Brazil in Henrik Stangerup’s Vejen til Lagoa Santa (The Road to Lagoa Santa, 1981)
Henk van der Liet
The interplay between scientific approaches to the world – especially prospecting, mapping and measuring the world – in order to unravel its structural and spatial principles, has deep roots in Danish literary history. For obvious reasons, geographical and other themes related to spatiality (expedition reports, exoticism, science fiction, etc.) received new impulses in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when they were fuelled by new scientific methods, paradigms, and technological progress. There even exists an intimate relationship between the acceptance of scientific positivism as a quintessential methodology and technological development on the one hand, and the emergence of modern literature in Scandinavia, on the other (Rossel 1992: 263). An early example of this interdependency is the multi-volume novel Lykke-Per (1898-1904, English: Lucky Peter), by the Nobel Prize laureate Henrik Pontoppidan (1857-1943) . In this novel, engineering, designing and modeling space are crucial issues for the protagonist, who as a matter of fact is trained as a professional surveyor. In general terms, scientific approaches and models, various concepts of representing knowledge, encyclopedic literary traditions, and the (re-)deployment and probing of (quasi)scientific forms of discourse recur frequently in twentieth-century Danish fiction. Thus, science and scientific approaches that question the relationship between textual representation, space and time are by no means limited to modernist or post-modern literature only.
In this chapter I would like to draw attention to one particular work in the oeuvre of the Danish author and filmmaker Henrik Stangerup (1937-1998), i.e. to his chef d’oeuvre Vejen til Lagoa Santa (English: The Road to Lagoa Santa), which was first published in 1981 and translated into English in 1984. The Road to Lagoa Santa deals with a subject that relates directly to some of the issues relevant in the context of this volume:
- How space can be represented in novelistic discourse.
- How the delicate interdependency between space and time is reflected in fiction.
- The critical dialogue in which literature engages with earlier nineteenth-century scientific forms of discourse on time and space.
Back in Time…
The Road to Lagoa Santa is above all a historical novel and, therefore, has time as its sine qua non. The book’s narrative itself is situated in the nineteenth century and does not directly deal with the author’s own time, nor for that matter with places he might be expected to be intimately acquainted with, as much of the story takes place in Brazil.
Stangerup’s protagonist is the natural historian and scientist Peter Wilhelm Lund (1801- 1888), a Dane who lived for most of his life in Brazil . In the middle of a brilliant international academic career, Lund unexpectedly disappeared from public life and settled down in an insignificant village in the Brazilian outback. There he spent the second half of his life, without ever returning to Europe – or his native country Denmark. According to the novel, Lund became a rather enigmatic and mysterious figure. Stangerup’s literary remodeling of Lund’s life story has most certainly made it more dramatic and mysterious than it possibly could have been in real life. And, not surprisingly, Stangerup’s interpretation has been criticized and nuanced by recent scholarship, especially within the field of history of science (Holten, Sterll, 2010: 12). However, The Road to Lagoa Santa is a work of art and not a scholarly biography, and Henrik Stangerup, the literary artist, reconstructs and interprets Lund’s life in order to build a suggestive literary narrative on his particular version of the reasons why Lund’s career suddenly came to a halt. Was it a conscious choice to live the rest of his days far away from his homeland? And what made him decide to withdraw from public life in the middle of a brilliant academic career? Is there a link between Lund’s story, the narrator’s ideological presuppositions and our own days?
The Road to Lagoa Santa proposes answers to these questions, on the one hand on the basis of publicly available historical and biographical source material and, on the other hand, answers originating from the author’s own imagination, ideas, and idiosyncrasies. So, although The Road to Lagoa Santa is based on the author’s digesting of quite substantial amounts of historical source material, the text itself does not engage with the past for its own sake; the past rather serves as a vehicle to draw attention to certain aspects of the present. In other words, the historical material mirrors the present, offering the author a way to address contemporary moral and political issues, and a way to criticize developments in his own time – albeit mediated through fiction. In the case of Henrik Stangerup, the contemporary issues he is most interested in are philosophical and cultural-politic questions concerning contemporary European culture and society. Stangerup is a passionate (and notoriously polemic) critic of the post-war Scandinavian welfare state ideology, i.e. the so-called ‘Scandinavian model’, which was widely discussed in Scandinavia and abroad . This explains why for example Stangerup’s essays often criticize, debunk or simply make fun of ideas and opinions that run counter to his own liberal – and sometimes even libertarian – ideology. In the case of The Road to Lagoa Santa, Stangerup’s criticism primarily has a more fundamental philosophical bearing, as he implicitly criticizes Western intellectualism and lack of zest for life.
