Books for the future: Man Booker prize winning novelist Han Kang donates manuscript to the ‘Future Library’ project

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The Nordmanka forest, outside Oslo, where the trees of the Future Library are growing. Photo by  Kristin von Hirsch

In a forest just outside Oslo, one thousand trees have been planted to supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in 100 years time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until 2114.

This is part of the ground-breaking Future Library project – and each year, everyone is welcome to join in and participate in a handover ceremony with that year’s author.

The Man Booker International prize winning South Korean novelist Han Kang is the author contributing a manuscript for the Future Library project in 2019. She will hand over her writing on Saturday, 25th May in an intimate ceremony within the Nordmarka Forest, Oslo. Visitors can join Han Kang walking through the trees to a clearing filled with one thousand four-year-old spruce saplings: the Future Library forest.

Future Library is a public artwork by Scottish artist Katie Paterson that will unfold over a century in the city of Oslo, Norway. Han Kang is the fifth writer to participate in Future Library. The Canadian author Margaret Atwood was the first author to contribute, followed by British novelist David Mitchell, Icelandic poet, novelist and lyricist Sjón, and Turkish author Elif Shafak.

An unknown future

Tending the forest and ensuring its preservation for the 100-year duration of the artwork finds a conceptual counterpoint in the invitation extended to each writer: to conceive and produce a work in the hope of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future.

Following the forest ceremony, Han Kang will give a public talk at the Deichmanske Library, Oslo. Speaking ahead of the ceremony, Kang said:

“I can’t survive one hundred years from now, of course. No-one who I love can survive, either. This relentless fact has made me reflect on the essential part of my life. Ultimately Future Library deals with the fate of paper books. I would like to pray for the fates of both humans and books. May they survive and embrace each other, in and after one hundred years, even though they couldn’t reach eternity…”

No more “fast food thinking”

Anne Beate Hovind, the curator of the Future Library project, spoke to Nothing in the Rulebook about the ethos behind the artwork:

“Projects like this are so important for our time. Just a couple of generations back, people were thinking this way all the time. You know, you build something or plant a forest, you don’t do it for your sake – you do it for future generations.

We kind of have this fast food thinking and now we have to prepare something for the next generation. I think more people realise the world is a little lost and we need to get back on track.”

Safe storage

All one hundred manuscripts will be held in a specially designed room in the new Oslo Public Library opening in 2020. Intended to be a space of contemplation, this room – designed by the Katie Paterson alongside a team of architects – will be lined with wood from the Nordmarka forest. The authors’ names and titles of their works will be on display, but none of the manuscripts will be available for reading until their publication in one century’s time. No adult living now will ever know what is inside the boxes, other than that they are texts of some kind that will withstand the ravages of time and be  available in the year 2114.

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The duty of writers

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Our world faces catastrophic climate breakdown. True facts are now described as ‘fake news’, and biased media reported hailed by pseudo-Nazis as gospel truth. Political turmoil is growing as inequalities deepen across so many dividing lines in society. In such times, a challenge facing us all as artists, creatives and writers – but also simply as human beings – is to examine what role we ourselves have to play.

We have previously written about the need for writers to tackle the subject of climate change in their poetry and novels and non-fiction accounts – while we have also paid tribute to Ursula Le Guin’s rallying cry for all writers to imagine new alternatives to our capitalist system.

But what exactly is our duty, in these times, as writers and creatives? What stories do we need to tell?

What is the story of the world?

Fortunately for us, guidance on this question can be found from the minds of great writers – living and dead – who have pondered this precise topic. In East of Eden, for instance, Steinbeck opens the book’s 34th chapter with a mediation on the most fundamental foundation that sits beneath this essential question: if we have a duty to describe the stories of the world that matter, what exactly is the story of the world? Steinbeck writes:

“A child may ask, “What is the world’s story about?” And a grown man or woman may wonder, “What way will the world go? How does it end and, while we’re at it, what’s the story about?”

I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder. Humans are caught — in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too — in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well — or ill?”

Understanding human beings

In an earlier journal entry, Steinbeck even suggests that tackling the injustices in the world is not even possible if the writer first doesn’t understand the human beings who exist within it. He opines:

“In every bit of honest writing in the world… there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other.”

In a similar vein, the novelist Zadie Smith argues that to believe anything can bring about fundamental change is in fact naïve – and to honestly understand what drives the world forward (and how to subtly shift perceptions) you have to first appreciate the motivations of humankind. In a speech given in Germany in 2016 after receiving a literary award, she says:

“People who believe in fundamental and irreversible changes in human nature are themselves ahistorical and naive. If novelists know anything it’s that individual citizens are internally plural: they have within them the full range of behavioral possibilities. They are like complex musical scores from which certain melodies can be teased out and others ignored or suppressed, depending, at least in part, on who is doing the conducting. At this moment, all over the world — and most recently in America — the conductors standing in front of this human orchestra have only the meanest and most banal melodies in mind. Here in Germany you will remember these martial songs; they are not a very distant memory. But there is no place on earth where they have not been played at one time or another. Those of us who remember, too, a finer music must try now to play it, and encourage others, if we can, to sing along.”

Yet within this, Smith sees no reason not to use art – and writing in particular – to reshape narratives, to influence others, and ultimately keep striving for that which we are all searching for, especially in these sometimes dark times: human progress, and illuminating the path ahead on which we can strive to make a better world. She says:

“History is not erased by change, and the examples of the past still hold out new possibilities for all of us, opportunities to remake, for a new generation, the conditions from which we ourselves have benefited… Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive.”

On the protection of democracy

Smith’s line of argument calls upon all of us to continually work to reimagine and challenge existing political and social structures. This calls to mind the thoroughly excellent arguments of that legendary titan of literature, Walt Whitman, who, in his collection Specimen Days, calls on all free-thinking people to continually challenge and probe the status quo. Whitman writes:

“I can conceive of no better service in the United States, henceforth, by democrats of thorough and heart-felt faith, than boldly exposing the weakness, liabilities and infinite corruptions of democracy.”

What it interesting here is how Whitman lived through times that do not sound dissimilar to our own. He saved lives through the Civil War, witnessed the “miserably-waged populations”, the corrosion of idealism and collapse of democratic values into corruption and complacency. Yet the great American poet faces this dispiriting landscape with a defiant optimism, arguing that this is in a way the most countercultural act of courage available to us:

“Though I think I fully comprehend the absence of moral tone in our current politics and business, and the almost entire futility of absolute and simple honor as a counterpoise against the enormous greed for worldly wealth, with the trickeries of gaining it, all through society in our day, I still do not share the depression and despair on the subject which I find possessing many good people.”

