Written by Jutta Martha Beiner, Wed Editor with the Goethe-Institut Norway (translated by Kerstin Trimble)
The second manuscript has been delivered to the Future Library. It will be guarded like a treasure at the Deichmannsken Library in Oslo until 2114.
This time around, Katie Paterson asked British author David Mitchell to write a text, seal it, and bring it to the woods just north of Oslo. A few words, a hundred pages or even more. No one present will ever know the exact content. Last year’s text was authored by Canadian Margaret Atwood. The annually expanding project was initiated by Paterson, a Scottish artist living in Berlin.
Young and old attendees in colorful raincoats are keeping warm with black coffee served in Western-style iron kettles as they wait patiently in the drizzling rain for the acclaimed author to appear. Mitchell will soon join the eclectic mix that has gathered in the otherwise lonely Norwegian forest from his hometown of Cork with his exclusive, top-secret manuscript in-hand. Amongst the tranquil trees, Mitchell will not reveal an iota of its contents, but he will share the title: From me flows what you call time, an homage to a work by contemporary Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu.
Tiny saplings – 30 minutes from the bus stop Nordmarka is rife with woodlands, as far as the eye can see and beyond. The stuff that books are made of. A brisk wind whips across the clearing, rain showers come and go. Only the youngest members of the young families who have gathered on this Saturday morning on camping mats might ever have the chance to peruse this precious entry into the Future Library.
What better place to hand over the secret text than here, the very place where grow the trees that will provide the paper for Future Library entries a century from now? Jon tells the audience that the red-labeled saplings are well on their way. Jon, also known as the ‘king of the forest’, is also here for the ceremony. One thousand pine trees were planted here two years ago for the Future Library. “At times the plants grow slowly, but now and again they experience a growth spurt.”
Here in Voksenkollen, the region in the heart of Oslo’s Nordmarka, a brisk 30-minute walk from the nearest bus stop toward town, the saplings will grow until 2114, when they will be felled.
“Death is not the end”
David Mitchell has finally arrived in the green woods, wearing a blue outdoor jacket, a sailor’s shirt and an endearing grin… in very British casualty. The author thanks the audience for the enormous honor. He greets the guests crouching amongst the underwood and young saplings, making it clear from the outset that he is not put off by the noise of the children in attendance. On the contrary, the project is specifically for them. “There is life after us,” he muses. “Death is not the end.” He then begins to read a few verses from a work by his favorite poet Philip Larkin called – what else – The trees.
“At first I thought that was totally crazy,” Mitchell reflects. “I’m supposed to write something that nobody wants to even read.” But after contemplating the project, he began to see the exciting prospect of the project. “Yes, it is crazy to do something like this,” he still maintains, but crazy in a good way. “I see it as an expression of our faith in the future,” emphasizes Mitchell. “Because I favor the side of me who believes that our civilization has a future over the part of me that is pessimistic. We need visions like those of the Future Library in order to survive.” And anybody who does not see a future that includes printed books is just wrong. “Just a few years ago, books were being written off as an endangered species, but today we know that is not the case.”
Mitchell admits that he kept editing his text until his departure to Norway. He printed the final version just minutes before the taxi arrived to pick him up. He did not have an easy go with the text that nobody he knows will ever read. He does, however, plan to further develop its characters in his next novels.
Why did Katie Paterson pick Oslo, of all places, as the home of her Future Library? “In Norway, city and nature overlap and intertwine.” Nature is important to her: Everything is becoming more virtual. “I wanted to create something organic, draw attention to where things come from.” David Mitchell agrees: “It is a circle; nature transforms into a book that you can read. It is a poem made of reality.” It is essentially like music: “Words can’t do it justice.”
This article originally appeared on FuturePerfect.