Thematically speaking one might say that the novel’s motifs are a mixture of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) and the contemporary German author Daniel Kehlmann’s novel Die Vermessung der Welt (2005) (English translation: Measuring the World, 2006). The Road to Lagoa Santa is about a nineteenth-century European scientist from the intellectual circles around the Von Humboldt-brothers, who sets out to map and describe the world (Kehlmann-theme), and becomes fascinated, or maybe even engulfed, by an alien, tropical world, for better and for worse (Conrad-theme).
From a literary point of view, a number of aspects of Stangerup’s novel are highly interesting. Apart from the way the author deals with his sources and remodels them into a novelistic discourse, it is also fascinating to study how he uses certain temporal and spatial techniques. Especially because these techniques are not only deployed literally to bridge the gap between the past and the present but also to ‘implode’ the text’s spatial dimensions by charging space with ideological, often conflicting, meaning and content. Before taking a closer look at these textual features, a summary of the novel’s plot structure and narrative will be given in the following section.
Text and Vignettes
The Road to Lagoa Santa structurally consists of three parts, each separated by a full-page charcoal drawing, which offers a sketchy impression of some kind of landscape. These drawings function as vignettes, i.e. they can be seen as visual resting points in the textual and narrative structure and, as it turns out, they do not merely signal temporal and narrative transitions, but they also mark transitions between the topographies and spaces described in the text itself. In other words, these drawings are references to the structural composition of the novel, and to the backdrop of the narrative, i.e., the landscapes and places the textual reality relates to. Technically speaking these graphic representations can be understood as references to (or loans from) the early days of cinema, especially from the era of the silent movie . Thus, the ‘vignettes’ play multiple roles, preluding and referring to spatial and temporal transition and transgression, while they also establish visual manifestations of these narrative ‘points of passage’.
The three sections that The Road to Lagoa Santa consists of are quite different in size. Section 1, is only 12 pages long, section 2 counts 142 pages, whereas the last section comprises 104 pages . If we take a look at how the narrative is organized, it becomes apparent that the sequential order of the sections is not following the chronology of the events described in the text. As a matter of fact, the short first section should have been in the middle, if the text would have been organized chronologically. Stangerup has employed this constructive principle a number of times in his oeuvre, and I suppose it is a reminder of the author’s cinematic background, just as the vignettes just mentioned . Wilfried Hauke has pointed out that Stangerup often starts his novels by offering the reader the novel’s climax, or its most crucial scene at the very beginning of the book. He describes this technique as follows: ‘The Road to Lagoa Santa starts with the culmination of a crisis – a method which puts the reader form the very beginning in a privileged position of foresight’ (Hauke 1987: 120-134). I understand this method primarily as a narrative strategy to first overwhelm and then involve the reader actively, while Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht probably would describe this technique as a mode to produce intensity and ‘presence’, or at least a way to introduce a set of ‘deictic gestures’ in the text, to reach the same effect: enhancing the reader’s engagement (Gumbrecht 2004: 95).
After offering his readers the crucial scene in the opening section, which starts in medias res, Henrik Stangerup then uses the second section to tell what happened earlier, before the climax in the beginning, explaining the events that lead to this turning point. Finally, the last section of the novel covers the time after the climax.
Obviously the beginning of the novel, especially the first section, is worth extra attention. In this section we meet the main character Peter Wilhelm Lund, who has been on a scientific expedition to the Brazilian inland, to collect artifacts, i.e. mainly archaeological material (especially fossils, samples of plants and animals) related to his project. The prime objective of this scientific enterprise is to develop better and more refined theories on the natural history of life and the geomorphology of the earth. He records, measures and systemizes the natural world. But at the beginning of the story, i.e. in the year 1845, Lund is about to return to Europe after years of fieldwork and hardship. Together with his companion, the Norwegian artist and libertine P.A. Brandt (1792-1862), he is about to pack his instruments and the collected material to take them with him to Europe .
