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.

A very 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.” Poetics Today ,vol. 43, no. 4 (December 2022): 611–637.

Thoughtfully thoughtless

Danish. In my ninth entry for Weekendavisens lexicon, I draw on Peter Adamson’s Don’t Think for Yourself to explore the concept of taqlid from Arabic philosophy, theology, and jurisprudence. Taqlid refers to a thoughtless reliance on the words of others, as opposed to ijtihad, thinking and examining for oneself. Medieval Arabic thinkers recognized that taqlid was a fact of life: one cannot investigate every topic oneself, so for most topics, we must rely on expert opinion. But in the current political climate, the question of when and how this reliance on experts is justified has become particularly pressing.

“Taqlid,” Weekendavisen (4 November 2022). Link.

Prismatic Gilgamesh

Drawing on the same notion of prismatic reception that I discussed for Sappho, I discuss the history of Gilgamesh‘s translation and transmedial adaptation, both in the ancient and modern world. I suggest that the best approach for a would-be translator and adapter of Gilgamesh is to seize on that aspect of the epic that resonates most powerfully with them, and amplify it in their own work.

“Prismatic Gilgamesh,” Ancient Near East Today, vol. 10, no. 10 (October 2022). Link.

Nobel and No-bel

Danish. In this brief piece, I argue that the last three winners of the Nobel prize in literature (Louise Glück, Abdulrazak Gurnah, and Annie Ernaux) have a striking resemblance to the three authors who have consistently topped the bookmakers’ lists (respectively, Anne Carson, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and Michel Houellebecq). Since it’s widely understood that the prize cannot go to overly similar figures, might the Swedish Academy be deliberately nixing the Nobel hopes of the most popular candidates?

“Samme slags, bare mindre populært” (“Same type, just less popular”), Weekendavisen (14 October 2022)

Between two myths

Drawing on my previous study of the surprisingly complex history of the concept “Mesopotamia” and its political import for modern Iraq, I argue that we must steer between two myths when discussing the ancient history of Iraq: the myth that Iraq is a somehow “artificial” nation that is bound to disintegrate, and the myth that it is a perennial unity, persisting across centuries. The real legacy of ancient Mesopotamia is that of a hybrid, multilingual, constantly shifting cultural entity.

“Between Two Rivers, Between Two Myths,” New Lines Magazine (14 October 2022). Link.

Apricot & countenance

Danish. I wrote the first and the last entry for the literary encyclopedia ORD. The first entry discusses the rich cultural connotations of the apricot and the fascinating history of its name: the word apricot began in Latin and was then loaned through Greek, Arabic, and Old French, in a clockwise journey around the Mediterranean. The last entry turns to the final word in Danish dictionaries, the soon-to-be-obsolete expression åsyn, a beautiful and Biblically resonant term for “face.” I discuss the strange appeal of this word, which designates both how we appear to others and how they appear to us.

“Abrikos” (“Apricot”) and “Åsyn” (“Countenance”), in ORD: Encyklopædi (2022, Copenhagen: Politikens Forlag), pp. 9–10 and 324–25. Link.

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.