Ultimately, Whitman notes that the only way to preserve democracy in America is also to preserve nature (to hark back to our call to tackle the catastrophic breakdown of our climate for a moment here). And, as current US President Trump and his collection of lunatic criminals in the Republican party continue to show flagrant disregard for the planet and its natural environments, this is a thought that is well worth revisiting. Whitman writes:

“American Democracy, in its myriad personalities, in factories, work-shops, stores, offices — through the dense streets and houses of cities, and all their manifold sophisticated life — must either be fibred, vitalized, by regular contact with out-door light and air and growths, farm-scenes, animals, fields, trees, birds, sun-warmth and free skies, or it will morbidly dwindle and pale. We cannot have grand races of mechanics, work people, and commonalty, (the only specific purpose of America,) on any less terms. I conceive of no flourishing and heroic elements of Democracy in the United States, or of Democracy maintaining itself at all, without the Nature-element forming a main part — to be its health-element and beauty-element — to really underlie the whole politics, sanity, religion and art of the New World.”

Truth above all

Of course, it is easy to present arguments in favour of protecting the world and become downhearted when these are dismissed by the despots around the world – from Trump in the US through May in the UK, Putin in Russia to the incompetent National Liberal coalition in Australia – and ignored as being part of some fabrication or over-exaggeration of ‘progressives’ (as though we would feel foolish if we were to accidentally be fooled into creating a better world for nothing). ‘Fake News’ is everywhere, as we are all told. Here, it feels fitting to draw upon inspiration from legendary journalist Rebecca Solnit, who presses upon us our need to continue to stick to accuracy and truth when writing stories. In her collection of essays, Call them by their names, she writes:

“Precision, accuracy, and clarity matter, as gestures of respect toward those to whom you speak; toward the subject, whether it’s an individual or the earth itself; and toward the historical record.”

In an era of ‘alternative facts’, where language is increasingly used for malicious purposes, Solnit strives to persuade us of the importance of calling things as they are:

“To name something truly is to lay bare what may be brutal or corrupt — or important or possible — and key to the work of changing the world is changing the story.”

More than a century after Nietzsche contemplated truth, lies, and the power of language to both conceal and reveal reality, Solnit writes:

“There are so many ways to tell a lie. You can lie by ignoring whole regions of impact, omitting crucial information, or unhitching cause and effect; by falsifying information by distortion and disproportion, or by using names that are euphemisms for violence or slander for legitimate activities, so that the white kids are “hanging out” but the Black kids are “loitering” or “lurking.” Language can erase, distort, point in the wrong direction, throw out decoys and distractions. It can bury the bodies or uncover them.”

Breaking the narrative

Ultimately, Solnit calls on writers to continue to strive towards that goal of truth – for exposing the truth, using language that is accurate, that lays bare the reality of situations. Through truth, she argues, we can break and reshape narratives and stories that have been spun by the powerful against the powerless – and hopefully move toward a world where the only thing that is fake is Trump’s hair. She writes:

“The writer’s job is not to look through the window someone else built, but to step outside, to question the framework, or to dismantle the house and free what’s inside, all in service of making visible what was locked out of the view. News journalism focuses on what changed yesterday rather than asking what are the underlying forces and who are the unseen beneficiaries of this moment’s status quo… This is why you need to know your history, even if you’re a journalist rather than a historian. You need to know the patterns to see how people are fitting the jumble of facts into what they already have: selecting, misreading, distorting, excluding, embroidering, distributing empathy here but not there, remembering this echo or forgetting that precedent.

Some of the stories we need to break are not exceptional events, they’re the ugly wallpaper of our everyday lives. For example, there’s a widespread belief that women lie about being raped, not a few women, not an anomalous woman, but women in general. This framework comes from the assumption that reliability and credibility are as natural to men as mendacity and vindictiveness are to women. In other words, feminists just made it all up, because otherwise we’d have to question a really big story whose nickname is patriarchy. But the data confirms that people who come forward about being raped are, overall, telling the truth (and that rapists tend to lie, a lot). Many people have gotten on board with the data, many have not, and so behind every report on a sexual assault is a battle over the terms in which we tell, in what we believe about gender and violence.

[…]

Future generations are going to curse most of us for distracting ourselves with trivialities as the planet burned. Journalists are in a pivotal place when it comes to the possibilities and the responsibilities in this crisis. We, the makers and breakers of stories, are tremendously powerful.

So please, break the story.”

You heard it here first, comrades. So, what are you waiting for? Get breaking!

If youd like to contribute to our site – and show off how good you are at breaking narratives – please contact us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not to be published for 100 years: Man Booker prize winning novelist Han Kang is the latest author to join the Future Library project

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You will have to wait a century before you are able to read Han Kang’s Future Library submission. 

Man Booker prize-winning novelist Han Kang has been named as the fifth writer to contribute to the Future Library project – a 100 year artwork that will see her work unpublished until 2114.

Han Kang joins Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Sjón, and Elif Shafak as the latest writer to contribute to the public artwork, which was first conceived by Scottish artist Katie Paterson.

In an interview with Nothing in the Rulebook, Paterson said there was a familial bond between the authors involved in the project:

“I think there is a thread that connects all the authors together. There is this almost familial bond that we create with them. Like a family tree, and each author follows in the footsteps of the one before and through the annual ceremony we do create a chain of people who are connected through time and through the trees.”

Speaking about Han Kang joining the project, Paterson said:

“Han Kang expands our view of the world. Her stories are disquieting and subversive, exploring violence, cruelty, fleeting life, and the acceptance of human fragility. As 2018’s author, Han Kang makes us confront uncomfortable issues: injustice, pain, mourning and remembering; a shared loss of trust in humankind, alongside the belief in human dignity. She leads us into the very heart of human experience, with writing that is deeply tender, and transformative. I believe her sentiments will be carried through trees, received decades from now, still timeless.”

An entire forest planted to make books

As part of the project, one thousand trees have been planted in Nordmarka, a forest just outside Oslo, which will supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in one hundred years’ time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until 2114.

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A path through the Nordmarka forest – where the footsteps of authors past, present and future will follow. Photo by  Kristin von Hirsch

Anne Beate Hovind, the curator of the Future Library project, spoke to Nothing in the Rulebook about the ethos behind the artwork:

“Projects like this are so important for our time. Just a couple of generations back, people were thinking this way all the time. You know, you build something or plant a forest, you don’t do it for your sake – you do it for future generations.

We kind of have this fast food thinking and now we have to prepare something for the next generation. I think more people realise the world is a little lost and we need to get back on track.”

“Pray for the fates of both humans and books”

Speaking about joining the project, Han Kang said:

“My first impression of the concept of Future library, was that it was a project about time. It deals with the time scope of one hundred years. In Korea, when a couple gets married, people bless them to live together ‘for one hundred years’. It sounds like almost an eternity.

I can’t survive one hundred years from now, of course. No-one who I love can survive, either. This relentless fact has made me reflect on the essential part of my life. Why do I write? Who am I talking to, when I write? Then I imagined a world, where no-one I love exists any longer. And in that world, the trees in Norway still exist, who I once met when I was alive. The clear gap of the lifespan between humans and trees struck me. This meditation is so strong that it has the power to directly open our eyes to the impermanence of our mortal lives and all the more precious fragility of our lives.

