The Argonauts: Book summary and reviews of The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

The Argonauts

by Maggie Nelson

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson X
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
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  • Published in USA  May 2015
    160 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

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, offers a firsthand account 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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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Her narrative is an honest, joyous affirmation of one happily unconventional family finding itself." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. A book that will challenge readers as much as the author has challenged herself." - Kirkus

"What a dazzlingly generous, gloriously unpredictable book! Maggie Nelson shows us what it means to be real, offering a way of thinking that is as challenging as it is liberating." - Eula Biss

"Maggie Nelson cuts through our culture's prefabricated structures of thought and feeling with an intelligence whose ferocity is ultimately in the service of love. No piety is safe, no orthodoxy, no easy irony. The scare quotes burn off like fog." - Ben Lerner

"Buoyant, Nelson soars through art and philosophy and her own experiences with reckless mastery and insurrectionary ease - a virtuosity born of deep reflection and fearless trust in what literature, at its best, can do." - Wayne Koestenbaum

"In The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson turns 'making the personal public' into a romantic, intellectual wet dream. A gorgeous book, inventive, fearless, and full of heart." - Kim Gordon

"Maggie Nelson's honesty, intelligence, humor and great writing transform what society might deem a radical, non-traditional lifestyle into the new desirable." - Annie Sprinkle

"With a fiercely vulnerable intelligence, Nelson leaves no area un-investigated, including her own heart. I know of no other book like this, and I know how crucially the culture needs it." - Michelle Tea

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Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

An unusual memoir.
“In Opie’s nursing self-portrait, she holds and beholds her son Oliver while he nurses, her Pervert scar still visible, albeit ghosted, across her chest. The ghosted scar offers a rebus of sodomitical maternity: the pervert need not die or even go into hiding per se, but nor is adult sexuality foisted upon the child, made its burden”

The Argonauts is the ninth book by American poet, art critic, lyric essayist and nonfiction author, Maggie Nelson. Described as a memoir, it is more of an opinion piece on LGBTQ issues, in particular, transgender and queer. It is told in the first person by Nelson, and addressed to her (fluidly-gendered) “husband”, artist, performer and writer Harry Dodge.

Nelson touches on a myriad of topics: gender and identity, motherhood, transgender, queer families, same-sex marriage, writing and death. The opinion pieces contain occasional gems of wisdom, but soon become somewhat preachy, tedious, and boring. Many of the people described have the luxury of indulging in first-world angst, so perhaps this is the intended reader base for this book.

Sometimes the writing is not easily accessible: the concepts are so abstract and high-brow, the sentences so convoluted as to need rereading multiple times; no reader enjoys being made to feel stupid or ignorant. Nelson assumes in the reader familiarity with certain linguists, philosophers, writers, artists, poets, psychoanalysts, and unquestionably a basic knowledge of their works, ideas and concepts would increase the appeal of the book. When she quotes the work of others, her reference appears as a name printed in the margin of the text.

What redeems this work from a lower rating is that Nelson (and sometimes Harry) shares important parts of their lives: their relationship as lovers and their wedding, Harry’s steps towards transgender, Nelson’s relationship with her stepson, Nelson’s stalker, their journey toward parenthood and the birth of their son, Iggy. Harry’s account of his mother’s passing is quite moving.

Nelson has won the 2015 New York Times Notable Book and the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award (Criticism) for The Argonauts. An unusual memoir.

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Author Information

Maggie Nelson

Maggie Nelson is a poet, critic, and nonfiction author of books such as The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning, Bluets, and Jane: A Murder. She teaches in the School of Critical Studies at CalArts and lives in Los Angeles, California.

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