Journalism

I am a regular contributor to the Danish newspapers Weekendavisen and Politiken Historie. I write essays about literature, cultural history, and the ancient world.

A black angel, from a manuscript of the Medieval alchemical treatise Aurora Consurgens that I wrote about for Weekendavisen.

The best ventriloquist

Danish. What impact will ChatGPT – and the similar programs that are bound to be released in the coming months and years – have on literature? To answer this question, I first explain the technological developments behind the program, focusing on word embeddings, which allow the algorithm to recreate meaning,…

Truth and adultery

Danish. I review the history of Heloïse and Abelard, including the stormy story of their affair, Abelard’s contributions to philosophy, and Heloïse’s influence on that philosophy, as well as her own critique of gender norms as expressed in the letters that the lovers exchanged many years later. I single out…

Translating Taoism

Danish. The American author Ursula Le Guin published a free English translation of the Daodejing, the philosophical foundation ofTaoism, the Daodejing, and that translation was then translated into Danish. In this essay, I first review the strange and beguiling world view that emerges from the Daodejing, and then ask what…

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.…

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…

Thoughtfully thoughtless

Danish. In my ninth entry for Weekendavisen‘s 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…

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…

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…

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,…

Labyrinths and lexicons

Danish. In my eighth entry for Weekendavisen’s 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…

The samurai’s shadow

Danish. I review the samurai-museum that recently opened in downtown Berlin, an inter- and hyper-active installation dedicated to presenting the technical and aesthetic refinement of the samurai tradition. But what the museum does not address, on its many enthusiastically buzzing displays, is the problematic history of the samurai figure in…

Crushing on Satan

Danish. Reflecting on my childhood crush on Lord Asriel from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, I discuss what a crush is in general: a kind of infatuation that is not, cannot be, or should not be reciprocated (e.g. because its object is a fictional character), and so acquires a…

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…

The shock of the old

Danish. Translation revels in difference. Translating the same literary work into the same language over and over again is the only way to recreate that work’s compact complexity, but it also benefits translation itself. Translation, as an art form, works in the medium of choices, so the availability of multiple…

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,…

Paleolithic politics

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…

Weaving vowels

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…

Death by family

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…

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…

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…

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