Ultimately, Future Library deals with the fate of paper books. I would like to pray for the fates of both humans and books. May they survive and embrace each other, in and after one hundred years, even though they couldn’t reach eternity…”

Safe storage

All one hundred manuscripts will be held in a specially designed room in the new Oslo Public Library opening in 2020. Intended to be a space of contemplation, this room – designed by the Katie Paterson alongside a team of architects – will be lined with wood from the Nordmarka forest. The authors’ names and titles of their works will be on display, but none of the manuscripts will be available for reading until their publication in one century’s time. No adult living now will ever know what is inside the boxes, other than that they are texts of some kind that will withstand the ravages of time and be  available in the year 2114.

Han Kang will hand over her manuscript in the Norwegian forest on Saturday 25 May 2019, everyone is welcome.

‘The last taboo’ – Elif Shafak contributes manuscript to the ‘Future Library’ project

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Mayor of Oslo Marianne Borgen, artist Katie Paterson and novelist Elif Shafak at the Future Library handover ceremony. Photo by Kristin von Hirsch

Turkish novelist Elif Shafak has joined Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell in committing a manuscript of her writing to the Future Library project – a 100 year artwork that will see her work unpublished until 2114.

Shafak’s text, The last taboo, was handed over in a ceremony in the Future Library Forest in Oslo, Norway. During the ceremony, the award-winning novelist, public intellectual and political commentator said:

“It’s been incredible moving for me to be part of this project, and I feel very honoured.

I think it is incredible important its happening at a time, when the world is going mad in many ways. Time and history is moving backwards. Countries doesn’t learn from their mistakes. They slide into egalitarianism, populism, nationalism and religious fanaticism. And essential, it is this tribalism that divides us into tribes and forces us into singular identities. So for me, the Future Library is an act of resistance. It is the way we swim against the tide. And I am very honoured to be part of it.”

Future Library is a public artwork by Scottish artist Katie Paterson that will unfold over 100 years in the city of Oslo, Norway.

In an interview with Nothing in the Rulebook, Paterson explained how the idea for a library spanning generations was important in our current age:

“I love the idea that you need to plan hundreds of years ahead for something to last or exist; it seems the antithesis of the current mode. Instead we live in a ‘one click’ world.

The planet is being destroyed right now and it’s affecting all of our lives. In that sense nature feels really close – you can’t help but think how even the rain falling on our heads is connected to the changing climate and the way the planet is trying to survive.

I think appreciating our natural environment is something Norway does exceptionally well. Our forest is a tiny patch inside the larger forest that surrounds the whole city of Oslo, which is protected under law so developers aren’t allowed to encroach on it. Oslo’s citizens deeply appreciate the forest too, and I think in a way this cultural link with the forest is why the city have been so supportive of Future Library.”

The forest planted near Oslo will, in 100 years’ time, supply paper for a special anthology of books written by authors from across the globe. The manuscripts donated by authors will be held in trust until 2114 – meaning that no adult alive today will ever know what is inside the books.

Speaking at the ceremony, Paterson said:

“Elif, your words have activated the future library. They are now stored inside the rings of this tiny unfolding trees. And these trees are like a bridge from here and into the future.”

Writing for the library of the future: Turkish novelist Elif Shafak commits manuscript to the Future Library project

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Turkish novelist Elif Shafak has joined Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell in committing a manuscript of her writing to the Future Library project – a 100 year artwork that will see her work unpublished until 2114.

Conceived by Scottish artist Katie Paterson, the Future Library is, in Paterson’s words, “a living, breathing, organic artwork, unfolding over 100 years”. Starting in 2014, each year Paterson, working closely with her partner and library curator Anne Beate Hovind, has approached a writer to contribute a manuscript to the project.

To support the project, a thousand trees have been planted just outside Norway in a forest, to ultimately provide the paper on which the manuscripts will be printed in a century’s time.

Speaking about the ethos behind the project, Anne Beate, in an interview with Nothing in the Rulebook, said:

“Just a couple of generations back, people were ‘cathedral thinking’ all the time. You know, you build something or plant a forest, you don’t do it for your sake – you do it for future generations.

We kind of have this fast food thinking and now we have to prepare something for the next generation. I think more people realise the world is a little lost and we need to get back on track.”

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Planting an entire forest that will one day help make the books of the library of the future takes time. Photo credit: Bjørvika Utvikling by Kristin von Hirsch.

Shafak, the author of novels including The Bastard of Istanbul, The Forty Rules of Love and most recently Three Daughters of Eve, will now follow Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell and Sjón as one of the 100 contributors to the project.

Speaking about Shafak joining the project, Peterson described the choice as pertinent, explaing: “Her work dissolves boundaries: cultural, geographic, political, ideological, religious and spiritual, and embraces a plurality of voices. Her storytelling is magical and profound, creating connectivity between people and places: a signal of hope at a particularly divided moment in time.”

Shafak herself has clearly discovered her own spiritual affinity with the project, saying:

“I had heard about the project, I had read about it; and I thought it was quite unique. The energy around it spoke to me. And I honestly thought it was a labour of love; I thought there was a lot of love involved in this project. The fact that you can leave a manuscript for the future, without knowing who will open up that box and read that manuscript – you know, for me it was like putting a letter in a bottle and putting that bottle in a river, and just, trusting that the river and the flow will take the letter to the right person, someday.”

The handover ceremony, where Shafak will deliver her manuscript in a ceremony in the Norwegian forest, will take place on 2 June. Yet if you are keen to find out more about Shafak’s involvement with the project, you can watch the following detailed interview with the Turkish author below.

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We need to write about climate change

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Can we imagine the end of the world? Photography by Mike Dodson, via Vagabond Images.

In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published the most meticulous report and scientific peer-reviewed report on climate change and global warming in decades. Despite being viewed as a generally conservative association, the IPCC report describes, in dry, detailed language, the complete collapse of the benign climate in which humans evolved and have prospers, and the loss of the conditions upon which many other life forms and organisms depend.

What the report details, in other words, is the story of catastrophic climate breakdown – a story of such complete disaster and ill-consequence that climate change and global warming are entirely inadequate descriptive terms here.

As activist and writer George Monbiot notes, “this is a catastrophe we are capable of forseeing but incapable of imagining. It’s a catastrophe we are singularly ill-equipped to prevent.”

A problem of imagination

A key problem facing us, then, is that the stakes – while they couldn’t be higher – do not seem tangible enough to focus our attentions on the reality facing our species and the planet. While theorists such as Slavoj Zizek have argued it is “easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”, what we may in fact just be realising is that we aren’t even able to imagine the end of the world, either.

So, may all writers the world over step in at this moment. For, if it is a crisis of imagination we face, surely there are few warriors out there equipped with the skills and ability necessary to render this reality in ways that people can understand, comprehend, and realise in their own minds.

