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The Argonauts (2015)

by Maggie Nelson

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1,6177910,767 (4)56
Biography & Autobiography. Nonfiction. HTML:

An intrepid voyage out to the frontiers of the latest thinking about love, language, and family

Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts is a genre-bending memoir, a work of "autotheory" offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language. At its center is a romance: the story of the author's relationship with the artist Harry Dodge. This story, which includes Nelson's account of falling in love with Dodge, who is fluidly gendered, as well as her journey to and through a pregnancy, is an intimate portrayal of the complexities and joys of (queer) family-making.

Writing in the spirit of public intellectuals such as Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes, Nelson binds her personal experience to a rigorous exploration of what iconic theorists have said about sexuality, gender, and the vexed institutions of marriage and child-rearing. Nelson's insistence on radical individual freedom and the value of caretaking becomes the rallying cry of this thoughtful, unabashed, uncompromising book.

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» See also 56 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 79 (next | show all)
There are things I don't love about this (it's very white-cis-lady about racism and some trans stuff---trying hard but not all the way there and not always conscious of the ways in which she's not all the way there), but it's also a very theory-heavy book that also manages to be very poetic and very readable, which is not an easy feat. And overall I did like it and did find many valuable things in it, so. ( )
  caedocyon | Feb 13, 2024 |
Great, great, great. ( )
  RachelGMB | Dec 27, 2023 |
Christmas present from Saul. Very good and strangely relatable. I have nothing in common except so much in common. So many of the same thoughts, influences, and experiences. The exterior details differ, but on the inside I know her well, she’s practically me. A very thoughtful and tender book. The sort of book I might have written but would have worried about being too contrived. Is it contrived? A little, but it’s still good. My but don’t we all have so much to expound upon. In the vein of Sontag and Barthes. Little bits pulled together around a family: its expansions and diminutions, but ultimate steady poignant march.
  BookyMaven | Dec 6, 2023 |
I spent a few hours thinking about what I wanted to say about this book. I found it be a very moving memoir told from a perspective I didn't know much about. I truly admire this family for their bravery to make their story known and I would love to see people in the current social climate embracing stories like this.

My only criticism is the philosophical writing style. Personally I enjoyed it but I can imagine a lot of readers being turned off by it so I wonder if it's really the right fit for such important subject matter. ( )
  jskeltz | Nov 23, 2023 |
like a third through but it's like. very alien to my experience even when talking about seemingly similar stuff. like it mentions anti assimilation lgbtq ppl giving out leaflets and quotes it then complains revolutionary language is a fetish or something and that maybe instead of the word radical we should be saying openness and it's like wow this has exactly 0 to do with the issue of capitalism and related oppressive systems that the anti assimilation leaflet you quoted was talking about, how can you miss the point so badly I don't get it

I got 2/3rds through and I don't know if I'll ever finish this because I just have zero interest in it. There were lots and lots of things that bothered me:
- Real insensitivity to her partner's trans-ness, some given as examples that are presumably indicating that she's moved past it but still very uncomfortable, others in her current perspective (she uses the word "cisgendered" ffs) even while berating others as if she has a claim on her partner's experiences. A lot of what she writes about her partner is incredibly personal and it feels voyeuristic in a way past just reading her own experiences. The example that really got to me was early on when after a very personal description of her partner's feelings with binding etc she says

I just want you to feel free, I said in anger disguised as compassion, compassion disguised as anger.
Don’t you get it yet? you yelled back. I will never feel as free as you do, I will never feel as at home in the world, I will never feel as at home in my own skin. That’s just the way it is, and always will be.
Well then I feel really sorry for you, I said.
Or maybe, Fine, but don’t take me down with you.


Unlike a later recounting of a time when she objected to them going on T this is given with no sign of regret or learning. It just feels so incredibly cruel. I couldn't stop thinking about how her partner would feel about this, where there's no thought given to his feelings. It felt horrible to read.

-I couldn't relate to her places or experiences at all. I just mean stuff like her carousel of speaking engagements, art/movie/whatever attendances, having all these art friends, going to cabins and stuff with her partner or whatever. This is entirely on me it just felt so alien to me I can't imagine people living like that. I don't know

- So many vaguely connected philosophy quotes/interludes. Some were ok but again this is really on me when I say I found most of the philosophy stuff unbearably garbage. Given she's quoting that's not on her just a reflection of how I don't understand a lot of philosophical/cultural analysis/queer theory stuff. The queer theory stuff was worst to me because it felt personal that I didn't like it. I dunno. And sometimes it's cruel and completely unemphatic to young queer people eg sharing the story of a professor getting mad because young people wanted to ask people "how they identify" in a class when the professor is all about deconstructing identity - this after one of the better parts of the book where she takes the white male attack on "identitarian politics" or whatever to task for being bullshit. To be fair to her she does often make note of contradictory feelings on the stuff she shares but it still felt frustrating? I don't know. Again this is mostly on me

There was one story also that stood out to me, of being in a seminar with serious academics and one of them giving a talk on their project which was about motherhood etc and then the next speaker absolutely tearing that academic apart and saying motherhood was stupid and all the rest. And it was horrible but she doesn't mention if she speaks out - I totally understand why not but it felt like a double humiliation for the first professor to have it written down again. This is me being unfair because the rest of the book predisposed me to bad faith but idk.

The parts I was getting to about her motherhood and personal experiences with that was better but it wasn't enough to keep me interested. I don't know again this is all on me ( )
  tombomp | Oct 31, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 79 (next | show all)
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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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Biography & Autobiography. Nonfiction. HTML:

An intrepid voyage out to the frontiers of the latest thinking about love, language, and family

Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts is a genre-bending memoir, a work of "autotheory" offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language. At its center is a romance: the story of the author's relationship with the artist Harry Dodge. This story, which includes Nelson's account of falling in love with Dodge, who is fluidly gendered, as well as her journey to and through a pregnancy, is an intimate portrayal of the complexities and joys of (queer) family-making.

Writing in the spirit of public intellectuals such as Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes, Nelson binds her personal experience to a rigorous exploration of what iconic theorists have said about sexuality, gender, and the vexed institutions of marriage and child-rearing. Nelson's insistence on radical individual freedom and the value of caretaking becomes the rallying cry of this thoughtful, unabashed, uncompromising book.

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