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Bük Kloob: The Argonauts

Bük Kloob is a series of book reviews loosely related to a book club I started.

To be queer is to question the norm, to take apart and rethink any and all structures that are associated with the normative.

This mindset comes from the outsider status pushed onto queerness, the fact that so many see LGBT persons as “others,” as monsters hidden in the open. It’s no wonder that the queer community adopts figures like the Babadook as their own: when you are constantly told you are abhorrent, you look at the world and it’s structures through the lens of a dismantler. Pair this point of view with human experiences defined by heterosexuality like family building and you have a rich landscape for construction.

This is the tiny and gigantic context for Maggie Nelson‘s The Argonauts, a sprawling yet succinct hybrid memoir and critical work where Nelson reflects on her own queer family building. The piece traces her own pregnancy as her partner – artist Harry Dodge – undergoes procedures to transition toward maleness. It’s a book about exploring the self and exploring societal structures from the point of view of a person who is in a community that has historically been barred or disallowed from exploring traditions like family building and home making.

In Nelson’s exploration of the subjects, you get a wandering through her own life and her interactions with works in art and literature that articulate queer being, in and out of the family. She discusses everything from AL Steiner‘s Puppies & Babies — a work that constructed and questioned parenting (specifically, motherhood) as it relates to queerness and inter-species connections — to The Shining, specifically the scene in which the beautiful women ages rapidly in the hands of Jack Nicholson, a fast forwarding of the inevitable for all as well as an addressing of the female body politic. This all might sound heady (It is.) but Nelson guides you through as an inquisitive individual, as someone who is exploring so many subjects that relate to making a queer identity without any help. Her struggle and her questions represent the growing questions many queer persons have in coping with greater acceptance despite cultural losses.

The book also handles such subject incredibly lightly too, with a great humor that helps to lift otherwise dense topics and thoughts out of academic or intellectual muck. It’s easy to pick up a book like The Argonauts only to put it down immediately because it made you feel dumb. I have had so many experiences with books like this and I was overwhelmingly impressed with how Nelson navigated avoiding this intellectual psychobabble. In this regard, it is a major success.

But, truly, The Argonauts is the sort of work that makes a reader wealthy with thought, full of ideas and questions that inspires one to tumble out everything between the ears for communal investigation. It’s a book about motherhood and queerness that doesn’t serve as an ambassadorship to either party but a window into worlds and experiences that are as common as they are unique. It’s a masterpiece of queer writing, one of the best works I’ve read by an LGBTQ+ artist and thinker.

And it doesn’t wear you – or itself – out. It’s a breezy 160 pages and, by audio book, Nelson reads the book with a snappy urgency. It’s a uniquely LA book too, like Miranda July’s The First Bad Man breathed into reality. The Argonauts is not only memorable but pressing in a way that leaves it’s fingerprints all over you, to wonder and regard the world differently.

And why not? Such is being queer – and Nelson’s writing is a wonderful peek into this point of view.

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