she kicked and struggled but to no avail. 152 T h e pressure w a s no s o strong yet to force her tongue out but she couldnt breathe and that made her despera te . T h e n c a m e a loud pounding on the Library door. Probab ly the pounding P h e n o m e n o n T h e grip t ightened dreadful ly and her mouth opened a n d her tongue began to protrude while she hung l imp. T h e pounding cont inued more louder It c a m e c rash after c rash It didn't sound like p h e n o m e n a S o m e one w a s really trying to force the door. T h e full p ressure w a s on her throat now and she b e c a m e too feeble to struggle, she grew faint a s her tongue c a m e all the way out. There c a m e a terrific bang against the door and it c rashed open with a s l am. (Crazy House , vo l . 1, c h . 30 , 5416 -5419 ) 4 1 The orgasmic trajectory of certain of Darger 's descript ions is undeniable—the gradual increasing pressure on Sal ly 's throat, the longed for opening of her mouth and gl impse of her tongue, and the loud, then louder pounding on the library door—unti l "her tongue came all the way out," a "terrific bang" and the door c rashes open. There is a c lear autoerotic element to this descript ion by Darger, but the object of desire, the child Sal ly, is essent ia l to the autoerotic fantasy and so autoeroticism cannot simply replace pedophi l ia, and e a s e our minds about Darger 's work, as Thevoz suggests . Darger tells us on the following page that having been rescued by Penrod and the Vivian sisters, "Violet and Joice lifted her [Sally] to her feet Penrod had gone out because Sally was naked." (5420) 153 Henry Darger, Untitled drawing [Glandelinian strangling child] 19 x 24 in. © Kiyoko Lerner / S O D R A C (2005). Understandably, curators want to play down this aspect of Darger 's work, and avoid the potential controversy and possib le withdrawal of funding it could engender. O n e can understand that making Darger 's writing easi ly avai lable, for example, might jeopardize this. In the U.S., powerful organizat ions like the Amer ican Family Assoc ia t ion (formerly known as The National Federat ion for Decency) patrol the Amer ican gallery circuit and monitor N E A (National 154 Endowment for the Arts) funding mobil izing their many fundamental ist, Christ ian members when they feel their va lues have been offended. (Amer ican Family Assoc ia t ion Onl ine n.d.) A n d so Thevoz ' s portrayal of Darger a s "condemned to chi ldish polymorphism" (18) is not without its usefu lness. But it is c loser to a sleight of hand than an explanat ion. Rather than confront pedophi l ia, Thevoz uses psychoanalyt ic terms and concepts to project an image of knowledge and expert ise, and then, having establ ished his credentials, to suggest that readers unsatisf ied with his explanation had best examine their own consc iences . Thevoz proclaims that those who continue to suggest Darger was a pedophi le are "closet pedophi les:" As far as we know, Darger never committed a misdemeanor that went to court, that pedophilia exists latently in those who wallow in reading information of this kind and who look obsessively for the occasion to be indignant about it, and indeed, that works of art have always had a sort of mirrorlike quality. (19) Severa l years earlier, in 1996/97, Stephen Prokopoff, director of the University of Iowa Museum of Art, organized Realms of the Unreal, a traveling exhibition of Darger 's work . 4 2 Prokopoff chose to exhibit Darger 's least controversial images: In organizing the exhibition from the University of Iowa Museum of Art, the late art historian Stephen Prokopoff intentionally omitted Darger's brutal images. Prokopoff's selections were dominated by the artist's brilliant The show began in Iowa and went on to San Francisco, Chicago and New York (Bonesteel 2000,15). 155 landscapes, in which happy children play in gardens of flowery abundance. (Wertkin 2001, 125)43 Although Prokopoff omitted the "brutal" images, he still found it necessary to address the content of the remaining, cheerier, but still violent, ones. First, though, he tells the tragic story of Darger's early life and the surprise discovery of Darger's work, in which a "picaresque" tale ( Realms) is key (1/5). In the catalogue for the exhibition he writes: Darger's imagery, when it details mayhem and sometimes the lurid mistreatment of little girls, can be distressing. An observer characterized a picture in a sunny landscape in which images of children, exotic flowers, butterflies and exploding bombs were joined as "being like Beirut." The only possible response in such instances is that art, being often fashioned from artists' obsessions, is rarely a vehicle for the description of perfection: Darger created art from the visions available to him. (4/5) In fact, Darger seems to have based his visions precisely on what was unavailable to him except as fantasy: companionship, power, and sex. Prokopoff's "only possible response" paints a contemporarily acceptable picture of Darger as a victim of his visions, rather than the architect of them. What the denial of Darger's agency in invoking violence and perversity comes to is a refusal to give him credit for the power of this vision. Darger as victim is a panacea, offered so that viewers' fascinated responses can then continue without their acknowledging its connection to their own perversity. Gerard Wertkin was director of the American Museum of Folk Art, which participated in the traveling exhibition. 