The upward-curving line

Danish. In a review of a new Danish translation of Orosius’s fifth-century masterpiece, History Against the Pagans, I look at the templates we use to make sense of our history, shaping the flow of the past to give it a meaning and direction—templates like the circle, the pendulum, the ladder, and the downward slope. The template that Orosius pioneered with groundbreaking conviction remains the most prevalent today: a smoothly upward-curving line. In Orosius’s Christian retelling of universal history, we find the massively influential proposition that, however slowly and unevenly, the world is getting better year by year.

“Jamreoptimisten fra Braga” (“The pessoptimist from Braga”), Weekendavisen (June 2021).

B is for House

Danish. The second in a series of encyclopedia-like articles for the newspaper Weekendavisen, this short essay discusses the home that hides within our words. The twenty-two signs that make up the earliest known alphabet all began as drawings of objects commonly found in Middle Eastern households three thousand years ago. I discuss the homey story inside our signs, starting with B for bēt, “house,” and ending with a surprising plot twist: T, the sign for signs.

“Bēt,” Weekendavisen (May 2021). Link.

Neanderthal love

Danish. The review of two books that discuss separate, but intriguingly interconnected topics: Rebecca Wragg Sykes’s acclaimed introduction to the world of Neanderthals, and Ole Høiris’s cultural history of the figure of the “savage.” Both books explore, in each their way, how humans relate to beings that are perceived as almost but not quite humans. Høiris uses the dehumanization of indigenous populations to reflect on how the notion of “human” was constructed, while Sykes invites us to abandon our sapiens-centric bias and consider other ways of being human.

“Fortaler for neandertaler” (“In defense of Neanderthals”), Weekendavisen (May 2021). Link.

Gorman, take two

Danish. Responding to the controversy that surrounded the Dutch translation of Amanda Gorman’s poems, the op-ed argues that many commentators focused on the wrong topic. What matters is not the choice of a white translator, but the systematic neglect of black translators. As translators know more than most, every choice implies a whole host of possibilities that were not chosen (in Danish: “alle valg er fravalg”). When we discuss the politics of choosing a given translator, we must keep two things in mind: 1) it is just important to look at who is not chosen for the job, and 2) it is structural patterns of repeated choice, not individual decisions, that matter most.

“Alle valg er fravalg” (“Choosing one leaves out another”), Weekendavisen (March 2021).

Another forgotten philosopher

Danish. Continuing what seems to be my recurring interest in radical Aristotelian philosophers, this review discusses Claus Bryld’s brilliant treatment of Marsilius of Padua, an unjustly overlooked Medieval political thinker who, Bryld argues persuasively, anticipated the ideas of Thomas Hobbes by some three hundred years, laying the philosophical foundations for the modern secular state.

“Manden bag den fredsbevarende stat” (“The man behind the peacekeeping state”), Weekendavisen (March 2021). Link.

Gorman vs. Gutenberg

Danish. A short history of how, when, and why books have been read aloud, from Augustine to Amanda Gorman. Might digital media bring about a resurgence of a pre-Gutenberg literary culture where poetry was orally performed, circulated, and discussed?

“Hurra for højtlæsning” (“Hurrah for reading aloud”), Weekendavisen (27 January 2021). Link.

Forms of falling

Danish. An essay on the literary history of falling, touching on Dante, Lewis Carroll, Lucretius, Milton, and Inger Christensen. Falling is the moment in which we discover ourselves as bodies, masses of meat whose movement through the world we cannot fully control. Falling implies a loss of agency or a surrender to emotions (think of the phrase “falling in love”), but it can also, less intuitively, figure as the foundation from which our self-control springs, or even as the ultimate form of freedom.

“Dybt at falde” (“The harder they fall”), Weekendavisen (8 January 2021). Link.

Juvenal the troll

Danish. A review of Harald Voetmann’s brilliant new translation of Juvenal’s first two books of satires, Vreden skriver digtet (Wrath writes the poem). Focusing on Juvenal’s belated position with respect to the Roman Golden Age, the review brings out the ambiguous, internet-troll-like nature of his poetry, which keep the reader guessing as to who is the real target of the satires: the marginalized groups against whom they are directed, or the dyspeptic fogey who speaks them?

“Sildig rasen” (“Late rage”), Weekendavisen (9 December 2020). Link.

Postcards from Sumer

Danish. A free rendition of Enheduana’s Exaltation of Inana, commissioned by Shëkufe Tadayoni Heiberg for the indie press Forlaget Uro and illustrated by Johanne Helga Heiberg Johansen. One reviewer called it “an impressively accesible, deeply fascinating publication”; another asked: “What have we done to deserve such a pearl of delight?

Dronning over verdens magter, illustrated by Johanne Helga Heiberg Johansen, 2020, Hvidovre: Forlaget Uro. Link.

Prismatic Sappho

Danish. A review of two new Danish translations of Sappho, which appeared simultaneously: using Matthew Reynolds’s metaphor of prismatic translation, the review shows how the translations bring out different wavelengths of the ancient fragments. Sappho’s poems appear as, respectively, relics of a lost aristocracy and icons of a living LGBTQ community. 

“Længselsstemmen fra Lesbos” (“The longing-voice from Lesbos”), Weekendavisen (20 November 2020). Link.