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The Argonauts

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  30,379 ratings  ·  2,974 reviews
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
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published May 5th 2015 by Graywolf Press
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Average rating 4.02  · 
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 ·  30,379 ratings  ·  2,974 reviews

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Mar 17, 2017 rated it liked it
this is the opening paragraph of the book:

October, 2007. The Santa Ana winds are shredding the bark off the eucalyptus trees in long white stripes. A friend and I risk the widowmakers by having lunch outside, during which she suggests I tattoo the words HARD TO GET across my knuckles, as a reminder of this pose’s possible fruits. Instead the words I love you come tumbling out of my mouth in an incantation the first time you fuck me in the ass, my face smashed against the cement floor of your dan
Julie Ehlers
When I was in my early twenties and just out of school, I was lucky enough to get a job as a production/copy editor for a smallish academic press. My women's studies minor was enough to get me put in charge of the women's studies and LGBT studies offerings, and over the years I copyedited probably thousands of journal articles and book manuscripts on these topics. It was a wonderful education in many ways. At the time, marriage for same-sex couples was a distant dream, and I was a witness, in th ...more
May 05, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
Here's what I liked: I liked the way Nelson writes about motherhood. Honest, unashamed, full of a joy with a hugeness to it. I've read some great writing on motherhood published recently (see: Eula Biss' On Immunity) and I deeply appreciate this work, as someone for whom the desire to birth and parent a child is very alien. I have been at times a little bratty in my attitudes towards those who chose to parent, so work that is critical of that attitude and helps demystify parenting feels invaluab ...more
Amalia Gkavea
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Amalia by: Rachel
‘’You’ve punctured my solitude, I told you.’’

I feel as if I’m treading on thin ice with this one, because in all honesty, this is a book that one has to read in order to understand. I feel that Nelson has exposed her soul to us, sharing thoughts and experiences that many of us would find unlikely to confess even to ourselves. How can we, as simple readers who haven’t even experienced 10% of what she has been through, write a text saying ‘’this is good’’ or ‘’this is bad’’? Speaking for myself,
Lucy Langford
Jul 03, 2018 rated it did not like it

“You pass as a guy; I, as pregnant. Our waiter cheerfully tells us about his family, expresses delight in ours. On the surface, it may have seemed as though your body was becoming more and more “male,” mine, more and more “female.” But that’s not how it felt on the inside. On the inside, we were two human animals undergoing transformations beside each other, bearing each other loose witness. In other words, we were aging.”

This book explores Maggie Nelson's relationship with Harry Dodge, who is f
Adam Dalva
Jun 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Really sharp, lovely synthesis of emotional memoir and critical theory, reminiscent of a more outrageous version of Barthes and formatted in a canny way that allows your eyes to fly down the page even as you're taking in some relatively heavy-hitting quotations. The overall theme of the Argo as a metaphor for a relationship (parts keep on changing, but the boat's identity remains the same) is brilliant and her self-described queer relationship with Harry Dodge is depicted movingly. There's one s ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes

'The Argonauts' is about gender, pregnancy, and other things. The name 'Argonaut' is borrowed from a book passage in Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. It refers to a boat, and the answer is if you replace every particle of the boat, it is still the same boat called Argonaut, and how that compares to saying "I love you" to a person, renewing the meaning by each use, "the very task of love and of language is to give to one and the same phrase inflections which will be forever new." The author
Feb 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.

Mixing memoir and cultural history, Nelson uproots conventional notions of genre and form in The Argonauts, supplanting them with her radical interest in creating art without a center. The short book quickly branches off from the writer's initial focus on her romance with her life partner, trans artist Harry Dodge, and it sprawls in many different directions. Nelson touches upon the ethics of feminist art; the diffi
The Argonauts opens with Maggie Nelson getting fucked in the ass and thinking about Wittgenstein, and I was like, whoa whoa whoa – you can't write about this stuff in a world where The Surrender by Toni Bentley already exists. Trying to write another book about anal sex and its implications for European philosophy would be futile – like trying to write another novel about a day in the life of Dublin.

This isn't that kind of book, it turns out. Opening paragraph aside – and despite the surprisingl
(4.5) The opening paragraph is so sexually explicit that I nearly dropped the book (this is something I’ve struggled with in Nelson’s other books too). Thank goodness I kept going, as this is an exquisite interrogation of gender identity and an invaluable reminder that the supposed complications of making a queer family just boil down to your basic human experiences of birth, love and death.

