The Argonauts

The Argonauts
Maggie Nelson

“So much writing about motherhood makes the world seem smaller after the child arrives, more circumscribed, as if in tacit fealty to the larger cultural assumptions about moms and domesticity; Nelson’s book does the opposite.”The New York Times Book Review

Nominated for an NBCC Award in Criticism 2016
2016 Finalist for The Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature.
One of NPR’s Best Books of 2015
A Chicago Tribune Top 10 Book of 2015
One of Publishers Weekly’s Top Ten Books of 2015

One of Village Voice's Top 11 Books of 2015
Named a Best Book of 2015 by KirkusThe National Post, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Time Out New YorkIrish TimesLos Angeles Magazine, Artforum, The Atlantic, San Francisco ChronicleLiterary HubVol. 1 BrooklynBustle, Counterpunch, GQ, Canadian Art, Paste Magazine, The Believer
A Huffington Post Notable Book of 2015
One of FSG’s Favorite Books of 2015
One of Literary Hub’s 25 Best Books of 2015 According to Booksellers

One of Brazos Bookstore’s Best Books of 2015
One of Flavorwire’s Best Independent Press Books and Best Nonfiction Books of 2015
Featured in The Millions “Year in Reading 2015” by Parul Sehgal, Meghan O’Connell, Bijan Stephen, Karolina Waclawiak, Jaquira Díaz, Catie Disabato
One of Entropy’s Best Nonfiction Books of 2015

A Globe and Mail “Globe 100” Pick for 2015


About the Book

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 artist Harry Dodge. This story, which includes the author’s account of falling in love with Dodge, who is fluidly gendered, as well as her journey to and through a pregnancy, offers a firsthand account of the complexities and joys of (queer) family-making.
Writing in the spirit of public intellectuals like Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes, Nelson binds her personal experience to a rigorous exploration of what iconic theorists have said about sexuality, gender, and the vexed institutions of marriage and childrearing. Nelson’s insistence on radical individual freedom and the value of caretaking becomes the rallying cry for this thoughtful, unabashed, uncompromising book.

Additional Reviews

The Argonauts is a moving exploration of family and love, but it’s also a meditation on the seductions, contradictions, limitations, and beauties of being normal, as a person and as an artist.”The New Yorker

“Nelson’s vibrant, probing and, most of all, outstanding book is also a philosophical look at motherhood, transitioning, partnership, parenting, and family-an examination of the restrictive way we’ve approached these terms in the past and the ongoing struggle to arrive at more inclusive and expansive definitions for them.”—NPR

”Nelson’s writing is fluid—to read her story is to drift dreamily among her thoughts. . . . She masterfully analyzes the way we talk about sex and gender.”The Huffington Post

“In a culture still too quick to ask people to pick a side-to be male or female, to be an assimilationist or a revolutionary, to be totally straight or totally gay, totally hetero—or totally homo-normative—Nelson’s book is a beautiful, passionate and shatteringly intelligent meditation on what it means not to accept binaries but to improvise an individual life that says, without fear, yesand.”Chicago Tribune

“A loose yet intricate tapestry of memoir, art criticism and gently polemic. . . . It’s a book about using the writings of smart, even difficult writers to help us find clarity and precision in our intimate lives, and it’s a book about the no less intimate pleasures of the life of the mind. . . . The Argonauts is a magnificent achievement of thought, care and art.”Los Angeles Times

“A fiercely provocative and intellectually audacious memoir that focuses on motherhood, love and gender fluidity. . . . The author turns the whole process and concept of motherhood inside out, exploring every possible perspective, blurring the distinctions among the political, philosophical, aesthetic and personal. . . . A book that will challenge readers as much as the author has challenged herself.”Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Maggie Nelson is one of the most electrifying writers at work in America today, among the sharpest and most supple thinkers of her generation. . . . Musical, polyphonic. . . . Generative and generous, this is a book that belongs on the shelves of anyone who desires, especially if what they desire is nothing short of freedom itself.”—Olivia Laing, The Guardian