Lund and Brandt had been based for some time in the Brazilian village of Lagoa Santa, and in the opening scene, Lund pays a farewell visit to one of the caves which he has studied meticulously over the years. In the text, something dramatic happens during this final visit, which in effect causes the foundations of Lund’s entire scientific world-view to crumble and fall apart and, as a consequence, the preparations for his return to Europe stop immediately. In this particular cave, where Lund has previously collected numerous important archaeological objects, he seems to experience a kind of epiphany. Clearly the scene depicts a crucial event, and what happens is described in terms of a thunderstorm or an earthquake, but the reader is left in the dark about the exact nature of what happens in the cave:
Dr. Lund is not afraid. He convinces himself that it is a violent unseasonable thunderstorm. But when the sounds continue, while the candles begin to flicker, although there is no hint of wind, he thinks of an earthquake and rises. He can barely rise, and when erect at last, his body is so stiff that even the slightest movement is painful. (…) The candles do not flicker anymore. Everything is as it was an hour ago, except for the ache in his body, from the back of his neck to the tips of his toes. His insides have tightened into knots and only by summoning up all his energy does he manage to place one foot in front of the other and wrest himself from the hypnotic power of the shadow. He arrives at the passage leading upwards to the outside. He howls in pain and his howl echoes everywhere. (…) He is breathing freely again, and yet it feels as though everything in him has slackened as if his body is disintegrating within. (1981: 22-23) .
Stangerup interprets what happens here to Lund as a fundamental, even ‘existential’ experience, which causes him to view life from a radically different and unexpected perspective.
The Hand of God
The epiphany has a deep impact on Lund’s personal views, as well as major consequences for the principles of his scientific work. In both fields, the prominent position of religion, especially of the religion of his youth and early adulthood, loses much of its authority. The God of his youth and early adulthood, who until then had guided him through life and had been the touchstone of his academic work too, is suddenly no longer able to help Lund in understanding himself, or the world around him. The entire opening section revolves around the fact that Lund experiences this fundamental crisis as a human being and a scientist. In this particular cave, which during earlier visits had offered him a glimpse of God’s creative genius, he now physically feels his world disintegrate. The experience even leads to Lund’s partial blindness and temporary paralysation. For the pains, Lund feels seem not to be caused by something outside of him, but primarily by an ‘internal’ intellectual collision of conflicting ideas, ideologies, and worldviews.
One of these ideologies is Lund’s personal religious conviction, which on the one hand is based on traditional Christian mythology, and on the other hand, is scientifically supported by the – still – authoritative theories of scientists such as Georges Cuvier and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (Rudwick 2005). The other, contesting, modern worldview is a consequence of contemporary positivist scholarship, notably epitomized by Darwin’s hypotheses about natural selection and evolution, as well as the work of critical philosophers and theologians like Søren Kierkegaard, Ludwig Feuerbach, and others. These new theoretical approaches undermine the existing theories of people like Von Humboldt, Cuvier, Lamarck and Lund himself, and render them, in Lund’s opinion, obsolete. In the cave scene, the sudden insight into the consequences of Darwin’s theories threatens to crush Lund completely – mentally as well as physically. Therefore, Lund feels that, from then on, he is no longer a member of the worldwide community of scientific pioneers. He now sees himself as a relic from the past, someone who is rendered altmodisch, while modern, progressive, ‘heretical’ especially Darwinian evolutionist theories, seem to emerge as the victorious paradigms of the future.
Precisely this clash of scientific paradigms literally pulls the ground from underneath Lund’s feet, and – in The Road to Lagoa Santa – ultimately leads to his withdrawal from science and turns out to be the (alleged) reason why he never returns to Europe again. Instead of continuing his scientific studies and surveys of the natural world, his career comes to a standstill after the epiphany in the cave (the ‘disaster’ as he calls it) . From that moment on he adopts a simple, uncomplicated lifestyle and lives more or less anonymously among the locals in the village of Lagoa Santa in the Brazilian district of Minas Gerais till the end of his days.