Like Bluets, this is often composed of disparate paragraphs and quotations from cultural theorists. I defi
lark benobi
this book cracked me open like a walnut. One of those messy walnuts where the nut ends up shattered to pieces in your hand. While reading I was frequently on a vertiginous edge close to weeping, not really from any feeling with a name, just from all the feeling that was going on as I read. Part of it was a feeling of recognition. A feeling that comes from having a very long conversation with someone who expresses what you thought were your most private thoughts, who puts into words what didn't h ...more
Rae Meadows
Feb 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Many GR friends have written incredibly thoughtful reviews of this book. I wanted to love it. I liked it a lot. (I love that it was a bestseller and that many people have read it. Progress!) Nelson is a beautiful writer. The Argonauts is a mosaic of theory, self-examination, and an investigation on the limits of language, the possibilities of love, and the uncompromising belief in fluidity in identity, gender, family. "An endless becoming" is a repeated motif, and the overarching metaphor of the ...more
3.5 stars

Serious props to Maggie Nelson for breaking free from the binaries that plague contemporary life. Female vs. male, gay vs. straight, assimiliationist vs. revolutionary - Nelson deconstructs all of these restrictive categories and argues for a richer, more nuanced way of being. My favorite part of The Argonauts centers on how Nelson describes love as an evolving process, one that we must renew and revitalize every single day. In addition to discussing theory, she incorporates details fro
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I picked this book up because Carrie Brownstein mentioned reading and loving it in the Q&A to her most recent audiobook, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. It is hard to explain what this book is but I will try - it is simultaneously an academic exploration of current (and seminal) works on gender, identity, love, dependence; written in a way where sources are listed by author names along the margins of the pages and the direct quotations are only indicated with italics (although sometimes she uses ...more
David Schaafsma
May 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: gn-glbt
This is my fourth book by Maggie Nelson, and she is a good and entertaining and provocative writer. I read her books about the murder of her aunt in Ann Arbor because I recalled that serial killer story from that time when I lived in Michigan, and "enjoyed' her take on the scene. She's unpredictable, "genre-bending," as her publisher says, and is never boring, though she is by now predictably unpredictable. The first paragraph either invites or repels, as she discusses anal sex with her partner, ...more
Vincent Scarpa
Nov 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
To absolutely no one's surprise, Maggie Nelson has delivered yet another exceptional and essential book. It's a middle finger to identity politics, a desperate call to re-evaluate that which we understand as "radical," and an incredibly moving memoir about motherhood, navigating queerness, and partnership. Of course, it's also a million other things, too.
Emily B
This is in no way an easy read. It requires a lot of concentration and brain power. I often felt like I wasn’t understanding much at all.
However at the same time I found it uniquely fascinating, particularly it’s honesty. Which means it’s hard for me to rate but I decided on 3 stars.
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My expectations for this were very high, perhaps unrealistically so, and I couldn't help being a little disappointed, though the book is well worth reading. My problems perhaps stemmed from my lack of interest in academic writing - for me Nelson's account would have been stronger had she stuck to the personal rather than adding all the cultural and political baggage - but I suspect I am far from her intended audience!

Since this book is widely loved, I'll leave the detailed discussion for those w
Michael Meeuwis
Jun 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
All kinds of people that I know--people who I can unfeignedly say are smarter than I am--really liked this. And it's going to be one of the most-taught novels of these next ten years; I didn't really like it, and *I* want to use it in the classroom. But for my purposes, I found this pretty tepid. The writer sort of takes usual-suspect theorists off the shelf--Winnicott via Bechdel, Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick--and name-checks their theories; these bits felt oddly uncerebral. A lot of the energy ...more
Reread. Essential.
Apr 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
My review that ran in the Chicago Tribune:

