The Future Library
Courtney Priday discusses The Future Library and what it means for the present literary world and in the future.
The Future Library is a piece of artwork started in 2014 by Scottish artist Katie Paterson designed to continue growing over the course of a century. The work currently consists of 1000 trees planted in Nordmaka forest and five manuscripts soon to be joined by Karl Ove Knausgaard’s latest work on 23rd May 2020. Knausgaard’s manuscript will be initiated into the collection through the Handover ceremony in which he will walk the same path into the forest as those before him and those who will come after. He will present his manuscript on archival paper and do a short speech, after which the manuscript will be kept alongside the works of the previous contributing authors Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Sjόn, Elif Shafak and Han Kang in what will then be the newly constructed Silent Room in the New Deichmanske Library, Oslo. This room will display the boxed manuscripts in glass cases engraved with each author’s name and the title of their work where they will remain unread until 2114. The trees planted in Nordmaka will be cut down and become the pages of what is estimated to be 3000 anthologies housing the works of an author from each year since the project’s conception. This organic piece of artwork is designed to be an evolving literary time capsule with each author asked to write “in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future”.
“This organic piece of artwork is designed to be an evolving literary time capsule with each author asked to write “in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future”.”
Preserving literature in this way whilst on the surface would seem like the development of a new canon seems more like an ecosystem.
The launch of The Future Library at a time where we have seen rapid technological advancement and shifts in publication practices demonstrates the resolute appeal of reading in print. The tactile experience of reading a book connects us with the physical world as we become increasingly lost in a digital one. The Future Library captures this, beautifully designing every stage of production from the materials used to print the books to the room they are stored in, leaving only the author’s imaginations to run and wild. Yet in such an unpredictable world, its orchestrators can never be sure if their vision will come to fruition.
“The Future Library captures our timeless pull towards the physical to feel a connection to history”
I have seen many articles questioning the desire for The Future Library in 2114, if climate change hasn’t got to us first, will there even be any desire for such a thing? Or will the world have moved on from literature as we know it? We are only at the beginning stages of this digital revolution in literature and no one can predict how this will continue to evolve or how humanity will change. However, now, more than ever artwork like The Future Library captures our timeless pull towards the physical to feel a connection to history. Whether printed books are a thing of the past in 2114 or not it can be said that there is value in the active preservation of our own time and as our avid interest in history and literature across the ages suggests this is unlikely to wane over the next century but… only time will tell.