QueeReads: The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

After reading this, I felt as if had lost faith in the usefulness of words, but also felt an impending surge of verbosity.

Welcome to Queer Reads, our monthly review of the queer books I’ve been reading. I’m frequently asked about books that feature LGBTQA+ protagonists, themes, or authors so I’m here to share what I’ve found and what I thought. If you have a suggestion for future #QueeReads, please reach out!

Okay. Y’all know I read a lot of queer lit. I read it for the historical context, for the personal connections, for the stories of triumph and tragedy, for the critique and for the multitude of perspectives. Recently, I read a selection of LGBTQ+ memoirs for my final MA exam. When pitching my categories, my professor suggested The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson.

Nelson’s acclaimed prose-poetry work Bluets and her poetic recounting of her aunt’s murder Jane have been on my library list for awhile, so I was excited to jump into this book. The Argonauts is a short memoir in which Nelson reflects on the period of time where her partner transitioned their gender while she was pregnant simultaneously. It recounts her experiences and musings as they undergone was she describes a “queering of their bodies.”

On the surface, it may have seemed as though your body was becoming more and more “male,” mine, more and more “female.” […] On the inside, we were two human animals undergoing transformations beside each other, bearing each other loose witness. In other words, we were aging.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

What makes The Argonauts standout in the category of Queer Lit is the explosively explorative quality of the resulting work. Nelson stretches and redraws the lines of the memoir format to make space for her “nonconventional” story. She weaves together memories of her burgeoning relationship, stanzas emanating self-doubt, and analyses of works by various parenting and gender theorists. It breaks down the general memoir formula and reworks it to her needs.

In many ways, this genre-bending is a reflection of the questions Nelson poses about how to form a queer identity within the constructed heteronormative world. Are words and labels enough? Does one take on the words of the dominant language and make space for oneself with that power? Or must you set out and pioneer new avenues, other dimensions in which you can express your identity freely? Or is there another option?

In this way, her expansion of the boundaries of memoir is an answer to her questions. Not only are the topics focussed on queerness and queering, but the structure in which these stories are explored are also queer, pioneering and similarly undefinable.

The Short Review:

The Argonauts

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have lost complete faith in the usefulness of words, but also feel an impending surge of verbosity.

In the simplest terms, The Argonauts is a memoir in which Nelson describes her relationship with her partner as they undergo a gender transition while she simultaneously is pregnant with their child. This genre-bending memoir is not for all readers—the nonlinear narrative is thickly woven with gender theory, art history, and recollections of identity formation throughout Nelson’s life. As someone that is reading my way through the Queer Lit shelves, this is a beautiful necessity.

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