“Frank, smart, and remarkably sensuous. . . . A complex song of topics thrums the bass note of The Argonauts: its language, both allowance and obstruction. All at once, the book is an argument, a testimony, a love letter.”Jezebel

“Maggie Nelson slays entrenched notions of gender, marriage, and sexuality with lyricism, intellectual brass, and soul-ringing honesty in The Argonauts.”Vanity Fair, “Hot Type”

“[Maggie Nelson’s] prose is spare and beautiful; her examination of culture is rigorous, informative and illuminating.”Irish Times

“For me, 2015 was the Year of Falling Even More Deeply in Love with Graywolf Press. Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts was probably the most transformative read of the year, boldly drawing on different realms of scholarship and art and experience in the struggle to answer intensely personal questions.”—Helen Phillips, The Atlantic

“Nelson’s writing is gloriously erudite, movingly personal, and all in all like nothing you’ve ever read.”Buzzfeed

 “A gorgeously constructed examination of motherhood, love, and queerness.”—Buzzfeed, “Six Second Book Review”

"The Argonauts affirms that love is a radical act. . . . Reading [it] feels like watching the rush of a stream, or staring at the lights from a sea of cars driving down a highway at night. . . . Through her flickering prose, Nelson reminds us that there is a real pleasure in change."The New Republic

“[Nelson’s] is a radicalism that looks like the future of common sense. . . . A singular book.”Vulture

“An honest, joyous affirmation of one happily unconventional family finding itself.”Publishers Weekly, starred review

“At once a work in the tradition of surgical critics of self and art like Susan Sontag and in a category of writing entirely new, The Argonauts promises to re-write the script for any of us struggling to nurture critical and intellectual practices in the maelstrom of the everyday. This book is radical intelligence made manifest in the quotidian: a family album that speaks what very few have had the audacity to name—intellectual, social, political, and intimate desires. . . . If you want to think—or better yet, to imagine—in ways you never before thought possible, read this book.”Brooklyn Quarterly 

“A fluid mix of autobiographical writing and critical theory that uses each to think about the other. . . . This book keeps building on itself with stories of sexual and intellectual and maternal passion. . . . There’s gender fluidity, bodily fluids, the fluid nature of language, the ebb and flow of life and death. But at its center is always love, its meaning ever renewed.”A.V Club

“It’s a book that changes you—not didactically but, like all good books, as an encounter, instructing through making a strong impression. It’s a book about love that you fall in love with.”Canadian Art

“With lines often as ambient as they are charged, Nelson’s voice trusts, and thereby offers trust. . . . This is love and language, forever entangled and renewed.”The Toast

“My favorite love story of 2015.”—Judy Berman, Flavorwire

“Unfalteringly questioning and boundary breaking, honest, and eminently devourable.”The Believer

“A powerful thinker and crafter of gorgeous, sharp sentences, Nelson explores what it means to be an artist and intellectual in a relationship seen as unconventional while submitting to one of the most ‘normal’ experiences on earth: motherhood.”Time Out New York

“A formally precise and thematically manifold work of autotheory, Nelson’s book will be discussed as if it is brand new for decades. There is certainly not a more exploratory book about gender-fluidity, sexuality, and the political possibilities of the family that I know of.”Flavorwire

“Maggie Nelson is arguably one of the best contemporary writers around.”Portland Mercury

The Argonauts is a story of devotion, or rather many stories, told out of profound love.”—Volta

“[The Argonauts is] doing the kind of engaged and philosophical work surrounding mothering I have longed for.”—The Rumpus

“I am joyfully awed by how its queerness is bedrock, how it starts from the place of queerness. . . . In its constant motion between criticism and memoir, The Argonauts is a thrilling realization of that effort so central to so many queer and feminist lives: the effort to live (with) our theory.Feministing

“This is a queer book in its softest heart, totally defiant and simultaneously full of love and a desire to connect with the world. This might all sound esoteric but the book is solid as a fucking rock: you’ll devour it and feel it sitting beside you in a great, comforting way.”Electric Literature

