Questions for Maggie Nelson **UPDATED BY EMMA WITH THE Q&A ANSWERS** > Likes and Comments

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message 1: by Luke (new)

Luke Hello everyone,

Please post your questions for Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts, here. Maggie has kindly agreed to answer some of the club's questions! We'll post her responses in this thread at the end of the month.

Thank you,
Luke x


message 2: by Emma (new)

Emma T. Clement Yay! This is a great opportunity :) I really liked this book!

Why did you choose to address the reader in places, when the book seemed (to me) structured like a long, overflowing, open letter to Harry?

Do you have any advice for readers of this book that aren't very familiar of the different bits of theory and philosophy throughout the book?


message 3: by Clayre (new)

Clayre Benzadon Hi Maggie!

Thank you so much for such an incredible opportunity and amazing book. I'm an undergraduate and for my class titled "The Art of Flirtation", this one of the books we were assigned. I was just curious to know, how did you decide on the structure of the book? This was one of the biggest themes we touched upon, besides the diverse, unable-to-be-completely-defined term "queer".

Thanks again!
Clayre


message 4: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Brady Hi Maggie,

I suspect I know the answer to this question having puzzled it out, but regardless, in the margins are names besides certain entries so am wondering why. Are they in reference to a quote from that person?

Thanks in advance.
Nan


message 5: by Katie (new)

Katie Hi Maggie,

I just recently read your book (which I thoroughly enjoyed!) for my theory class, and I actually ended up writing my final paper on it. The aim of the paper was to relate it to some of our other readings and I came across a quote by Mel Y. Chen about the "threatening terrain" of the biographical. I guess I'm just wondering whether you relate to this statement in anyway, or if it was less threatening, and perhaps more comforting?

Thanks!
Katie


message 6: by Mariana (new)

Mariana Elkins Hi Maggie,
I was wondering why you chose to include so many quotes? You have such a unique experience. Yet you chose to quote others to explain your extraordinary point of view. It's not a criticism, I now have a list of other books and writers I'd like to explore. Was this your intent?


message 7: by Krynne (new)

Krynne Khrønic Hello Maggie!

You wrote a wonderful book, and I have benefited greatly from reading it. I just finished, but am planning to reread it before starting the groups June book. I do have a few questions:

1. Why did you write your book in the form that you did? What was the process that you set forth when organizing notes and ideas about the book?

2. Do you have other recommended reading for people that are interested in the theory and philosophy of the ideas that were brought up in the book?

3. To help better myself as an Ally, what are terms, pronouns, and mannerisms that I should adopt into my everyday terminology? With Gender Fluidity becoming more prevalent in society, I would hate to offend someone due to lack of knowledge.

4. To bounce off #3, in what ways can I get involved in helping ensure equality for all?

5. Have you received any negative feedback in naming your son Igasho? I personally love the choice, and the reasoning behind the name pick.


message 8: by Madeleine (new)

Madeleine Hi Maggie! I first heard your book described as "Auto-theory," a unique mesh of autobiography and theoretical musings. How did you find these supportive theoretical voices and what were your criteria for deciding which ones to include?

Also, from a narrative perspective, you sometimes use the quotations to redirect the prose or introduce a new concept. Was this intentional? And did you write 'around' these quotes or insert them afterwards?

I think the most unexpected part of the book was the juxtaposition of individuality with the importance of self-awareness and care of others. You expressed this subtlety and beautifully. Thank you for sharing this thought-provoking, personal work with us!

Madeleine


message 9: by Ross (new)

Ross Hi Maggie, Could modern trends in Gender fluidity really a sign of Identity fluidly The modern world allows for people to have many identities and even to have theirs stolen.

Do you think separation of person and identity his is a factor in the increasing number of people with Gender dysphoria issues or a result of it as an extension of what identity actually means now.


message 10: by MeerderWörter (new)

MeerderWörter Thank you for the opportunity!

I have the following two questions: Do you (or Harry) think that the percentage of people defining themselves as gender-fluid or non-cisgender in general is higher among intersex folks?

And did you discover the issue of gender-fluidity before or did Harry teach you all about it?


message 11: by Melle (new)

Melle Hey Maggie!