No time to lose

The urgency with which we must, as writers, act, is extreme. Donald Trump has, since his inauguration as the President of the Untied States, made persistent moves to attack what minimal environmental protection regulations and safety nets were in place, and the climate change denial he and his Republican administration advocate threatens our entire planet. We cannot deny or ignore the stakes at play here – we must move quickly to dispel any doubt over the future facing us if we do nothing.

However, such is the difficulty in imagining the potential future of our broken planet, there are precious few writers out there who are drawing attention to this most vital of causes.

As Amitav Ghosh, author of The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, writes in a Guardian article:

“It is a simple fact that climate change has a much smaller presence in contemporary literary fiction than it does even in public discussion. As proof of this, we need only glance through the pages of literary journals and book reviews. When the subject of climate change occurs, it is almost always in relation to nonfiction; novels and short stories are very rarely to be glimpsed within this horizon. Indeed, it could even be said that fiction that deals with climate change is almost by definition not of the kind that is taken seriously: the mere mention of the subject is often enough to relegate a novel or a short story to the genre of science fiction. It is as though in the literary imagination climate change were somehow akin to extraterrestrials or interplanetary travel. is a simple fact that climate change has a much smaller presence in contemporary literary fiction than it does even in public discussion. As proof of this, we need only glance through the pages of literary journals and book reviews. When the subject of climate change occurs, it is almost always in relation to nonfiction; novels and short stories are very rarely to be glimpsed within this horizon. Indeed, it could even be said that fiction that deals with climate change is almost by definition not of the kind that is taken seriously: the mere mention of the subject is often enough to relegate a novel or a short story to the genre of science fiction. It is as though in the literary imagination climate change were somehow akin to extraterrestrials or interplanetary travel.”

So what writers are out there who are currently writing about – or who have written about – climate change, and the consequences of ignoring it?

In a masterful letter to the future, Kurt Vonnegut puts the stakes pretty clearly as he tells us in no uncertain terms to “stop poisoning the air, water and topsoil.” Yet, as any writer knows, there is a difference between telling and showing: and while telling us to change our ways is one thing; what is needed now is for writers to show us what our future holds.

We need fiction, in other words.

Searching for ‘climate fiction’ on Amazon returns just over 1000 results – although the search algorithms mean that many self-published and a large quantity of non-fiction books also appear in this list. Yet there are “big-name” literary authors among them. Think, for instance of Margaret Atwood, J.G. Ballard, Barbar Kingsolver, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan and T Coraghessan Boyle.

There are other great books written by brilliant authors, too – such as The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi, or Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich.

We have compiled a list of some of the most important – and best examples of – books about climate change here at Nothing in the Rulebook. And it’s vital we are able to read these and see what has been done – and is being done – in the world of ‘climate fiction’ (cli-fi, if you will). Because it is by reading the works of others that our own writing, and our own understanding of what writing works well, improves. And this knowledge will prove most critical as a new generation of aspiring writers finally starts to address the startling gap in our cultural narrative, and help make the “unimaginable” consequences of climate breakdown real.

 

 

 

Writing about climate change: the most important books about catastrophic climate breakdown

 

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A desolate world ravaged by climate change is hard to picture, but it could be our future, unless we start to imagine it. Photography by Mike Dodson, via Vagabond Images.

Despite the climate-denial of the Republican administration in the USA, and despite the fondness for fossil fuels most governments across the world continue to hold, the future facing our planet and our species is one of catastrophic climate breakdown, unless we act now.

The difficulty comes in imagining the consequences of global warming denial. They are, perhaps, so great that they seem impossible. It therefore falls to writers – imagination warriors, if you will – to paint a picture of the future in which the natural world is no longer the self-replenishing, bountiful support system needed to support human beings; but rather a desolate, ravaged, toxic place where no life can flourish.

Perhaps not the most-light hearted of subjects to write about; it is nonetheless a vital one. Below, we pick out a few of the most important books about climate change – call them examples of ‘cli-fi, if you must, which you should all read immediately:

  1. Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy

Three books here, by one of the greatest literary titans. Margaret Atwood’s trilogy of books variously imagine the sorry state of the planet, and the human responses to it. In Oryx and Crake, human beings are re-engineered to create a new brand of humans who lack “destructive features responsible for the world’s current illness”.

Then, in The Year of the Flood, Atwood’s speculative fiction explores the environmental ravages caused by our reliance on oil and the terrifying consequences of it running out.

MaddAddam itself concludes the trilogy, bringing various narrative strands from the previous two books to an end.

Backed up by extensive research, Atwood’s books encourage us to pose critical questions to ourselves, the most pressing of which is “what will happen if we continue on our current path?”

  1. Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow

A hurricane, caused by man-made climate change, destroys New York. Set in the not-so-distant future, the novel paints a picture of the world in which the catastrophic climate breakdown facing our planet has become all too real.

A darkly comic tone may suggest a somewhat nihilistic view to our predicament and our future. Yet Rich confronts us with the truly terrifying prospect of what awaits us in consequence of our failure to address the issue of climate change. The pressure is on us to avert disaster – or else realise we must live with it.

   3. JG Ballard’s The Wind from Nowhere

While Ballard himself has tried to dismiss his book as “forgettable”, The Wind from Nowhere is one of the first books written that can be fairly attributed to the ‘cli-fi’ genre.

First published in 1961, it deals with disasters afflicting the natural world and how human civilisation would cope with this increasing inevitability. Prolonged worldwide hurricane force winds reduce cities to ruins and the people who live in them irrevocable changed.

   4. David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks

Why does every human’s self interest conflict with the wider need for collective survival?

So runs the central theme Mitchell grapples with in his novel The Bone Clocks – and so too runs a question we must address sooner rather than later if we are to avoid the most catastrophic effects of man-made climate change.

The Bone Clocks, told in six parts, paints a picture of the world in which climate change depletes the resources of the earth to such a degree that the world ends in darkness and desperation as civilisation collapses and human beings descend into anarchy.

Believably bleak.

    5. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

It would have been remiss for us to leave one of the most obvious books from this list. One of McCarthy’s best known novels depicts a world of undeniable environmental apocalypse. Described as “the first great masterpiece of the globally warmed generation”, it imagines for us the terrifying consequences of our choices and vividly creates a desolate world that, though fictitious, feels all too familiar and real.

“Stop poisoning the air, water and topsoil” – Kurt Vonnegut’s letter to the future

vonnegut

Fourteen novels, three short story collections, five plays and five works of non-fiction stand as a towering testament of Kurt Vonnegut’s ability to show us the fantastic in literature, and the extent to which books and writing can make us feel sublime. The man who brought us the terrific Slaughterhouse 5, which experiments in form, structure, as well as time and inter-dimensional travel, is rightly regarded as one of the greatest literary titans of the last 200 years.

And the man who has given us some of the finest, timeless advice on writing and reading has also provided some prescient advice on the way we should live our lives. Indeed, in 1988, he collaborated with TIME Magazine to write a letter to the future population of Humanity, in the year AD 2088.