156 John MacGregor , who spent more than a decade studying Darger 's art and writing, publicly d isagreed with Prokopoff 's decis ion to censor Darger 's work. The dispute is descr ibed by S .L . Al len in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: In fact, M a c G r e g o r and Prokopoff squared off when Prokopoff censo red the more violent images from the show that later c a m e to Y e r b a B u e n a . H e de fends the act by say ing that he "wanted to show that Darger w a s not an ogre . . . and I honest ly thought they [the violent ones] were just not a s good. " M a c G r e g o r cri t icized it as a reduction of Darger to another "cutesy and quirky" folk artist (Al len1998). W h e n the traveling show arrived in New York in 1997, the M u s e u m of Amer ican Folk Art, chose to include some of Darger 's more violent paintings, as well a s those where the mixed sex of the children was visual ly apparent (Karl ins 1997, 96). Wertkin later wrote:"Stewardship of Darger 's legacy through the Henry Darger Study Centre requires the Museum to present and interpret his work with sensitivity but without sensat ional ism, and with due regard for the needs of the audience." (2001, 125) "Due regard for the needs of the aud ience" meant that the more controversial paintings (violent and/or showing the children as hermaphrodites) were conf ined "to one area with a warning to parents who might not want young children to view them" (Karl ins 1997, 9 6 ) . 4 4 The segregation of these images of hermaphrodites is somewhat puzzling. While at first it would seem to exemplify the stigma attached to intersexuality, it is more likely they were cordoned off as a result of the frontal "male" nudity — curiously especially controversial in the U.S. While there is no way to know why Darger gave his girls male genitalia, their depiction as hermaphrodites may actually serve to make Darger's more violent work more acceptable. These unexplained depictions of intersex children put Darger's work more solidly into the realm of fantasy. The violation of little girls is incomparably more disturbing to most people than the 157 Making Darger Safe for Consumption Henry Darger, At Norma Catherine via Jennie Richee. Vivian girls witness childrens bowels and other entrails torn out by infuriated Glandelinians. The result after the massacre. Only a few of the murdered children shown here. [Triptych: center panel]. © Kiyoko Lerner / S O D R A C (2005). Rather than outright censorsh ip , most portrayals of Darger commit acts of omiss ion. W h e n the Museum publ ished a book on Darger (Anderson 2001), it violation of imaginary, almost mythological beings. The term "hermaphrodite" is not representative of most, some say any, people with intersexual characteristics. In the reception of Darger's work it is commonly viewed appropriately as symbolic or metaphorical. 158 was evident that they took their pedagogica l role seriously. Wertkin wrote in the Afterword, "Darger 's legacy must be approached in its totality—the troubling images of his narrative a long with the uplifting, the banal with the otherworldly, the evil with the saintly." (125) Yet the carefully worded introduction for the book by the curator of the museum's Contemporary Center , Brooke Davis Anderson , and the rest of Wertkin 's Afterword, show that this was a tall, perhaps impossible order. In the Introduction, Anderson presents Darger as creating a complex work of family entertainment, an access ib le fantasy world in which convent ional morality prevails: Darger left behind a t reasure that continual ly testif ies to his sharp intel l igence and dry wit, his obsess i ve nature, and his arrested emot ional deve lopment . T h e works reveal his lone l iness and torment a s much as p layfu lness and humor . . .We are wi tness to an imaginat ion of gen ius paral lel to that of L. Frank B a u m , author of the O z books , or a contemporary counterpart, J . K . Rowl ing, who m a k e s real the world of Harry Pot ter . . .Whi le throughout the tale there is much death and destruct ion, in the end the Viv ian Gir ls prevai l : good tr iumphs over evi l , and the ens laved chi ldren are f reed from their captors. (2001, 11-12) The Afterword, entitled "Transcendence at the Edge of Darkness, " focuses on Darger 's Catho l ic ism: "His lifelong and intense, if ambivalent, connect ion to the R o m a n Cathol ic Church . " (125) It interprets his more difficult art as the working out of his redemption through artistic vision (126). Both of these character izat ions of Darger fall far short of the unabridged Darger that has been promised. But this Darger, portrayed as childl ike, intense and unusual , 159 marginal ized, creative, but fundamental ly conforming to the moral status quo and involved in a spiritual struggle culminating