back to

Maggie Nelson's "unending inquiry of irresolution"


In the recently unveiled Fall 2015 issue of n+1, Moira Donegan writes a long, absorbing, and tender review-essay on Maggie Nelson’s much-discussed book The Argonauts. Donegan examines the allures of heteronormativity, the suffocating nature of rigid ideas of what it means to be queer, and Nelson’s preference for ambiguity. Here’s an excerpt:

The Argonauts arrives at a critical moment for queerness. The expansion of marriage rights and rapid cultural shifts toward assimilation and acceptance have rendered homosexuality much safer and less politically radical than it once was. For some queers, this has provoked a desire to preserve queerness’s alterity: to evoke its history and mark it as fundamentally and continually separate from the straight culture that surrounds it. It’s an understandable impulse, given how quickly the LGBT movement has been embraced — and co-opted — by corporations, politicians, and other fair-weather allies eager to keep up with the times. But this impulse has a downside, too, as it risks becoming attached to its own idea of authenticity, the distinctions it makes between real queerness and queerness’s supposed traitors.

“The tired binary that places femininity, reproduction, and normativity on the one side, and queer resistance on the other has lately reached a kind of apotheosis,” Nelson writes, “often posing as a last, desperate stand against homo- and hetero-normativity, both.” She has no patience for this binary, which understands “procreative femininity” as a pollutant both of queerness and of radicalism; she sees the misogyny of this stance. If The Argonauts can be said to have a primary concern, this is it: how to resist a conception of queerness that shoehorns complex lives into a neat dichotomy of normative versus not, and how to resist the unhelpful demonization of motherhood, domesticity, and the other supposedly reactionary forms that love can take.

Image: A.L. Steiner, Untitled (Layla looking at picture). 2005. Via n+1.