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.

Chymical remix

Danish. I discuss a bewildering work of Medieval mystic literature known as Aurora consurgens, “The Rising Dawn,” newly translated into Danish by Aksel Haaning. In his introduction, Haaning describes the work as a “stream of unconsciousness,” a torrential flow of images and metaphors that seeks to recast the spiritual practice of alchemy in a Christian guise. Biblical quotes are appropriated and adapted to the strange flow of the text, culminating in a turbo-charged alchemic remix of the Song of Songs.

“Alkymi på syre” (“Alchemy on acid”), Weekendavisen (5 November 2021). Link.

The ghost of ages past

Danish. In my fourth entry for Weekendavisen’s lexicon, I discuss the strange phenomenon of the Zeitgeist—the inexplicable but undeniable feeling that each period of cultural history is characterized by a certain similarity. The feeling may be illusory and ill-defined, but it is powerful nonetheless, reminding us that we are like birds in flock—part of an enormous movement that we can neither fully comprehend nor control when we are in it. Our life is shaped by the ghostly presence of historical change.

“Zeitgeist,” Weekendavisen (24 October 2021).

Gilgamesh in English

The book includes a translation of Gilgamesh, and five essays that introduce readers to the world of the epic. The translation is a fresh take on the ancient epic and seeks to bring out the poetic power, clarity, and enchanting cadence of the original text. The essays discuss the epic’s long history, its literary form, its depiction of emotions (especially the homoerotic bond between the main characters), its engagement with death and the power of narrative, and its social context, including the role of women and of the natural world.

Gilgamesh: A New Translation of the Ancient Epic. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021. Link.

Food in Fleming

In another, perhaps better world, Ian Fleming would have been a food writer. Like few other authors, he knows how to describe the joys of gourmandise. But Fleming does not just dwell on the pleasure of eating. He insists on naming specific brands of salmon, champagne, and shampoo, or whatever else his character comes us across, in a clear attempt to shape the taste of his readers in more senses than one. The Bond books are Bildungsromane for a post-war consumerist society, where the upper middle class needed to be told what products to buy and what salmon to savor.

“Til bords med Bond” (“Chez Bond”), Weekendavisen (24 September 2021). Link.

Polarized poetry

Danish. For a special issue of Weekendavisen on the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death, I wrote three pieces, including an essay on political polarization, where I argue that there is a divide within polarization itself. We know that we belong to one of two warring factions who disagree about almost everything, but we still strive to reach general conclusions about the world, as if that split did not exist. Nobody represents this divide better than Dante, who was incessantly polemical and just as ambitious in his intellectual schemes. His poetry is made great by that tension between a polarized passion and a worldwide vision.

“Bogholderiet” (“Bookkeeping”), “Uenstemmigt” (“Ununanimous”), “Polariseringens poesi” (“The poetry of polarization”), Weekendavisen (9 September 2021). Link, link, link.

Killing her softly

Danish. In a review of Ole Meyer’s translation (heavily indebted to this article by Colin Burrow), I discuss the Latin poet Propertius. He deployed a masterful command of shiftiness to engineer a political scandal, rejecting the Augustan celebration of soldiery and pious marriages in favor of extramarital affairs. Though making love not war has since ceased to be provocative, Propertius remains as irksome as he was in antiquity, since his romances are full of spite, spittle, and violence against women. Propertius is not a poet for the times, but then again, he never was.

“Bittert bløddyr” (“Spiteful softy”), Weekendavisen (6 September 2021). Link.

The runes and the rock

Danish. In my third entry for Weekendavisen’s lexicon, I tell the strange tale of the Runamo cliff, which was for centuries thought to contain an ancient inscription written in an unknown runic alphabet. In 1841, Finnur Magnússon produced an 800-page report on the Runamo inscription, in which he claimed to have finally deciphered it, offering a translation of the text. But just a few years later, the runes were revealed to be nothing but random cracks in the rockface.

“Runamo,” Weekendavisen (6 September 2021). Link.