The Argonauts

By Maggie Nelson

The Argonauts is “a genre-bending memoir, a work of ‘auto-theory’ offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language.”

I like this term, “auto-theory”; I’m not sure what it means, formally, but it evokes a sort of smart self-inquiry, memoir that engages with big ideas.

It’s astoundingly critically acclaimed, though crowd wisdom is more mixed. A mashup of quotations from laudatory reviews follow:

It is a “rigorous exploration of sexuality, gender, and ‘family’.”

It is “lushly poetic”; it “slays entrenched notions” and “suggests a new path for the memoir.”

It is “gloriously unpredictable”; it “contains multitudes”; it is “a category of writing entirely new…”

Nelson is a “poet, critic, and nonfiction author”; it seems this book merges all three genres and more. About her gender fluid partner Harry and their relationship, it is a “shatteringly intelligent meditation on what it means not to accept binaries but to improvise an individual life that says, without fear, yes, and.”

Chapterless, The Argonauts’ 140 pages are a procession of paragraphs short and long. In the margins, the text is annotated with names and sources — brief traces of longer footnotes in the wings.

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