The novel draws on the same suppositions that characterised the
innovating tendencies of its historical epoch. Scientific discovery is
conveyed as an ideal, supporting general progress. This includes
possessiveness, as the influence of the explorer grows with his
the focus will be on these two issues.
2.1. Discovery and Apprehension
The land in the focus of the novel seems so alien even to the
fictional contemporaries that its existence has to be asserted in the
first place. In two ways it
has to be sundered from ‘mere’ legends. On his initial expedition, it is the ancient traditions of the indigenous population which, combined with the chance discovery of an American traveller’s legacy (cf. LW 22ff.), incite Challenger’s revolutionary findings. The status attributed to the tales is revealing: in effect, they are deplored of as insubstantial, mental step-stones at best to the rational researcher. (1)
By patient inquiry, however, the Professor is succeeds in extracting the truth from a cluster of mysterious tales. Reconstructing the traveller’s experiences, he is able to provide a satisfying explanation for his end but also to detect a route to the unknown terrain for others to follow (cf. LW 28ff.). This is achieved exclusively by linking apparently diverse elements of the outside world in a rationally conclusive way. Upon returning his findings – somewhat incompletely – back home, the Professor becomes a subject of inquiry, since his report appears to be plainly incompatible with established knowledge (cf. LW 8, 25, 32 et al.) The reply to this, however, is characteristic: personal delusion or fraud are considered the only alternatives to the veracity of the report. Its validity, it is agreed, can be ultimately judged as soon as sufficient (empirical) evidence is available (cf. LW 38f.)
This attitude is metaphorically expressed in the treatment of the
photograph: The objection is that the image itself is defect and fuzzy
the fidelity of an intact photo remains unquestioned. Moreover, the decisive information has been lost accidentally – in the strictest sense of the word – on
the backward journey. (2) Thus it is the casual and transient circumstances which are shown to bar the advancement of knowledge, not any such factors inherent
in the observation process itself.
In the face of Challenger’s notorious and possibly ground-breaking
claims, a likewise characteristic decision is taken. When the conflict
over his assertions
escalates at a lecture for the interested public, three ‘persons of character’ are chosen out of the audience to go on an expedition to probe them (cf. LW 39).
Following his lead, they “disappear into the unknown” (LW, chapter 7, 49ff.) and at every point of their unsettling enterprise offer their various individual talents (3)
on behalf of the common Good Cause, ever aware that it “was [their] clear duty to give [their] first report to the body from which [they] had received [their]
commission of investigation” (LW 159) – a report which necessarily is to be unimpeachable and factually accurate.
Challenger’s surprise announcement that he insists on leading the
expedition personally (cf. LW 53) then only highlights the general
sense of personal
obligation and the implicit trust that respectable delegates will, in accordance with their status in society, guarantee accuracy.
During all of their journey, the explorers gain new insights and
impressions. In this process, science functions as a device to sharpen
the senses and provide
orientation – besides being the initial, higher motive for the enterprise.
ascended, the plateau is gradually explored from the home base (cf. LW 88).
Scientificness inevitably commands a highly specific attitude on the
part of the observer: He has to be sufficiently detached (4)
present circumstances – even when in peril or pain (5)
constantly to reach accuracy.Furthermore, he needs a profound knowledge
base (cf. LW 61) and an analytical framework to serve as a basis for
his own conjectures. This implies that scientific knowledge is
independent of view-points (6), which,
they may have been
to the researcher, do not interfere with the actual result. Their
special disposition sets the scientists apart from their fellows
Undoubtedly, the entire conception takes a satirical turn in the
novel: professors indulging in “incessant bickerings” (LW 57), among
them “a perfectly impossible person” (LW 13), do not readily fit the
picture – academic debates that turn into personal feuds and bear the
marks of spectacle even less so (cf. LW 32ff., 160ff.). However, this
satirical portrayal by an insider conveys rather humorous acclaim than
criticism: with all their antagonisms, the professors are united in
quest. There are no indications that the “prolonged duet” (LW 96) of unequal voices will eventually fail to arrive at the ultimate truth. – The concept itself is thus
left intact, but slightly extended: to fulfil special extraordinary and innovative tasks, it occasionally takes a rare, eccentric character, who in certain aspects
transgresses the boundaries set by society (8), only to be finally reintegrated into the system (cf. LW 167).
The novel asserts its central idea of objective science in another
episthemic metaphor, when Malone hits upon the idea of drawing a map to
console the expedition’s quest for knowledge with the pressing
practical needs of the moment. Climbing a tree with considerable
effort, he distances himself from theobject of observation (i.e. the
land) to gain a more exhaustive perspective. Facing not only his own
physical limits, but even imminent danger, he is nevertheless able to
secure the required information (cf. LW 104ff.).
In effect, the novel evokes a supreme ideal of science. Reality, as it spreads before observant eyes, is fully accessible to the mind. It consists of “riddles” which are to be “read” in the one correct way (9). The only limits to the investigations seem to be a lack of resources and imminent physical danger (cf. LW 104ff.) Accordingly, the image of Maple White Land the expedition lays before the community at home corresponds to its actual state.In this perspective, the Unknown (10) unites the fascinating and thedeplorable,being of value for the novel opportunities it offers and only so upon exploration (11) .This implies a characteristic sense of possessiveness.