#2. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson takes the form of a genre-bending memoir and when I first picked it up, I thought the title read The Astronauts and I wondered why a 143 paged book on men in spacesuits had been written into existence. However, upon flipping it over and reading the blurb, I was led to research the definition of the word ‘argonaut’ and this is what Google told me:
a small floating octopus, the female of which has webbed sail-like arms and secretes a thin coiled papery shell in which the eggs are laid.
Sold.

“You can have your empty church with a dirt floor swept clean of dirt and your spectacular stained glass gleaming by the cathedral rafters, both. But nothing you say can fuck up the space for God.”

You’ve punctured my solitude, I told you.”

What if where I am is what I need? Before you, I had always though of this mantra as a means of making peace with a bummer or even catastrophic situation. I never imagined it might apply to joy, too.”

“Happiness is no protection, and certainly it is not a responsibility. The freedom to be happy restricts human freedom if you are not free to be not happy. But one can make of either freedom a habit, and only you know which you’ve chosen.”

“Sometimes one has to know something many times over. Sometimes one forgets, and then remembers. And then forgets, and then remembers. And then forgets again. As with knowledge, so too, with presence.”

“You, reader, are alive today, reading this, because someone once adequately policed your mouth exploring.”

“But whatever sameness I’ve noted in my relationship 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.”

You’re the only one who knows when you’re using things to protect yourself and keep your ego together and when you’re opening and letting things fall apart, letting the world come as it is – working with it rather than struggling against it. You’re the only one who knows. And the thing is, even you don’t always know.”

“Inadequate origin models [of the universe] hold that (a) God never directly intervened in creating nature and/or (b) humans share a common physical ancestry with earlier life forms.”

“I told you I wanted to live in a world in which the antidote to shame is not honor, but honesty. You said I misunderstood what you meant by honor. We haven’t yet stopped trying to explain to each other what these words mean to us; perhaps we never will.”

“The question of what a psyche or a soul can experience depends, in large part, on what you believe it’s made of. Spirit is mater reduced to an extreme thinness: O so thin!

“In Arabic, the word for fetus derives from jinn, which means “hidden from sight.” No matter how many ultrasounds you’ve had, no matter how well you feel you’ve gotten to know your baby’s rhythms in utero, the baby’s body is still a revelation.”

How can a book be both a free expression and a negotiation? Is it not idle to fault a net for having holes?

“Because I do not yet understand the relationship between writing and happiness, or writing and holding.”

“Shame-spot: being someone who spoke freely, copiously, and passionately in high school, then arriving in college and realizing I was in danger of becoming one of those people who makes everyone else roll their eyes: there she goes again. It took some time and trouble, but eventually I learned to stop talking, to be (impersonate, really) an observer. This impersonation led me to write an enormous amount in the margins of my notebooks – marginalia I would later mine to make poems.”

“Forcing myself to shut up, pouring language onto paper instead: this became a habit. But now I’ve returned to copious speaking as well, in the form of teaching.”

“Sometimes, when I’m teaching, when I interject a comment without anyone calling on me, without caring that I just spoke  moment before, or when I interrupt someone to redirect the conversation away from an eddy I personally find fruitless, I feel high on the knowledge that I can talk as much as I want to, as quickly as I want to, in any direction that I want to, without anyone overtly rolling her eyes at me or suggesting I go to speech therapy. I’m not saying this is good pedagogy. I am saying that its pleasures are deep.”

What exactly is lost to us when words are wasted? Can it be that words comprise one of the few economies left on earth in which plenitude – surfeit, even – comes at no cost?”

“…the concept of leaving a space empty so that God could rush in. I knew a bit about this concept from my boyfriend at the time, who was big into bonsai. In bonsai you often plant the tree off-center in the pot to make space for the divine.”

“How does one get across the fact that the best way to find out how people feel about their gender or their sexuality – or anything else, really – is to listen to what they tell you, and to try to treat them accordingly, without shellacking over their version of reality with yours?”

“In response to a journalist who asked him to “summarize himself in a nutshell,” John Cage once said, “Get yourself out of whatever cage you find yourself in.”

“It’s easy to get juiced up about a concept like plurality or multiplicity and start complimenting everything as such. Sedgwick was impatient with that kind of sloppy praise. Instead, she spent a lot of time talking and writing about that which is more than one, and more than two, but less than infinity.”

In whose world is the morphological imaginary defined as that which is not real?

“In one of my favorites of your drawings, two Popsicles are talking to each other. One accuses, “You’re more interested in fantasy than reality.” The other responds, “I’m interested in the reality of my fantasy.” Both of the Popsicles are melting off their sticks.”

“Why did it take me so long to find someone with whom my perversities were not only compatible, but perfectly matched?”

“…any bodily experience can be made new and strange, that nothing we do in this life need have a lid crammed on it, that no one set of practices or relations has the monopoly on the so-called radical, or the so-called normative.”

