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Reading: Maternal Matters: Jeanne Dielman and Emma Bovary Strange(ly) Familiar Reflections on Everyda...


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The Maternal in the work of Chantal Akerman

Maternal Matters: Jeanne Dielman and Emma Bovary Strange(ly) Familiar Reflections on Everyday Domestic Scenes


Adriana Cerne

About Adriana
Adriana Cerne is a Doctoral candidate at the University of Leeds, researching feminist countercinema films and filmmaking from the 1970s to the early 1980s, with a focus on the early work of Chantal Akerman. She engages with art and its objects at the intersections of feminist theory, psychoanalysis, literary theory, and cultural analysis. Her first publication appeared in the Journal of European Studies, more recently she contributed a chapter to the book Psychoanalysis and the Image: Transdisciplinary Perspectives, which forms part of Blackwell's New Interventions in Art History series. Recent work on the concepts of reverie and contemplation as aesthetic encounter is being further developed in current writing that is setting out to reconsider the trope of the female bather in art. She teaches Visual Culture and Theory at the University of the Arts London and at the Royal College of Art.
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If you choose to show a woman's gestures so precisely, it's because you love them. Chantal Akerman

Woman, as a major category within art and literature, clearly lends itself to impersonal artistic tropes such as The Maternal and The Nude. Jeanne Dielman 23 Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles, as named and framed, re-assigns attention to the very idea of anonymity that appears to be the essential condition for woman's effective valorisation in art and literature, and with this loving attentiveness, new visibility is cast within the darkness upon which we are, as visual and cultural theorists, endlessly treading.

Whilst discussing the making of her seminal film Jeanne Dielman, Chantal Akerman said: 'I began with several very precise images from my childhood: watching my mother at the stove; my mother carrying packages'. Although drawing on a deeply personal image-bank Akerman does not attempt to re-construct a moment from her childhood, or her mother. She is, however, engaging a retroactive memory within a signifying practice, which allows us to begin re-thinking feminine subjectivity as already structured within the symbolic.

The need for adequate theoretical frameworks with which to consider the 'images of women' and the pleasure derived from watching/experiencing film has been an issue since Claire Johnston set out to plot the ideological implications of myth and its relation to women and the cinematic beyond the reflective position of much early second wave feminist criticism. The issues and implications of loss aligned to the Oedipal have long been on the feminist agenda, however, in its visual concern with what Akerman once referred to as the images between images, I suggestJeanne Dielman can be seen to both displace and dis-play, an as-yet overlooked, latent potential for both visual and feminist analysis.

How to Cite: Cerne, A., 2010. Maternal Matters: Jeanne Dielman and Emma Bovary Strange(ly) Familiar Reflections on Everyday Domestic Scenes. Studies in the Maternal, 2(1), pp.1–11. DOI:
Published on 01 Jan 2010.
Peer Reviewed


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