As 2023 comes to a close, we’re proud to present our most-read web pieces of the year, listed below in reverse order. If you enjoy these online-only essays and dialogues, we strongly encourage you to check out this year’s print issues, and then consider subscribing for 2024.
15. “Reciprocal Otherness” by Toril Moi
Showing us the world as different women have seen it, Beauvoir brings out the philosophical relevance of their experiences and perceptions, as when she describes a housewife’s struggle against dust and dirt as an activity permitting the maniacal cleaner to cast herself as the heroine of a Manichean struggle between good and evil. A philosophy incapable of making sense of such experiences, she thought, would be pointless.
14. “Do You Guys Ever Think About Dying?” by James Duesterberg
These films were two Hail Marys for the two fronts of an ailing twentieth-century mass culture: prestige drama and bubblegum ubiquity, the atom bomb and the plastic doll. I doubt that Universal and Mattel, or Nolan and Gerwig, coordinated this. But neither did the Little Boy bomb, dropped on Japan in 1945, and the Barbie “Teen-Age Fashion Model” doll, manufactured for Mattel in Japan in 1959, have to coordinate with each other to give birth to a sublime and monstrous era. Barbenheimer promised to bring us all back to the origin story of the American century, that most fantastic of recent inventions. Would we still believe in it?
13. “Perilous Joy” by Michael Ledger-Lomas
The ethical, even metaphysical weight with which Eliot invested her own marriage and those of her characters remains impressive. But behind Adam Bede’s declaration that there is no “greater thing” for “two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life” lurks a form of religiosity now alien to us.
12. “Old Weird America” by Justin Taylor
The hallmark of Portis’s work is farce delivered with a straight face in successions of tightly choreographed set pieces, splitting the difference between the picaresque and the grotesque. He draws on a tradition established by Melville in Moby-Dick, and sustained across the generations by writers as varied as Mark Twain, William Faulkner, John Kennedy Toole, Ralph Ellison, Flannery O’Connor, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Denis Johnson, Donald Antrim, Mary Robison, Paul Beatty, Percival Everett and Nell Zink.
11. “Slaves to Love” by Jessie Munton
To the extent I could make sense of Winnicott’s claim, it came from an interpretation of slavery in Hegelian terms, as at root a failure of recognition.
10. “Silicon or Carbon?” by Nadia Asparouhova
Listening to the Atoms and Bits debate feels like staring at an optical illusion flipping back and forth between two images: goblet to face and back again. And yet despite their rivalry, the Atoms and Bits are not so dissimilar after all.
9. “No Masters” by John Colin Bradley
Ultimately, Ahmari’s and Deneen’s mistake—a mistake that runs deep in post-liberal political thought—is to suppose that the only way to avoid the arbitrariness and libertinism of undisciplined thought and action is to yoke oneself to authority or tradition. This ignores the fact that a mature person can give the moral law to herself. It ignores the possibility of dignity.
8. “Unnatural Gifts” by Becca Rothfeld
If ugliness, as Nietzsche says, is an objection, then so is a shallowly conventional prettiness. Timid repetitions of the going mores have nothing to do with beauty and its daring.
7. “The Age of Adolescence” by Rita Koganzon
Blume’s books did not so much provide girls with new information about their sexual maturation or relieve their suffering over it as they heightened their sense of its importance in their lives, centering them as the sine qua non of coming of age.
6. “The Limits of Forgiveness” by Elizabeth Bruenig
It is emotionally taxing to engage a person who has wronged you in a process of transformation towards forgiveness and reconciliation, possibly for your sake but much for theirs. Being faced with a genuine apology, even, is a strange and disarming experience: one day you’re living your life, wronged, mad about it and completely within your rights to feel that way; and the next, the very person who put you in the position of being angry and indignant to begin with appears with some words that are difficult to hear and whose intention is to steal away your protective and socially sanctioned aura of anger. It is no wonder that we scrutinize apologies to the degree that we do. Oftentimes, it’s more comfortable to simply reject them. But I am going to argue, now, that it is worthwhile to take them seriously, and to forgive.
5. “Negative Criticism” by Sean Tatol
Today the mere suggestion that some things are better than others, particularly in the arts, is met with confusion and hostility. The insistence that there is no reason not to “let people enjoy things” reigns, as if evaluation itself can be nothing but an act of antisocial pretension.
4. “On the Aesthetic Turn” by Anastasia Berg
If we did not start from the assumption that art is valuable, we might instead begin with the question of why we keep “turning” to beautiful images the way we often do—not just in a quest for some sort of edification but as if we had no choice.
3. “Everything Is Hyperpolitical” by Anton Jäger
Rather than concrete results or new social relations, this political tendency seems to mark its influence by its ability to reproduce its frenetic form of activity, something it has had special success doing at nonprofits, in the media and in an increasingly digital public sphere—not to mention in the minds of those who consume these cultural products. Hyperpolitics comes and goes, like a neutron bomb that shakes the people in the frame but leaves all the infrastructure intact—an awkward synonym rather than an antonym to post-politics.
2. “On Loving White Boys” by Kathy Chow
Many of my Asian American girlfriends have dated or are dating white men, and those relationships have, more often than not, ended in disappointment. But when we pass the Merlot back and forth at wine nights, we are not crying about how white boys just don’t get us, like, ethnically. We are crying because we are not sure how he feels, he’s “not ready for a relationship yet,” and—a perennial source of consternation—why the fuck won’t he text us back?
1. “My Beautiful Friend” by Grazie Sophia Christie
There’s something gorgeously petty about many women’s lives. They’re not trying to be great. They’re trying to be better. It’s why women diet together; dye their hair light, then dark, then light again; dress for each other; race to get engaged; wait to get divorced; find a taken man more attractive than a free one. Become girlbosses in droves and then give it up. A woman can spend her whole life in real or imagined competition with her friends, finding herself in the gaps between them.