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Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy: The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist Hardcover – September 12, 2013
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"Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy deserves a prominent place among the ongoing attempts to unravel the mysteries that lie behind the epic art and writings of Henry Darger.“ —Chicago Tribune
“[Elledge] has written the definitive account of an artist who alchemized tragedy into art of transcendent and disturbing power.” —OUT Magazine
“A rich portrait of the outsider artist’s life, scaffolded with a decade’s worth of research.” —NY Arts Magazine
“Delves further into one of the most enigmatic artists of the twentieth century, reveals minute details, and answers hotly debated questions about Darger's life, his loves, his passions, his daily life, the misconceptions surrounding him, and what it meant to be an exiled artist.” —Bay Area Reporter
"In the world of overwrought biographies that love the tragic artist mythology and the profit-based art-world hype machine, Elledge's book is the closest you might come to getting at the actual truth of the artist."—Bookslut
"Prolific author and editor Elledge presents an extraordinarily compassionate and adventurously researched biography of the self-taught Chicago artist, Henry Darger. Drawing on his far-ranging investigation and keen psychological perception, Elledge poignantly and convincingly argues that the torture Darger depicted and his fantasies of revenge and rescue were cathartic responses to the traumas he suffered. Now, 40 years after Darger’s death, justice is finally served in Elledge’s gripping, humanizing, and haunting portrait of the artist as a wronged man." —Booklist, Starred Review
"Ostracized in life and vilified after his death, Henry Darger is the ultimate American anti-hero. Elledge reveals Darger as a damaged, fearful, gay man, raised in a world unaware of the consequences of child abuse or gay shame—and his strange art as a triumph over trauma." —Dick Donahue
About the Author
Jim Elledge is the award-winning author and editor of twenty-two books, including a textbook on publishing, four anthologies on queer culture, and numerous poetry collections and chapbooks. He is currently director of the M.A. in Professional Writing Program at Kennesaw State University. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
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I recommend this as integral part of understanding Darger.
We know and speculate about Darger most, however, because of his wildly colorful and genuinely fascinating art: hundreds of traced and water-colored pages, many of them huge taped-together sheets, showing young boys and girls, girls with penises, torture, weather, war, and general pestilence.
But this is a problem biography. Early on, Elledge uses circumstantial evidence and some questionable psychology to create a full life for Darger. Elledge has done his research and uses extensive information from the period. He shows that orphans and children on the street were taken advantage of by pedophiles, and that self-abusers, children with poor self-control, and gay men were forced to live diminished lives in horrifying institutions and under the thumb of repressive laws and individuals. But some of Elledge's suggestions about Darger's life are highly speculative and contradict Darger's own writings.
The later part of the book, however, offers more hard evidence about Darger's life. There's still some speculation (especially about Darger's "special friend" Whillie), but the factual details are collaborated by written records and others who knew Darger. As Elledge alleges, I believe that Darger was not a pedophile or sadist; he was gay and racked by guilt because of his Catholic beliefs.
Elledge's "reading" of Darger's difficult and often disturbing art seems on-target. This kind of interpretation is always open to debate, but his observations and comments seem valid and helpful when dealing with a secretive artist who clearly had a difficult life.