On the edge of the canon

Danish. Written for a special issue on literary revivals, the essay discusses why the new Danish translation of Gilgamesh has garnered so much attention. As a key example of a literary revival, the translation combined the appeal of a new and unknown poem with that of a foundational and time-tested classic.

“‘Gilgamesh’: På kanten af kanon” (“‘Gilgamesh’: At the edge of the canon”), Standart, vol. 33, no. 2 (July 2019), pp. 42–43.

Translation in the singular

Danish. Translating ancient texts is a process of simplification: many manuscripts, variants, and versions are compressed into one book. But in turn, that book leads to many different encounters with the text, and can even occasion new and varied adaptations of it. In short, translation is an hourglass-like movement of condensation and expansion.

“‘Gilgamesh i ental” (“‘Gilgamesh’ in the singular”), Babelfisken (April 2019). Link.

A subversive foundation

Why has Gilgamesh achieved much greater fame in the modern world than any other work of ancient Near Eastern literature? The essay proposes that the epic’s modern canonicity is specifically due to the fact that it can be read as both subversive and foundational.

Gilgamesh: A subversive foundation,” in Antike Kanonisierungsprozesse und Identitätsbildung in Zeiten des Umbruchs, edited by Marcel Friesen and Christoph Leonard Hesse, Wissenschaftliche Schriften der WWU Münster 28 (2019, Münster: Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität), pp. 27–41. Link.

Omens in marble

The Babylonian divinatory series Shumma alu inspired the Danish poet Morten Søndergaard to create a massive installation piece, where he inscribed omen-like sentences in a marble floor. The essay discusses whether unconventional outreach formats such as this can help academics reach new audiences.

“In popular culture: Shumma Alu in Denmark,” Mar Shiprim (September 2017). Link.

Mesopotamia in Denmark

Danish. The essay charts the reception of cuneiform cultures in modern Danish art. Four contemporary Danish artists have engaged with Gilgamesh, each of them highlighting a different aspect of the text, and three other artists (among them my mother) have engaged with Sumerian culture to explore the deepest layers of history.

“Hinsides tiderne: Oldtidens Irak i moderne dansk kunst” (”Beyond time: Ancient Iraq in contemporary Danish art”), Små fag, store horisonter: Småfagenes danske kulturhistorie i glimt, special issue of Tværkultur, vol. 7 (May 2017), pp. 35–55. Link.

Mess O’Potamia returns

Drawing on a skit from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, the essay argues that the notion of “Mesopotamia” can be used to evade or reconcile the contradictions that surround the modern nation of Iraq. The simple-looking concept of a single Mesopotamia belies a deeper complexity, produced by clashing discourses and historical shifts.

“The return of Mess O’Potamia: Time, space and politics in modern uses of ancient Mesopotamia”, Postcolonial Studies, vol. 19, no. 3 (December 2016), pp. 305–24. Link. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13688790.2016.1264250