From a critic’s distance, the novel’s conception of discovery is a blend of the dynamic and optimistic on the one, and the overbearing and inconsiderate on the other hand. Exploration, allegedly, is at once rightful and infinitely possible.
In our time, the focus is different: Foreign cultures are approached with greater consideration and esteem. The environment has obtained rights of its own and appears less controllable. On the question where to go a vast number of views demand consideration – and orientation is, it seems, of the same essential importance, but far more difficult to grasp.
Moreover, the act of acquiring knowledge has become a matter of debate. Even under the best possible episthemic conditions, apprehension of absolutely objective, all-comprising knowledge would inevitably put enormous demands on the observer. Rather, s(he) assumes a specific position, and enters a certain relationship with the subject of inquiry. Throughout this process, details may be highlighted, hidden, or even positively blocked. It remains therefore debatable, whether knowledge can be dissolved from the respective concepts, methods and interests involved in research.
Clearly, such reflections reveal a gap between the assertions of the novel and what must be the principal foundations of a more recent, modern, point of view. All the same, it is an extreme response to claim that truth has dissolved. Still, we rely on methodically conceived knowledge, and in this spirit regard the predicate “scientifically tested” as a gratification.
When Malone dreams of a position as a war correspondent in the next war (cf. LW 111), this next war – in terms of actual history – would undoubtedly have been the First World War: a catastrophic incident that in its wake also caused cultural erosions.
It remains speculative which of these concerns Conan Doyle would have included in his warning to “put one’s shoulder to the door keep out insanity all one can” (quot. in: D. Stashower, 22002, 431), aimed at the aesthetic avant-garde.
What remains – regardless of the philosophical foundations – is the charm of an artfully conjured imaginary travel and the splendid promise of a wise scientist with an eye on the common good.