As 2021 comes to a close, we’re proud to present our top-ten most-read essays of the year, listed below in reverse order. If you enjoy these essays, we strongly encourage you to look deeper into this year’s issues (there are plenty more excellent essays that don’t appear in the list below, especially from our new issue, which just came out), and then consider subscribing for 2022.
10. “Careerism” by Apoorva Tadepalli [Issue 26]
The gig economy sucks and capitalism sucks and Twitter sucks and nepotism and schmoozing suck, so it makes sense that the fiction and cultural criticism that resonate with us reflect this experience of dissatisfaction. But all this writing risks merely adding the experience of reading and writing to this long list of things that suck.
9. “Politics Without Guarantees” by Asad Haider [Issue 25]
For Stuart Hall, the yearning to recover unity and authenticity—to be the center of all phenomena, the origin and the end—was always an attempt to fix and stabilize what can never be fixed and stable. To follow through on Hall’s thought today therefore means to conceive of a political action which doesn’t rest on an already existing foundation, whether it is defined in terms of experience or identity.
8. “Practicing Acknowledgment” by Jessica Swoboda [Web-only]
We can learn a lot about why literature matters, I think, by attending to fictional characters’ affective attachments, their nonverbal modes of expression and how they dispose themselves to other characters. When I arrived at graduate school, however, my interest in such themes wasn’t encouraged.
7. “No Good Has Come” by Elisa Gonzalez [Issue 24]
In failing their encounters with the other—here the racial other—white Christians, like Ames and Boughton, fail God. It would mortify their souls, if they could really see it. I think Marilynne Robinson does see it.
6. “Elite Education” by Jonny Thakkar [Issue 25]
America will not be just any time soon; even its public education system devotes vastly greater resources to well-off children than to those from poorer backgrounds. As an individual faculty member you have no power over such matters in any case: you either play the hand you’re dealt or you quit. If you do stay, then you have to acknowledge that the sociological function of elite colleges in non-ideal America will always be to produce an unfairly privileged elite. The only question is what it means to do this well.
5. “Do Not Ask Me Who I Am” by Samuel Huneke [Web-only]
Foucault never developed a coherent theory of the state—that is, a theory that could help us tell the difference between a legitimate use of state power and an illegitimate one. While his philosophy reinterpreted state institutions from the police to the hospital to the prison as sites of power, he advocated for a political theory that would “cut off the head of the king”—as he memorably put it in The History of Sexuality.
4. “The Universe and the University” by Jennifer Frey [Issue 25]
Theology has been expelled from the university or pushed to its margins in large part because a narrow understanding of rational knowledge has deemed it outside its proper sphere of concern. But that same narrow vision, which overwhelmingly tends to prize scientific expertise and quantificational knowledge as the gold standard, has pushed philosophy to the margins as well.
3. “Why Am I Being Hurt?” by Agnes Callard [Web-only]
Venting and protesting are sophisticated permutations of something that is simpler, more direct and nonrhetorical. Originally, a complaint is a question.
2. “Beyond the Guilt Tax” by Sumana Roy [Web-only]
Postcolonial texts seem to have two jobs in these syllabi: they either negatively illustrate some form of moral or social misconduct, or they positively represent a “marginalized” culture or geography. Ideally, they do both at once, often in the manner of a Live Aid concert.
1. “The Other Woman” by Agnes Callard [Web-only]
Jealousy desires the love intended for and directed at another, the very love one can be assured of never securing. Jealousy hungers after this desire impossibly, unattainably, unsatisfiably. Like all that is truly erotic, it quests for what cannot be had. Jealousy is a positive emotion. Jealousy is a form of lust.
Art credit: Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels