Reading through Jørgen Brøndlund’s diary entries was a moving experience. As a Greenlandic dog sleigh driver, he took part in Danmark Ekspeditionen to North East Greenland in 1907, but died trying to make his way back to the expedition base camp. His final entry is a laconic record of the death of his two fellow patrolmembers, written as he himself had settled down to die. Although his writing was not fueled by literary ambition, his straight forward style conjures up the beauty and harshness of the landscape as well as Brøndlund’s joys and trials, and makes for a gripping tale. Knowing the tragic ending does not diminish the reading experience.
Let me give you a sample (although you won’t really get the significance of this fortunate episode without the build-up of increasing threat of starvation):
25th [August]. In the morning, Mylius and I walked inwards and reached the shore without problems. We continued inland for hours without seeing anything. We didn’t know what to do if this day’s journey too would turn out to be of no avail. When Mylius turned back, I made no objections, as the soles of his boots were so poor that it was as if he was walking in just his socks. Also this day we decided to slaughter a dog. I decided to go a bit further, as I deeply craved to land just a single grouse. I wandered for a long time, but had to return, as once again I didn’t find anything. On my way back I caught sight of a hare by the beach; it was like seeing a giant reindeer. And when I had shot it, I flung myself at it with a wolfish appetite, cut it open and quickly ate the heart, liver and kidneys. And, imagine that, a little later I caught another three! As I walked back with four hares over my shoulder it was as if my exhaustion was lessened by the joy of having something to eat. On my return my friends were very pleased by the prospect of having something other than lean dogmeat to eat. Still, as they had already killed a dog, we stuck to dogmeat that evening. These days the weather is very beautiful, no clouds in the sky and no wind. All day long it is frosty, and in the night it gets even colder, although the sun still doesn’t sink below the horizon.
(own translation after Karen Nørregaards Danish translation from Greenladic in Vagn Lundby: ‘Omkom 79’Fjorden’, Borgen, Kbh 2006)
Although this story is famous in Denmark, it is not quite common knowledge. I for one had not really heard about it before starting this research. Knowing that my view may be tainted by the fact that I was hoping to find such a rare quality in the story, I also know that I am not alone in believing this is a story that is worth telling, and I would love to somehow include it in the online exhibition. The original diary, a national treasure, even belongs to the Royal Library and has been digitalised for online availability.
Now I read it in one go, couldn’t put it down. And letting oneself get absorbed in a story in this way can be great – immersion does not necesitate virtual world stereorama.
But I also think that as the diary is precisely that; a story told in so many individual entries over a period of time, by nature it classifies as a ‘time and space distributed narrative’ of real events. Therefore it would be interesting to reflect this in the online distribution. I have yet to look into the theory on this up-and-coming literaty convention, so bear with my unscholarly musings here.
But even though the diary format and the inherent cliffhanger qualities of this particular adventure fits with the some of the ‘T&S’ concepts, the story was of course not tailored for modern media. Only some of the entries are short enough to fit into an SMS message. My original idea therefore was to publish the diary as a blog on the webexhibition homepage. But offering an RSS feed would only really work for those who happened upon the blog in the very beginning, for latecomers the inverted chronology would be just plain wrong. Offering the full diary as a plain pdf download would count as an online ressource, but the museum would lose out on the chance of engaging its visitors in a novel and prolongued way. Instead, the website could let users register for a subscription via e-mail. A server could be set up to distribute a series of e-mails at intervals for each registered user at individual times. The email – also readable by smartphone – could either contain the whole entry or contain a link to the unique webpage of this entry. The former approach would perhaps feel more like a personal mail, but the graphic presentatiton would be limited by the mail software; the latter would generate traffic to the museum website and could be tailored visually etc., but with perhaps risk being trashed as a simple link wouldn’t have much appeal unless you were already waiting for the next installment of the tale. Perhaps a combination of the two, offering readers a choice of access preferences, would be the go. Still, distributing across platforms, as in including updates for not-so-smart-phones would be interesting. Hopefully I can find inspiration in other experiments with this format.
Another question is the timing. Retaining the distribution of the original – 80-odd entries over a period of 8 months – might be asking too much of the patience of the readers. So finding some way of condensing the time distribution, whilst retaining all the unique entries and some of the narrative tension derived from long timespans with no updates, would be necessary.
Finally, the version I read included notes by the author of the book in which the diary was included. These notes were very useful, especially as Jørgen Brøndlund was relying on the journals of his fellow adventurers to document their journey (as their bodies and diaries have never been found, the author Vagn Lundby has pieced together the story from other sources). Similarly, it might be useful to combine Jørgen Brøndlunds narrative with the scientific reports from his fellows, whilst taking care not to smother the original story in information overload (hyperlinks could be a solution here) and jazzy technology.
So although I think the story suits being published in an innovative way, the question remains exactly how to do it.