"The Argonauts" is Maggie Nelson's ninth book, and it's a crowded field, but it may be her best yet. Her faculty page at CalArts — where she is a professor who lists her teaching interests as "poetics; non-fiction" — identifies these nine as "five books of nonfiction and four books of poetry." But one of the most appealing qualities of Nelson's body of work is how it consistently defies straightforward categorization, blending genres and approaches to
May 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I don't know why it's taken me this long to read Maggie Nelson, but I was starting to worry that The Argonauts couldn't possibly live up to its extensive hype. I was also skeptical when this memoir quite literally opened with a paragraph about anal sex - I think I sighed and thought 'oh, this is going to be one of those books.' I feel like this is a category of book that both novels and memoirs can fall into: the ones that think sex is this shocking, scandalous thing, that want to prove to their ...more
Viv JM
I am not sure I can articulate how much I loved this short book. A cross between a memoir and an extended essay, Maggie Nelson tackles themes of identity, gender, love, death, birth and more. Nelson is engaging, funny and has a wonderfully poetic way with words. Her writing is brave and uncompromising and really quite beautiful.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by the author herself. Normally I steer clear of author-narrated audiobooks but in this case it was perfect. I loved Nelson's voice
I'm not going to lie, I really struggled to get into The Argonauts. The topics that Maggie Nelson covers in this book - gender fluidity, transitioning, motherhood, sexuality, feminism, etc. - are all fascinating to me, and topics that I desperately wanted to read more about, particularly in the form of a memoir of Nelson's own life, pregnancy, and relationship with Harry Dodge. However, her writing style was unlike anything I'd ever read in a memoir-style book, and it threw me a fair bit.

Feb 17, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5, rounded down.

Although I fared better with this book than Nelson's earlier Bluets, I only really enjoyed the 2/3rds that stuck to her own story and her relationship with her FTM partner. The other third, in which she remembers that she is a theorist and critic, and starts dissecting the likes of Kristeva and Sedgwick, generally flew right over my head. :-(

I realize that Nelson is considered a 'collagist', but I didn't think her hodge-podge structure did her any favors either, and it seemed d
Apr 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Interesting memoir about love, motherhood and modern forms of families among other things.

The writing style is crisp and fresh, though laden with various philosophers and theorists; that's where Maggie lost me.

Her relationship with her partner and how it's was an intrusive peak into their life and home.

The book felt very now and happening, modern and raw. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in feminism, sexuality , psychology, and love.
When I first tried to read it some time last year, this book really frustrated me. I decided to pick it up again last week and now that I've given it a second try, I can safely say that it has taught me a lot about the ways in which I've changed as a reader in the past year — and the ways in which I haven't. What made me put it aside last time — its fragmentary narration, how fluidly and quickly Maggie Nelson shifts between the personal and the theoretical, how sexually explicit it is at t
Jan 30, 2019 rated it did not like it
The Argonauts has been touted as “genre-bending” nonfiction, but honestly, it just felt like a lengthy college essay that had no idea what it wanted to be. I found it incredibly inaccessible. The opening paragraph was so utterly pretentious that I almost bailed 10 seconds in. Since it’s short, I sped up the unemotional, robotic audio and continued. I didn’t like the writing nor style, which tremendously hindered my ability to reap any connection - not even the motherhood bits - with Nelson. Thou ...more
Rebecca Renner
Jul 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Nelson is clearly brilliant. I give it five stars for that. But I have a deep, abiding dispassion for critical theory and all its jargon. If I was rating this book on that dislike alone, I give it three stars. Stubbornly, I read the whole thing. So I'll give it four stars for keeping me going until the end.
This is the first book by Maggie Nelson I've read. In fact, I don't know that I'd heard of her before everyone started waving their arms about the incredibleness of this book, so I didn't really know what to expect when I went into this.

There's so much to enjoy about this slim, tidy book. I liked the format, though also felt it was a bit too forced, too intentional, too purposefully different. Nelson wrote beautifully from time to time, but I didn't find it consistent throughout. She also discus
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Maggie Nelson is the author of nine books of poetry and prose, many of which have become cult classics defying categorization. Her nonfiction titles include the National Book Critics Circle Award winner and New York Times bestseller The Argonauts (Graywolf Press, 2015), The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning (Norton, 2011; a New York Times Notable Book of the Year), Bluets (Wave Books, 2009; named by Boo ...more

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And just like that, the year is almost over! But it's not quite time to stop adding books to your 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge. There's...
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“Empirically speaking, we are made of star stuff. Why aren’t we talking more about that?” 161 likes
“A day or two after my love pronouncement, now feral with vulnerability, I sent you the passage from Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes in which Barthes describes how the subject who utters the phrase “I love you” is like “the Argonaut renewing his ship during its voyage without changing its name.” Just as the Argo’s parts may be replaced over time but the boat is still called the Argo, whenever the lover utters the phrase “I love you,” its meaning must be renewed by each use, as “the very task of love and of language is to give to one and the same phrase inflections which will be forever new.” 94 likes
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