As this benighted year comes to a close, here are ten of our most popular essays from 2020, covering vegetal collaboration and generative non-fertility, queer memoir and urban ennui, along with reportage from the British Virgin Islands, East Africa, Japan and the Chinese–Indian border.
‘The slutty ingenuity of vegetables when it comes to desire and reproductive methods is a marvel that makes a mockery of conservative ideas of the natural. If a hack to proliferate or hybridise is possible, plants will invent it.’
Rebecca May Johnson on negotiating the interspecies politics of allotment culture.
‘Folklorists say oral tradition requires variation and interpretation, that we must alter the story to match the need of our times.’
Anna Badkhen was researching Eden – the origins of humanity in the Afar Triangle of East Africa – when coronavirus broke out across the world.
‘The illogicality of shell companies is a result of the fact that they emerged from an illogical system in which globalisation is incomplete: money can go anywhere, but laws cannot.’
Oliver Bullough on one of Britain’s most contested, confusing and consequential outposts: the British Virgin Islands.
‘You broke protocol, my mother mouths, rocking back and forth on the bed . . . She thinks that I have brought white wrath upon my family, and now I will be castigated wherever I go.’
Ariel Saramandi on race in Mauritius.
‘It might take only one soldier being shot across the Chinese–Indian border for war to begin. The howitzers, tanks, missiles and fighter jets are lined up, ready and waiting for action.’
Samrat Choudhury on India and China’s disputed Himalayan border.
‘Is there any way of writing about happiness, queer or otherwise, that isn’t just obnoxious? Or boring? Is there any way of speaking about happiness that isn’t just a way of saying: “I’ve survived, why couldn’t you?”’
Kevin Brazil on how queer people tell stories about themselves.
‘The City of the city is jagged and spiky, tangled, twisted – burned down, paved over, rebuilt, unruly with wealth and poverty side by side, as they have always been.’
Emily LaBarge on London, art and the plague.
‘Mushrooms sprout from the bathtub grout; disintegrating apples overflow from the trash can. Insects circle. The decomposition is lively and sensorially overwhelming.’
Elvia Wilk draws on Anne Carson, Sappho, Walt Whitman, Paul Preciado, Audrey Wollen and Jenny Hval to explore generative intoxication.
‘In his suit, with his pigtail and his montera, he was pure potential: he could be masculine vanquisher or gold-embroidered fairy. He was both, actually, at all times, and nobody who came to see him fight thought any less of him for it.’
Rebekah Frumkin on fame, queer identity and Ernest Hemingway.
‘It’s hard to imagine a country where a lockdown would function perfectly, but in the case of Japan, which lacks basic individualism, the current situation has bred insidious hatred and division.’
Mieko Kawakami on our capacity to forget amid disasters and social segregation. Translated from the Japanese by Hitomi Yoshio.
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