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.

Who were the Chaldeans?

The short note argues that the term Chaldean, as it appears, in Classical sources was not only a byname for the Babylonians, as is commonly thought. The word was confused with a profession of scholar-priests known as kalû, so that “the Chaldeans” could refer to both Babylonians in general and to a group of temple scholars specialized in astronomy.

“‘Chaldean’ as kalû?,” in Nouvelles assyriologiques brèves et utilitaires, vol. 2022, no. 1 (April 2022), pp. 82–84, entry no. 39. Link.

“A bird called back”

In a short response to Adam Miglio’s insightful article on bird calls in Gilgamesh, I argue that the birds find a larger thematic resonance in the epic’s exploration of the outermost borders of humanity: the birds in Gilgamesh are repeatedly shown perching on the messy border between the human and non-human.

“Commentary,” in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, vol. 81, no. 1 (April 2022), pp. 179–80. Link.

Weaving vowels

Danish. Responding to a study of Dante’s Latin writings, I argue that Dante displays two interwoven attitudes towards language, one centripetal, the other centrifugal. The first is focused on the endless variety of language: Dante is a masterful ventriloquist, adapting his voice to every new genre, context, and character. The second is focused on its unifying force: for Dante, language becomes an image of the underlying power of attraction that, in the form of God’s love, binds the universe together.

“Altings A” (“The A of All”), Weekendavisen (11 March 2022). Link.

Death by family

Danish. Discussing Annette Lassen’s study of the fornaldarsaga, I note that the Icelandic sagas revolve around the fraught ideal of family allegiance, repeatedly exploring the hatred that can arise between those who are supposed to love one another. The family became an ideological oxymoron, fusing danger and safety, alliance and conflict, sex and murder. Following Lassen, I also argue that the sagas do not give us access to an ancient and “untainted” Nordic identity, as they were created in a world-literary dialogue that spanned centuries and continents.

“Slægtsballade” (“Family trouble”), Weekendavisen (21 January 2022). Link.

Forgetting to forget

Danish. In my fifth entry for Weekendavisen’s lexicon, I discuss the vexing problem of forgetting: any attempt to forget tends to call the unwanted memory all the more readily to mind. Kant, for example, dismissed his long-standing manservant Lampe, and then wrote a self-defeating memorandum to himself: “Lampe must be forgotten!” Through the examples of Caligula, Barbra Streisand, The Little Prince, and The Raven, I remind myself that the only way to forget is to forget that you wanted to forget, and accept time’s gift as it comes.

“Glemsel” (“Forgetting”), Weekendavisen (14 January 2022). Link.

Weirder translations!

Danish. The op-ed argues that the Danish translation culture has been seized by an exaggerated caution, as translators beautifully balance readability and accuracy but rarely stray from the mainstream or challenge what translations can or should be. Translations can renew and enrich the target language in powerful ways, but only if the genre of translation itself is kept new through experimentation, so that we do not come to take it for granted as a neutral medium.

“Vi skal oversætte vildere” (“We must translate more wildly”), Weekendavisen (26 November 2021). Link.