Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

I feel subsumed by The Argonauts. It has been a long, long while since I have felt this dizzying sense of expansion at the reading of a piece of text.

Nelson’s discourse is everything that resonates with me—unifying instead of divisive, inclusive rather than exclusive, nuanced, and willing to go beyond the widely-held rhetoric. It’s so, so thoughtful.

I’m so glad that I listened to the voice inside me that insisted that I put The Argonauts on hold despite leaving Bluets at the 20% mark twice.

I feel about The Argonauts the way I feel about poetry—not yet ready to write about it but filled with this desire to simply share the pieces that speak to me.

And so that’s what I’m going to do here. Simply share some of the pieces of The Argonauts that have stood out for me so far (I’m halfway through).

Many feminists have argued for the decline of the domestic as a separate, inherently female sphere and the vindication of domesticity as an ethic, an affect, an aesthetic, and a public. I’m not sure what this vindication would mean, exactly, though I think in my book I was angling for something of the same.

~ Bolded part courtesy Susan Fraiman

What if where I am is what I need? Before you, I had always thought of this mantra as a means of making peace with a bummer or even catastrophic situation. I never imagined it might apply to joy, too.

~ Bolded part courtesy Deborah Hay

In other words, she wanted it both ways. There is much to be learned from wanting something both ways.

As someone who’s been thinking more and more of motherhood—that is to say I’m becoming more and more sure that I WANT to be one, I loved reading the part below, especially as I have wondered about this as well:

Winnicott acknowledges that the demands of ordinary devotion can be frightening for some mothers, who worry that giving themselves over to it will “turn them into a vegetable.” Poet Alice Notley raises the stakes: “he is born and I am undone—feel as if I will / never be, was never born. // Two years later I obliterate myself again / having another child . . . for two years, there’s no me here.”

I have never felt that way, but I’m an old mom. I had nearly four decades to become myself before experimenting with my obliteration.

Then there’s this which is by William James:

We ought to say a feeling of and, a feeling of if, a feeling of but, and a feeling of by, quite as readily as we say a feeling of blue or a feeling of cold.

YES! YES! YES!

It’s the binary of normative/transgressive that’s unstable, along with the demand that anyone live a life that’s all one thing.

And then this, tucked in, amidst everything else:

We bantered good-naturedly, yet somehow allowed ourselves to get polarized into a needless binary. That’s what we both hate about fiction, or at least crappy fiction—it purports to provide occasions for thinking through complex issues, but really it has predetermined the positions, stuffed a narrative full of false choices, and hooked you on them, rendering you less able to see out, to get out.

6 thoughts on “Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

  1. Wow – just – wow.
    Especially those last two quotes.
    Although I have read VERY mixed reviews about this; so when, (if), you do decide to write about it – I shall be very interested to see what you think!

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    • I think I might re-read it. I pretty much inhaled it this first time around. So will wait and see what, if any, thoughts develop around this!

      Also, this reminds me, I’ve become more and more bearish about reading reviews of books that I think I want to read. . . reading the reviews, almost always diminishes my reading experience, I am finding.

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  2. I’ve seen this book cover around but don’t think I looked into what it was about – I really like the quotes you’ve shared here. Seems like a book to check out.

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