As 2020 comes to a close, we’re proud to present our top-ten most-read print essays of the year, listed below in reverse order. The topics covered range from celibacy to the Cultural Revolution, from Japanese translations of Shakespeare to what Hegel would make of modern capitalism. If you enjoy these essays, we strongly encourage you to look deeper into this year’s issues (most poplar should not be equated with best!), and then consider subscribing for 2021.
10. “Let Them Misunderstand” by Moeko Fujii [Issue 21]
His task: to make Shakespeare for ordinary people, not for snobs. Ninagawa’s ideas: 1) Begin with Elton John. 2) Flaming torches, lots of dancing. 3) Dwarves.
9. “Dismissal” by Asad Haider [Issue 23]
The lesson of the Cultural Revolution is that an emancipatory politics is indeed possible, but also fragile and precarious—and under constant threat by the logic of dismissal, which can either prohibit its emergence or propel it into factionalism.
8. “A Deeper Longing” by Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist [Issue 23]
The teenagers often ask me, “Aren’t you sad that you will never have sex?” I answer: “Yes, a part of me is sad about that, but it is not a hopeless sadness.”
7. “Simple Hearts” by Daniel Oppenheimer [Issue 21]
I’d loved some version of him for nearly twenty years, ever since my older brother told me I really needed to read this book Air Guitar, by this guy Dave Hickey, that it would blow my mind. I’d bought the book and it had. It had also, and this was why I was in Santa Fe two decades later, given me a kind of gift, one I’m still reckoning with as I write these words.
6. “The Idea of a Nation” by Thomas Meaney [Issue 22]
The coronavirus has only made the alignment between nationalism and a certain sector of the financial elite that much clearer. There are audible sighs of irritation that the nation-state—so long a faithful partner in subduing labor unrest and bailing out one strategic corporate bankruptcy after another—now has to be mobilized to keep consumers and some workers alive.
5. “Real Characters” by Toril Moi [Issue 21]
When I first set out to write about the taboo on treating characters as if they were real, I thought of it as a useful but modest task. But soon I realized that the taboo works as a kind of litmus test for academic literary criticism: follow it, and you’re in; reject or ignore it, and you’re out.
4. “Illness as Fantasy” by Rachel Fraser [Issue 22]
In its most bellicose forms, the fantasy has it that the crisis should and must persuade others of our rightness too. The apocalypse, it turns out, has an upside: it means not having to argue anymore.
3. “Capitalism at Dusk” by Robert Pippin [Issue 22]
What is now not viable in Hegelian terms is a form of capitalism that works actively to suppress and distort what the requirements of labor, production and trade should have taught us: the depth of a mutual dependence that ought to be reflected in institutionalized forms of mutual respect and solidarity.
2. “Normal Novels” by Becca Rothfeld [Issue 21]
Who wouldn’t like to succeed in romance without really trying? Who hasn’t sometimes wished that their normalcy were exceptional? And who among the overeducated leftist set has not dreamed of surpassing their opponents without compromising their egalitarian virtue?
1. “On the Hatred of Literature” by Jon Baskin [Issue 21]
No wonder the haters were “cancelling dinner dates” when the review copies arrived in the mail; Lerner is their man on the inside.