“An investigation of politics, sexuality, identity, and gender roles, told through the underlying narrative of Nelson’s own creation of a family unit. . . . [The Argonauts] is a study of the ways in which any true representation of a life defies categorization, despite our culture’s incessant need to do just that.”Flaunt

“At once a potent blend of bare-it-all memoir, incisive cultural criticism, and a radical call to revolutionize the way we interpret identity and interpersonal relationships, The Argonauts is above else a joyous ode to love and family.”Brazos Bookstore Blog

"A joy-ride through Maggie Nelson's views on gender, queer family-making and sexuality that marries her lived experience and critical acumen. The Argonauts is both luminous and revolutionary."Flux Weekly

"The popularity of The Argonauts speaks to Nelson's gift as a writer and thinker—she brings the theoretical references into relief, showing exactly where and how they relate with urgency to emotional and political realities. . . . The Argonauts travels as it speaks, doing the ongoing work of hosting and articulating transformations the queer life accrues."Plenitude

The Argonauts pushes the boundaries and expectations of the memoir form.”—Biographile, “10 Must-Read Spring Biographies and Memoirs”

“Maggie Nelson cuts through our culture's prefabricated structures of thought and feeling with an intelligence whose ferocity is ultimately in the service of love. No piety is safe, no orthodoxy, no easy irony. The scare quotes burn off like fog.”Ben Lerner

“Reading Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts helped me to feel some things I’ve long thought about but hardly been able to express regarding the socialization of the maternal function, which is the dispersed, dispersive essence of the futurity we present to one another until one is not another anymore. There’s the violence I commit in making a claim for that futurity, and the violence I endure when that claim is granted. There’s the exhaustive sharing that takes form as writing. There’s the ‘orgy of specificity’ when the inexpressible is held and released in each expression ‘cause I just want to sing your name even when I don’t want to sing your name. There’s the love story buried in every ‘I love you,’ and in every ‘I love you’ there’s a contract for destruction and rebuilding. There’s The Argonauts, which is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read.”—Fred Moten

“What a dazzlingly generous, gloriously unpredictable book! Maggie Nelson shows us what it means to be real, offering a way of thinking that is as challenging as it is liberating. She invites us to ‘pay homage to the transitive’ and enjoy ‘a becoming in which one never becomes.’ Reading The Argonauts made me happier and freer.”—Eula Biss

“In the 17th century a book like Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts might have been called an anatomy, by which I mean it’s a learned, quirky, open-hearted, often beautiful naming-of-parts.  The anatomy never forgets the fragile embodied world—its carnality or its finitude.  And such is The Argonauts: a memoir (debriefing, really) at once raw, pensive, exhilarating, sad, funny, and embodied in the same profound way.  Some of the memoirist’s topics are unprecedented. Merely by describing her works and days, Nelson—like a kind of female Voltaire—could be said to wage staunch battle against the as-yet-undead forces of banality, stupidity, prejudice, and moral sloth.”—Terry Castle, author of The Professor: A Sentimental Education
“In The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson turns ‘making the personal public’ into a romantic, intellectual wet dream. A gorgeous book, inventive, fearless, and full of heart.”—Kim Gordon
The Argonauts takes us on a delicious journey into the real life intimacies and intricacies of queer love, sex, literature, and motherhood. Maggie Nelson’s honesty, intelligence, humor and great writing transform what society might deem a radical, non-traditional lifestyle into the new desirable. A fucking gem of a book that touched and tickled all my sweet spots.”—Annie Sprinkle
"Towards the end of The Argonauts Maggie Nelson writes, 'I don't want to represent anything.' But this book left me in tears. What I found in the pages were sentences like inside jokes, places where I felt held and loved, acknowledged even. Maggie Nelson has dared to write the next queer anthem."—Jess Pane, Greenlight Bookstore
"Maggie Nelson, in everything I've seen of what she's written, has done so with an exacting, seemingly fearless eye on whatever she writes about—cruelty, the color and notion of blue, various subjects taken on in fiercely intelligent ways. In The Argonauts, she does this with herself, with such care and such abandon that the intimacy engendered is more palpable than you'd think reading a book could be. Love, closeness, commitment, who is what identity, pregnancy, birth, death—all of it written with dazzling thought—a mind that shines!—and with such feeling."—Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company

