June 1, 2016
David Mitchell casts a vote of confidence in the future, delivers manuscript to the Future Library Project
by Chad Felix
About this time last year, we reported that Margaret Atwood had handed in her latest manuscript—and that it wouldn’t be published until 2114. News to which you may have responded, perhaps rightly: What? Or: Why? Or: Give me the book now, you monsters.
We understand, which is why we hesitate to tell you that now, a year later, another future book has been delivered, and this one’s by blockbuster Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell.
David Fucking Mitchell.
What? again. Why? again. You want the sentences. You want the words. You need the book. You are mad again—and again, we understand.
What are these very popular authors doing?
Well, it’s simple, actually, and pretty cool too. Atwood and Mitchell are participating in a hundred-year-long art project called Future Library, or Framtidsbiblioteket. It was conceived by the Scottish artist Katie Paterson and asks one hundred authors—one each year—to contribute a new, unpublished, never-before-seen work for publication in the distant future: the year 2114. When the time comes, barring apocalypse, these works will be printed on the pulp from trees that were specifically planted for the project in Nordmarka, a forest outside of Oslo.
At the project’s launch, as this video shows, a portion of the forest was cleared, and the mature trees that had been living there were used to build a specially-designed room in the New Deichmanske Public Library, where the unpublished manuscripts are to be held until the time of their collective publication.
Then new trees—future books—were planted. Pretty cool.
Okay, we can see that you are still a little angry. In a hundred years you will probably be dead, you say. How will you read the Mitchell, the Atwood, then? We understand your anger, Reader, for we will be dead too.
But this is still a good, cool idea, and we think you’ll warm up to it—-just like David Mitchell did (according to this conversation with the author, he was initially pretty disinterested). But after some reflection, he sums up the project and his participation pretty well:
Civilisation, according to one of those handy Chinese proverbs, is the basking in the shade of trees planted a hundred years ago, trees which the gardener knew would outlive him or her, but which he or she planted anyway for the pleasure of people not yet born. I accepted the Future Library’s invitation to participate because I would like to plant such a tree. The project is a vote of confidence that, despite the catastrophist shadows under which we live, the future will still be a brightish place willing and able to complete an artistic endeavour begun by long-dead people a century ago. Imagine if the Future Library had been conceived in 1914, and a hundred authors from all over the world had written a hundred volumes between 1915 and today, unseen until now—what a human highway through time to be a part of. Contributing and belonging to a narrative arc longer than your own lifespan is good for your soul.
Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.