Darger's Resources

Darger's Resources

Michael Moon

Language: English

Pages: 168

ISBN: 0822351560

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Henry Darger (1892–1973) was a hospital janitor and an immensely productive artist and writer. In the first decades of adulthood, he wrote a 15,145-page fictional epic, In the Realms of the Unreal. He spent much of the rest of his long life illustrating it in astonishing drawings and watercolors. In Darger's unfolding saga, pastoral utopias are repeatedly savaged by extreme violence directed at children, particularly girls. Given his disturbing subject matter and the extreme solitude he maintained throughout his life, critics have characterized Darger as eccentric, deranged, and even dangerous, as an outsider artist compelled to create a fantasy universe. Contesting such pathologizing interpretations, Michael Moon looks to Darger's resources, to the narratives and materials that inspired him and often found their way into his writing, drawings, and paintings. Moon finds an artist who reveled in the burgeoning popular culture of the early twentieth century, in its newspaper comic strips, pulp fiction, illustrated children's books, and mass-produced religious art. Moon contends that Darger's work deserves and rewards comparison with that of contemporaries of his, such as the "pulp historians" H. P. Lovecraft and Robert Howard, the Oz chronicler L. Frank Baum, and the newspaper cartoonist Bud Fisher.

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Glandelinian soldiers martyring many of his heroines will probably remain unequivocally appalling to almost all his readers, becoming aware of the persistence of gory details of extreme cruelty and violence as an apparently indispensable feature of martyr narrative in general and of virgin-­martyr narrative in particular may make some difference in the nature and quality of one’s response to it. In her 1999 study of the popular medieval “theater of cruelty” of the martyrs and their legends, the

ungrounded and ungroundable foulness that is all that ultimately establishes the law the supposed foundation of the worlds each of them makes. The language in which both Branwell Brontë’s and Darger’s respective causes of death are commonly given partakes of the fantasy of pervasive corruption—something fundamentally rotten about things at their very core— that was central to either artist’s output. “Consumption” covered a multitude of ills in nineteenth-­century medicine. For a long time,

Confederacy after the Civil War, but what many experienced by the end of the 1930s as the larger lost cause of US service or menial workers and working-­ class women and children. In the Realms of the Unreal in one sense presents a far-­from-­perfect utopia or heaven in which Darger imagines other innocent and deeply oppressed people like himself finding some measure of salvation, or at least intermittent relief from suffering and social death. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of Darger’s work

in a sense led two lives. By his own account, until he was twenty-­four, he lived in what sounds like almost unbroken solitude, “protected” from the outside world by his mother and other older relatives, but left largely alone by them. In 1914, at the age of twenty-­four, he was invited to join a large national amateur writers’ association that helped members circulate their work and hosted annual conventions (those who think that “zines” came into existence in the seventies are right—only it was

an effeminate boy and young man who enjoyed babysitting and child care and that he was dominated by his evil or crazy mother—even (or especially) after her death. Obviously, the elements of effeminacy and of an elaborate maternal identification in various manifestations closely fit a pervasive 1950s stereotype of the homosexual. The reason that Hitchcock himself gave for casting Perkins in the role was to make the Norman Bates character more sympathetic to audiences by embodying the character in

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