Lund is radically changed after the opening tableau of The Road to Lagoa Santa. In a way, his former personality dies and a new Lund is born. The intellectual and systematic scientist is transformed into a grumpy old man, who is more engaged in the small things in everyday life than in restlessly searching God’s master plan of creation. Lund has become skeptical of religion but above all, he has lost his faith in science. He is no longer convinced of the viability of the Hegelian hypothesis he previously endorsed, namely that humanity eventually will reach an ideal state of existence where all controversies are overcome and paradise will be realized on earth. Lund Hegel’s teleological understanding of human history is unmasked as a false presumption. And with the introduction of Darwinian theory, the world, according to Lund, becomes a mere ‘evolutionary blood bath’ (1981: 263), a merciless world where only the strongest and the most powerful species and individuals stand a chance of survival. The narrator summarizes Lund’s understanding of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), in the following derogatory way:
a work which may give rise to all sorts of mischief, which perceives struggle and destruction where the Creator’s order and harmony ought to prevail, which can unleash a new morality excusing all evil, postulating that the weak exist in order to be crushed by the strong. (1859: 251)
In the novel’s third section Lund gradually accepts life as it comes: one day at a time. Although he himself suffers from all kinds of physical defects and illnesses, this does not prevent him from becoming more and more involved in the lives of the local inhabitants, especially the children of Lagoa Santa. Instead of doing research – which mainly consists of collecting archaeological objects, especially bones of dead animals – his interests now change direction and intensity. In a sense, he becomes increasingly interested in life as it is, hic et nunc: nature with its abundant tropical richness of shapes, scents, and colors, as well as the people around him in Lagoa Santa. Instead of studying nature he no longer understands it as his duty to unravel its secrets, in order to increase human knowledge and – as a consequence – pave the way for the Hegelian notion of progress. From now on, he seems to be satisfied with nature as it is. After the cave crisis, Lund simply becomes part of nature, while the dynamic notion of progress is replaced by its opposite: stasis.
From Chronology to Chronotope
But what about space in The Road to Lagoa Santa? In the first place, Stangerup’s narrative is characterized by a set of clear spatial divisions. Apart from the three narrative sections, each separated by vignettes, and each representing different temporal stages, we can discern three spaces in the narrator’s overall literary discourse. The first two are European:
- the cold Scandinavian North
- the more comfortable climate of the Mediterranean.
The third space is South American, primarily Brazil. These three topographical spaces are each invested with a number of contrasting cultural connotations and differences, thus charging the novel’s spaces with ideological and cultural content.
In most of Stangerup’s writings the main characters are restless individuals, often exiled or caught between cultures. Europe, including Denmark, is perceived as a world lacking lust for life, a cold, scientific space – an intellectual Abendland. In The Road to Lagoa Santa, it is represented as an essentially unattractive continent with a climate that is bad for Lund’s health. At the same time, Europe also represents science, art, high culture, well established political institutions and a stable arena for public debate: ‘the energetic, progressive Europe of science, museums, academies, colleges, journals, libraries, and dissertations.’ (1981: 63) At the opposite end, South America, especially Brazil, represents an attractive, colorful realm full of vitality and authentic emotions, but with poorly developed political and cultural institutions: ‘Dr. Lund simply cannot take Brazil seriously as a culture of its own. No proud traditions, no history worth mentioning. No great poets, not a single composer or philosopher of any distinction.’ (1981: 93) At the same time, Stangerup highlights the festive aspects of Catholicism and the sensuality and Dionysian power it entails. He sees the latter clearly demonstrated in e.g. South-American carnival traditions, with their Samba dance and music .
In Stangerup’s oeuvre as a whole, Europe and Brazil appear as two absolute cultural and ideological opposite spaces. Brazilian culture not merely denotes an enormous diversity of religions but it also stands for a more ‘humane’ balance between the head and the body, between the world of ideas and that of carnal pleasures. Stangerup’s Europe, and notably Northern-Europe, essentially represents a world of the past. In general terms, Europe is a dystopia while Brazil represents the exact opposite, a utopia, which is determined by positive human values. But Stangerup’s Brazil is not simply a romantic rose garden, it is also a conflict-zone – a sphere in which the sublime and the uncanny meet and interact. In Stangerup’s Brazil, conflict becomes productive and opens new perspectives, whereas cultural conflicts and dichotomies in Northern-European seem to be negated or suppressed .
Secondly, space plays a crucial role in Stangerup’s novel in what may be called the chronotopic modes of expression the narrator employs. He fuses, intersects and intensifies space and time in The Road to Lagoa Santa in ways that bring Mikhail Bakhtin’s key notion of chronotope to mind. In the latter’s seminal essay ‘Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel’, Bakhtin refers to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and emphasizes that time and space are interrelated fundamental categories that precede cognition, or in Kant’s words : ‘Space is a necessary a priori representation, which underlies all outer intuitions. We can never represent to ourselves the absence of space, though we can quite well think of it as empty of objects’ (Kant 1971: 38) and ‘Time is not an empirical concept that has been derived from any experience. For neither coexistence nor succession would ever come within our perception, if the representation of time were not presupposed as underlying them a priori’ (Kant 1971: 46-47) .
