If you forgot your book, your mp3-player, your smartphone, your laptop, your magazine, in conclusion yourself, on the Copenhagen Metro there is always an alternative solution to staring at the punch-date on your ticket coupon ’til you go blind. As proponents of happy, smiley customers (adding a bit of branding techniques inspired by the bastard of humanities ideology) the Metro company is kind enough to include literature as one of their services starting in the dark and wet hours of November (who even likes November, it’s the middle child of blah and irk) – I do apologize for the now apparent, even to me, snarly tone. I don’t know where it came from, I promised myself to be positive. Anyways, the Metro Company, in cooperation with Subway Letteratura, has put up a cardboard box (called Literary Jukeboxes) filled with 13 young authored, contest-won stories at the metro stations, under the spiffy name Metro Literature. The goal, as is written on Metro Literature’s webpage, is to “promote the creation and reading of high quality literature by circulating the Jukeboxes and other means and events.” What those other means and events are, is unclear to me at this point, but they also state that response has been overwhelming, and this project will give both young authors a forum for presenting works, and readers the insight in the “latest trends of prose and poetry.” I don’t find it surprising that there is a heavy response to a contest; people love contests, authors need outlets, and it is an exciting way for young people to live out their fantasies in the search of their own identity. And yay for that, and yay for fantasy and identity searches.
However, I chose to remain skeptical for a little while of the project itself, because I have a problem with the believability of the sender and applicability of intention. Granted, for the contest itself there has been a jury set up of authors, a translator, a graphic designer, a literary agent and a publisher. But communication-wise the sender is after all still a transportation service, not even close, in my mind, to a cultural intermediary, and there are just so many easy ways to shoot this “we-wanna-be-part-of-the-trendsetters-with-our-innovative-approaches-to-culture”-ideology down. I love public transportation, it’s a good service in itself, and I am all for the notion of interactive spaces, where urban life shows itself as a living organism. I just think there are fine examples of circumventing the traditional route in public spaces for texts and authors, whose innovative playfulness shows plentiful these days without playing into the hands of metro companies and McDonald’s joints. It causes unnecessary muddling of communication lines and in some cases reception-fatigue. It will come to no surprise that I don’t think it should be in the hands of these companies – not to say they should be excluded, it just doesn’t seem to be a cooperation of the creative and economic forces, more like the latter acting as patron, 14th century style, to the former which gives me the shingles. I will say about the participants in the Metro Literature project that the writing in itself is not bad as such in the pamphlets I’ve read – I just think it is a shame that their stories are placed in a transitory setting with a dubious co-sender, where their contribution becomes more of a read, throwaway and non-contemplatory contribution in urbanity’s many visual and textual offers. And the texts don’t question their place or role in this setting or themselves as texts, so in reality they are merely reproducing the chain of recyclable written material which is lost in and to the crowd immediately after publication. Maybe that also explains my fault in the matter – I can’t transcend the setting/sender.
In contrast to this project there is a project called Ordskælv! It is inspired by and draws information from author Dave Eggers‘ non-profit project in San Francisco, 826 Valencia, and has been initiated by local organization Hygge Factory, organized by the local library and school with support from different other institutions, including The Ministry of Culture. Ordskælv! encouraged young people from 2200 Nørrebro (Copenhagen) to write and illustrate their own stories in 2200 words – performing in essence a collective conceptual work – and in 2010 they published their writings in a book called ’2200 N – orakler, shawarmaer og bristede fordomme’ (2200 N – oracles, shawarma’s and burst prejudice’). The book is a chance for youths in Nørrebro to use their creative talent in telling their story and show others the plethora of lifestyles and -choices that Nørrebro has to offer when, for the most part, Nørrebro is branded as a troubled part of Copenhagen. Hygge Factory has continued this work in Ordskælv! 2012, where youths write essays about losing a loved one and will be publishing their works in cooperation with artists who will illustrate each writer’s essay in March. As it is a project originating in, and funded by, institutions such as libraries and schools, we must not forget that there is a matter of learning curve to be included in the success criteria. But I would nonetheless deem this to be a far favorable milieu for creative exercise and supportive community than the usual notion of writers in their ivory towers.
The participants make all decisions on layout and content with the help of volunteers who offer a wide field of competences to the youths, from creative writing, to publishing. As such they are actively involved in the collective process, which appeals to me greatly, and they get a sense of ownership that transcends any isolated participation as I would imagine the Metro competition has been.