Henry Darger, the Vivian Girls, and The Realms of the Unreal
January 25, 2002 6:03 PM   Subscribe

The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, as caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.
The story recounts the wars between nations on an enormous and unnamed planet, of which Earth is a moon. The conflict is provoked by the Glandelinians, who practice child enslavement. After hundreds of ferocious battles, the good Christian nation of Abbiennia forces the 'haughty' Glandelinians to give up their barbarous ways. The heroines of Darger's history are the seven Vivian sisters, Abbiennian princesses. They are aided in their struggles by a panoply of heroes, who are sometimes the author's alter-egos. The battles are full of vivid incident: charging armies, ominous captures, alarms and explosions, the appearances of demons and dragons.
Details within.
posted by y2karl (19 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It has inspired an online game, a play, at least two poems, a popular song, a rave and a rock group, much commentary and much

The work is enormous, the art is about the most beautiful Outsider art I’ve ever seen, and, at times, very disturbing.

The story of its creator, Henry Darger, is incredible beyond belief. All the links came via the page herein, beginning with Mathew Michaels’ The Realm Of the Unreal and continuing link page by Google by link page thereon..
posted by y2karl at 6:04 PM on January 25, 2002

What an incredibly interesting post, thanks y2karl. I know what I'm going to be doing for the next few hours now.

Darger's labors in obscurity remind me of Achilles Rizzoli, another artist who created his own world, entirely for himself.
posted by emptyage at 6:20 PM on January 25, 2002

I must point out that Darger's 15,000 page art work, discovered after his death, is filled with images of young naked girls, at war, committing atrocities upon each other, often being subjected to torture and mutilation, all of which has caused some to call him a pedophile, at the very least. What he was, was an insane obessessive devout Catholic who had an incredibly harsh childhood and lived a solitary recluse's life. His work was discovered in the last days of his life. He died a pauper--much money has been made from his work, one of many ironies. I do not think him a pedophile, I think his story and art is far more complex than can be reduced by armchair soundbite psychoanalysis. In the end, it is a mystery--he probably never intended for any of what he drew and wrote to be seen.
posted by y2karl at 6:22 PM on January 25, 2002

Y2karl, thanks so much for this post. This is deeply facinating stuff!

If I may - here are two more really informative links I found via Y2karl's original links:

Henry Darger: The Unreality of Being

The American Folk Art Museum in NYC has two Darger exhibits up currently, and is home to the Henry Darger Study Center (as of Fall 2001) for all our NYC MeFi friends.
posted by anastasiav at 6:45 PM on January 25, 2002

From this story: "For the last 40 years of his life he dwelled in a small rented room on Chicago's North Side, from which he would timorously sally forth to collect street trash."

Does Darger rhyme with Barger?
posted by jjg at 6:52 PM on January 25, 2002

That's "images of young naked girls" with penises. I've always assumed that he just didn't know what girls looked like naked.
posted by nicwolff at 7:19 PM on January 25, 2002

There was a piece about Darger (hard "g", jjg, as in "target") piece in The New Yorker last week (two weeks ago?). In typical New Yorker piss-me-off fashion, it's no longer online. I really want to see this stuff in person. Apparently, Darger was pretty much crazy...
From Peter Schjeldahl's New Yorker article: "Largely uneducated, he worked at menial jobs, scrounged in garbage cans, and walked the streets talking to himself, and attended Catholic Mass every day."
...and his work is fraught with bizarre images that are hard to reconcile...
"Why do nearly all of Darger's cute little girls, when naked, sport penises? I don't know, and, on the evidence of attempted explanations that I've read, no one else does, either."
Still, it's fascinating. I really want to see it in person.
"Dismissing Darger as some kind of weirdo is not an option for anyone who spends time with him. His cosmos is thought through and expressed with imposing integrity. It can't be picked apart."
posted by jpoulos at 7:28 PM on January 25, 2002

I've always assumed that he just didn't know what girls looked like naked.

