Karl Ove Knausgaard, who detailed the minutiae of his own life in the six-volume autobiographical novel My Struggle, has taken on a new challenge: the Norwegian writer is to become the sixth contributor to the Future Library, which collects works by contemporary authors that will remain unread until 2114.
The Future Library is described as a “living, breathing, organic artwork, unfolding over 100 years” by its creator, the Scottish artist Katie Paterson. It currently consists of 1,000 spruce trees that were planted in Oslo’s Nordmarka forest in 2014. After a century, they will be cut down and turned into paper. On this, the manuscripts by participating authors including Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell and Elif Shafak, will finally be printed.
Knausgaard is the first Norwegian writer to contribute to the project; Paterson called him “one of the most exceptional authors of the 21st century”.
“For Knausgaard the duty of literature is ‘to find a way into the world as it is’. His epic portraits of human life are immersive, magnetic and absorbing,” she said. “He finds the sublime in the everyday, and dissolves boundaries between imagination and reality through acts of radical self-exposure.”
The author praised the Future Library in turn: “It’s such a brilliant idea, I very much like the thought that you will have readers who are still not born – it’s like sending a little ship from our time to them. I like that it will be opened in 100 years and I like the slowness of the forest growing, that everything is connected. It’s such a wonderful green artwork.”
Knausgaard said he has already started writing his manuscript, but would not reveal any details. While nobody alive today would read his words, he said he still had the same “moral and ethical responsibility” to those he wrote about.
“You can’t really afford to think about readers anyway when you’re writing, you have to be free of those thoughts,” he said. But he added: “If I wanted to write now about the people who surround me … you should think it would be possible to push the limit of honesty 100% because they won’t read it. But there’s no difference, really. You have the same obligations.”
Turkish author Shafak has described the experience of writing for Future Library as “like writing a letter now and leaving it in a river. You don’t know where it will go or who will read it – you just believe in the flow of time.” Mitchell called the project “a vote of confidence” for the future, while Atwood, the first author to contribute, has remarked “how strange it is to think of my own voice – silent by then for a long time – suddenly being awakened after 100 years”.
As well as the acclaimed My Struggle, which runs to almost 4,000 pages, Knausgaard is the author of novels including Out of the World and A Time for Everything. He will formally deliver his manuscript in the forest on 23 May 2020. A specially designed, wood-lined room is to be opened in Oslo’s Deichman central library to hold the manuscripts.