“Modern love, and with it life and family, looks different than it used to. Or perhaps we’re just finally beginning to see what was always there. The sacks of blood attending the removal of tissue that had separated one’s body from one’s self. The syringes and thermometers that become new ways of measuring time. The looks, always the looks, of those who misunderstand (at best) and disagree (too often) with who you are, let alone who you might love, and the laws that can invite and impede you. In Maggie Nelson’s latest book, The Argonauts, she identifies a truth at turns painful and hopeful: we, with our multi-formed and positioned pleasures, the directions and modes our loves take, and the languages we use to speak or stay silent, are only ever just beginning. The deeply personal nature of Nelson’s writing is tectonic, as she shifts between autobiography, poetry, and critical analysis in such a seamless way that the seismic rumbles may not be immediately noticeable. Until, that is, you look up from your reading, and see that the landscape around you has changed. The Argonauts will be a revelation for many who have never read Maggie Nelson, and a new beginning for those who have.”—Brad Johnson, Diesel, A Bookstore (Oakland, CA)

The Argonauts is another brilliant book by one of my favorite authors. This book is important! And it is as full with compassion and care for the human condition as it is with the creative, critical inquiry that Maggie Nelson displayed in Art of Cruelty and her other books. I really enjoyed reading it.”—Russell Brakefield, Literati Bookstore (Ann Arbor, MI)

“There are probably as many ways to praise The Argonauts as there are to read it. . . . The Argonauts is an astonishing love story, one of the most powerful I’ve read in a very long time. . . . Life, [Nelson] makes clear, life is good enough, as long as it lasts. . . . Nelson seems to want something as simple, singular, and vulnerable as kindness, as care.”Los Angeles Review of Books

“[Nelson] applies a keen, analytical eye to contemporary culture. . . .The Argonauts becomes Nelson’s voyage through the phrase ‘I love you’ as someone now more curious (as opposed to critical) for what the world of the domestic, and the daily ‘I love you’s,’ entails.”—Entropy

“Maggie Nelson’s new book, The Argonauts, is wholly complex and pleasurable, cross-connecting forms of autobiographical, theorhetorical, and epistolyrical inquiry.”—A.L. Steiner, BOMB Magazine

“A lushly poetic intellectual oasis. . . . This is not a “once upon a time” autobiography, with madeleines, lost loves and stolen kisses. Nelson weaves straightforward personal history with deeply intelligent meditations on what it all means. The Argonauts is a courageous, heady, poetic and irresistible book.”San Francisco Chronicle

“Nelson’s book is a lava pool of shifting selves. . . . [Her] fragments feel like units of resistance against the churn of conventional narratives about marriage, about the radical and normative, about narratives themselves.”Bookforum

"The kind of book you feel desperate to share. . . [The Argonauts] lives in a gorgeous gray area that explores language, lust, loss, the ebb and flow of bodies, and limitation on identity and labels. . . . An important and impassioned book, one you will feel better for having read."Salon

“Generous and intimate. . . . The Argonauts is the kind of book that reminds you that sadness is temporary, but that given the right conditions, happiness could, perhaps, be infinite.The Portland Mercury

“Astounding. . . . The Argonauts is gorgeous, enlightening, and feminist-as-fact, and for those reasons, if I had to chose a book for everyone I know to read, it would be this one.”Bitch 

“Nelson’s acknowledgement of the variance within our individual queerness felt like a permission I hadn’t known I needed. . . . Books like [The Argonauts] that so elegantly, so confidently and effectively marry personal narrative and ideas, and birth new ideas and insights—they persuade us that there is room for it all, that writers are already inhabiting that questionable space, and while others argue its existence, they are making it even bigger.The Rumpus

“At once piercing, confusing, and complex — [The Argonauts is] the type of work that . . . manages to spark an infinite number of conversations in your brain. . . .” Blouin Art Info, “In the Air”

