Besides the superficial realisation that it is not about the band of heroes in Greek mythology, Maggie Nelson’s “The Argonauts” was a difficult read for me because I was not familiar with the cited theorists, academics, or writers (and even with the sources indicated in the margin citations, I could not draw the necessary connections to keep up with the narrative), the stream-of-consciousness writing style meant that while I could follow the shifting points of view I did not understand the themes related to gender and sexuality, marriage, childbirth, and childrearing, and the experience of having a fluidly gendered partner, and ultimately I recognised that I was probably not the intended audience of the book. And perhaps beyond the lived experience of her marriage and motherhood – intertwined with references to the lives of mentors, friends, and other family members – other nuances related to identity and love were lost on me.
Nelson is an American writer who is married to American sculptor and artist Harry Dodge, who does not identify either as man or woman. In the context of the book – in their self-described queer relationship – Nelson reflects on and documents her pregnancy while Dodge is taking testosterone and undergoing a double mastectomy. At the same time and writing like she is recording entries in her personal diary, through a sequence of events which remains largely chronological despite flashbacks to significant events, she traces her intellectual roots and shares her scholastic influences, many of which are cited and weaved together with the fabric of her own life. With a better comprehension of these individuals and their literature, her corresponding perspectives should become more evident too.
Yet “The Argonauts” did not quite unfold in the same way. I was moved by some sections: On queerness (“And I have long known that the moment of queer pride is a refusal to be shamed by witnessing the other as being ashamed of you”), on the related “same-sex” label (“One of the most annoying things about hearing the refrain ‘same-sex marriage’ over and over again is that I don’t know many — if any — queers who think of their desire’s main feature as being ‘same-sex'”), and on learning to be a stepparent, to be pregnant, and to be a partner and a parent. And it seems impossible to disagree with her proposition that: “How does one get across the fact that the best way to find out how people feel about their gender or their sexuality — or anything else, really — is to listen to what they tell you, and to try to treat them accordingly, without shellacking over their version of reality with yours?” But maybe my limited life experience, under different demographic and socio-cultural circumstances, prevents me from meaningfully walking her shoes or seeing from her point of view.