Theater of Cruelty

To travel is to see

Two very different travel books, an essay collection and an essay, are basically about the same: About being a seer so as not to be blind.


Literature critic Arne Melberg justifies his book, To travel and write, as follows: “Traveling and writing about their travels is a durable combination. The result, travel literature, has a difficult definable place in the literary tradition and in modern literature. Travel literature is undeniably there, but it is just as full on a kind of periphery, which is probably because travel literature often includes moments of reporting and biography. Of course, it's no secret that the journey is an important literary motif and that the journey serves as the engine for all kinds of literature. ”

This rationale gives direction to all the 11 discussion essays (including the introductory chapter) in Melberg's book. This is the book for anyone who loves to travel, read and write.

What is a human being?

Melberg is committed to including the so-called modern travel literature from 1930 up to our days in the serious concept of literature. He wants to make travel literature a more solid genre, but is also very conscious of distilling this genre from another body of text. The fact that travel literature makes use of known, dear (and sometimes less known and dear) literary means is one of the literary writer's first points. What is interesting, however, is not at The writers of travel literature do this, however how they do. This, too, is a type of text that is more interesting by virtue of its "how". It is not the (travel) goal that matters, but the movement (the journey itself).

Melberg writes: “Modern travel literature is no exception; it does exactly what literature can, should and must do. It works to understand what the world is and what it could have been. And what is my place in this world and what it could be. "

In other words, travel literature in Melberg's universe has the same ambition as, for example, Jan Kjærstad believes fiction: it tries to say something about what it means to be human.


Melberg shifts his gaze between the writer and the traveler so that the reader really knows what he is reading – and why he is reading. Here he uses the philosopher Nietzsche and his concept of perspectivism. For the important thing is to learn to see. If you want to do this, you have to travel. Not as a tourist, not as a blind person – but as a sighted person.

There are a solid number of authors and books Melberg has included in this essay collection. Some of his works also fail to show their literary disdain, such as Ari Behns backyard, a travel novel Melberg does not consider to believers. Nor does Swedish Jan Myrdal's travel books pass the literature test. At Behn it is the many travel literary clichés that destroy, at Myrdal there is a set of political prejudices that become problematic for Melberg.

But Melberg also has his favorites. This is especially true of the Poles Ryszard Kapuscinski and Joseph Conrad, two writers who most like, and thus no controversial choice. On the whole, Melberg's lyrics are slightly objectionable without being any worse for that reason. Rather, he has written a debating book that traces its own reflections to the highest degree.


The novel, a literary text, is also perhaps a journey. Melberg writes: “The journey clears the way for stories. More than that: it has also always, as an activity, motive or metaphor, invited for reflections, reflections and everyday philosophy. ”

Yes, life can of course – with a widely used cliché – be a journey. A journey towards the final, towards death. According to the philosopher Martin Heidegger, the romantic Novalis has pointed out that philosophy is homesickness, a longing that is also a journey, a journey home. The journey is both something concrete and a widely used metaphor. No wonder the travel literature sets many associations in motion for most of us.

All this is thematized and discussed by Arne Melberg in his book. And of course he doesn't forget the classic travel literature either. Explore Homers Odyssey, Dante's journey to paradise, through hell and through the purgatory or Cervante's story of Don Quijote leaves Melberg unmatched.

The paths of travel literature are many and almost invulnerable. Arne Melberg makes a good, if at times somewhat theoretical, contribution to a better understanding of this literary genre and several of its cousins ​​and cousins.

Moving the clouds

A question Anne K. Bang poses with her 110-page essay in the book Restless is why we live. A big question, maybe one of the biggest. Among other things, she replies like this: "We do not live because the Labor Party or the pension reform says so, and we do not even live because the health care or tax authorities say we should. We live because a new day comes to us every day. ”

Is it any wonder we are restless? Is it any wonder we travel? That we have to travel? But why do we travel? Yes, Bang writes, "... to tell. To go out into the world and tell about it, not necessarily to so many. To himself, very first. To another, or two, or maybe even more. It is to find stories, take them with them, carry them around until you understand them, take care of them and sometimes show them also, when appropriate, when necessary. There is no need to tell and it is absolutely necessary. It is necessary to see clearly, again and again and to tell about it. ”

So can we ask with the philosopher Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas: is there a last move? According to Bang, it certainly does.

“Behind it all lies a restlessness that does not ask to see other clouds. It is a restlessness that is greater and more lasting than the need for new heavens. It's a restlessness that moves the clouds. "

Maybe this is not the whole truth, but it is beautifully written.

Arne Melberg:

"To travel and write. An essay on modern travel literature »

Translated from Swedish by Trond Haugen

Spartacus Publishers 2005

Anne K. Bang:

"Restless. An essay on traveling »

Spartacus Publishers 2005

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