Danish. In a review of a new Danish translation of Orosius’s fifth-century masterpiece, History Against the Pagans, I look at the templates we use to make sense of our history, shaping the flow of the past to give it a meaning and direction—templates like the circle, the pendulum, the ladder, and the downward slope. The template that Orosius pioneered with groundbreaking conviction remains the most prevalent today: a smoothly upward-curving line. In Orosius’s Christian retelling of universal history, we find the massively influential proposition that, however slowly and unevenly, the world is getting better year by year.
“Jamreoptimisten fra Braga” (“The pessoptimist from Braga”), Weekendavisen (June 2021).
Danish. The second in a series of encyclopedia-like articles for the newspaper Weekendavisen, this short essay discusses the home that hides within our words. The twenty-two signs that make up the earliest known alphabet all began as drawings of objects commonly found in Middle Eastern households three thousand years ago. I discuss the homey story inside our signs, starting with B for bēt, “house,” and ending with a surprising plot twist: T, the sign for signs.
“Bēt,” Weekendavisen (May 2021). Link.
Danish. The review of two books that discuss separate, but intriguingly interconnected topics: Rebecca Wragg Sykes’s acclaimed introduction to the world of Neanderthals, and Ole Høiris’s cultural history of the figure of the “savage.” Both books explore, in each their way, how humans relate to beings that are perceived as almost but not quite humans. Høiris uses the dehumanization of indigenous populations to reflect on how the notion of “human” was constructed, while Sykes invites us to abandon our sapiens-centric bias and consider other ways of being human.
“Fortaler for neandertaler” (“In defense of Neanderthals”), Weekendavisen (May 2021). Link.
The majority of Babylonian epics are organized according to the same narrative structure: the story is divided into two acts, where the second act mirrors and expands the first. The essay shows that this structure applies to Atra-hasis, Enuma Elish, Gilgamesh, Etana, and more, for a total of nine texts.
“The two-act structure: A narrative device in Akkadian epics,” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions, vol. 20, no. 2 (2020 [April 2021]), p. 190–224. Link. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/15692124-12341315
Danish. Responding to the controversy that surrounded the Dutch translation of Amanda Gorman’s poems, the op-ed argues that many commentators focused on the wrong topic. What matters is not the choice of a white translator, but the systematic neglect of black translators. As translators know more than most, every choice implies a whole host of possibilities that were not chosen (in Danish: “alle valg er fravalg”). When we discuss the politics of choosing a given translator, we must keep two things in mind: 1) it is just important to look at who is not chosen for the job, and 2) it is structural patterns of repeated choice, not individual decisions, that matter most.
“Alle valg er fravalg” (“Choosing one leaves out another”), Weekendavisen (March 2021).
The essay explores the representation of time and space in Gilgamesh. The figure of the threshold is a key aspect of the epic, separating highly different, but internally homogeneous kinds of time and space—a structure that also affects its depiction of characters and textuality.
“The chronotope of the threshold in the Epic of Gilgamesh,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 141, no. 1 (April 2021), p. 185–200. Link. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7817/jameroriesoci.141.1.0185
Danish. Continuing what seems to be my recurring interest in radical Aristotelian philosophers, this review discusses Claus Bryld’s brilliant treatment of Marsilius of Padua, an unjustly overlooked Medieval political thinker who, Bryld argues persuasively, anticipated the ideas of Thomas Hobbes by some three hundred years, laying the philosophical foundations for the modern secular state.
“Manden bag den fredsbevarende stat” (“The man behind the peacekeeping state”), Weekendavisen (March 2021). Link.
Danish. A short history of how, when, and why books have been read aloud, from Augustine to Amanda Gorman. Might digital media bring about a resurgence of a pre-Gutenberg literary culture where poetry was orally performed, circulated, and discussed?
“Hurra for højtlæsning” (“Hurrah for reading aloud”), Weekendavisen (27 January 2021). Link.
Danish. An essay on the literary history of falling, touching on Dante, Lewis Carroll, Lucretius, Milton, and Inger Christensen. Falling is the moment in which we discover ourselves as bodies, masses of meat whose movement through the world we cannot fully control. Falling implies a loss of agency or a surrender to emotions (think of the phrase “falling in love”), but it can also, less intuitively, figure as the foundation from which our self-control springs, or even as the ultimate form of freedom.
“Dybt at falde” (“The harder they fall”), Weekendavisen (8 January 2021). Link.
Danish. A review of Harald Voetmann’s brilliant new translation of Juvenal’s first two books of satires, Vreden skriver digtet (Wrath writes the poem). Focusing on Juvenal’s belated position with respect to the Roman Golden Age, the review brings out the ambiguous, internet-troll-like nature of his poetry, which keep the reader guessing as to who is the real target of the satires: the marginalized groups against whom they are directed, or the dyspeptic fogey who speaks them?
“Sildig rasen” (“Late rage”), Weekendavisen (9 December 2020). Link.