Bakhtin uses the word chronotope not merely to describe the concrete experience of readers when they feel that time and space in some cases become so deeply intertwined and interdependent that they no longer can be separated from each other. He also uses the term to describe this temporal and spatial interrelatedness from a structural and even a generic point of view . Looking at The Road to Lagoa Santa, we see that the opening scene, the story’s climax, and the turning point, happens in a cave. Just like corridors, cellars, thresholds, doors, staircases, streets, squares, etc., Dr. Lund’s cave is a chronotope in the Bakhtinian sense of the word. After Lund’s epiphany in the cave, the chronology is interrupted and time even comes to a halt and – as I will maintain here – turns into space .
Bakhtin emphasizes a number of times the fundamental representational and mimic power of chronotopes, as in the following – frequently quoted – passage:
Time becomes, in effect, palpable and visible; the chronotope makes narrative events concrete, makes them take on flesh, causes blood to flow in their veins (…) And this is so thanks precisely to the special increase in density and concreteness of time markers – the time of human life, of historical time – that occurs within well-delineated spatial areas. (Bakhtin 1981: 250)
This is precisely what happens in The Road to Lagoa Santa. Narrative events, the chronological flow of narrated time, is reorganized and turns into a textual structure that produces spatial experiences – or maybe even better – ‘spatial modes’, rather than temporal ones.
Let us now return to the beginning of The Road to Lagoa Santa, which, as pointed out earlier, does not coincide with the beginning of the narrative, but rather with a stage in the middle, the climax of the narrative as a whole. Initially, the reader is unaware of this organizational principle, but later the crucial opening scene is reiterated (three times in total) to emphasize its importance within the narrative structure (1981: 140, 172). At every reiteration of the opening scene, two concrete circumstances dominate the description:
- the fact that time for Dr. Lund has come to a halt
- that this is accompanied – or brought about – by the constant immobilizing and numbing downpour of tropical rain showers.
The rains prevent Lund and others to do what they normally do; they keep people from moving around, and all possible forms of agency and communication are brought to a halt. This temporary ‘immobility’ is also a narrative signal, making the reader aware of the fact that the narrative’s temporality is now taking on a different shape, or is transformed into another ‘substance’. Temporality is, in other words, turned into spatiality. Moreover, the rains are also thematically associated with Lund’s childhood in Copenhagen, and thus also activate memories related to the places (and spaces) of his youth (1981: 14-15). Again, time is oriented backwards, instead of forward. In any event, there is also a fundamental difference between the way the tropical rains in Brazil are depicted and the Danish rains of Lund’s youth. The first is an immobilizing curse while the latter are remembered as a blessing:
(A)nd again he hears, as when he had first come to Rio de Janeiro, the sound of leaves falling from the treetops after the ants had cut them off, a muted whispering sound like snow falling, like the still rain over Lake Furesø on a late June evening. (1981: 180)
How this complex metamorphosis of turning time into space works in the novel itself, can clearly be discerned when we look more closely at the opening lines of The Road to Lagoa Santa. The importance of opening lines for the way a narrative is engendered and perceived goes without saying (Said 1985). In this particular case, though, the initial lines even produce twofold effects: it enhances the spatial effects of the text at the expense of its temporality. The very first sentence of The Road to Lagoa Santa reads:
‘The time of the cave expeditions is nearly at an end’ (1981: 13).
The opening words directly refer to ‘time’ and to something spatial, i.e. ‘the cave’, but these lines also indicates that temporality, or part of it, is about to come to an end, or a standstill. In the second sentence of the novel, the spatial dimensions are more concretized and fixed to a real topographic locality ‘Lagoa Santa’, which is then semantically charged with emotional meaning, by juxtaposing ‘Lagoa Santa’ with the word ‘home’. It is interesting to note, that this reference does not appear in the English translation, which uses the phrase ‘modest little house’, instead . Although the English translation is not really wrong, it nevertheless misses the crucial point that the notion of ‘home’ or being ‘at home’ is essential for a comprehensive understanding of The Road to Lagoa Santa. The notion of home paradoxically emphasizes that Lund is a stranger in Lagoa Santa and remains a stranger all his life, notwithstanding the fact that he spends most of his days in Brazil . He stays an alien in Brazil, while at the same time he becomes increasingly estranged from his home country, Denmark, and from European culture too. This circumstance, which the opening scene merely indicates, becomes an underlying issue for Lund’s existence in the novel: the question of what ‘home’ really means. Where does Lund really belong? Throughout The Road to Lagoa Santa, the spatial notion of ‘home’ becomes charged with semantic and emotive content, which the reader has to deal with.
