The Norwegian library with unreadable books

From The BBC:

One recent Sunday morning, in a forest north of Oslo in Norway, more than 200 people gathered to watch a ceremony. They had walked in a procession ­– some with their dogs, others their children – along gravel trails, directed by arrows on the ground made from sprinkled wood shavings. The air carried a scent of pine needles, burnt logs and strong Norwegian coffee.

At their destination ­– a recently planted forest – the people sat or crouched on a slope dotted with spruce trees. Each tree was still only around 1m (3ft) tall, but one day, when the spruces are more than 20-30 times the size, they will provide the paper for a special collection of books. Everyone there knew they would not live to see that happen, nor would they ever get to read the books.

This was the 2022 Future Library ceremony, a 100-year art project created to expand people’s perspectives of time, and their duty to posterity. Every year since 2014, the Scottish artist Katie Paterson – along with her Norwegian counterpart Anne Beate Hovind and a group of trustees – has invited a prominent writer to submit a manuscript, and the commissioning will continue until 2113. Then, a century after the project began, they will all finally be published.

It began with the author Margaret Atwood, who wrote a story called Scribbler Moon, and since then the library has solicited submissions from all over the world, with works by English novelist David Mitchell, the Icelandic poet Sjón, Turkey’s Elif Shafak, Han Kang from South Korea, and Vietnamese-American poet Ocean Vuong.

This year, Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga and the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard came to the forest to hand over their stories (along with returning authors Mitchell and Sjón). Forbidden from revealing the content of their work, they could only share the titles: Dangarembga named hers Narini and Her Donkey – Narini derives from a Zimbabwean word for “infinity” – while Knausgaard submitted a more enigmatic title, simply: Blind Book.

All the manuscripts will be stored for almost a century inside locked glass drawers in a hidden corner of Oslo’s main public library, within a small, wooden repository called the Silent Room. In 2114, the drawers will be unlocked, and the trees chopped down – and 100 stories hidden for a century will finally be published in one go.

The authors ­– and everyone else who was in Oslo that Sunday – knew they would almost certainly not live to see that happen. “It’s a project that’s not only thinking about us now, but about those who are not born,” explains Paterson. In fact, she adds, “most of the authors are not even born yet”.

So, why build a library where no-one today can read the books? And what might be learnt from its story so far?

. . . .

The Future Library is not the first of Paterson’s artworks to tackle the human relationship with long-term time. She traces her fascination with the theme back to her early 20s, when she worked as a chambermaid in Iceland, and was struck by the extraordinary landscape around her. “You could almost read time in the strata, you could feel the midnight Sun and the energy of the Earth,” she says. “It just was a very beautiful, sublime, awakening landscape to be around.”

This led to one of her first works, Vatnajokull (the sound of): a phone number that anyone could call to listen to an Icelandic glacier melting. Dial the number, and you’d be routed to a microphone beneath the water in the Jökulsárlón lagoon on Iceland’s south coast, where blue-tinged icebergs calve away and float towards the sea.

Since then, Paterson has explored deeper timescales from various angles, geologically, astronomically, humanistically: a glitterball that projects nearly every known solar eclipse in history onto the walls, the “colour” of the Universe throughout its existence, the aroma of Earth’s first trees, or a necklace carved from 170 ancient fossils marking each stage of life.

One of her most recent exhibitions in Edinburgh, Requiem at Ingleby Gallery, featured 364 vials of crushed dust, each one representing a different moment in deep time. Vial #1 was a sample of presolar grains older than the Sun, followed by powdered four-billion-year-old rocks, corals from prehistoric seas, and other traces of the distant past.

A few visitors were invited to pour one of the vials into a central urn: when I was there in June, I poured #227, a four-million-year-old Asteroidea fossil, a kind of sea star. Later in time, the vials represent the age of humanity, capturing human accomplishment – Greek pottery or a Mayan figurine – but also darker moments: the bright blue grains of phosphorus fertiliser, microplastic from the deepest part of the ocean, or an irradiated tree-branch from Hiroshima. When your art deals in deep time, there’s no ignoring the onset of the Anthropocene, the age shaped by humans.

. . . .

The Future Library project is one of many artistic projects I’ve encountered in recent years that seeks to foster longer-term thinking. Over the past few years, I’ve been writing my own book called The Long View, which is about why the world needs to transform its perspective of time. Along the way, I’ve heard a musical composition that will play for 1,000 years, read an endless poem being embedded in a Dutch street one letter at a time, and acquired a framed invitation to a party in the year 2269. 

Link to the rest at The BBC

PG is likely a cretin, but none of these projects are likely to appear on his must-see list.

The OP does include lots of photos of trees and pleasant-looking Norwegians, however.

7 thoughts on “The Norwegian library with unreadable books”

  1. Overly ambitious.
    Odds are the folks of 2135 won’t be too interested in the manuscripts themselves. They might be amused of tbe conceit behind the project, the presentism. Just another kind of “time capsule” that drops meaningless trinkets on the future.

    Simple test: how many award winners from 100 years ago are still remembered today?

    It points at a followup post relevant to the OP.

  2. “Later in time, the vials represent the age of humanity, capturing human accomplishment – Greek pottery or a Mayan figurine – but also darker moments: the bright blue grains of phosphorus fertiliser,”

    Perhaps I’m insufficiently environmentally aware, but could someone please explain how the creation of something that helps feed people, like fertilizer, is a “darker moment” in humanity’s history?

    • The former are examples of art, the latter of tech.
      Art = good, tech = bad.

      It has long been an article of faith in “certain circles” that everything that enables our current lifestyle is eeeevile!

  3. I don’t think that future book has a chance. I recently tried a book of ‘science fiction’ stories by Rudyard Kipling. All the stories were written 100-120 years ago. Kipling is an acknowledged giant of English literature, but the stories were so boring, I couldn’t finish the book. During Kipling’s time, those stories were probably impressive, but now, a century later, they seem too dated. No action we are accustomed to see in science fiction. No science fiction at all, even though some of the details described in the stories didn’t exist in the author’s time. Or ever.

    • Kipling’s works are influential in SF but it was mostly via his style, not the science in the stories themselves. And mostly early on.

      The same applies to Verne and Wells, especially the latter, whose works are mostly alegorical. (Ocasionally didactic–The War in tbe Air.) Verne focused on the great adventure side of the field so authors doing adventure SF, combat SF, etc are following his vein, whereas the (latter day) LeGuin and co are more in the Wells school.

      Kipling…I’m not sure I can identify any direct modern followers.,AD%20portrays%20futuristic%20aviation%20in%20a%20journalistic%20present-tense.

      “Kipling’s appeal to modern readers lies instead in his approach and his technique.

      The real subject-matter of Rudyard Kipling’s writing is the world’s work and the men and women and machines who do it. Whether that work be manual or intellectual, creative or administrative, the performance of his work is the most important thing in a person’s life…

      Today’s science fiction writers find their audience among the same strata of society that in Victoria’s time read Kipling: adults engaged in the shaping of our world and young people exploring what life has to offer. ”

      Characters in early SF (pre-ASTOUNDING) were often walking resumes. That (mostly) changed three generations ago. Kipling as a writer was great on character.

      (They still are in many novice SF stories. James P. Hogan is an excellent writer but his earliest stories suffer from such a lack of characterization. Great concepts well presented but the characters might as well not exist. Then he did THRICE UPON A TIME and it was like night and day. Since then the characters were as memorable as the concepts.)

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