Opinion

One hundred years of solitude

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on September 10, 2014 Published on September 10, 2014

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Gone on Gabo?

Not the magical realist tome penned by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This is a new work by Man-Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood — which will not be read by anyone for another hundred years.

Oh, why?

Last week, the seventy-four-year-old Canadian writer became the first literary artist to join the Future Library Project, conceived by Scottish writer Katie Paterson and supported and executed by a group of writers and the Bjørvika Utvikling urban development project in Norway.

The idea behind the Future Library is simple. Every year, one writer will be invited to write a work of words — fiction, non-fiction, poetry — in any language. Till 2114, no one will have the privilege to read all these literary works, which will be kept in a specially designed chamber in Deichmanske public library in Bjørvika, near Oslo. Incidentally, the library itself isn’t ready yet. It will open only in 2018.

And how are they going to publish this in 2114?

These will be printed. One doesn’t know for now whether there will be e-book versions of these in 2114. But the Future Library Project organisers are growing a forest of 1,000 trees in a place called Nordmarka, near the Norwegian capital of Oslo.

In 2114, these trees will provide the wood for the paper on which these hundred books will be printed. Wood from this forest will also form the interiors of the public library in Bjørvika. The library will keep and maintain a printing press to make it easier for people in 2114 to print paper books.

But none of the current organisers will be there to open the chamber in 2114!

Yes. That’s why the trust that runs the Future Library Project, which is made up of literary experts, will change heads every ten years. This, Paterson feels, will ensure the continuity of the project, which will be seen as our message to the generation a hundred years away.

A new version of the message in the bottle!

Exactly! Atwood says this “goes right back to that phase of our childhood when we used to bury little things in the backyard, hoping that someone would dig them up, long in the future, and say, ‘How interesting, this rusty old piece of tin, this little sack of marbles is. I wonder who put it there?’” she told The Guardian.

But will there be any reading, as we know it now, left by then?

Atwood says people in 2114 might need “a paleo-anthropologist to translate some of it for them”. She could be right. A recent study shows 25 per cent of languages are endangered, and more are joining the club. Academic Tatsuya Amato from the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge recently found that languages face three key risk factors: small population size, small geographical habitat and population change or decline in speaker numbers.

What about India? We have so many languages, and several of them are dying, I’m told.

Yes, the Language Atlas of Unesco shows about 200 Indian tongues (of the nearly 2,500 globally) are endangered. Of the known 7,000 languages in the world, experts say one language is disappearing every wekk. It is in this context, initiatives like the Future Library gains significance.

Maybe, some of the languages in which these works are written would not be there a hundred years down the line and these works might help people get them back. So, don’t forget to pass this story to your children, or grandchildren!

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Published on September 10, 2014
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