The purpose of the project was simple: to provide “some words of advice” to those living in 2088”. Vonnegut’s words of advice are, of course, that trademark and distinctive blend of satire and sincerity, and – at a time when the world increasingly seems destined for catastrophe (what with the election of various demagogues-cum-fascists in major countries around the globe, along with the passing of the carbon threshold, mass extinction of flora and fauna, rising global temperatures and increasing inequality) – it seems we need to revisit Vonnegut’s words now more than ever before.

His letter and 7 pieces of advice for our future selves is printed here below:

 

“Ladies & Gentlemen of A.D. 2088:

It has been suggested that you might welcome words of wisdom from the past, and that several of us in the twentieth century should send you some. Do you know this advice from Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: ‘This above all: to thine own self be true’? Or what about these instructions from St. John the Divine: ‘Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment has come’? The best advice from my own era for you or for just about anybody anytime, I guess, is a prayer first used by alcoholics who hoped to never take a drink again: ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.’

Our century hasn’t been as free with words of wisdom as some others, I think, because we were the first to get reliable information about the human situation: how many of us there were, how much food we could raise or gather, how fast we were reproducing, what made us sick, what made us die, how much damage we were doing to the air and water and topsoil on which most life forms depended, how violent and heartless nature can be, and on and on. Who could wax wise with so much bad news pouring in?

For me, the most paralyzing news was that Nature was no conservationist. It needed no help from us in taking the planet apart and putting it back together some different way, not necessarily improving it from the viewpoint of living things. It set fire to forests with lightning bolts. It paved vast tracts of arable land with lava, which could no more support life than big-city parking lots. It had in the past sent glaciers down from the North Pole to grind up major portions of Asia, Europe, and North America. Nor was there any reason to think that it wouldn’t do that again someday. At this very moment it is turning African farms to deserts, and can be expected to heave up tidal waves or shower down white-hot boulders from outer space at any time. It has not only exterminated exquisitely evolved species in a twinkling, but drained oceans and drowned continents as well. If people think Nature is their friend, then they sure don’t need an enemy.

Yes, and as you people a hundred years from now must know full well, and as your grandchildren will know even better: Nature is ruthless when it comes to matching the quantity of life in any given place at any given time to the quantity of nourishment available. So what have you and Nature done about overpopulation? Back here in 1988, we were seeing ourselves as a new sort of glacier, warm-blooded and clever, unstoppable, about to gobble up everything and then make love—and then double in size again.

On second thought, I am not sure I could bear to hear what you and Nature may have done about too many people for too small a food supply.

And here is a crazy idea I would like to try on you: Is it possible that we aimed rockets with hydrogen bomb warheads at each other, all set to go, in order to take our minds off the deeper problem—how cruelly Nature can be expected to treat us, Nature being Nature, in the by-and-by?

Now that we can discuss the mess we are in with some precision, I hope you have stopped choosing abysmally ignorant optimists for positions of leadership. They were useful only so long as nobody had a clue as to what was really going on—during the past seven million years or so. In my time they have been catastrophic as heads of sophisticated institutions with real work to do.

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature’s stern but reasonable surrender terms:

  1. Reduce and stabilize your population.
  2. Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.
  3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.
  4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you’re at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
  5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
  6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
  7. And so on. Or else.

Am I too pessimistic about life a hundred years from now? Maybe I have spent too much time with scientists and not enough time with speechwriters for politicians. For all I know, even bag ladies and bag gentlemen will have their own personal helicopters or rocket belts in A.D. 2088. Nobody will have to leave home to go to work or school, or even stop watching television. Everybody will sit around all day punching the keys of computer terminals connected to everything there is, and sip orange drink through straws like the astronauts.

Cheers,

Kurt Vonnegut”

 

 

 

Our silent friends: stunning short film celebrates our spiritual connection with trees and nature

Glastonbury-Thorn

The Glastonbury Thorn, with its own associated mythology and connection to Joseph of Arimathea, is but one of many examples of trees to which human beings have attached a great, long, deep and complex association with spirituality. Photography: Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images

Trees – the oldest living things in our world – have been mankind’s ever-present, silent companions from the dawn of time and life. They have been transmuted into myths and metaphor, and have long been used to symbolise and visualise human knowledge and the cycle of life. “The Tree of Life” means so much and makes so much sense to us, perhaps because they are so strong and salient, bearing steadfast witness to our own evolution, and indeed, the wider evolution of the entire planet. There is little wonder why, staring at the spreading branches and leaves of trees reaching into the sky, we have projected our internal spiritual longings onto these arboreal companions.

Think, for example, of the thoughts penned by 17th century English gardener, Ralph Austen, in his pamphlet ‘The Spiritual Use of an Orchard of Garden of Fruit Trees’:

“The world is a great library, and fruit trees are some of the books wherein we may read and see plainly the attributes of God, his power, wisdom, goodness &c. … for as trees (in a metaphorical sense)* are books, so like-wise in the same sense they have a voice, and speak plainly to us, and teach us many good lessons.

[…]

Fruit trees, though they are dumb companions, yet (in a sense) we may discourse with them… We may read divine truths in them, as in a book consisting of words and sentences… Not only rational and irrational, but even inanimate creatures have a voice, and speak loudly to men, and it is our duty to learn their language, and hearken to them.”

As we seek to learn this language, however, we are so often distracted by thoughts ever present in this digitised world of 24/7 work, where we are so often trapped in offices behind computer screens and within ethereal spaces of the internet.

To help us regain our connection with nature and with trees, Spanish multimedia storytelling outfit, Kauri, has produced a beautiful short film celebrating our abiding bond with trees.

We present this cinematic ode – ‘The Silent Friends’ – with accompanying words from the creators:

“The Silent Friends is a film about trees, and how they possess the virtues we seek in those close to us. Every tree plays a vital role in our world, and the uniqueness of each tree is, in fact, universal. Each is as important as the other, so long as they are respected and loved, and we are aware of their presence. Just like a friend.”

After watching the film, we suggest rising up from your desk, walking to your nearest copse, woodland or forest, and spending at least thirty minutes spending a little time in the presence of our oldest companions. You never know – it might even help with your writing.

 

 

Creatives in profile: Interview with Asher Jay

A48T2076

Creativity, in all its myriad different forms, can take us to the edge of the world and look beyond. It can inspire, inform, influence. Used in the right way, it can illuminate the path ahead.

Because of this, Nothing in the Rulebook has been founded to emphasise such creativity. Yet we’re also here to highlight not just works of creativity; but the creative individuals who write our stories; take our photographs; create our artworks.

Our ‘Creatives in profile’ interview series offers creatives the opportunity to discuss their life and art at length. And it is an honour to introduce our latest detailed interview – with artist, writer, National Geographic Explorer and creative conservationist, Asher Jay.

Asher Jay

In the last 40 years, the world has lost over 50% of its vertebrate wildlife. Of course, hearing such figures one often echoes the sentiment ‘something must be done’. But what is that something? And who must do it?

