Women’s Time-Image


Jessica McGoff


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Accompanying text

Women’s Time-Image asks the question, “if the crystal image is a way to see time within the image – is there a way for cinema to show us women’s time?” Within this audiovisual essay, I endeavour to bring together the thought of Gilles Deleuze and Julia Kristeva, specifically the concepts of the time-image and women’s time, respectively. Harmonising Deleuze’s and Kristeva’s thought posed an immediate challenge, for both thinkers hold opposing views regarding subjectivity, specifically in relation to psychoanalysis, and by extension, their references to gender are often contradictory. My approach here was to begin with Deleuze’s concept of the crystal image and apply it as if it were a method, using it as a means of illuminating Kristeva’s theory.

The starting point for my thought is Deleuze’s assertion of a shift from the movement-image to the time-image within cinema, wherein World War IImarks a dividing line between a classical expression of time and a new conception of time. The movement-image is characterised by the sensory-motor continuity of characters, whilst the time-image signals a break within their ability to act upon what they see (Deleuze 2). However, I would also contend that it is generally true that the female body within cinema, especially classical cinema, has been given less autonomy in regards to the sensory-motor-schema. The female body has been traditionally misappropriated and misrepresented, challenging a linear trajectory regarding the sensory-motor schema. The question arises, then, of how to account for a shift in the conception of time when dealing with the cinematic female body. To begin to think through a specifically female conception of time within cinema, I turn to Julia Kristeva’s “women’s time.” My immediate connection to the aforementioned problem of historical trajectory is Kristeva’s contention that women’s time is in opposition to the “teleology, linear and prospective unfolding…the time of history” (17). Disputing a linear shift from the movement-image to the time-image allows one to take a different perspective in regards to movement and time. [1] Kristeva’s conception of female subjectivity is one that retains “repetition and eternity from among the multiple modalities of time” (16). These types of temporality, cyclical and monumental, form the basis of my enquiry: can cinema allow us to “see” this form of time?

My audiovisual assignment locates the cinematic presentation of women’s time within the durational image of the female labouring body, using Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1983)as its primary example. I was intrigued by Deleuze’s reference to Umberto D.(Vittorio De Sica, 1955) on the first page of Cinema 2 (1), as the scene’s primary focus is indeed on a labouring female body. Further, Deleuze also references Jeanne Dielman and other works by Akerman in Cinema 2, stating that female directors such as Akerman have “produced innovations in this cinema of bodies, as if women had to conquer the source of their own attitudes and the temporality which corresponds to them as individual or common gest” (197). It seems that Deleuze already expresses a connection between the body and a unique, but unspecified, female temporality. Domestic labour, and labour time, is a palpable concern of feminist activism, and fits too within Kristeva’s observation of post-1968 feminist movements seeking “to give language to the intra-subjective and corporeal experiences left mute by the culture in the past” (19). In Kristeva’s discerning of a successor generation, she refers to the emergence of “aesthetic practices” to communicate interiorisation (35). In my audiovisual essay, I have attempted to convey that Bergsonian duration, that is, the concept of time as open and expanding, can be brought together with the temporal aspects of repetition and eternity identified by Kristeva. The routine-based movement of domestic labour when thought of as a Deleuzian time-image acts as an aesthetic practice to capture female interiority. Rather than think against the time-image, I am attempting to provide a specifically female perspective that accounts both for the restrictions upon female autonomy regarding the motor-sensory schema as well as the neglect of female interiority. This position relates to discourses surrounding the invisibility of women’s labour and the representation of women on screen, as well as being meta-related to the erasure of women’s labour within cinema as an industrial, creative and discursive field. [2]

The audiovisual essay’s direct phenomenology renders it a productive framework for investigations regarding time. Women’s Time-Image is conscious of the mechanics of time and duration as they work on the moving image; the ability to slow down clips, to cut between them or to let them play out certainly influenced my working process. Whilst the audiovisual essay can convey directly the phenomenology of cinematic time rather than speak of it abstractly, in practice this can prove frustrating. Cutting from within a film’s body risks destruction of that film’s temporality, one that is already precarious in the case of Jeanne Dielmanwherein duration is central to the film’s narrative and themes. This constraint proved both clarifying and challenging, as I was compelled to experiment with visual ways to convey the film’s duration. This process illuminated audiovisual montage’s ability to convey different registers and expressions of time, circling back to the foremost aim of my research.



[1]I note here that I do not wish to imply that Deleuzian categorisation does not allow for hybrid images, rather I take the linearity of the move from movement-image to time-image as a means of introducing new perspectives on time.


[2]As an additional note, my audiovisual essay originally made use of clips from The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, 2011), which functioned as a meta-comment regarding the construction of film canons and auteurist discourse, for Tarr is frequently discussed as sole author of the film, erasing his female co-director.



Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: 1989.

Kristeva, Julia. “Women’s Time.” Trans. Alice Jardine and Harry Blake. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 7.1 (Autumn, 1981): 13-35.