The importance of the cultural dichotomy Brazil-Europe is also foregrounded at the very beginning of The Road to Lagoa Santa: ‘He (=Lund) is looking forward to returning to Europe soon, to cultivated society, to paved streets, sidewalks, restaurants, libraries, cheerful smiles, alert eyes, serious newspapers, bright schoolchildren, tradesmen’ (1981: 13). Although it later becomes evident that the first section of the novel contains its narrative climax, the opening paragraphs initially seem to point in the exact opposite direction: instead of a culmination, a chain of events seems about to come to an end. Time is, in a way, about to stop and lose its meaning, while – at the same time – the significance of ‘place’ and ‘space’ increases. The dynamics of movement (travel) are turned into stationary idleness – stasis.
The balance between the two central Kantian a priori entities shifts in the beginning of the text, but the gross total, nevertheless, stays the same – like communicating vessels in science class. This fundamental interdependency – and mix up – of temporal and spatial categories is expressed a number of times in The Road to Lagoa Santa itself, as in: ‘Nothing indicates that he exists in the present (…). Up is down, the past is the present, and the present is a remote future’ (1981: 46).
Thus, Brazil becomes one big chronotope, where time loses meaning, where history is unimportant, and the world, so to speak, is in a constant flux of birth, rebirth, decay and death. Hence also the fact that Lund feels that he is ‘not merely rested but morning after morning, reborn’ (1981: 100). Increasingly the word ‘Brazil’ becomes a metonymy for a state of mind, and thus ‘Brazil’ becomes more or less detached from the country with the same name – and develops into an existential and ideological notion, rather than a tangible topographic reality.
In Stangerup’s discourse, and in particular in The Road to Lagoa Santa, dichotomies play a crucial role in organizing and enhancing narrative and textual meaning. The most obvious dichotomy is the abovementioned spatial-temporal one, which is linked to the opposition between Europe and South-America. The latter is defined as an absolute opposition: in Brazil ‘(n)othing (…) is as it is in Europe’ (1981: 46). Each of the two poles has its own meaning and attractions, but none of them really gets the upper hand. Throughout The Road to Lagoa Santa, Lund is tossed between them, and one might say that he thereby ends up in a constant state of exile; he is nowhere at home, and always a stranger. And when Lund leaves Europe for Brazil in the winter of 1832, his feelings for his home country become increasingly positive, the further away he gets (1981: 91).
By the end of his life, Lund had become more Brazilian and less European. In his will, he decides that his death should be a festive ‘Brazilian’ carnival occasion and no solemn ‘European’ affair. Precisely as Dr. Lund has proscribed it in his will, the people of Lagoa Santa party for three days and nights in a row upon his funeral. And when during the last day of the festivities they run out of paper for the production of firecrackers, the locals use the scientific works that Lund has studied so intensely. No harm was done, for these previously monumental scholarly works have become obsolete now anyway, since modernity has found a wide range of new scientific hypotheses – with Darwin as this development’s quintessential figure – which change both the scientific world and mankind’s self-awareness:
For three days and nights they dance and drink, and there are no mishaps. Lagoa Santa resounds throughout Minas Gerais. On the last day, the venda proprietor runs out of fireworks and has no more paper to make new ones. But Nero and his wife (…) come to his aid, and after nightfall fireworks again explode over the lake. Blainville’s Ostéographie bursts into a spluttering shimmering sun. Two thick volumes of von Humboldt’s Kosmos float down in a purple shower (…) swiftly followed by Buckland’s Reliquiae Diluviae, while Baron Georges Léopold Crétien Fréderic Dagobert Cuvier’s Discours is a dud which drowns among the rushes. Schouw’s Plantegeografi med Atlas soars so high into the sky that it disappears with the howl of a stuck pig. Milne-Edwards, de Candolle, Rudolphi, Owen, Biot and Ampère, Rèamur, Linneaus, Fabricius, Forchhammer, Charles-Lucien Bonaparte, and H. C. Oersted all are transformed into a shower of stardust which bids farewell to the Doctor out of the dark tropical sky. (1981: 284)
Under the Skin
Stangerup’s characters are not merely historical figures. They are also vehicles in an attempt to coalesce time and space. In The Road to Lagoa Santa, this ‘bridging effect’ is enhanced by numerous shifts in modality; suddenly the story may change from past tense to present tense, and back again. The narrator also uses different syntactic devices, for example, abrupt variations between very long sentences and short ones, in order to either speed up events or to create a certain kind of anxiety on behalf of the reader. These strategies blur the temporal discrepancy between Lund’s nineteenth century and the reader’s own time, but also entice the recipients into adopting spatial attitudes and values that are fundamentally different from their own. Ultimately, these narrative techniques help concretizing the story Stangerup wants to get across and turn it into something tangible and spatial, instead of something abstract and temporal.