Asher Jay believes that something is creativity – and is using her artistic inclinations to save the world’s threatened wildlife. Her cause-driven art, sculpture, design installations, films, writing, and advocacy advertising campaigns bring attention to everything from oil spills and dolphin slaughters to shrinking lion populations. “The unique power of art is that it can transcend differences, connect with people on a visceral level, and compel action,” she says.

'Blood Ivory'. Original artwork by Asher Jay

‘Blood Ivory’. Original artwork by Asher Jay

Much of her best-known work spotlights the illegal ivory trade. In 2013 the grassroots group, March for Elephants, asked Jay to visualize the blood ivory story on a huge animated billboard in New York’s Times Square. Viewed by 1.5 million people, the internationally crowd-funded initiative aimed to provoke public pressure for revising laws that permit ivory to be imported, traded, and sold. “Conservation can no longer afford to be marginalized,” she asserts. “Today, we need everyone’s involvement, not just core conservationists.

She participated in the Faberge Big Egg Hunt in New York, where her oval oeuvre went on to raise money for anti-poaching efforts in Amboseli. Her upcoming projects will tackle biodiversity loss during the Anthropocene and expose threats to the world’s most traded and endangered mega fauna.

Nothing in the Rulebook is privileged to bring you this detailed interview.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle.

JAY

It’s weird to admit, you don’t belong to a place, that you feel connected to all life on earth all the time, that you can be born somewhere and not have it define you in anyway, that you can be raised by the world at large, where every place, person, action and thought has come to undo you from the boxes that society tries to bind you within… but that is my story. My dad used to say, it wasn’t hard to parent me, because all it took to raise me was sunshine, water and dirt, but my mom maintains I was raised by wolves… perhaps that had something to do with my walking on all fours with my first sibling, a fluffy white Spitz by the name of Leander. I ascended the evolutionary tree over the course of my childhood, from T-Rex, to bat, to chimp. My family never told me otherwise, so I had the freedom to be, to breathe, without boundaries. It wasn’t until my Kindergarten teacher told me that I couldn’t bond with my classmates by grooming them, that I first realized I was human. That was incredibly disappointing to learn, but my mom was quick to assure me, that I could be chimp or bat whenever I felt like it, that the wild was where I came from, much like everyone else, but that most others had lost this ability to recall and relive their animal ancestry. I was encouraged to let the wild within extend into the wild beyond. However, for those who care about geographical locations, I was born in India, and I owe who I am, to several countries in Europe, to family, friends, and a horse named Chester in the UK, to Africa’s unbridled wilderness and an aggressive love affair with the filthy yet fabulous New York City.

INTERVIEWER

You once said, “Channel your inner mosquito.” Can you explain to our readers what exactly this means? What is special about a mosquito? What can we learn from mosquitos?

JAY

A mosquito has impact with every bite, just as we have impact with every breath.

INTERVIEWER

Is creativity – art and writing – your first love, or do you have another passion?

JAY

My first love is life. I love everything that life brings into focus, its dynamic range, vibrant spectrum of colors, light, shadow, balance, and depth… It sounds like I am speaking about my Canon equipment doesn’t it? Well, we hear often enough that life is what you make it, but I will qualify that by saying, life is what you bring your attention toward during the moment at hand. So I suppose life and cameras have something in common, they both require us to peer through a viewfinder and make the most of what the world has to offer in a given sliver of time and space. Look around you though, everything is life, there is nothing on this planet untouched by it. So I love life; I love all life on earth, I love my life! I get to be up in the air in a refurbished Gypsy Moth doing a loop-the-loop in Bedford one day, and swimming with Whale Sharks off the coast of Cabos the next, so my passion for life is as unbound as life itself. I also love life no matter the form it has found expression in, because we are all the same when we breathe, when we allow ourselves to just be.

'Global Conversations'. Original artwork by Asher Jay

‘Global Conversations’. Original artwork by Asher Jay

INTERVIEWER

Who or what inspires you?

JAY

Art inspires me, I often head to museums to look at creative expression from past to present, before I commit to a canvas of my own. I have a very visceral connection to visual media, in fact I have never met a painting I have liked that I have not wanted to lick… but the colors seldom taste as delicious as they look, which is unfortunate. This is why I enjoy cooking, food is rich in color and texture, and unlike most paint, and when organically produced, it is not toxic. Since I use my creativity to communicate urgent ecological concerns of our time, I am also inspired by the bold and borderless from the field, people who display extraordinary courage of conviction, and passion for life. Luckily, I encounter most of these individuals in person at our Mothership – the National Geographic Society- role models like Emmanuel De Merode, the former director of Virunga National Park, or Explorer in Residence, Lee Berger, a highly intuitive, yoda-esque, paleoanthropologist who has been an extraordinary source of wisdom and guidance for me. I am grateful for all the input I receive, without which I would have no output.

INTEVIEWER

Who outside of your field inspires you and why?

JAY

Every one I encounter inspires me in different ways, and it’s hard to discern where my field ends and someone doing something else begins, but I suppose I could stop being abstruse and arduous and admit to being inspired by every single contestant on Cupcake Wars. It combines my need for sugar with spontaneous ingenuity. On a side note – Nacho Duato (Ballet Choreographer), Paul Klee (artist), Alexander McQueen and Cristobal Balenciaga (Couturiers).

INTERVIEWER

Who has been the biggest source of inspiration throughout your career?

JAY

 Wildlife, they don’t let me down like many of my role models have. (#TheDarkerSideofAsherJay haha)

INTERVIEWER

The work you do inspiring conservation tackles everything from the illegal ivory trade to overfishing in the Mediterranean. What drives you? And how do you manage multiple, different creative projects?

JAY

I am driven by caffeine each morning, but I guess the secret ingredients to my lifestyle are passion, love and happiness. It’s like, with the wild, I found my soul mate, the love of my life, now wouldn’t you do everything in your power to protect, nurture and give to the “one?” All my emotional states orbit wild, and I have fallen hard for its beauty, complexity and diversity. Wild keeps me tethered to the present tense; it’s Deepak Chopra unabridged. With the wild, all the human white noise of projecting for a future that hasn’t happened yet, and worrying about a past that is by gone fades away. It’s refreshing to just be, it is incredibly liberating. I love wild, because it has helped me understand the value of now, for now is all I need to contribute. I stay present, informed and open, and I say yes to life and flow with the go. All of it rather effortless, like my mom always says, “If you feel like you are working hard, then you are doing something wrong.” Managing multiple projects is easy when you are bursting with ideas, love what you do, and are caffeinated or on a sugar high in regular intervals.

It’s a privilege to be able to do what I do. I get to dive, I get to hangout with lions, travel extensively, innovate and collaborate with some of the most brilliant minds of the 21st century and fight for a collective wild future… so I am grateful every day, for all of it. It is really hard walking this path, I have immersive emotional meltdowns, eat my feelings on blue days, and I seem to have missed the memo on adulting, but as my generation says, Beyonce wasn’t made in a day. It’s just a lot of hard work, consistent action, self-integrity and self-belief.

