The best ventriloquist

Danish. What impact will ChatGPT – and the similar programs that are bound to be released in the coming months and years – have on literature? To answer this question, I first explain the technological developments behind the program, focusing on word embeddings, which allow the algorithm to recreate meaning, and transformes, which allow it to recreate context. I then propose a double answer: we will se both literary works produced in creative dialogue between humans and AI, and literary works produced with the explicit intention of seeming as human and un-AI as possible.

“Den bedste bugtaler” (“The best ventriloquist”), Weekendavisen (forthcoming). Link.

Truth and adultery

Danish. I review the history of Heloïse and Abelard, including the stormy story of their affair, Abelard’s contributions to philosophy, and Heloïse’s influence on that philosophy, as well as her own critique of gender norms as expressed in the letters that the lovers exchanged many years later. I single out Abelard’s sophisticated view of human psychology, as it emerges from his ethical writings; and what we might call the “proto-deconstructive” aspects of Heloïse’s writing, as she turns the established hierarchy between wives and sex workers on its head.

“Århundredets romance skygger for filosofien” (“The romance of the century overshadows the philosophy”), Politiken Historie (forthcoming). Link.

Translating Taoism

Danish. The American author Ursula Le Guin published a free English translation of the Daodejing, the philosophical foundation ofTaoism, the Daodejing, and that translation was then translated into Danish. In this essay, I first review the strange and beguiling world view that emerges from the Daodejing, and then ask what it might mean to translate this text according to its own principles. I suggest that Le Guin’s version, while elegant, diverges from those principles, as she justifies her poetic choices by setting up strict binaries and hierarchies.

“Hvilken vej til Vejen?” (“Which way to The Way?”), Weekendavisen (forthcoming). Link.

Tales on tablets

For the volume on cuneiform narratives I co-edited, I wrote about the episodic nature of Babylonian epics. Akkadian narrative poems were often divided into a series of tablets, and those tablets—I argue—shaped the story told upon them. In Gilgamesh, divisions between tablets often correspond to physical borders in the story, in a conflation of form and content; and in Enuma Elish, the events of Tablet I take on a very different tenor if they are read in the isolated context of that Tablet, instead of the epic as a whole.

“Tablets as Narrative Episodes in Babylonian Poetry,” in The Shape of Stories: Narrative Structures in Cuneiform Literature, edited by Sophus Helle and Gina Konstantopoulos, Cuneiform Monographs 54 (2023, Leiden: Brill), pp. 93–111. Link.

The shape of stories

Together with Gina Konstantopoulos, I edited a volume on narratological approaches to cuneiform literary, historical, and religious texts. The goal of the volume is to function as a methodological toolkit, with each of the papers – which span from the third to the first millennium, covering a wide variety of genres in Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hittite – presenting one possible approach to studying the narrative structures found in cuneiform texts, and illustrating that approach through a concrete case study.

With Gina Konstantopoulos, ed., The Shape of Stories: Narrative Structures in Cuneiform Literature, Cuneiform Monographs 54 (2023, Leiden: Brill). Link.

Closure in times of crisis

Danish. In my ninth entry for Weekendavisens lexicon, I discuss the Danish word afklaring, roughly translatable as “closure.” Like it’s English counterpart, afklaring denotes a sense of calm and acceptance in relation to a pain either experienced or (more strongly so in Danish) expected. After unpacking some of the forms and ways of achieving such closure, I turn to the afklaring that I try to achieve in relation to the troubled times in which we find ourselves and which only look to grow more dire in the decades ahead.

“Afklaring” (“Closure”), Weekendavisen (13 January 2022). Link.

Monkeys v. robots

Danish. A selfie taken by a monkey and a comic book drawn by AI clash in a historic copyright case. In deciding whether art created by AI image generators can be awarded copyright, the USPTO is drawing on a surprising legal precedent: the case of Naruto, a crested macaque who took some excellent selfies. As the courts ruled, Naruto is to be seen as his own artistic entity and not merely a tool used by the photographer David Slater, who orchestrated the selfies, meaning that the copyright was void, since Slater was not the author of the picture. But will that conclusion also apply to AI?

“Aber versus robotter” (“Monkeys v. Robots”), Weekendavisen (6 January 2023). Link.

Freudian reading

Danish. For a New Year’s rundown of Danish literary events in 2022, I wrote about “the year’s most Freudian reading experience.” Being the child of two authors has many blessings, as well as a few notable downsides. Among the latter is having to read sex scenes written by your parents. A particularly confounding example of this came earlier this year, when my mother published a description of the feeling she experienced when I was conceived, meaning that I ended up reading about my father’s sperm – sperm that was, in some odd way, me.

“Årets mest freudianske læseoplevelse” (“The year’s most Freudian reading experience”), Weekendavisen (30 December 2022). Link.

In search of lost crime

Danish. The article traces the forgotten origins of crime fiction in medieval Persia. Crime fiction as we know it today consists of two fused elements: crimes and clues, typically in the form of a murder and a series of material remains whose meaning is revealed by a hyper-intelligent detective. It is the latter’s history that I follow in this article, using the surprising etymology of the word “serendipity” as my own clue and tracing a journey from England through France, Italy, Armenia, Iran, and India to a surprising destination. The article was written in response to my mother’s essay about Agatha Christie.

“På sporet af krimien” (“In search of lost crime”), Weekendavisen (23 December 2022). Link.

What is philology?

The article proposes a new definition of philology as a systematic engagement with crises of reading, focused on the difficulties that prevent readers from gaining access to or drawing meaning from a given text, all the way from scrubbed signs to obscure ontologies. Responding to two recent interventions in the field—Philology by James Turner and World Philology by Sheldon Pollock, Benjamin Elman, and Ku-ming Kevin Chang—the article explores the practices, history, and current state of philology.

“What is philology? From crises of reading to comparative reflections.” The article is slated for publication with Poetics Today in December 2022; please do not cite or share it before then without my permission.