in t ranscendence, conforms well to the acceptable outsider stereotypes. The Amer ican M u s e u m of Folk Art 's Darger is more complex than Prokopoff 's, a bit edgier, but the omiss ions keep it suitable for the P G market. Darger promoters, usually dealers and curators, often play up his innocence in order to protect his legacy from negative press. Darger is presented (correctly) as marginal ized and therefore deserv ing of to lerance and compass ion . But the "celebration of the marginal ized" easi ly shades into the erasure of anything that does not fit the image of a harmless eccentr ic. The public can only remain tolerant if it is protected from Darger 's most quest ionable texts and works, but protecting the public "for its own sake" is condescend ing as well as problematic, even if that's what the public demands . The sanit ized dream of Darger — as the childlike innocent, the tormented artist or the spiritual seeker—is obviously tempting, not only for marketing purposes, but because people prefer it to the more accurate vers ion. F i lmmaker J e s s i c a Y u set out to "eschewpng] expert opinion" so that she could " immerse us in Darger 's world and all its strange beauty," accord ing to the press kit for her 2004 film, In the Realms of the Unreal. Y u says she did this because she wanted to "let the 160 audience make up their own minds, a somewhat ingenuous statement coming from a filmmaker, given the precise shaping of content the medium requires. Audience reactions are tied to Yu's selective presentation of Darger. In an interview with Jane Ganahl of the San Francisco Chronicle, Yu explains her motives for wanting to make a film about Darger: I wanted to explore what I thought Darger was trying to do with his work, she says. He seemed to be trying to find fulfillment in his life, trying not to be such an island. He was so alone that he populated his world with imaginary children, which could have been sad. But at the same time I was awestruck by his tremendous ambition and vision. And I thought his art was simply stunning. (Ganahl 2004, 3/4) If these were Yu's intentions, it is not surprising that while not completely erasing the more difficult aspects of Darger's work, the film keeps things light and upbeat. Darger's work is diluted by whimsy, its intensity reduced through playful animation and a soundtrack that mixes narration, cartoon explosions, villains with evil laughs, girlie giggles, gasps and shrieks, with generic background music complete with intermittent angelic chorale. Gentle humor abounds. Jessica Yu's own conclusions about Darger's work are readily apparent. Of course, in addition to finding and retaining the funding to work in such an expensive medium, Yu needed permission from Kiyoko Lerner to use Darger's materials. Like museums and galleries, there are many possible reasons why she gives us the safe In an interview with Anderson, Yu says, "No experts, no art historians or psychoanalysts. I decided on this filmic device pretty early...People's responses to Darger's writing and paintings say so much about themselves, really. Once you embrace the mystery, the many opinions seem less compelling. I wanted my audience to decide for themselves." (Anderson 2005b.) 161 version of Darger that she does , but the fi lm's se lect iveness cannot be completely expla ined by extenuating c i rcumstances. O n e example of Y u ' s reductive perspect ive is when the film mentions Darger 's failure to adopt a chi ld. Y u has chi ld actor Dakota Fanning say: "He cont inued to save children through the pictures he found." Without context, this statement plays to the sentimental stereotype of the non-threatening innocent, the damaged and somewhat loopy outsider. Whi le MacGregor , in his psychobiography of Darger, says someth ing similar when descr ib ing Darger 's cache of found images, it is not as a stand alone tear-jerker, but qualif ied by its context: Beh ind these often inconsequent ia l accounts and photographs of lost chi ldren lurk profound feel ings of s a d n e s s , des i re and a lso rage. W e must remember that Henry too w a s abandoned . In his room he b e c a m e the champ ion of lost and mistreated chi ldren. H is vast col lect ions represent a lifelong rescue operat ion: every image of a little girl he found, found a home with h im. There was , however , another s ide to Darger 's col lect ing activity and his love of pictures of little girls. His nightly examinat ion of newspapers and magaz ines w a s a lso motivated by a powerful combinat ion of sexua l and aggress ive dr ives. (2002, 122-123) Y u ' s s tance, suggested throughout the film, is that Darger is an "innocent" with a traumatic background. The inference is that the disturbing aspec ts of Darger 's work can be understood by knowing about his difficult chi ldhood. This is mostly (and significantly) conveyed through the voice of a seven year old girl (Dakota Fanning). Throughout the film, Fanning makes statements such as , " A s a chi ld, Henry learned to answer v io lence with v io lence" and "by depict ing the slaughter 162 of children, Darger became their avenger." When Yu asks Darger's former acquaintances why they think Darger's girls had penises, she follows statements which suggest Darger didn't know the difference between the sexes, by quoting (in Fanning's voice) a definition of rape he inserted in Further Adventure in Chicago: Crazy House: "What is rape?" asked Penrod. "According to the dictionary, it means to undress a girl and cut her open to see the insides" said Joice. (quoted in Bonesteel 2000, endnotes, 19, 34) Considering the amount of evisceration/rape described in lascivious detail by Darger in The Realms, using this definition to add evidence to the suggestion of Darger's sexual "innocence" is frankly misleading. 