Writings

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.

Prismatic Gilgamesh

Drawing on the same notion of prismatic reception that I discussed for Sappho, I discuss the history of Gilgamesh‘s translation and transmedial adaptation, both in the ancient and modern world. I suggest that the best approach for a would-be translator and adapter of Gilgamesh is to seize on that aspect of the epic that resonates most powerfully with them, and amplify it in their own work.

“Prismatic Gilgamesh,” Ancient Near East Today, vol. 10, no. 10 (October 2022). Link.

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 it’s widely understood that the prize cannot go to overly similar figures, might the Swedish Academy be deliberately nixing the Nobel hopes of the most popular candidates?

“Samme slags, bare mindre populært” (“Same type, just less popular”), Weekendavisen (14 October 2022)

Between two myths

Drawing on my previous study of the surprisingly complex history of the concept “Mesopotamia” and its political import for modern Iraq, I argue that we must steer between two myths when discussing the ancient history of Iraq: the myth that Iraq is a somehow “artificial” nation that is bound to disintegrate, and the myth that it is a perennial unity, persisting across centuries. The real legacy of ancient Mesopotamia is that of a hybrid, multilingual, constantly shifting cultural entity.

“Between Two Rivers, Between Two Myths,” New Lines Magazine (14 October 2022). Link.

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 clockwise journey around the Mediterranean. The last entry turns to the final word in Danish dictionaries, the soon-to-be-obsolete expression åsyn, a beautiful and Biblically resonant term for “face.” I discuss the strange appeal of this word, which designates both how we appear to others and how they appear to us.

“Abrikos” (“Apricot”) and “Åsyn” (“Countenance”), in ORD: Encyklopædi (2022, Copenhagen: Politikens Forlag), pp. 9–10 and 324–25. Link.

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, life-changing art festival. To me, Grabowsee is a symbol of time breeding difference out of sameness: the once identical hospital rooms have been transformed in each their own way, first by the elements, then by the artists.

“Gensyn med Grabowsee” (“Grabowsee revisited”), Weekendavisen (2 September 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.

Authorship as story

The chapter, written for my PhD thesis, argues that “authorship” means two things at once: textual production and its presentation, that is, the way authors are depicted in our sources. I argue that such depictions have an inherently narrative form, and that for ancient cultures, it is more methodologically sound to study the narratives than the reality of authorship. But authorship’s double nature also imbues it with an odd temporality: authorship-as-presentation claims to be identical with authorship-as-production, but it is in fact born belatedly, in the wake of a text’s circulation.

“Narratives of Authorship and Cuneiform Literature,” in Authorship and the Hebrew Bible, edited by Sonja Ammann, Katharina Pyschny, and Julia Rhyder (2022, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck), pp. 17–35.

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 postwar Japan.

“Besvær med sværd” (“The trouble with swords”), Weekendavisen (12 August 2022). Link.

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” (“Satan’s sex appeal”), Weekendavisen (15 July 2022). Link.