The abandoned sanatorium

Danish. When I was seventeen years old, I snuck into an abandoned tuberculosis sanatorium on the outskirts of Berlin. Returning to Heilstätte Grabowsee ten years later, I found it completely transformed: not only was access to its crumbling halls now free, but it had become the home of a unique, life-changing art festival. To me, Grabowsee is a symbol of time breeding difference out of sameness: the once identical hospital rooms have been transformed in each their own way, first by the elements, then by the artists.

“Gensyn med Grabowsee” (“Grabowsee revisited”), Weekendavisen (2 September 2022). Link.

Labyrinths and lexicons

Danish. In my eighth entry for Weekendavisens lexicon, I discuss Salmonsens Konversationsleksikon, a legendary Danish encyclopedia that has passed through my family for generations. During World War I, the encyclopedia was printed with a blank page under the heading “Europe”; readers were sent a map of the continent when its borders were settled at the end of the war. I use this story to reflect on the coming of climate change: will all maps now become fluid again as the seas begin to rise?

“Konversationsleksikon” (“The Conversational Encyclopedia”), Weekendavisen (2 September 2022). Link.

The samurai’s shadow

Danish. I review the samurai-museum that recently opened in downtown Berlin, an inter- and hyper-active installation dedicated to presenting the technical and aesthetic refinement of the samurai tradition. But what the museum does not address, on its many enthusiastically buzzing displays, is the problematic history of the samurai figure in postwar Japan.

“Besvær med sværd” (“The trouble with swords”), Weekendavisen (12 August 2022). Link.

Crushing on Satan

Danish. Reflecting on my childhood crush on Lord Asriel from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, I discuss what a crush is in general: a kind of infatuation that is not, cannot be, or should not be reciprocated (e.g. because its object is a fictional character), and so acquires a strange intensity and violence. Asriel is Pullman’s reimagining of the character of Satan from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and to a prepubescent bisexual reader like myself, he was the perfect amalgamation of the youthful rebel and the authoritative father. He came to represent for me a fiery, ruthless form of desire, which shaped my relation to desire as such.

“Lucifers lækkerhed” (“Satan’s sex appeal”), Weekendavisen (15 July 2022). Link.

A theory of the dogear

Danish. In my seventh entry for Weekendavisen‘s lexicon, I discuss the surprisingly vitriolic debate about dogears and annotations. As a messy reader myself, I tend to leave my books tattered and bescribbled, and I argued that the fierce resistance I encounter is rooted in the double status of books: they are treated as both auratic objets d’art and as an interchangeable reproductions. Further, I argue that all writing and reading is, in fact, shaped by constant, small-scale violence.

“Æselører” (“Dogears”), Weekendavisen (3 June 2022). Link.

The shock of the old

Danish. Translation revels in difference. Translating the same literary work into the same language over and over again is the only way to recreate that work’s compact complexity, but it also benefits translation itself. Translation, as an art form, works in the medium of choices, so the availability of multiple choices reveals its range and richness. A corollary of this argument is that pre-modern works—which are free from copyright restrictions—are crucial to the art translation, since they can serve as a space of experimentation and expansion.

“Fortidens frihed” (“The freedom of the past”), Babelfisken (June 2022). Link.

Winners and losers

Danish. In my sixth entry for Weekendavisen‘s lexicon, I discuss the word “winning” and the strangely central role it played during four years of American politics. The extent to which an exclusive focus on winning is politically counterproductive is underscored by the fact that Trump was replaced by a president, Biden, whose political narrative centered on the very opposite: the transformative power of loss.

“Winning,” Weekendavisen (5 May 2022). Link.

Crisis and creation

In a review of Edgar Garcia’s delightful book Emergency, I discuss the peculiar depiction of time in the Popol Vuh, the Mayan myth of creation. With Garcia, I argue that the Popol Vuh‘s looping, diffracted sense of time is particularly relevant to the current moment, where climate change and other catastrophes have thrown us into a state of permanent emergency, where time moves both too quickly and too slowly.

“Fusing Creativity and Crisis in ‘Emergency,'” Chicago Review of Books (27 April 2022). Link.

Ancient poems, uncertain futures

In a critical review of Martin Puchner’s Literature for a Changing Planet, I discuss the resonance of Gilgamesh in a time of climate crisis. Far from the celebration of resource extraction that Puchner sees in the epic, Gilgamesh is a complex meditation on environmental devastation, with an important lesson for modern readers: to combat climate change effectively, we must learn to zigzag in our minds between the global scale on which the change is unfolding and the local scale on which we can act.

“Climate Change: From Gilgamesh to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” The Marginalia Review of Books (22 April 2022). Link.

Paleolithic politics

Danish. In my review of David Graeber and David Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything, I connect the book’s argument to my motto as a historian: history makes the present strange. I argue that the book’s main claim—that history can be used to expand our sense of social possibility—is more relevant than ever in the age of climate change.

“Palæolitisk politik” (“Paleolithic politics”), Weekendavisen (13 April 2022). Link.