Uncharted Waters: Family-Making and Trans-Formational Episodic Time in Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts

Dunn, Eli, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Wicke, Jennifer, Department of English, University of Virginia

In this paper, I argue that Maggie Nelson’s new work of “autotheory”, The Argonauts, operates within a distinctly constructed queer temporality that both allows for a nuanced representation of trans and nonbinary people and simultaneously opens the reader to the expression of these genders. Nelson's commitment to altering narrative structure, allows her to theorize and position her own family and her husband's gender neither as radically queer nor heteronormative. The text takes up family-making and bodily change, understanding her own personal experiences of these topics as resting in an middle-ground between poles, a space that is as generative as it is fragile. Nelson’s use of white space breaks her narrative and theoretical discussions into short, episodic chunks, each with their own relation to the larger text. These smaller pieces not only represent a kind of episodic time that vacillates between vastly different points in Nelson's story, but they also mirror her own interrogation of her life experiences, relationships, and theoretical work. The form of The Argonauts continues the content's dedication to becoming, to existing positively between genders, between heteronormative and radical, between temporalities etc. In addition, this commitment to piecing together its discussion one moment at a time aligns it with other new forms of media that are pushing the boundaries of queer theory and transgender representation, such as streaming television series Orange is the New Black and Transparent. By focusing on specifically queer temporal boundaries and their relation to narrative work of The Argonauts, we are able to begin to identify key forms that directly link episodic texts to their representations of the lived lives of nonbinary trans people.

MA (Master of Arts)
transgender, Maggie Nelson, genderqueer, The Argonauts, queer family, queer theory, nonbinary, queer time
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