Have you ever stumbled across some of your own writing from the past? Perhaps a funny story you wrote in elementary school, or a sappy poem from your pre-teen years, or even a forgotten story beginning from your more recent past? Could you remember why you wrote it or the frame of mind you were in? Was it worth sharing with anyone else? Can you imagine what it would be like to have someone come across your writing 100 years from now?
If we look back 100 years to 1914, Charlie Chaplin is a big movie star, Woodrow Wilson is the President of the United States, Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated, Babe Ruth plays with the Boston Red Sox, the Panama Canal is inaugurated, Harry Houdini is a famous escape-artist, and authors James Joyce, L. Frank Baum, H.G. Wells, Sinclair Lewis, Robert Frost, and Ezra Pound are all being published. So while 100 years ago seems like a long time, these events and names are all known to us. We may have even read something from this group of authors.
I think that’s why a fascinating article on The Guardian titled “Margaret Atwood’s new work will remain unseen for a century” sparked my interest this afternoon. Scottish artist Katie Paterson, founder of The Future Library project has created an unusual literary artwork focusing on the passage of time. The Future Library project asks authors to write a manuscript that will be locked away for 100 years. The authors are not allowed to share their work with anyone. In 2114, the works will be published. In addition, a forest of trees planted near Oslo, Norway, will provide the paper on which the texts will be printed. There will also be a printing press stored with the manuscripts to make sure that the technology will exist for the books to be printed. Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin, is the first author to join the project. She said she’s “finding it very delicious,” to not have to tell anyone what she’s writing—or to find out what people think of her work. She has, however, “bought some special archival paper, which will not decay in its sealed box over 100 years.”
If you scroll down to read the comments below the article on The Guardian’s website, you’ll find a lot of pessimistic attitudes. “Gimmick” declares one reader. “Egotistical” declares another. “Pretentious twaddle. The only value in a book is it being read, and who knows if a hundred years from now literacy will even exist, or English be a living language or whatever. Horribly gimicky ideas devalue art and devalue humanism” writes yet another reader. To me, these readers have missed the point. How could people be upset about a time capsule of literature? They’ve taken a unique project and blasted it for being creative. I think it’s rather exciting to imagine what life will be like 100 years from now—will we still be bothering with printed books or will everything be digital by then? Will future readers care about this project at all, or will they be unimpressed that a new Atwood novel has been released?
How about you? Are you intrigued by The Future Library project or do you see it as “pretentious twaddle”?