Poetry News

Diana Arterian Reviews Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts

By Harriet Staff


At the Boston Review, the awesome Diana Arterian reviews Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts: "Where most writers would hold back, Nelson lopes forward: 'I was ashamed, but undaunted (my epithet?).'” More:

As Nelson states in a recent interview on The Argonauts, “If you dug The Art of Cruelty because I talk about edgy guy art but then feel yucked out or disinterested here because I’m describing a placenta, your loss."

Nelson targets both conservative and queer thinkers for their focus on “normative” domesticity and procreativity. She writes, “I beheld and still behold in anger and agony the eagerness of the world to throw piles of shit on those of us who want to savage or simply cannot help but savage the norms that so desperately need savaging.” The trouble, she suggests, comes when people dictate the methods for upending or critiquing those norms. For Nelson, “whatever sameness I’ve noted in my relationships with women is not the sameness of Woman, and certainly not the sameness of parts. Rather, it is the shared, crushing understanding of what it means to live in a patriarchy.” This understanding includes an awareness that not only are those who are more obviously opposed to a radical queer feminist’s decisions (misogynists, bigots) going to try to police you—but so will your peers, your compatriots in the fight against the patriarchy.

In one passage, a colleague reassures Nelson, who has offered the explanation that she “just had a baby” as the reason for taking time before her next book, that her desire to focus on her work (note what he considers “work”) would likely return. As in Bluets (2009), Nelson denotes a shift in topic with an abrupt break between prose paragraphs, a break that delays the delivery of meaning or argument. Think Roland Barthes, Claudia Rankine. Nelson circles back to earlier ideas and addresses them askance, a paragraph or two away.


Nelson quotes others, offsetting their words in italics and adding their names in the margin. The eye interacts with the marginal text with a kind of economy similar to a footnote, but with more intimacy. This device (taken from Barthes) allows for an easy flow between Nelson’s ideas and those with whom she finds herself in conversation (poets, theorists, artists, scholars). Unlike inline quotations, which she also uses, italicized quotes seem to indicate a deeper level of access to Nelson’s mind, where voices, for good or for ill, demand her attention, even infiltrate her line of thought.

Read the full line of thought at Boston Review.