INTERVIEWER

Both your artwork and your writing seems inherently tied in with your work as an activist. What do you make of creativity as protest? And where do you think it fits within some of the broader activist and protest movements currently at play throughout the world?

JAY

I know I often get cited as an art activist, but I am not entirely comfortable with that term. I think it is important to recognize the importance of art as a medium that can empower awareness and enable action but activism is ripe in negative connotations, as is protest. I don’t think we should be against something, because the minute we are, we give rise to an “us versus them” argument. I am not protesting the current paradigm, how can I when I live in it? I am a part of the problem, as much as I am a part of the solution. I have really begun to see that off late, what with my constant globe trotting to give talks and participate in field efforts; my carbon footprint is up the wazoo. I also occasionally do drink out of a plastic water bottles, life on the go encourages that sort of convenient consumerism, and I even catch myself eating things I have never eaten before, or feel morally against. Circumstances have a way of challenging what we hold to be true, but because I hold my self accountable, I don’t let myself off the hook when I misbehave. I am aware when I do something that isn’t congruous with what I say, and when I say something that isn’t in alignment with what I do. I really am striving to lead a life of reduced internal conflict, so I can enrich other’s lives holistically. I get it right sometimes and I fail on other occasions. I am still learning, but I think the greater solution lies in being inclusive.  So I think we need to evolve past using words that denote violence and separation, like “activism” and “protest” and embrace resolved states that embody peace and coexistence, and enter an era of higher consciousness that promotes “inclusivity” and “unity” so we can do right by the largest number of living beings on this planet. It is time we recognized that we are all on a Noah’s Ark, and we should inhabit the earth cooperatively and consciously.

'Every Soup Slays A Shark'. Original artwork by Asher Jay

‘Every Soup Slays A Shark’. Original artwork by Asher Jay

INTERVIEWER

Since you’re involved with so many different causes, could you tell us a bit about how you choose the cause / the campaign? What are elements that you look for?

JAY

I don’t really choose causes, causes choose me. Caring about extinction, caring about pollution, caring about human trafficking, caring about women’s empowerment, is not a choice. For any compassionate, connected person, it is impossible not to feel compelled to contribute and be an instrument of change.

INTERVIEWER

Describe your process during the development of a campaign. Are you given a topic to focus on or do you choose what speaks to you? Do you travel to remote areas for research?

JAY

I have done all of the above to realize a campaign, however I try to put myself in the paws, hooves and fins of my true clients, the reason I got into this line of work.

INTERVIEWER

“You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose” – Mario Cuomo. It’s interesting to see how you move between literary forms in your writing – using a combination of poetry and prose. What does poetry mean to you?

JAY

Poetry, to me, is thought expressed in its raw and vulnerable form. It is sensual, sensory, and subjective, a medium you just dive in to and experience for yourself, rather like a work of art. A poem does not need to be figured out, it just needs to be consumed in its entirety, so it can reach you as only a poem can. Let your cerebral palate be tickled by the myriad flavors it sprinkles across your mind, heart and soul. I find poetry offers the unworked fragments of my subconscious freedom of articulation and like a decanter it helps my innermost workings find the space to breathe and be.

INTERVIEWER

Can writing right wrongs?

JAY

Any form of creativity can right wrongs and wrong rights, particularly when it deprives a being of the right to freedom, as is the case with some laws that deprive animals of their personhood based on humanity’s ability to calibrate intelligence. Writing is but a weapon, and it can be wielded just as easily to hurt, hinder and hold hostage, as it can be used to protect, permit and promote process.

INTERVIEWER

How would you define creativity?

JAY

Defining the word, creativity, would limit its dimensions and scope.

Asher Jay Covered in Paint

Asher Jay Covered in Paint

INTERVIEWER

Could you talk us through your creative process? How long does it take you to finish a piece?

JAY

It varies as much as public opinion on climate change, but always seems to involve hard science, baggy sweatpants, middle of the night epiphanies, gallons of coffee, academic research polls conducted in my apartment on my roommate and her boyfriend, and random paint stained body parts and occasionally my floor but don’t tell my super.

INTERVIEWER

In an internationalist, interconnected world, ideas and creativity are constantly being flung across community threads, internet chatrooms and forums, and social media sites (among many others). With so many different voices speaking at once, how do you cut through the incessant digital background babble? How do you make your creativity – your voice – stand out and be heard?

JAY

I think it’s important to listen to all the babble, to be tolerant, and give every expressed perspective an unbiased moment of your time. Then I mull it over, to see if the ideas or arguments presented make sense to me, if they feel ethically congruous and in the best interest of the marginalized, then I assimilate it, if not I bear it in mind and work on crafting a counter position based on scientific findings and hard numbers. I don’t make the mistake of assuming I know everything there is to know about anything, I remain receptive and willing to change my stance based on open, and rational dialogue.  I maintain my voice and unique creative stand on issues by being malleable and forthcoming about my confusions and concerns.

INTERVIEWER

Great pieces of art often inspire great pieces of writing and literature – and great pieces of writing often inspire the finest pieces of art. Do you think the two naturally complement one another? How do you find balancing your work as an artist, with your work as a writer?

JAY

I don’t communicate in words when I see in pictures and I don’t see in pictures when I communicate with words, on the rare occasion both come together, and that’s pretty engaging for me, it feels like all my neurons are having hot sex with one another and resulting in one cerebralgasm after another.

INTERVIEWER

It was interesting reading your recent post on Tenerife – especially the way you note how its tourist-fuelled economy is “brash, irreverent, myopic, materialistic, irresponsible [and] itinerant”! This is travel writing as protest, and it’s difficult not to ignore your call to arms when you insist on the “importance of saving marine habitats [because] we owe one out of two breaths to the world’s cerulean expanse”. How important, do you think, art and writing are in drawing attention to these issues, which, despite not getting much coverage in the media, nonetheless have the power to significantly affect us all – no matter where we live?

JAY

Art and writing can breathe new life into a hackneyed narrative arc, while keeping the grey areas alive. The human mind has a way of separating situations and individuals into good and evil, vilifying those who commit a “wrong” and pitting them against the crusaders who fight the good fight, but more often than not, issues are more complicated than that. There are more variables to address and it is seldom a ‘one off’ incident. Take Cecil the Lion, everyone got riled up about him, but in a week he will be old news. The Exxon Valdez spill is still a problem, the oil hasn’t gone away in all these years, the animals in that ecosystem have forever been impacted, and my friends tell me that you can still smell the gasoline beneath the shore side rocks. The same is true of the BP Maconda spill, and Haiti’s reconstruction efforts but we are quick to forget, because people just like being entertained by sensationalized stories, and enjoy the feel good factor of doing a quick call to action, and moving on to the next thing. The engagement seldom results in the culmination of a long haul solution.  We are all too distracted by the sheer volume of choices when it comes to causes and tragedies that we buy into them based on PR, not because they are a priority. Environmental degradation compromises our continued survival and health, it makes us vulnerable to the compounding impact of volatile externalities as a collective, but why think about that, when business as usual guarantees a pay-check that you can donate ten dollars from, toward a charity of your choice as you check out at your local health foods store? We are creatures of habit, and it is convenient to think, “we have been okay thus far, we’ll be okay going forward, technology will take care of the rest.”