If I had to guess, from what little I know of him, I'd go with that, nicwolff.
posted by jpoulos at 7:29 PM on January 25, 2002

I'll offer the smoke-out-of-ass theory that the little girls have penises because he didn't think of them as sexual creatures.. they were androgenous (which itself literally means having male and female parts but seeming mostly female) as one would suppose truly innocent beings would be. No credibility here, that was just my first impression.

Horns? Beats me.

Anyway, y2karl, that was one of the more interesting and well-constructed posts I've seen. Many thanks.
posted by Hildago at 7:35 PM on January 25, 2002

It's amazing and wonderful that the person who found his papers (the landlord of his apartment, as he had no next of kin) didn't throw it all into a dumpster. And lucky for the landlord as well, he made fair amount of money selling it later.

I saw the show at the American Folk Art museum in NYC over the holidays, which was very exciting after being a fan for years. The most amusing part is they have these incredible recording of someone reading from the journals in this bizarre monotone that sounds like my Macintosh. Very appropriate.
posted by puppy kuddles at 7:37 PM on January 25, 2002

posted by kv at 8:21 PM on January 25, 2002

What he was, was an insane obessessive devout Catholic

but not a pedophile? thank christ for that
posted by victors at 9:00 PM on January 25, 2002

Darger's work -- and life, by the way -- are extremely, extremely interesting. Love the post, because it's a shame he's almost unknown -- I told all my friends about him, he's really kind of a cult underground artist. Disturbing of course, but very often art is exactly that, disturbing (wanna talk about Balthus, anybody?). Too bad I didn't catch the New Yorker story: any links, maybe Usenet or google cache?
posted by matteo at 4:21 AM on January 26, 2002

Wow. I'd never heard of him before. This is cool stuff. Thanks!
posted by Badmichelle at 5:40 AM on January 26, 2002

If you ever get done looking up information on Darger, which is amazing -- the Web is the first medium that could handle his books in full -- google the outsider musician Jandek. Another bizarre, compelling personality.
posted by rcade at 6:52 AM on January 26, 2002

I saw the Darger exhibit at the Folk Art Museum a couple of weeks ago. Thoughtfully mounted and well put together, although its perplexingly and frustratingly double-minded about Darger's status as an "artist" -- they spend lots of time insisting on the depth of his visual talent, yet can't help exposing the extent to which he seems to have often lifted his figures straight from magazines and advertisments: not that there's anything wrong with that, but it comes across strangely -- is he doing collage because he can't draw all that well or originally? Or is he evidence of the meaninglessness of that kind of classical figural skill in the creation of something compelling? The curators sort of hem and haw over this, which bugged me.

That said, what was really fascinating was to see all of the people who had come for the Pennsylvania Dutch pottery and Shaker arts and such (of which the museum is chock full) walk dutifully into the Darger exhibit, look around for about ten minutes, and then turn to one another in utter baffled confusion. Did they wander into another museum by mistake?
posted by BT at 2:11 PM on January 26, 2002

emptyage, pardon the belated acknowledgement--I've been packing and cleaning all weekend--but I want to thank you for the Achilles Rizzole links.

The outwardly sad lonely life, moving through the deep and dreary rut of the daily routine, existing outside of the gaze of the other, immune because invisible; but inwardly rich to a degree almost threatening... The tragedy is that this society we serve and preserve has no place for individual like Rizzoli. What was there to commodify? Any attempt would have most certainly ruined him. The relevance of Rizzoli is twofold: primarily for the work as an excellent example of visionary art; and then, as an indicator of what place there is in this society for the visionary artist.

I guess that's what Miguel means by real pathos but I can relate to some of that--I only wish there were links to more, to larger images, his renderings are fascinating. And I'd never heard of him--thank you, thank you.
posted by y2karl at 8:16 PM on January 27, 2002 [1 favorite]

Chicago Me-fites can see pieces of darger's work (and achilles rizzoli's) at Intuit Gallery of outsider art (link) which is on Milwaukee just south of Chicago, open 12-5 wed-saturday.
posted by sfz at 7:54 AM on January 28, 2002

Hey, lookee here! It's a Henry Darger story...

Hey, wait a minute...

All posts are © their original authors.

Why, I oughta...
posted by y2karl at 10:14 PM on January 29, 2002

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