In a wood, a li­brary grows

A project that’s a ‘vote of con­fi­dence in the fu­ture’ aims to pub­lish new works writ­ten now, in 100 years. On pa­per.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - By PIERRE-HENRY DESHAYES

SOME will never know if their books were ap­pre­ci­ated by read­ers, many of whom aren’t born yet. Ev­ery year for 100 years, a dif­fer­ent au­thor will con­trib­ute to the “Fu­ture Li­brary”, a col­lec­tion of works to be pub­lished only in the next cen­tury.

So far, 1,000 Nor­we­gian spruces planted three years ago are the only vis­i­ble sign of this in­ter­na­tion­ally and stylis­ti­cally di­verse project, each lit­tle shrub dec­o­rated with a red rib­bon in a mod­est clear­ing in a for­est on the out­skirts of Oslo.

Once they reach 100 years old, in 2114, the trees will be chopped down and used to make pa­per for an­tholo­gies com­pil­ing the works of the in­vited writ­ers.

Cana­dian au­thor Mar­garet At­wood was the first one asked to join the ini­tia­tive in 2015, fol­lowed by English nov­el­ist David Mitchell in 2016. This year Ice­landic poet Sjon sub­mit­ted his man­u­script – one, his con­tem­po­raries will, in all like­li­hood, never read.

“One of the things an au­thor will al­ways deal with is the fact that there will be read­ers the au­thor never knows.

“They might be on an­other con­ti­nent and they might be far away in time.

“But it’s very rare to know that no one will read the text while you are alive,” says Sjon, who also writes lyrics for Ice­landic singer Bjork.

Know­ing that he would never see any re­ac­tions to his piece “made my re­la­tion­ship with the text very deep”, he ex­plains.

“I re­alised that many of the mech­a­nisms I take for granted as I write my texts are re­ally some­thing that I need to think about all the time: the pre­ci­sion of words, us­ing old words ....

“Writ­ing in my lan­guage, which is the Ice­landic lan­guage, was also one of the ques­tions I was faced with be­cause I don’t know where my lan­guage will be in 100 years.”

From tree to book

While nor­mally it is the blank page that awaits the au­thor’s di­vine in­spi­ra­tion, this time it is the au­thors’ words that have to wait for the tree to turn into the pages of a book.

The long wait for the “Fu­ture Li­brary” is just the lat­est in a string of ini­tia­tives in Nor­way cel­e­brat­ing

“slow life” and pos­ter­ity. The Scan­di­na­vian coun­try is the cham­pion of “slow TV” – a 134-hour boat jour­ney through the fjords was broad­cast live; a 24-hour mostly live broad­cast of salmon fish­ing and 12 hours on the topic of fire­wood are among other marathon “slow TV” cov­er­age.

It is also home to a “dooms­day” seed stor­age vault de­signed to pro­tect the world’s crops from dis­as­ter for­ever af­ter.

And thanks to its abun­dance of oil, it has also amassed the world’s largest sov­er­eign wealth fund, of­fi­cially des­tined to fund the wel­fare state for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

The idea for the li­brary took root in the imag­i­na­tion of Scot­tish artist Katie Pater­son and was able to grow fol­low­ing a meet­ing with Nor­we­gian real es­tate developers hunt­ing for cul­tural projects.

“The au­thors of to­day or in a decade’s time or sev­eral decades will hope­fully say some­thing of this mo­ment,” Pater­son says.

“I think that will be very in­ter­est­ing for those who get to read the manuscripts in 100 years. Be­cause they can re­flect all the way back in time be­cause, 100 years later, who knows what that civil­i­sa­tion is go­ing to be?”

‘The pa­per book might be an an­tique’

But will we still be read­ing books in 2114? Will there still be ma­chines to print books?

The “Fu­ture Li­brary” is “a vote of con­fi­dence in the fu­ture of cul­ture”, said David Mitchell last year.

“I think it was Um­berto Eco who said the form of the book can never be im­proved upon. It’s like the wheel, there’s no im­prove­ment,” says Pater­son.

“But, of course, tech­nol­ogy ad­vances so fast that I think what feels ex­tremely un­known is that ... now we talk about dig­i­tal books ... but we have no idea what the form of the book might be.

“It might be some­thing com­pletely unimag­in­able to us. So maybe the pa­per book might be an an­tique by then,” she says.

“That’s for the fu­ture to know.” A to­tal of 1,000 lim­ited-edi­tion copies of the an­tholo­gies will be pub­lished. Cer­tifi­cates en­ti­tling hold­ers to a copy will be sold grad­u­ally over the years for US$1,000 (about RM4,300 at to­day’s rate) in art gal­leries.

Pend­ing the re­lease of the se­cret works in the next cen­tury, the manuscripts will be locked up in a spe­cially de­signed room at the new Oslo Public Li­brary, due to be opened in 2020.

Draw­ing a light-hearted com­par­i­son with real es­tate de­vel­op­ment in which she works, Anne Beate Hovind, who heads the over­all project and the se­lec­tion com­mit­tee that chooses the writ­ers, ac­knowl­edges its un­con­ven­tion­al­ity but stresses that the “Fu­ture Li­brary” car­ries pres­tige for those writ­ers in­volved.

“If we had to do a risk as­sess­ment of this art­work, it would have never hap­pened,” she says smil­ing.

“But we’re com­pet­ing with the No­bels now.” – AFP

Pater­son, the orig­i­na­tor of the ‘Fu­ture Li­brary’ project, mark­ing a tree planted in the for­est clear­ing to in­di­cate that this year’s man­u­script has been cho­sen. — Pho­tos: BJORVIKA UTVIKLING/AFP

(From left) Mayor of Oslo Mar­i­anne Bor­gen, Pater­son, and Sjon with his man­u­script in the for­est clear­ing that is the project site.

The mark­ing of Sjon’s tree was cel­e­brated with a mu­si­cal per­for­mance in the clear­ing.

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