Best Of 2021: Lyrical Black Ballots


As the year comes to an end, The Browser gives another look to some of the best pieces we read in 2021.

Waxing Lyrical

John Launer | British Medical Journal | 22nd June 2021

All about earwax. It is "unique in the human and mammalian body" due to its position "in our sole anatomical cul-de-sac". Impacted earwax can be debilitating and disorienting, but attracts little sympathy — it "probably lies close to the bottom of the hierarchy of suffering". It is a problem that we take to the pharmacy, rather than the doctor. "There was an intimacy to having one's ears syringed by a family doctor that has now been lost"  (1,259 words)


The Last Black Stage

Harmony Holiday | Believer | 1st June 2021

Joyous and sad, angry and lyrical, the writing ripples outwards from a literal premise that "backstage" is the best place to be at jazz and blues clubs, towards a wider argument that the sub-set of Black life performed in a mostly-white public gaze merely hints at an infinitely richer Black life going on "backstage" across America. Illustrated with cameos of John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone et al (2,800 words)


Abolish Secret Ballots

O.B. Haag-Lied | Everything Studies | 1st April 2021

The publication date should be taken into account, but, even so, a seriously interesting troll. "Today we have the frankly intolerable situation where selfish or ignorant people can vote for policies that harm others and there’s no way to hold them accountable for their actions. How is this at all fair? It has got to end. The right to vote doesn’t mean the right to vote without consequences" (1,300 words)


The Art Of Negativity

Enis Yucekoralp | Przekrój | 2nd February 2021

Against the modern cult of relentless positivity and productivity, "one of the many curses of late capitalism". "In its stress-inducing suppression and dangerous infantilism, the almost dogmatic nature of toxic positivity inhibits raw human emotion and invalidates the necessary negative feelings we all have in life." Negativity is natural, freeing, and essential for self knowledge (2,221 words)


No One Belonged Here

Bette Howland | Paris Review | 14th January 2021

Extract from a reissued memoir by the critic Bette Howland, a protégé of Saul Bellow who received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1984 and then never published another book. It chronicles her 1968 stay in a Chicago psychiatric ward after a suicide attempt and her resistance to the faux sense of "community" that served as treatment. "Anything to deny this grim, inert, collective state" (2,767 words)


Rounds Of The Prado

Antonio Muñoz Molina | Hudson Review | 1st May 2021

On the particular pleasures of walking through the Prado each day, developing an ever-deepening knowledge and love of the museum and its collection. Includes observations on Las Meninas; on the looting and destruction of masterpieces; on the relative novelty of museums as a cultural artefact; on the power and regulation of religious imagery; and on the erotic tradition in Spanish painting (11,700 words)


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