4 6 Yu ends the film with a ham-fisted proclamation—Tom Waits' "Innocent When You Dream." A sentimental ending also marks the end of Yu's interview with Ganahl: Christmas carols are playing overhead in the restaurant as Yu finishes her fancy meal. "As Henry wrote, in the end, he never had a nice Christmas or a pice New Year's," she says. 'What's even sadder is that one of the things he collected was used Christmas cards. I'd like to think it was because of the pictures on the front, but I don't know." Bonesteel's interpretation of this is that "Darger took every possible precaution to avoid any direct reference to sexuality in his writing, even to the point of redefining 'rape. When used by Darger, the word had no overt sexual implications but did denote physical violation in its most extreme form.'" (2000, endnotes 19, 34) 163 S h e s ighs . But if anything, I hope this film shows that every life has va lue. A n d that everyone, no matter how a lone, wants to reach out to others and leave someth ing behind." (3/4) Gal ler ies, museums , independent f i lmmakers and publishing compan ies are often vulnerable because they are dependant on government and charitable funding. But present ing Darger as a posthumous version of the Amer ican Dream, the pitiful (but imaginative) victim who "overcomes" life's hardships by writing and illustrating heart-warming "p icaresque" tales (Prokopoff 1996, 1) and "ripping yarns" (Bonesteel 2000, 19. Emphas i s mine) with edifying morals, who tugs at our heartstrings as a D ickens ian character forlornly col lect ing used Chr is tmas cards , is untrue to the more compl icated reality. The image of the d isabled but courageous victim, seen through a soft-focus haze of touching naivete, goes beyond the exerc ise of caut ion, and presents us with a Darger simplif ied and sani t ized beyond recognit ion. Darger 's posthumous ex is tence - including the use of his biography and low soc ia l -economic status as a guarantor of artistic authenticity, and the sentimental izat ion and somet imes outright censorsh ip of his work - is an instance of how the art market commodi t ies the exper iences and work of many self-taught and d isabled artists. Outs ider art, like art brut before it, constructs psychological disability a s primitive, authentic and redeeming. In doing so , it transfers surplus "authenticity" from the producer to the consumer of the artistic product. 164 In this way, the aesthet ic commodif icat ion of outsider art/art brut l ives becomes a third strategy by which "normal society" contains and makes "productive" the product of the d isabled mind. Just as institutional/political strategies turn the mentally d isabled into objects of "scientific" knowledge and bureaucratic practice, and religious narratives can make the suffering of the d isabled "redemptive" and consol ing, so too the outsider art market romantic izes psychological disability and turns it into a commodi ty by linking gritty life stories to the commerc ia l and aesthet ic valuation of the art. 165 Afterword Henry Darger, At Jennie Richee. Have thrilling time running through a field of gutted bodies of children with shells bursting all around. Vivian girls wear purple rimmed hats. Others are girl scouts. Collage-drawing. Right panel of three. © Kiyoko Lerner / S O D R A C (2005). What then, do the work, life and afterlife of Henry Darger tell us about the ways the normative society, and the d isabled themselves, deal with mental disabil ity? 166 There is something about disability -- in this c a s e psychological disability - that is chal lenging to the normative "healthy" person or socia l institution. S o m e of those chal lenges are obvious and practical - s o m e are more metaphysical . Darger embod ied both kinds of chal lenge: while alive he made strange no ises, refused to bathe and avoided socia l interaction. W h e n dead , he left a legacy of images and text that fascinates us, that we seek to enjoy and profit from, but which is a lso unsettling and even horrifying. I have examined Darger 's life and work, in the context of his psychological disability, and s o m e socia l and critical strategies appl ied to him. In the chapter "Touched: Pol i t ical /Bureaucrat ic Strategies of Containment and the Life of Henry Darger," I looked at the primarily carceral strategy used to address the problem Darger and others like him posed during his lifetime. I looked specif ical ly at the Lincoln asy lum, in which Darger spent five years of his