Lotta Lotass, "Beyond all horizons are islands": Stig Dagermans "Upptäcktsresanden" in relation to August Strindberg's cartography and Sven Hedin's geography.
Stig Dagerman's drama "Upptäcktsresanden" ["The Explorer"], first published in 1947, is one of the author's least known works. In the few extant studies of the drama, it has chiefly been compared to Bertolt Brecht's Die Ausnahme und die Regel (1930), a play with which it partly shares its setting, situation and, to some extent, its political standpoint. But Dagerman's drama is not primarily, as Brecht's, didactic. We find instead that the symbolism of discovery itself is at the base of many of the play's discussions and actions.
In my paper I have chosen to read "Upptäcktsresanden" in the light of Stig Dagerman's criticism of the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin. In 1945, at the end of the second world war, Dagerman voiced strong criticism against Hedin and questioned his membership in the Swedish Academy, after Hedin had expressed his admiration for Germany in general and Adolf Hitler in particular. This criticism is, in my view, an undercurrent in the play "Upptäcktsresanden".
In seeking arguments for his fictional critique of the great desert traveller, Dagerman looks to August Strindberg, an author who has left a significant imprint on Dagermans body of work. Strindberg and Hedin were, in one of the Strindberg-feud's more heated debates, involved in a fierce battle of words regarding who was the first to discover Lop-nor and the Tarim basin. Strindberg's interest in the matter stemmed from his find, while working as a librarian at Kungliga Biblioteket in Stockholm in the 1870s, of the war prisoner Johan Gustav Renat's map of the area, drawn in 1738. This map became Strindberg's foremost weapon in the ensuing battle with Hedin.
The fight between the two national monuments is fought with ever harder words and tends more and more, and almost unnoticeably, to revolve around the meaning of the word "discover". For Strindberg the word connotes untrodden land and never before seen views. For Hedin it is more a question of mapping and measuring. Strindberg therefore sees Hedin not as a discoverer, but as a mere land surveyor dressed in an adventurer's suit. Hedin sees himself, not surprisingly, as Lop-nor's first true chronicler.
At the same time as Dagerman, in fictional form, continues along the lines of Strindberg's criticque in discussing the concept of "discovery", his play can also be read as a critique in its own right, even as a 'countertext' to Hedin's monumental works on his travels. Here a critique of imperialism and the white man's sovereignty over the undeveloped country's inhabitants becomes obvious.
The play's discussion of exploration and mapping also allows for a reading of it as an allegory of writing. One might think that the explorer, in such a reading, would become the writer's alter ego. But in Dagerman's text the camel-driver is the character who can be said to give voice to the role of the author. When he, at the end of the play, kills the explorer, the different threads of the play have, to some extent, come together in a singular point. For Dagerman the role of the author was clear—to be subversive and a champion of liberty. So the camel-driver/author becomes the one who puts the critizised Sven Hedin to death, thereby overthrowing the imperialist power. At that point the play has performed the acts it speaks of.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2001. Vol. 122, 62-73 p.