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.

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

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 intellectually ambitious. His poetry is made great by the tension between polarized passion and 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, 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).

Moving images

Danish. In a review of the third Danish translation of Sappho to appear in ten months (!), I argue that one of the distinguishing features of Sappho’s poetry is their ability to create what I call moving images, in a nod to the oxymoronic force that this phrase once carried: the poems present pictures that are perfectly still, yet infused with motion. Nothing ever happens in the now of Sappho’s poems, but her words still shimmer with memories of the past and expectations for the future.

“Digter i måneskin” (“Writing in the moonlight”), Weekendavisen (21 August 2021). Link.

Atomic geese

Danish. A short essay reflecting on the title of my high school coursebook on literature: At omgås tekster (“How to deal with texts”), which the students quickly transformed into Atomgås tekster (“Atomic goose texts”). The best teachers of literature are those who treat texts as open to unexpected collisions of words that produce new and unsettling meanings, instead of presenting them as codifications of fixed allegories whose significance the students must decipher.

“Atomgås” (“Atomic goose”), Weekendavisen (19 June 2021). Link.

Water under straw

Danish. I discuss the remarkable story of a prophecy spoken by a priestess of Dagan some 3,800 years ago, which was recorded by three people who interpreted it in three different ways but all noted a crucial, cryptic phrase: “under straw runs water.” After presenting the historical context of the prophecy, I suggest that it aptly describes our relation to the past: even with three independent witnesses, we will never know what really happened, for the events of the past flow in all their complexity under the surface of our sources, like water running under straw.

“Hvad betyder vand under siv?” (“What does ‘water under straw’ mean?”), Politiken Historie (August 2021). Link.

Health v. records

Danish. In the wake of the American gymnast Simone Biles’s decision to withdraw from the gymnastic final at the 2021 Olympics, the short essay argues that sport is defined by a tension between two ideals: it is about renewing the body and caring for one’s health; but also about breaking records and striving for extremes. These ideals sometimes merge, and just as often clash. (I make the same argument here.) Today, the ideal of extremes too often trumps that of well-being, which is one reason why we should celebrate Biles’s decision.

“Sejr vs. sundhed” (“Victory v. well-being”), Weekendavisen (5 August 2021). Link.