Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Joshua Wilner

Committee Members

Wayne Koestenbaum

Mary Ann Caws

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


American literature, art criticism, behavioral psychology


This study of "The History of My Life" the 5,086 page autobiographical text by the outsider artist/author Henry Darger, uses non-linear modes of analysis, such as chaos and complexity theory, to explore the meaning of Darger's epic narrative. Beginning with the idea that turbulence, seemingly chaotic, actually comes about as a compensatory restructuring of inadequate or unstable system dynamics, this study goes on to show that, as both influence and effect, turbulence is found at every level of Darger's life and art, both in theme and structure. "My Life" is a prime example: an extended narrative describing a cataclysmic tornado, in which the text itself manifests turbulent properties of the storm it describes. Darger's particular narrative "madness" is, in fact, an attempt to put turbulence into service as an alternative system of meaning, in contrast to failed social and religious systems of which he was the product. Henry Darger's work provides us with the challenge of exploring new ways of finding meaning in narrative. This study uses traditional literary criticism coupled with a pattern analysis of redundancy to explore some of Darger's primary themes.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.