Thoroughly enjoyed the book. I was wondering, as a writer, at what point do you consider literary exhibitionism to be alienating to your audience?


message 12: by Nisa (new)

Nisa Hello Maggie!

First of all - thank you so much for answering some of our questions!

During my exchange year where I studied at a British university, I met "my first" gender-fluid person. I feel that gender-fluidity is still something rather uncommon here in Germany, so reading about you and your personal experiences was very enlightening.

You wrote: "[...] because the words are not good enough. How can the words not be good enough?", which leads me to my questions:

1) Should we create a new pronoun in order to talk about a gender-fluid person?

2) Do you believe that in the future we will get rid of "he" and "she" and instead have a new, collective pronoun to use for everyone, regardless their gender?


message 13: by louise (new)

louise reads Hi Maggie,

Thank you for answering our questions!

The fluid and unbroken nature of the text was really refreshing to me - that it was clearly broken up, new topics were introduced, etc. but it wasn't clearly formatted and delineated to the point of chapters and headings.

I felt that it really added to the narrative and, to my mind, mimicked the sort of ongoing autobiographical style of evaluation you gave us - constantly rethinking and reshaping and questioning, nothing ever wholly complete, and words not enough, an ongoing stream of consciousness.

I was wondering if you had any particular reasoning behind this choice of formatting? And whether or not you thought of your life in chapters in the linear sense, or as more of a cohesive whole?

Thank you again,

Louise


message 14: by Kressel (new)

Kressel Housman Dear Maggie,

First of all, I want to say that The Argonauts is not the first of your books that I've read. Two years ago, I read Should I Go to Grad School?, to which you were a contributor. Do you realize that out of the 41 contributors, you are the only one who invited readers to drop you an email? I so appreciate that, even though I haven't yet emailed you about grad school.

My question for you now is regarding your format for this book and the quotes. Were you influenced by David Shields' Reality Hunger? If so, I think I like your method even better than his. It's more seamless.


message 15: by Theresa (new)

Theresa Thank you for offering to read and answer some of our questions. It is incredibly generous.

What resonated with me most in The Argonauts was the negotiation of public self, private self, lover, and parent. You touched on relational transactions in Bluets, but the stakes were much higher in The Argonauts. In both books, finding ways to move through all of these roles and the challenges faced were enhanced by the collage-like writing structure. I felt it was extremely effective and I related to its frenetic quality of finding parallels in extreme personal narratives and theory.

Do you think that the natural progression of losing and finding oneself in relational roles is what drives your creative practice? And when writing do you feel that you are answering questions, or posing more to be examined over a lifetime?

Thank you for your time.


message 16: by Rose (new)

Rose Really loved this book, and really looking forward to reading it periodically for… ever.

Two questions: You position “homosexuality as a choice” as a somewhat modern phenomenon, but I think it also exists in the willful pursuit of subversion/fringe that could be seen as the “old” way. We shouldn't need to simplify the conversation into “I can't change” - or to apologize, for anything - to attain acceptance. But we clearly are doing both. Is this compromise, made by “unthinkingly neoliberal” young queers like myself, ultimately worth it? (I think it is.)

I was very compelled by the commentary on “the tired binary that places femininity, reproduction, and normativity on one side and masculinity, sexuality, and queer resistance on the other.” I've always thought that the mainstream gay movement alienates women, but never framed it in those exact words. How do you think this happened? How do you think assimilation will affect this dynamic (will more women identify as queer as queer resistance fades into normativity?)


message 17: by Sophie (new)

Sophie Thank you for your thought-provoking book. My question deals with language:

How is language a barrier in the whole issue with gender identification? For example, in Finnish, apparently there are no gender-specific personal pronouns. Does the English language's insistence on saying 'he' or 'she' create part of the problem? Will it be less of an issue if language is adjusted or added to? How much does language form us?


message 18: by Danny (new)

Danny Rubio i thank the author for writing an account of liberty and tyranny. of the influence of the immediate as to the drives away from futurity of the person of care of the audience, of the establishment of limits across the memoir as a survivor of the trauma; the encroaching horizon, the loss of the horizon of phenomenality of eons of small insular tribal populations unbeknownst and uncrossing language, and the ocular/static-dynamic genesis of dangers brought to fore as evidenced by the delay and suspension brought up to the character of the italicized conclusions, and thank the author for the strengths to conclude the text with the remainders in place to make it possible for me to pick it up rather easily at hucklebee's in willowglen, cheers, from danny rubio, thank you


message 19: by Slutty Book Club (new)

Slutty Book Club We loved The Argonauts so much. We have to ask, do you keep a diary?!


message 20: by Francine (new)

Francine Hi, Maggie!

First of all, thank you so much for this wonderful book and for answering our questions.

I was very intrigued by your discussion with Harry about X-Men: First Class and the idea of assimilation vs. revolution. You write that: "That's what we both hate about 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." I can appreciate that there is a tendency towards binary divisions in ideology within fiction in general and that this is not always helpful in opening people's minds to different ways of thinking, but I also think fiction that touches upon these issues and brings them to the attention of children, youths, adults, everybody, in any shape or form is progress. Fiction - and perhaps especially the comic book/graphic novel format and their respective franchises - can have such a powerful grip on people's imaginations and force them to submerge themselves in a different reality to their own that it can be a very effective tool in teaching understanding, compassion, acceptance. How do you think fiction needs to develop and progress in order to become more useful and efficient in our battle for understanding and acceptance of gender and sexual differences? How would you have framed the central ideological debate in X-Men: First Class in order escape this trap of predetermination you criticise?

Thank you!

Francine


message 21: by Emma (new)

Emma Watson Answers from Maggie !!!

Questions from Emma:
Why did you choose to address the reader in places, when the book seemed (to me) structured like a long, overflowing, open letter to Harry?
The play with the second person is something I’ve been interested for some time, probably as a holdover from my life as a poet; my 2009 book Bluets has a similar swing between an address to the reader and an address to a beloved. In the case of The Argonauts, while the book is in part, or at times, an address to Harry, as you say, it’s also many other things—cultural critique, personal testimony, art writing, theoretical inquiry, and so on. Given this shifting, just as it made sense to me to have the “you” sometimes be Harry and sometimes be the reader, Harry is often addressed in the third person as well as the second.
Do you have any advice for readers of this book that aren't very familiar of the different bits of theory and philosophy throughout the book?
Just roll with it, and let curiosity trump any feelings of insecurity or irritation that may arise in the face of the unfamiliar. Sometimes, when people aren’t familiar with a reference, they jump to the conclusion that the writer is trying to show how smart she is, to namedrop just for the sake of it. I don’t deny the existence of the pretentious namedropper, and if anyone wants to read my work that way, that’s totally their prerogative; not all work is for everyone. But I think it’s important to understand that there exist types of writing in the world which explicitly aim to reflect the writer’s engagement in a conversation or tradition of ideas which really matter to her, and that there can be great benefit in approaching a reference-heavy text as a treasure trove rather than an alienating force. I read above my paygrade all the time—in fact, I’m often bored when I’m not. Because once one gets over the insecurity or befuddlement feelings, one can develop a ravenous appetite for all one doesn’t know. It’s also good to remember that one’s ability to understand a text changes over time, often in amazing ways—the best essay I know on this subject is my friend Jordana Rosenberg’s essay on reading Judith Butler’s notoriously difficult Gender Trouble over two decades. It’s called “Gender Trouble on Mother’s Day,” and can be found in the LA Review of Books. It’s a hilarious and moving and profound read.

Question from Clayre:
Thank you so much for such an incredible opportunity and amazing book. I'm an undergraduate and for my class titled "The Art of Flirtation", this one of the books we were assigned. I was just curious to know, how did you decide on the structure of the book? This was one of the biggest themes we touched upon, besides the diverse, unable-to-be-completely-defined term "queer".
Form for me is a trial and error thing. As a young poet I read an A. A. Ammons’ poem called “Poetics,” and these lines really spoke to me: “I look for the way/ things will turn/ out spiraling from a center,/ the shape/ things will take to come forth in . . . I look for the forms/ things want to come as.” This notion of “looking for the form things want to come as” has persisted with me for years now. It has always seemed the most apt description of how it feels to me, to look for form.
I love the idea of a class called “The Art of Flirtation.”
Question from Katie:

I just recently read your book (which I thoroughly enjoyed!) for my theory class, and I actually ended up writing my final paper on it. The aim of the paper was to relate it to some of our other readings and I came across a quote by Mel Y. Chen about the "threatening terrain" of the biographical. I guess I'm just wondering whether you relate to this statement in anyway, or if it was less threatening, and perhaps more comforting?
In that quotation, I believe Chen is talking about academic writing, a sphere in which, as Chen has said, one is often “trained to avoid writing in anything resembling a confessional mode.” But I’m not working in that sphere per se, so I don’t have the same ambivalence about it. I am a great lover and reader of many works in the genre of what I’d call life-writing, and I often gravitate toward work that’s willing to stage or lay bare the ways in which its own skin is in the game. But I don’t really find autobiographical writing comforting or threatening or anything more degraded or exalted than any other kind of writing. Sometimes the personal gets the job done; other times (as in my books The Art of Cruelty or Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions), it doesn’t need to play as much of a role.
Question from Theresa:
What resonated with me most in The Argonauts was the negotiation of public self, private self, lover, and parent. You touched on relational transactions in Bluets, but the stakes were much higher in The Argonauts. In both books, finding ways to move through all of these roles and the challenges faced were enhanced by the collage-like writing structure. I felt it was extremely effective and I related to its frenetic quality of finding parallels in extreme personal narratives and theory.

Do you think that the natural progression of losing and finding oneself in relational roles is what drives your creative practice? And when writing do you feel that you are answering questions, or posing more to be examined over a lifetime?
I wouldn’t say it drives my creative practice, as relationality always invokes its shadow (radical solitude, the need to think or compose alone, and so on). But relation doesn’t evaporate when we enter a “room of our own”—our bodies and minds in solitude are still made by our relations with others, often in a very literal sense (i.e. you are what you eat!). Often my writing aims to reflect this enmeshment. And definitely my preference would be to pose questions! The need for answers, not to mention the presumption that fixed certainties, no matter what their cost, are what we need to make life liveable, can be a deadly impulse.


message 22: by Emma (new)

Emma T. Clement Emma wrote: "Answers from Maggie !!!..."

Thank you so much for posting! So exciting to see my questions answered :)


message 23: by Rose (new)

Rose !!! Thank you both!

No [[]] space for the divine? That's ok.


message 24: by Ross (new)

Ross May I be controversial and say if I was an author I would have answered everyone questions :)


message 25: by Ross (new)

Ross That may have been too harsh I am not aware of all the facts sorry Maggie no sight mean passions getting the better of me.


message 26: by Rose (new)

Rose @Ross We said the same thing. Quell your passions, bro.


message 27: by Ross (new)

Ross I shall try Rose Thanks :)


message 28: by Kressel (new)

Kressel Housman My question wasn't answered either. Does that mean Emma chose to ask only some of the questions or will more questions be answered later?


message 29: by Ross (new)

Ross I am sure there was a good reason we are a sensitive bunch I am sure she knows that too.


message 30: by Kressel (new)

Kressel Housman The author gives her email address in the book Should I Go to Grad School? I haven't gotten up the guts to email her, but now that my question wasn't included, I guess it's high time I did.


message 31: by Ross (new)

Ross We don't want to be to confrontational or authors might not talk to us we don't know how much persuasion is needed. we are assuming our questions were all gold after all.

Emma and the other moderators have to strike some kind of balance I presume.


message 32: by Kressel (new)

Kressel Housman I have no intention of being confrontational! I'm going to thank her for being the only contributor to that book to invite questions, and then I'm going to ask.


message 33: by Ross (new)

Ross I was not referring to you specifically and not mean to imply you approach would be anything but tactful. Just sounding a note of caution generally.


message 34: by Ross (new)

Ross Thanks Kodak, the is exactly what I meant by we don't have all the facts and why I refuted my original statement on this I got carried away should not have been so quick to respond nor perhaps so arch.

Vanity vanity all is vanity :)


message 35: by Theresa (new)

Theresa Thank you for the time taken to reply to some of the many great questions posed in this thread. :)


message 36: by POIRIER (new)

POIRIER JEANFRANCOIS I submitted a "book" of psychiatric analyze "Nicole Kidman and Gender Inequality" (wreath attitudes and strong motivations & speeches). Can I still writing about all ambassadors ? Then it will be the turn of Mrs Mlambo.
JF POIRIER


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