“Maggie Nelson has a way of reaching what’s deeply personal through her own narratives and curiosity of a subject. . . . [The Argonauts is] a book for all the excitement in your heart.”—Brooklyn Paper, “What to read this week”

“Fresh and incredibly timely. . . . As soon as I closed The Argonauts I knew it was a book I would pick again (and again and again).”—River City Reading

“Visceral, provocative, and sui generis, The Argonauts poses open questions about traditional notions of gender—and genre.”Barnes & Noble Review

“Reading this is like taking a crash course in gender studies and reading a how-to guide on writing sharp, perfect prose. . . . [Nelson has] hit her stride with this hybrid work. . . . She has [a] poet’s attention to detail with a critic’s readiness to joyfully dismantle everything we think we know.”Full Stop

The Argonauts is deeply, personally and movingly about love. . . . A considered rejection of false choices, an intelligent, irritating, theoretical, intimate, funny, sad and exhilarating testament to the ever-fluid process of seeing out and getting out.”Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

“I read The Argonauts when I was about four months pregnant and felt outsized gratitude for the book’s existence.”—Emily Gould, Poetry Foundation

“Absolutely love this book. . . . [The Argonauts breaks] the law that you must never speak of your happiness and contentment, because to do so is to spoil it and have it taken away.”London Review of Books

“Part portrait of a happy family, part critical meditation on queerness, Nelson’s hybrid book suggests a new path for the memoir. There’s no need for falls from grace or stirring redemptions when you can look at life and death, as Nelson does, with a refined critical eye. It doesn’t hurt that she speaks with the voice of a poet either.”Vulture, “The Best Books of 2015 (So Far)”

“The brilliance of this book is that it is many things, and among them, a case study in how language colors identity, identity colors language. . . . The Argonauts reinvigorates the potential for literary and critical thought, breaking their exhausted forms apart, and repurposing the fragments into something not only more genuine, but more useful, too.”The Quarterly Conversation

The Argonauts arrives at a critical moment for queerness. . . . Warm, sprawling, inexhaustible. . . . It reads like the culmination of a career.”n+1

“Revelatory. . . . The Argonauts is an urgent work, an intimate and fearless act of communication with the reader as Nelson describes moments of radical transformation. . . . A memoir to be individually discovered, read, underlined and reread. For its readers, The Argonauts should leave its own constantly transforming echoes.”Cleaver Magazine

“Dazzlingly smart.”Kenyon Review

“Nelson’s writing points out the complications and complexities that already exist but are frequently omitted from polite small talk, social media quips, and cable news sound bites. . . . [She] demonstrates how to continually ask questions, to push words to their farthest limits and back again, and find pleasure in the process.”Colorado Review

“Once again, Maggie Nelson has created an awe-inspiring work, one that smartly calls bullshit on the places culture—radical subcultures included—stigmatize and misunderstand both maternity and queer family-making. With a fiercely vulnerable intelligence, Nelson leaves no area un-investigated, including her own heart. I know of no other book like this, and I know how crucially the culture needs it.”—Michelle Tea

“There isn’t another critic alive like Maggie Nelson—who writes with such passion, clarity, explicitness, fluidity, playfulness, and generosity that she redefines what thinking can do today. Indeed, I come away from The Argonauts with a heady, excited sensation of having seen unveiled a new era of embodied, soulful rumination. Her impeccable sentences destroy doxa and gleefully remake the body politic; her prose seems air-borne, like an Argus-eyed levitator in touch with the divine. Buoyant, Nelson soars through art and philosophy and her own experiences with reckless mastery and insurrectionary ease—a virtuosity born of deep reflection and fearless trust in what literature, at its best, can do.”—Wayne Koestenbaum

“A beautiful and genre-bending memoir that describes the many shapes love and family can take, Nelson’s latest essayistic exploration of a theme cements her reputation as the 21st century heir of Roland Barthes — as lucid as a dream, but with ideas so sharply conceived they’ll prick you right through the heart.”The National Post