The four best essays I've read so far this year

We are four months into 2021, and the number of hands-down brilliant, print-them-out-and-mark-them-up, share-them-with-your-friends-and-assign-them-to-all-future-students essays I've read this year is also four. In the order in which they were published:

–L. M. Sacasas, "The Insurrection Will Be Live Streamed: Notes Toward a Theory of Digitization," an entry in his peerless newsletter The Convivial Society. By far the best thing written about and in the wake of the Capitol Riot on January 6. Subscribe to TCS today: it's consistently unique in its sober and brilliant analysis of technology, media, culture, and the production and distribution of knowledge.

–Ian Olson, "Marcion's 'Gift,'" Mere Orthodoxy. Olson threads the needle just right in his treatment of the church's inseparability from the Jewish people and its own history of injustice toward that same people. The exegetical, theological, and rhetorical subtlety on display here is not to be missed.

–Elisa Gonzalez, "No Good Has Come," The Point. Someone finally got Marilynne Robinson right, and that someone is Elisa Gonzalez. This is heads and shoulders above any other interpretation of the Gilead tetralogy, incorporating its two irreducible major themes: on the one hand, a Calvinist perception of the world as the theater for God's glory and of human persons as souls mysteriously bearing the divine image one to another; and on the other hand, the tragedy of our opacity to each other, which manifests as escalating harms cloaked in self-deception: above all, in the United States, the still unresolved collective failure of white Christians toward black Americans. Reading Gonzalez on Robinson only established further for me the extraordinary achievement of the four Gilead books; together they constitute a singular masterpiece in moral, national, and spiritual imagination.

–Phil Christman, "How to Be White," Breaking Ground. Always be reading Christman, as a rule; now put this at the top of the list. It's the best thing I've read on race and racism how to talk about both in a long time. If you find yourself annoyed by The Discourse, not to mention the inane corporate consultant hucksters who dominate it, but nevertheless agree that there is a there there, even if our flailing attempts to name it with our shared public grammar (such as it is) routinely fail: this essay is for you.


  1. I am so tremendously honored to read you posting your approval of “Marcion’s ‘Gift’”, Brad. Thank you so much!


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