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CLARISSA AND CLÉO (EN)DURÉE SUICIDAL TIME IN VIRGINIA WOOLF'S MRS.

DALLOWAY
AND AGNÈS VARDA'S CLÉO DE 5 À 7
Author(s): Pam Fox Kuhlken
Source: Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 45, No. 3 (2008), pp. 341-369
Published by: Penn State University Press
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25659662
Accessed: 19-05-2020 09:29 UTC

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CLARISSA AND CLEO (en)dUREE SUICIDAL TIME IN
VIRGINIA WOOLF'S MRS. DALLOWAY

AND AGNES VARDA's CLEO DE $ A J

Pam Fox Kuhlken

Virginia Woolf s Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and Agnes Varda's 1961 film, Cleo de
$aj [Cleo from 5 to 7] are more than texts by women about women set in a
single day. Although to date they have not been critically examined together,
Mrs. Dalloway and Cleo de 5 a 7 are complementary texts that share an
uncanny preoccupation with aspects of temporality. This analysis will draw
upon the objective, physical models of time conceived by Julia Kristeva as
le temps des hommes [mens time] and by Henri Bergson as temps, concepts
whose subjective, psychological antitheses are le temps desfemmes [women's
time] (Kristeva) and duree (Bergson). Once the respective protagonists of
Mrs. Dalloway and Cleo de$aj, Clarissa and Cleo, recognize their complicity
in a false representation of narrative history, temps, and men's time, addition
ally?and more alarmingly so for these blithe women?duree and women's
time are exposed as reassuring, but suicidal, fictions.
Progressing from objectivity toward subjectivity, each woman faces
a crisis and undergoes a profound transformation. With the introduc
tion of a male counterpart alongside the female protagonists, Clarissa and
Cleo discover that infinity encompasses death as the necessary, liberating
denouement of an odyssey through the present into unchartable and extra
subjective space and time. Once initiated, the audience is invited to escape
suicidal temps and men's time, and to pass through duree or women's time
in order to experience an apotheosis of a hybrid?androgynous time?that
is signified post-denouement, off-page, or off-screen in an aesthetic black
hole conjured into extra-textual existence.

COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES, VOL. 45, NO. 3, 2008.


Copyright ? 2008. The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.

341

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342 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES

Public Private Time

On a single day, two women join the deadly rush of life on the streets o
London and Paris and experience a lifetime: the culmination of their biog
raphies in the autobiographical present. In Virginia Woolf s 1925 novel,
Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa Dalloway spends a June day primarily on the streets
of London, whereas in Agnes Varda's 1961 film, Cleo de 5 a 7, Cleo Victoire
passes a late afternoon chiefly on the streets of Paris.1 While Cleo de 5 a 7
makes no direct allusion to Mrs. Dalloway, and although to date such an
intertextuality has not received critical attention, a temporal preoccupation
does connect the two diurnal texts written by women about women who
intersect in a new temporal dimension.2 Woolf s compressed narrative spans
eighteen hours, and instead of chapter or section divisions, uses eight space
breaks on the following pages: 14, 29,48,56,58, 64,151,165. