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May—The Argonauts (2016) > Theory & Philosophy

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message 1: by Bethany (new)

Bethany Fair (bfair05) I'd like to start a conversation about the various bits of theory and philosophy that Nelson analyzes in relationship to her own life. It seems that D.W. Winnicott, Roland Barthes, Lacan, Wittgenstein, and Sedgwick are the most frequently cited. While I'm familiar with the ideologies of some of these thinkers, I certainly wouldn't consider myself well versed in the particulars - so it would be great to try and figure out which theories are most prescient overall. Thoughts?

Also, I'm not sure I understand "negative gynecology" fully? Anyone have a layman's explanation?

Lastly, some thoughts about the philosophical density: Does it make the work less accessible in any way? While personally I love Roland Barthes, his theories are a bit dense and inaccessible to many readers. Does that make Nelson's analysis a bit too highfalutin? I don't think it does but I'd be interested to see what others think about the potential pitfall for seeing Nelson as an "armchair philosopher."


message 2: by Charline (new)

Charline (chaaw_) Emma wrote: "I thought the various theory and philosophy were interesting, and added another layer to the novel. I don't think I was familiar with any of these philosophers before, so this was my first exposure..."

I agree with you Emma. The fact that the bits of theory and philosophy are mixed with personal experience and testimony from Maggie Nelson makes it less complicated to assimilate as philosophy can usually be (I think). It's directly related to what she's writing about so it's concrete and clear. And it actually makes me want to discover some of the authors she mentions, like Roland Barthes (but I wanted to read his work for a long time, it just made me want it a bit more !)


message 3: by Sandy Bergeson (new)

Sandy Bergeson I agree that the book and the philosophy are interesting. I hope I am understanding it fully. Many of the ideas are totally new to me (ie boi) but it is so dense and heavy handed in many ways...kind of like reading the works of Ken Wilber that one needs a dictionary by one's side and various text books or at least wikipedia summaries. I have an MA and am comfortable with dense reading. But this is taking some work...which I don't mind...but I wonder if that will be the consensus. I so want to understand the concepts presented here. Part of joining this group is to broaden the scope of my knowledge (we don't know what we don't know.) I hope I am not missing something important while reading about Barhes and Winnicott etc. It's as if we have a multitude of books to read this month not just the one.


message 4: by Emily (last edited May 03, 2016 05:32AM) (new)

Emily (emyvrooom) | 64 comments After finishing this book last night, I think I can confidently declare I learned of so many new (to me) theorists and their philosophies/-isms, that my brain has been filled to the brim. Now, I'm at the point of trying to soak it all in, process it, file it under the proper headings and subheadings in my mind.

Personally, probably because this was my first introduction to the majority of these theories (an immersion more than an introduction, I could argue), I found the theoretical to be excessive and far too abstract, at times. I felt almost like I'd plopped down mid-semester in a graduate course and hadn't read any of the course listings before turning up. I also imagined having debates and conversations with my partner regarding the issues Nelson and Dodge discuss, and though we have thorough, deep, and educational conversations, I think my articulations and those of my partner aren't so based in the philosophical or as far... removed.

One can have an infinite number of conversations debating upon the existence or nonexistence of the chair I am sitting in, but after a time I would rather get up out of the chair and live to experience what become my lived experiences. I don't know that, with all this theory, this book got up out of its chair enough times... Maybe I would have preferred a more even divvying up of theory and memoir.

That being said, I was deeply moved and irrevocably changed for the better by this text, though I cannot put my finger on all the ways. I am moving on to another book for some leisure reading at the moment, but plan to reread it before the month is up and hopefully become less of a novice in the art of Nelson.


message 5: by Katelyn, Our Shared Shelf Moderator (new)

Katelyn (katelynrh) | 836 comments Mod
Issues relating to LGBTQ community and especially gender variance have often been centered in theoretical analysis. I think this is still the case to some extent, even as these issues reach the mainstream. Especially for older generations, it seems that one of the ways that people came to terms with these concepts was through theory and philosophy, and I imagine it's almost impossible to separate that from the memoir bits, as those ideas were probably a large part of coming to terms with everything. This compared to the fact that a large majority of millenials do not identify as straight or gay, but see themselves as somewhere in the middle, and are becoming more and more open to subverting the gender binary. So it makes sense to me that these theories and philosophers are such an integral part of Nelson's memories and thought processes.


message 6: by Sandy Bergeson (last edited May 03, 2016 11:35PM) (new)

Sandy Bergeson I have done a lot of re search and have printed out pages of explanations of some of the various philosophers she discusses. That way I can refer to it whenever she refers to them...which is a LOT!


message 7: by Thabata (new)

Thabata | 7 comments I'm exited to start this book and loving the reviews. I felt that the last book was fun but not deep enough and a little bit of theory will be surely welcome. We do need some base to develop our thought around this topic and built our ideas.


message 8: by Heather (new)

Heather McNamara (heathermcnamara) | 5 comments Bethany wrote: "I'd like to start a conversation about the various bits of theory and philosophy that Nelson analyzes in relationship to her own life. It seems that D.W. Winnicott, Roland Barthes, Lacan, Wittgenst..."

Negative gynecology, as best I understand it, is the analysis of mother/child relationships from the perspective of *being* the mother/child rather than observing it. Where gynecology is the study of reproductive processes from the perspective of an outside observer (imagine a gynecologist with a lamp shining between your legs), negative gynecology is viewing it from the inside out.

Nelson responds to this with: "here's the catch: I cannot hold my baby at the same time as I write." In other words, once she puts her baby down to do the thinking and the writing, she's already looking at it from an outside perspective.


message 9: by nil (new)

nil (nilnil) That is spot on from my perspective as well Heather!

As far as the general presence of philosophy and theory in the book, I am finding that, while the book itself was very easy to read through, I am spending a lot of time chewing on the philosophy bits and mulling it over. I finished reading yesterday, and I am still not sure how to formulate cohesive thoughts on the book. I was unfamiliar with most of the references, which I actually found delightful! The formatting made it so that I could read through and digest the tidbits that were included without interruption, and then I was able to begin hacking away at becoming more familiar with the respective bodies of work afterward. Overall, it felt educational as well as relatable.

Anyway, I am going to give myself a few days and then try to write a review. Hopefully at that point I will be able to get all my thoughts in a row and contribute more to discussion. :)


message 10: by Georgios (new)

Georgios May i Point out something?

Not every quote in the book can be considered as philosophy. Granted most of the quotes give texture to the book. But not all of them are philosophy. For example in p.33 there is a quote from Pema Chödrön. This quote is much more theological rathen than philosophical in the buddhist context. Extreme caution is advised when viewing any kind of theology as Philosophy.

Philosophy (among other things) searches for God (or the non existance of God) though reason.
Theology imposes their view of the Divine and God through their view of religion.

That certain quote is strongly based on buddhist religious point of view. Contrary to general belief Buddhism IS NOT a humanist religion.

Again: Caution needs to be excersised when calling something Philosophy.


message 11: by Adina (new)

Adina Hilton (adinahilton14) | 10 comments I wish there was some sort of Reader's Guide or external reference to supplement the book. Even though I learned a lot about theory and philosophy in college, I'm still struggling with some of the more theoretical passages and understanding their context to what Nelson is saying.

This is definitely a book I will need to read a few times, I think. My copy is a library book, and there are others waiting to read it so I'll probably return it as soon as I finish, but perhaps I can revisit the book at a later time and absorb more.


message 12: by Galina (new)

Galina Adina wrote: "I wish there was some sort of Reader's Guide or external reference to supplement the book. Even though I learned a lot about theory and philosophy in college, I'm still struggling with some of the ..."

Agreed with Adina. Unfortunately I don't even have much of a background in philosophy (not having taken many classes in college on it) but even so, i feel that im not fully absorbing some of the references that are outlined in the book - that being said, i still think that it is very insightful and probably like nothing ive ever read before (just about halfway through with it currently). Will likely need to re-read a few times to get the full impact, or do a little bit of side research on my own


message 13: by nil (new)

nil (nilnil) Georgios wrote: "May i Point out something?

Not every quote in the book can be considered as philosophy. Granted most of the quotes give texture to the book. But not all of them are philosophy. For example in p.33..."


But is it theology though? This particular quote is from a book titled "Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living" which in itself is not geared specifically toward Buddhists, but to a wider audience. It utilizes Buddhist maxims, but as the context is broader wouldn't that make it a philosophical endeavor?

Also, theology and philosophy aren't mutually exclusive, though they are different. One can be, for instance, a Buddhist and discuss Buddhism from a philosophical standpoint without it being a theological discussion. Granted, there is a large amount of overlap between those that are theologians and philosophers.

Also, one could argue that the context of utilizing these quotes is contributing to the wider philosophical discussion that is being presented in the book (as an independent work), so it wouldn't be a mistake to discuss this book under the general umbrella term of "philosophy".

Not every quote utilized in the book is from a philosopher, nor a theologian--there are representations of poets and artist, etc. Perhaps when referencing specific quotes it would be more relevant to differentiate appropriately (and it would encourage deeper research into cited sources)? However, I think when discussing the work as a whole it is accurate to describe it as generally presenting a philosophy (which is what most people are doing).


message 14: by Rose (new)

Rose (reradford) | 58 comments I spent a lot of time googling her various references. It worked about 50% of the time.

Not to drag this thread down, but honestly, don't you think we should have a separate thread for each nuanced observation/topic? There's too much to talk about for it to fit in just one general thread.


message 15: by Christelle (last edited May 18, 2016 07:01AM) (new)

Christelle (hannahchristelle) | 6 comments I definitely agree on the reader's guide. I have absolutely no background on any of them & ended up on google for half as much time as I spent reading the book. I could not find quite a few of the ideas mentioned (or even some of the terms she uses), and one of them caused me to venture into a philosophy forum that just made me more confused. It would be good to have separate threads to discuss how we understood the terms. (Negative gynaecology, anyone?) I'm sure we have different conclusions.


message 16: by Katelyn, Our Shared Shelf Moderator (new)

Katelyn (katelynrh) | 836 comments Mod
Members are free to start new topics on any subject they are interested in discussing about the book. Just make sure that there isn't already a thread for that subject, or it will be removed in the interest of organization.


message 17: by James (new)

James Carroll | 10 comments While reading over this book, there is one topic that caught my attention. I am aware of Ms Nelson being questioned in her choice in taste as well as her partner’s identity. Since she brought up the psychologist D.W. Winnicott regarding sensation, this is the type of feeling many people investigate. Sometimes it can be normal to experience these moments of fixation with any gender depending on what we were born as. There are thoughts in our minds revolving around a person or most importantly a celebrity in which we have a crush on.

I am aroused by a woman who I believe is perfect, but I am not in love with her in real life. Even though I inherit this urge, there is one group who never shares my taste. Throughout history, some people were closer to others with the same gender that led to so many debates around the globe. Then again, straight people might go through a similar feeling this demographic had. In the interest of fairness, privacy is the strongest attribute because a disclosure of a person’s true attraction to another one with the same gender could lead to repercussions, primarily a paradox in the family line. We are living in a world where prejudice is omnipresent, but it is up to us not to become too subjective around anyone who is different from us.


message 18: by Suzette (new)

Suzette Havenbrook | 4 comments I love the way this book is written. No chapters, no real transition material, at least not in the traditional sense. It's just a raw story about two people developing, individually and together, on their own and apart, but also with each other as support beacons and friends.

While I'm in a committed, hetero, cis relationship, and I have no children, adopted or otherwise, there was one part of this story that spoke to me, that I could relate to: the part about Harry being adopted, and how he says that his nomadic behavior, fluidity, and existence stem from his adoption. As someone who was adopted, or picked as my mom puts it, by my step-dad, I know how that feels. His story, about belonging and loving and existing have helped me define myself in a way I didn't know existed until now. I read that entire passage three times. The first time, while going through the book. The second time to re-read it and make sure the feelings I had in my heart from what I actually read were justified. And a third time, out loud to my mom via FaceTime, because I had to say them out loud to someone, to say what he said, what made sense in my heart, in my own voice. For they may not be my words, or my exact story, but they speak for me, for what I've been through, and I realize that I am also myself because someone else chose to love me when they didn't have to. Because someone else raised me and taught me about love and creativity and compassion and life in place of someone who abandoned me, who gave me up. Who has loved me with their whole heart, for my whole life, and has taught me to love others the same way.

This book is one of my favorites and I plan on reading it again and again. I'm so thankful this book exists, even if this story wasn't written for me or with people like me in mind. It still speaks to me, and it helped me find the words to describe a part of my life that I didn't have the words for. And I hope it helps everyone else find words for parts of themselves, too.


Lindsay Alexander | 9 comments Christelle wrote: "I definitely agree on the reader's guide. I have absolutely no background on any of them & ended up on google for half as much time as I spent reading the book. I could not find quite a few of the ..."

I found it super useful to read this book on an ereader. You can just press down on a word and a dictionary definition will pop up, and on a kindle you can even get a wikipedia article if you're connected to the internet. Very helpful in this case.


message 20: by Christelle (new)

Christelle (hannahchristelle) | 6 comments @Lindsay I did read it on my kindle, but there were terms that didn't have a wikipedia entry as they aren't widely used & defined. The kindle was a huge help though. So glad I bought it.


message 21: by Kressel (last edited May 23, 2016 07:24AM) (new)

Kressel Housman | 436 comments I majored in Philosophy in college, and one of my favorite parts of the book is when she quotes some philosopher or other and then says that she's amazed that she once considered such questions compelling. Wow, could I relate! What turns out to be compelling are the personal relationships you forge in your life, whether it's to a child or to a lifetime partner (or, if you're lucky, both.)

It's fun to think and write. That's why I love Goodreads. But our strongest connection to reality is when when we're living in the moment, not thinking about it. That can happen while you're alone, absorbed in some activity, but it often happens just when you're relating to other people and forgetting about yourself.


message 22: by MeerderWörter (new)

MeerderWörter | 2388 comments I did have philosophy in high school ( for one year), and I must say I have heard of Wittgenstein ( I even remember that I loved a certain sentence he wrote, but can't remember what it was).

So, philosophy isn't totally new, and still, I did have my little troubles with them. But I loved how she quoted the authors, like in a real scientific paper. Credit where credit's due. And in the way she used them it was always logical what she was on about. She weaved the quotes in the text in a way that it was not difficult for me to understand what she wanted to say.


message 23: by Marina (new)

Marina | 314 comments has anyone read Julia Kristeva? i'm curious about her as she's a woman from Eastern Europe.


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