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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.