“”I still see homosexuality as a narrative of urban adventure, a chance to cross not only sex barriers but class and age barriers while breaking a few laws in the process – and all for the sake of pleasure. If not, I might as well be straight,” Benderson says.”

“The other day I heard a guy on the radio talking about pre-historic homes, and the particular way humans make home as opposed to, say, birds. It isn’t a penchant for decoration that differentiates us – birds really have a corner on that – it’s the compartmentalization of space. The way we cook and shit and work in different areas. We’ve done this forever, apparently.”

“These are the voices that pass for radicality in our times. Let us leave them to their love, their event proper.”

“That’s what we both hate about fiction, or at least crappy fiction – it purports to provide occasions for thinking through complex issues, but really it has predetermined the positions, stuffed a narrative full of false choices, and hooked you on them, rendering you less able to see out, to get out.”

“While we talked we said words like nonviolence assimilation, threats to survival, preserving the radical. But when I think about it now I hear only the background buzz of our trying to explain something to each other, to ourselves, about our lived experiences thus far on this peeled, endangered planet.”

“Many women describe the feeling of having a baby come out of their vaginas as taking the biggest shit of their lives. This isn’t really a metaphor.”

“No one asked, How does one submit to falling forever, to going to pieces. A question from the inside.”

“The mysteries of psychology pale in comparison, just as evolution strikes me as infinitely more spiritually profound than Genesis.”

“Never in my life have I felt more prochoice than when I was pregnant. And never in my life have I understood more thoroughly, and been more excited about, a life that began at conception.”

“The extraordinarily difficult task imposed upon the child’s primary caretaker not only by the culture but also by Being itself is to induct it into relationality by saying over and over again, in a multitude of ways, what death with otherwise have to teach it: ‘This is where you end and others begin.'”

What other reason is there for writing than to be traitor to one’s own reign, traitor to one’s own sex, to one’s class, to one’s majority? And to be traitor to writing.

“My writing is riddled with such tics of uncertainty. I have no excuse or solution, save to allow myself the tremblings, then go back in later and slash them out. In this way I edit myself into a boldness that is neither native nor foreign to me.”

The self without sympathetic attachments is either a fiction or a lunatic…[Yet] dependence is scorned even in intimate relationships, as though dependence were incompatible with self-reliance rather than the only thing that makes it possible.

You’re a great student because you don’t have any baggage, a teacher once told me, at which the subterfuge of my life felt complete.”

“I will always aspire to contain my shit as best I can, but I am no longer interested in hiding my dependencies in an effort to appear superior to those who are more visibly undone or aching.”

“I have never really thought of myself as a “creative person” – writing is my only talent, and writing has always felt more clarifying than creative to me.”

“I don’t know why she has never seen herself as beautiful. I think I’ve been waiting all these years for her to do so, as if that kind of self-love would somehow offer her body to me. But now I realize – she already gave it to me.”

“At times I imagine her in death and I know that her body, in all its details will flood me. I do not know how I will survive it.”

“I hated him for crushing her. I hated her for being crushed.”

“… he doesn’t try to talk her out of her self-deprecation, nor does he abet it. He simply loves her. I am learning from him.”

“By way of introduction, she announced that she had started going to therapy because she wanted to be happier. To hear a scary, theoretical heavyweight admit such a thing changed my life.”

“Many people doing all kinds of work are able to take pleasure in aspects of their work,” Sedgwick once wrote, “but something different happens when the pleasure is not only taken but openly displayed I like to make that different thing happen.”

“This little boy lived by the maxim that if you could imagine the worst thing that could ever happen, you would never be surprised when it did.”

“Empirically speaking we are made of star stuff. Why aren’t we talking more about that? Materials never leave this world. They just keep recycling, recombining.”

…it is sometimes the most paranoid-tending people who are able to, and need to, develop and disseminate the richest reparative practices.”

Just because you have enemies does not mean you have to be paranoid.”

There is nothing you can throw at me that I cannot metabolize, no thing impervious to my alchemy.”

“I want to be somewhere more beautiful, I think, and also, everything is right.”

“I am scared. How deep can pain go.”

“You will have realized that death will do you too, without fail and without mercy. It will do you even if you don’t believe it will do you, and it will do you in its own way. There’s never been a human that it didn’t.”

“You had your last drink at twenty-three. You already knew.”

“You felt you had escaped the fear of someday becoming your parents, a fear you saw ruling the psyches of many of your friends.”

Babies do not remember being held well – what they remember is the traumatic experience of not being held well enough.

“But is there really such a thing as nothing, as nothingness? I don’t know. I know we’re still here, who knows for how long, ablaze with our care, its ongoing song.”

Thank you for reading and thank you, Maggie Nelson, if you ever stumble across this, for such an intriguing read.

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