Sunday, September 04, 2016

Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts

Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts (2015) is a memoir that digs into the fluidity of gender, the experience of pregnancy and childbirth (which of course connects to gender, but not in the same way for everyone) and death. She is very smart and very funny, which makes it a thoughtful ride.

Part of the smart/funny combination is taking existing texts about gender and writing about how they do or don't fit her. I tire of the self-consciously multi-syllabic mashing language that I see in academia (e.g. "pharmacopornographic," from p. 111) but although she uses quotes from such texts, she is a good writer and goes easy on the jargon. Indeed, in the last part as she brings in her partner (whose gender fits no "standard" norms) whose mother is dying, and all that language dissipates completely.

This book made me think, and I read bits to my wife. The pregnancy parts (such as castor oil, which my wife also ingested in desperation with one pregnancy) led organically to the questions of gender roles and assumptions. Especially in this HB2 era, I highly recommend it. Gender is not so simple, not so obviously binary, but still so human.


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