life. Darger 's stay coinc ided with a change from a moralistic (and relatively humane) strategy for " improving" the "feeble minded" to an ostensibly scientif ic and progressive one based on hereditary pathology. The objective historical record about Lincoln is mostly grim, and Darger attempted to e s c a p e three t imes. At the s a m e time, Darger 's own recollection is a nostalgic, semi-benign one. This poses the quest ion of the extent to which we should listen to the subjective exper ience of mentally d isabled people, and the extent to which we should d ismiss it as false consc iousness . Neither approach s e e m s ideal, but Darger 's 167 interpretation should be given its due, even as we qualify it by what we know of the condit ions at Lincoln and the bureaucratic/polit ical strategy of containment used to "solve" the problem of the mentally ill Darger spent his adult life outside of the literal institution of the asy lum, but he was aware of both the st igma of being a former inmate and of others' perception of him as simple or "crazy." The dominant trend of progressive "scientif ic" thought of his day - eugen ics - was finally discredited by the Naz i exper ience in Ge rmany that came to light in the 1940s. But the discredit ing of one technique does not el iminate our need as a society, or as individuals, for " techniques;" ways to ensure that we are "protected" from unmediated contact with the mentally ill and that they are "protected from themselves." Darger remained sensib ly caut ious about authority throughout his life, while the technological approaches changed from institutionalization to medicat ion and forced home lessness . His prodigious creative output, which he kept private, should be v iewed against this backdrop. Darger had no desire to increase his visibility and with it his vulnerability to potentially coerc ive authority. In the second chapter, "As a Lamb Among Mad Wolves a Fish Hung on a Hook. Theological Strategies of Legitimation and the Work of Henry Darger", | examined the structure Darger himself looked to when he sought to make sense of his suffering - religion, specif ical ly Catho l ic ism. W h e n we look at the reoccurring religious imagery in Darger 's work, we s e e that it is c losely al igned 168 to sexua l ized v io lence. W e a lso see that Darger - al though outwardly pious -took a combat ive s tance towards G o d . Throughout his life, Darger raged at what he perceived to be G o d ' s injustice, which he "punished" by visiting sexua l ized brutality on the creatures of his own fictional universe. In Darger, we s e e the circuit of love-suffering-sacrif ice-redemption that is so central to more orthodox Christianity. In particular, there are c lose paral lels between Darger 's Viv ian girls and the virgin martyrs of medieval Catho l ic ism. Darger 's theology and theodicy have not gone unnot iced, but, paradoxical ly, there is an attempt to turn Darger himself into the suffering virgin martyr who is redeemed by his difficult life c i rcumstances and disability. Too much weight is given by a number of critics (Anderson, 2001 ; Ste inke, 2000; V ine, 1988), I bel ieve, to the convent ional ending of The Realms, in which good tr iumphs and the repentant are forgiven. Not enough is given to the ev idence that Darger was never finally reconci led, that he cont inued the alteration between appeas ing and railing at G o d to the end. A supposedly post-feminist age may try to blunt the descr ipt ions of violation of prepubescent bodies by emphas iz ing the "agency" of the Viv ian girls. But a c loser look at the v io lence makes this a morally problematic strategy for increasing our comfort with and interest in Darger 's work. In the third chapter, "A Moonflaw in the Brain: Aesthet ic Strategies of Consumpt ion and the Afterlife of Henry Darger", I looked at Darger 's afterlife as a 169 hot artistic commodity. The market for work produced by untrained artists with psychological disabil i t ies, formerly cal led the art of the insane, sel ls raw, "authentic" artistic express ion to the (presumably) sane and solvent. The development of Dubuffet's phi losophy of art brut and later the field of outsider art legitimated self-taught art and helped lead to this work 's current status as highly marketable and col lectable. My analys is of Darger 's inf luences intended to show that the mentally ill are no more "innocent" of acculturation than anyone e lse. Further, I tried to explore the ethical d i lemmas and paradoxes in a market powered by the linking of biography to creative authenticity and of socia l and economic marginal ization of self-taught artists essent ia l to rising market pr ices. I then explored how the increasing prominence of Darger 's work has been inseparable from a soft-pedall ing of the disturbing violent and pedophi l ic themes in it. What Darger 's life, work and afterlife suggest is that mental i l lness is not (and perhaps cannot be) encountered without strategies of containment and avo idance. I cannot claim to have avoided these themes myself. There are, after al l , a lso academic strategies of avo idance, of making s e