The guarded, the cautious, the small-scale, the modest, the well-crafted—such books may be rewarded (in our own time, at the national level), but they are rarely preserved. They are not preserved because guardedness, caution, smallness, modesty, and craft can be replaced in any given generation. What is irreplaceable is excess: Of verbal kinesis, religious intensity, intellectual voracity.
Amit Majmudar on Entertainment and Excess: The Great Literary Audiences.
Amit Majmudar is talking about literature and posterity but his argument can be applied to other forms of art. I find the thesis a persuasive one, especially where novels are concerned, for the way it accounts for those works that manage to survive even when they offend the principles of craft and taste by which most novels are judged and criticised. No one would ever claim William Hope Hodgson as a great prose stylist but the excesses of his imagination have ensured that his work remains in print a century after it was first published, while hundreds of “finer” contemporary writers are completely forgotten.
Octave Mirbeau’s The Torture Garden (1899) is excessive enough to have ensured that if the author’s other works are reprinted at all it’s because they follow in The Torture Garden‘s wake of notoriety. The moral purpose behind Mirbeau’s scenes of lingering death may have been overwhelmed by its reputation as a classic of erotic sadism, but we’re a long way from 50 Shades of Grey as is evident from these etchings by French artist Raphaël Freida (1877–1942). Given the content it’s surprising to find an illustrated edition at all, Freida’s volume being a limited one published in 1927. The book contained 11 illustrations of which 7 are shown here from two different sources. The impaled figure in the second plate was a surprise since it seems to have been borrowed by Philippe Druillet for one of his pages in his bande dessinée album Yragaël (1974). (See below.) Druillet, like Freida, is an artist whose work is sufficiently excessive to prove attractive to future generations of comic readers and art enthusiasts.