The literary centrifuge

Danish. In my thirteenth entry for Weekendavisens lexicon, I suggest (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that narratives are shaped by two forces: a centripetal forces, which keeps the story together, and a centripetal force, which add variety, texture, side plots, and surprises to the text. The worst examples of genre fiction are entirely dominated by the utilitarian logic of the centripetal force; while avantgarde stories like the films of David Lynch tend towards centrifugal excesses.

“Centrifugal” (“Centrifugal”), Weekendavisen (18 August 2023). Link.

The sense of nonsense

Danish. In my twelfth entry for Weekendavisens lexicon, I trace the origins of the Danish word “volapyk,” meaning nonsense: it comes from a predecessor of Esperanto, Volapük, an attempt to create a perfect global language (the current Danish meaning of the word shows how well that project went). I discuss my own teenagey dabbling in conlanging, and why languages cannot—as the creator of Volapük wanted—be kept in a state of permanent stasis: languages live in change, change is the mechanism that makes meaning possible.

“Volapyk” (“Volapük”), Weekendavisen (9 June 2023). Link.

To leave on read

Danish. In my eleventh entry for Weekendavisens lexicon, I discuss the peculiarly modern feeling—created by “read receipts” on messaging apps such as WhatsApp—of knowing that your words have been read, but not yet responded to. This state of communicative limbo gained a new intensity for me some two years ago, after I had written a meandering essay on the art of falling. My grandfather wrote to me to tell me how much he had enjoyed reading it, but the reply I sent him the morning after remained unseen: he had died in his sleep in the intervening hours. That my essay was one of the last things he read was particularly harrowing because the essays ends with a literary conflation of sleep and death.

“Læst” (“Read”), Weekendavisen (31 March 2023). Link.

Closure in times of crisis

Danish. In my tenth entry for Weekendavisens lexicon, I discuss the Danish word afklaring, roughly translatable as “closure.” Like it’s English counterpart, afklaring denotes a sense of calm and acceptance in relation to a pain either experienced or (more strongly so in Danish) expected. After unpacking some of the forms and ways of achieving such closure, I turn to the afklaring that I try to achieve in relation to the troubled times in which we find ourselves and which only look to grow more dire in the decades ahead.

“Afklaring” (“Closure”), Weekendavisen (13 January 2022). Link.

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.

Labyrinths and lexicons

Danish. In my eighth entry for Weekendavisens lexicon, I discuss Salmonsens Konversationsleksikon, a legendary Danish encyclopedia that has passed through my family for generations. During World War I, the encyclopedia was printed with a blank page under the heading “Europe”; readers were sent a map of the continent when its borders were settled at the end of the war. I use this story to reflect on the coming of climate change: will all maps now become fluid again as the seas begin to rise?

“Konversationsleksikon” (“The Conversational Encyclopedia”), Weekendavisen (2 September 2022). Link.

A theory of the dogear

Danish. In my seventh entry for Weekendavisen‘s lexicon, I discuss the surprisingly vitriolic debate about dogears and annotations. As a messy reader myself, I tend to leave my books tattered and bescribbled, and I argued that the fierce resistance I encounter is rooted in the double status of books: they are treated as both auratic objets d’art and as an interchangeable reproductions. Further, I argue that all writing and reading is, in fact, shaped by constant, small-scale violence.

“Æselører” (“Dogears”), Weekendavisen (3 June 2022). Link.

Winners and losers

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.

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.

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).