n s e of, as part of the process of academic production. Ro land Bar thes ' declarat ion of the Death of the Author (Barthes 1989, 55) s e e m s to l icense us as academic readers to do anything with any "text." S ince divining authorial intent perfectly is impossible, it may s e e m to be unnecessary to even try. But Darger was not an all-powerful 170 author of the type Barthes was rebelling against, and we (I) ought to be cautious and respectful about using him to illustrate our (my) favoured theories. There is no way to examine Darger's work, for instance, without a willingness to trespass. We cannot have his permission to examine what he left behind. There is no way to speak with his "voice" or keep within his preferred ways of seeing himself. If I had attempted to be neutral and objective and tried to keep my point of view out of the study, I would have been reduced to a recitation of Darger facts (not really a neutral activity anyway). How can I reconcile my ignorance about what Darger intended and how he viewed himself, with my own examination of him as an artist with a psychological disorder, and of our responses to him? What would Darger think about my portrayal of him as disabled, and of his work as illustrative of the ways in which institutions react to disability? Not much, I bet. But I cannot "share power" with Darger or "co-create" with him. The responsibilities of research and critique are mine. Nevertheless, I have tried to consider Darger's intentions even if I cannot fully understand them. In analyzing others' interpretations of him I have also advanced my own position that our attitudes toward mental disability are central to how we view the life and work.of Henry Darger. . At each point in my analysis, I have had to struggle with these dilemmas. When examining the carceral institution in which Darger grew up, how seriously should I take his late-life nostalgia in comparison to his decision to try to escape? I tried 171 to move beyond the reductonist portrayals of Darger as a sent imental ized saint or a dangerous pervert, to present him as a complex person with conflicting des i res and internal contradict ions. Darger 's religious beliefs clearly ass is ted him in making sense of his situation, but in the end he could not make sense of what he thought G o d was doing to him. From what perspect ive can we view his mental and spiritual struggles? W e may not share his theology, but the ways in which he dupl icated the Christ ian economy of sacri f ice in his fiction, by inflicting suffering and death on innocents, should give us pause , rather than, as has often been the c a s e , be used to normal ize the v io lence in Darger 's work and the suffering in his own life. I have tried to examine the Christ ian narrative of suffering and redemption through Darger 's extreme fictional re-ennactments of it. I have crit icized attempts to fit Darger 's life and work, and those of the d isabled general ly, into a redemptive narrative. I argue that Darger 's response to suffering (demanding more suffering) is a Chr ist ian one and that his use of it a l lows us to see Christianity anew and to critically examine the f lawed redemptive narrative it sets forth. Speci f ic interpretations of Darger 's life and work have been used to increase his market value. I have d iscussed what the implications of the outsider art market are for artists with disabil i t ies and the way in which designat ions of authenticity and marginal izat ion, while good for market value, impact d isabled artists negatively. Protect ing Darger 's image and value as a commodity has a lso led to 172 a degree of censorship, as he is re-institutionalized in art galleries and museums. To counter the sentimentalized image of Darger as a champion of ill-treated children everywhere I have discussed portions of Darger's text which clearly identify children as the objects of his sexual fantasy While it is easy to criticize the status and money games involved in the posthumous promotion of Darger's work, the reality is that as an academic researcher I play a part in them. The provocative aspects of Darger's work have intellectual currency. They attract notice. While it is true that there is plenty in Darger to provoke, and even to shock, I have tried to balance the unsettling with the banal. Yes, Darger was exceptionally gifted. He was also psychologically disabled. These are the ways in which he was different from most of us. Yet, even though Darger's creative and imaginative life was tumultuous, his daily existence was, for most of his life, excessively mundane. Our sameness, our kinship with Darger, stems from the less sensational aspects of his life: the need to make a living, a desire for love, understanding and recognition and the perpetual nature of everyday frustrations. Went on early morning hike. Found plenty of cord which I balled today. Finished also brown twine. Yet also found on railroad track an abundance of thick white string. Began working on that today. I have enough to take days to finish. Had a tantrumto day. Did a lot of swearing. I'm sorry. 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