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The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
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The Argonauts (2015)

by Maggie Nelson

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It's hard for me to express why this book doesn't get a higher rating from me (2.5 stars might be more accurate, really, but I try not to err on the side of generosity on this site). There's definitely lots to like about it. The idea of "autotheory" appeals to me, discussions of how to avoid labels and categories (imposed from heteronmative society, queer communities, or academia, all) are always A Good Thing, and I'd seen a few quotations from it out of context which I deeply enjoyed. It might be that it borrows so much from Barthes, who I was reading at the same time, and whose language and theory are just so beautiful that it fell short in comparison. It might be that I disliked that opening paragraph, which seemed like an unecessary attempt at transgressivness that missed the mark for me, and somehow missed the tone of the rest of the text that followed. It could be that I expected it to be a new favourite, and then it just wasn't, and having disappointed expectations can be so much worse than having no expectations.

I think it's a good book, but it wasn't the book for me. ( )
  likecymbeline | Apr 1, 2017 |
A memoir that seamlessly blends personal history, social criticism, and critical theory. A captivating reflection on sexuality, love art, and motherhood that contains pointed observations on gender, sexism, and the powers of art and human intimacy to save our lives, if not our society. One of the best memoirs I have read in years. ( )
1 vote poetontheone | Jan 27, 2017 |
Nelson is clearly brilliant. I give it five stars for that. But I have a deep, abiding dispassion for critical theory and all its jargon. If I was rating this book on that dislike alone, I give it three stars. Stubbornly, I read the whole thing. So I'll give it four stars for keeping me going until the end. ( )
1 vote beckyrenner | Dec 29, 2016 |
I did not love this, and I had hoped I would. This is my first Nelson, and I'd heard such good things, both about the book and about her. But this fell flat to me. There are some nice moments -- for example, Nelson's realization that she is producing breast milk just before her son's birth -- but in general Nelson came across to me as both too self-absorbed and a bit too impressed with herself. Her relationship with Harry Dodge remains shadowy throughout the book -- maybe this is due to Dodge's own excisions, but it's still problematic.

I am not a theory person. I like concrete events and specific descriptions and this book is heavy on theory and light on particulars. ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
The Argonauts is an extended personal essay by Maggie Nelson about her relationship with a gender fluid trans man, their marriage, the family they form and her experience with pregnancy and motherhood. Nelson examines what it's like to be transgressive and queer and yet be living a traditional life, thinking through aspects of her life with ample references to queer thinkers, arguing and agreeing with what they have said.

Structured without chapters, but organized into short segments of thought, The Argonauts reminded me of the novel Department of Speculation, in structure and subject. The structure worked well for me, as much of the issues she addressed were either well outside of my comfort zone or familiar subjects approached from an angle I'd never viewed them from before. This was not a work written for me, someone largely unfamiliar with what life is like for those who fall outside of what is considered the norm in sexual and gender orientation, and her habit of referring to the people she's responding to solely by their surnames often left me stranded. But much of what Nelson describes is familiar to me, as she discusses her pregnancy and people's reaction to her pregnancy, as well as her experience of being a mother.

This is a meaty book, with much packed into a few pages, but what I have taken away from The Argonauts is the impossibility of a single person being a representative of the queer community, as there is such a wide range of lived experience and ways of living their lives, and the sheer universality and uniqueness of each person's experience with motherhood. This is an thought-provoking book and while much of it was inaccessible to me without a lot of research on my part, I nonetheless learned a great deal. ( )
2 vote RidgewayGirl | Oct 22, 2016 |
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October, 2007. The Santa Ana winds are shredding the bark off the eucalyptus tree in long white stripes.
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