In The Road to Lagoa Santa, Henrik Stangerup undertakes a precise literary analysis of a scientific attitude and worldview, in which space and time are the prerequisites for the literary text. Stangerup chooses exclusively to focus on space, instead of time. A radical choice, because the text generically speaking is a historical novel. By doing so, Stangerup not only aims at bridging the gap between the past and the present but also wants to ‘produce space’ – or rather ‘presence’ – as Gumbrecht would call it. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that the author himself in various interviews and biographical retrospectives has described how Brazil and Dr. Lund literally got under his skin while he was writing The Road to Lagoa Santa (Hauke 1987: 123). Nor is it surprising that The Road to Lagoa Santa has survived the ravages of time and is still one of the most acclaimed works in Danish twentieth-century literature .
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—(2011) Stimmungen lesen. Über eine verdeckte Wirklichkeit der Literatur, Munich
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—(1981) Vejen til Lagoa Santa, Copenhagen
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2. As a matter of fact, P.W. Lund was the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s nephew. I would like to thank my students Rozemarijn Vervoort and Michal van Selm for their vivid interest and intelligent input during our discussions about Stangerup, space and Kierkegaard, during the winter semester 2011-12.
4. This graphic, in my opinion quasi-cinematographic, effect is even more prominent in the German translation of the novel, where the original (modern) charcoal drawings are replaced by (black and white) reproductions of P.A. Brandt’s nineteenth century aquarelles. Unfortunately the – otherwise fine – English translation by Barbara Bluestone, lacks the important paratextual graphic elements, at least in the edition referred to here.
7. The presence of Brandt is motivated by the fact that he makes drawings of the archaeological sites and produces scientific drawings and charts of the material. He is in many ways Lund’s Jack-of-all-trades, acting as his messenger boy, cook, butler and – when necessary – even as his physician.
9. The religious association that comes with the notion of epiphany is further enhanced by the way Stangerup describes the caves in which the overwhelming experience takes place and in which a number of references to temples and church buildings play a prominent role. Cf. The Road to Lagoa Santa: 118-119.
10. Stangerup has written a number of essays about carnival, for example, Stangerup (1973), and with two friends even published a documentary book on the topic: Stangerup et al. (1982). In The Road to Lagoa Santa there is a relevant reference to Carnival too: see (1981: 66). Erik Böttzauw is also the artist who created the landscape vignettes between the three sections of the novel.
11. An indication of the thematic importance of Brazil in Stangerup’s works can be derived from the fact that Brazil (and the Caribbean) has its own thematic section in Tværtimod! Levned og meninger 1956-98, a comprehensive collection of his essays and journalism. Cf. Stangerup (2003: 209-244).
15. Instead of using chronotope as a key concept to analyze space in The Road to Lagoa Santa, we might also use Foucaultian notions as ‘liminal space’ or heterotopia to describe the cavescene or even Henrik Stangerup’s novelistic Brazil as a whole. In this essay though, I will – for lack of space – limit myself to the concept of the chronotope.
18. In a newspaper competition, in order to choose the ‘best’ Danish twentieth century book, Vejen til Lagoa Santa, ranked twenty-sixth in the overall score. Noteworthy too is the fact that only two more recently published novels are listed ahead of Stangerup’s work. Cf.: Politiken, 1999. Information retrieved from: http://www.litteraturpriser.dk/polaarh.htm.