The Long Journey: Maternal Trauma, Tears and Kisses in a Work by Chantal Akerman


Chantal Akerman is now one of the most highly regarded filmmakers in Europe with a long career reaching back into the 1970s when she was first hailed as part of a new feminist cinema. As independent cinema lost ground and its own locations, Akerman was invited to create installations for her films and thus to traverse the boundaries between cinema and new media art forms. While still making commercial cinema, Akerman elaborates its themes in other forms. One such installation, WALKING NEXT TO ONE'S SHOELACES INSIDE AN EMPTY FRIDGE (2004), created an occasion for her to film together with her own mother, the haunting presence of many of her films and much of the feminist analysis of Akermanian cinema. This time, Akerman led her mother back to her own mother through an object, the only remnant of a young woman murdered in Auschwitz. This paper is an analysis of what happened during this filming which leads to a retrospective reading of Akerman's films from 1968 in terms of traumatic inscriptions of the shared transgenerationally transmitted but unspoken trauma that finds its moment of formulation in this 'event' that was filmed and then made into an installation. Drawing on Ettingerian matrixial revisions to trauma theory and to psychoanalytical aesthetics, notably through the concept of fascinance as a durational non-visual gazing through which the feminine subject seeks knowledge of a feminine other, I argue that we can, in the light of this 'event' of the 2004 work, reconfigure Akerman's work in terms of a journey towards the traumatic kernel that, encrypted, leads to repetition, but formulated through the durational artwork facilitates passage of its remnants.

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Pollock, G., (2010) “The Long Journey: Maternal Trauma, Tears and Kisses in a Work by Chantal Akerman”, Studies in the Maternal 2(1), 1-32. doi:


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Griselda Pollock



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