Writings

Search and ye shall find

On this page I’ve collected all my essays and articles, both popular and academic, Danish and English. For each you will find a downloadable copy or a link to the final version.

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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 strange intensity and violence. Asriel is Pullman’s reimagining of the character of Satan from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and to a prepubescent bisexual reader like myself, he was the perfect amalgamation of the youthful rebel and the authoritative father. He came to represent for me a fiery, ruthless form of desire, which shaped my relation to desire as such.

“Lucifers lækkerhed” (“Satanic sex appeal”), Weekendavisen (15 July 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.

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 choices reveals its range and richness. A corollary of this argument is that pre-modern works—which are free from copyright restrictions—are crucial to the art translation, since they can serve as a space of experimentation and expansion.

“Fortidens frihed” (“The freedom of the past”), Babelfisken (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.

Crisis and creation

In a review of Edgar Garcia’s delightful book Emergency, I discuss the peculiar depiction of time in the Popol Vuh, the Mayan myth of creation. With Garcia, I argue that the Popol Vuh‘s looping, diffracted sense of time is particularly relevant to the current moment, where climate change and other catastrophes have thrown us into a state of permanent emergency, where time moves both too quickly and too slowly.

“Fusing Creativity and Crisis in ‘Emergency,'” Chicago Review of Books (27 April 2022). Link.

Ancient poems, uncertain futures

In a critical review of Martin Puchner’s Literature for a Changing Planet, I discuss the resonance of Gilgamesh in a time of climate crisis. Far from the celebration of resource extraction that Puchner sees in the epic, Gilgamesh is a complex meditation on environmental devastation, with an important lesson for modern readers: to combat climate change effectively, we must learn to zigzag in our minds between the global scale on which the change is unfolding and the local scale on which we can act.

“Climate Change: From Gilgamesh to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” The Marginalia Review of Books (22 April 2022). Link.

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 than ever in the age of climate change.

“Palæolitisk politik” (“Paleolithic politics”), Weekendavisen (13 April 2022). Link.

Who were the Chaldeans?

The short note argues that the term Chaldean, as it appears, in Classical sources was not only a byname for the Babylonians, as is commonly thought. The word was confused with a profession of scholar-priests known as kalû, so that “the Chaldeans” could refer to both Babylonians in general and to a group of temple scholars specialized in astronomy.

“‘Chaldean’ as kalû?,” in Nouvelles assyriologiques brèves et utilitaires, vol. 2022, no. 1 (April 2022), pp. 82–84, entry no. 39. Link.

“A bird called back”

In a short response to Adam Miglio’s insightful article on bird calls in Gilgamesh, I argue that the birds find a larger thematic resonance in the epic’s exploration of the outermost borders of humanity: the birds in Gilgamesh are repeatedly shown perching on the messy border between the human and non-human.

“Commentary,” in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, vol. 81, no. 1 (April 2022), pp. 179–80. Link.

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 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.