INTERVIEWER

You mention the BP oil spill there, and have previously noted that it was absolutely pivotal in your career. Could you please explain why that’s the case?

JAY

It was the moment I realized, I had to participate more substantially, that signing petitions and recycling was simply not enough for me. It became apparent to me that this work is my calling.

'Hydrocarbon Hospice'. Original artwork by Asher Jay

‘Hydrocarbon Hospice’. Original artwork by Asher Jay

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a specific ‘reader’ in mind when you write? Or a specific audience/viewer in mind for your artwork?

JAY

I write what insights I have, I create what comes to me, and it reaches those it is meant to mobilize. I do strategize the channels of dissemination, discern the target demographic and determine the benchmarks of a campaign or op-ed before launching it, but creative expression has a larger impact on shaping cultural consciousness than we have ways to measure it.

INTERVIEWER

For all writing, the importance of finding the right ‘voice’ is of course crucial. Often, writers’ speak of developing an ‘other’ – who provides that voice when they write. How have you created and refined your voice and tone for your writing – and do you have a separate, ‘other’ persona who helps you write?

JAY

No. Gosh, it is hard enough being me; I doubt I have the time to manage an alter ego, besides I strive hard to resolve duality, reduce conflict within the self and live a more unified life. Encouraging oneness would get infinitely harder if I fracture myself, and by extension my voice. It all comes from the same place within me.

INTERVIEWER

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language // and next year’s words await another voice” – T.S. Eliot. There’s always a danger, when it comes to protest, activism and writing, that what we do becomes outdated – addressing last year’s problems using last year’s language. How do you keep your writing and artwork fresh? And what voice, do you think, we need for next year (and all the years afterwards)?

JAY

Trying to unite a modern world of ever-changing technological advances, social movements, fashion trends and a constantly distracting digital landscape with an irreplaceable and finite wild world keeps my art as fresh as the changing culture of society. Because people, communication and ideologies change, I must adapt my methods of reaching the masses in a way that will have an emotional impact on them and recruit them to a consciousness of compassion and concern for the larger picture, i.e., the wild world upon which our very existence depends. The voice of tomorrow will find expression when tomorrow becomes today. We need only take it a day at a time, and give it everything we have got. This day, this moment it includes everything that is, and everything that has ever existed, why isn’t that enough? Why can’t we do justice to all that exists now? Why can’t we make ‘now’ count?

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?

JAY

Launching a “Your Shot” assignment with National Geographic on September 7th, to build on the premise of my iStorm Faberge Egg from last year’s Big Egg Hunt. I will serve as editor and curate the content, picking out the best images from the submissions, but I will also be using the raw data/images to composite a larger story that will then be disseminated back to the public through an open source application. I have several other projects in the pipeline including an issue-artwork I created for Joel Harper’s All the Way to the Ocean children’s film and book, which will tour and sell in conjunction to Joel’s inspired efforts to raise youth awareness. Also finishing up a project called Beyond the Frame in Focus, which relies on multimedia to tell stories that are multidimensional. I shot a series of photographs while I was in the Serengeti last year, and while each image I clicked is a complete composition of a single moment, it is also incomplete as it excludes everything the lens isn’t able to bring into focus in that moment — the larger story. Through my ability to conceptually integrate various ideas into a single layout through paint, graphics, collage and collating scientific data/field information, I have seen begun creating works that go beyond the frame in focus. The questions I am looking to answer: What is not being told by the image captured? What else can I be bringing to light in that moment? I have also been incorporating notes from the field, and coining innovative ways to fold data into the layouts. The final works are highly textural, rich and uniquely different from any other project done thus far on African wildlife.  I presented two pieces from this series at the National Geographic Explorer Symposium this year.

'Up In Smoke'. Original artwork by Asher Jay

‘Up In Smoke’. Original artwork by Asher Jay

INTERVIEWER

And what about the future in general? Where are global trends and issues taking the world (and humanity along with it)?

JAY

The future isn’t here yet, lets do right by the present first. We don’t have the bandwidth to assess what our future will be like, bleak or bright, what we can do is take responsibility for the moment at hand, and do better than we have in moments past.

We are living in a world that no one wants to be a part of; everyone is desperate to escape it, one way or another, through emotional opiates, indulging experiences or by constantly awaiting what comes next. No one wants to be present, it’s far too boring in the digital age to be contained by the reality of your present tense, so everyone finds ways to leave or lose “now.”

INTERVIEWER

Creative types and writers have always been imagining the future – Brave New World and 1984 immediately spring to mind. What role do you think writing and art play in the way we think about ‘the world of tomorrow’?

JAY

It can imbue us with hope and fuel our imagination, as such oracular writing and art often does, but we should not confuse fiction with reality. Yes we are capable of modelling for a future based on hard facts and figures, especially when we have certain controls in place. We make specific assumptions as our foundation, upon which we build the model, but time and again we have failed to be cognizant of the fact that we are limited, and as such incapable of comprehending the complexity of compounding consequences. It doesn’t stop us from trying, but life and nature has a rewarding way of putting us back in our place, and giving us the freedom of acceptance that comes from surrender.

INTERVIEWER

Would you say you’re in the utopian or dystopian school of thought?

JAY

Neither. I don’t think projecting for a future that hasn’t happened yet has ever prepared us for how things have actually unfolded at any given point in our collective history. I try to anchor myself in the realities of our world without impressing my interpretations upon them, which at times is extremely hard, but deep down I recognize that things are the way they are and choosing to reject, accept, hope for a better tomorrow or surrender to a post-apocalyptic future, will not make this instant any different than it is. You see, how I perceive any aspect of reality only changes that aspect for me, not for others, so in truth, all that my perceptions, ideologies, aspirations and beliefs do, is isolate me from the rest of humanity and life, which honestly accomplishes nothing. It’s hard to be in an objective, unified place continually though, but I guess that is at the crux of the human condition.

INTERVIEWER

Say you met your future self (say from the year 2030) – what one question would you ask?

JAY

Are you present?

INTERVIEWER

If everything that was wrong with the world was righted, what would you write about? What art would you make?

JAY

If the things I write about and create art about get resolved, I will probably stop doing what I do now. I will adapt and find new purpose, because life will show me what the world needs from me at that juncture, or better yet I’d move to Africa and live in the bush wild with the elephants, lions and rock hyraxes I care so deeply for. I can’t imagine a more fulfilling way to spend my time if all this conflict gets effectively addressed by tomorrow.

'When The Blind See'. Original artwork by Asher Jay

‘When The Blind See’. Original artwork by Asher Jay

INTERVIEWER

And finally, could you write us a story in 6 words?

JAY

Lion slumber party? Lived through it!