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. It binds an account of Nelson's relationship with her partner and a journey to and through a pregnancy to a rigorous exploration of sexuality, gender, and "family." An insistence on radical individual freedom and the value of caretaking becomes the rallying cry for this thoughtful, unabashed, uncompromising book.
In a fast-shifting terrain of "homonormativity," Nelson, poet and author of numerous works of gender and sexuality (The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning; Bluets), plows ahead with a disarmingly blushing work about trying to simultaneously embrace her identity, her marriage with nomadic transgender filmmaker Harry, and motherhood. She mixes a memoir of her love for Harry with clinical depictions of their attempts to get her pregnant, as well as a critical meditation on the queer craft of "becoming," investigating the ways that "new kinship systems mime older nuclear-family arrangements" and whether those older models are good, oppressive, useful, or fair. Nelson takes her title from the notion that the Argonauts could continually replace their ship's parts over time, "but the boat still called the Argo." The new waters she's sailing include learning how to be a stepparent to Harry's young son and then a mother to her newborn, no longer scorning heterosexual "breeders," and becoming much more forgiving of what she once saw as too-outrageous queer radicalism, since all including her husband, undergoing his own gender voyage via testosterone therapy and surgery have a "shared, crushing understanding of what it means to live in a patriarchy." Nelson writes in fine, fragmented exhalations, inserting quotes from numerous theorists as she goes (Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, D.W. Winnicott). Her narrative is an honest, joyous affirmation of one happily unconventional family finding itself.