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Book DetailsISBN: 9781925355604
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Book Review: Argonauts by Maggie Nelson - Reviewed by CloggieA (09 Apr 2016)
“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. 3 stars
Maggie Nelson is a poet, a critic, and the author of several nonfiction books, including The Red Parts, 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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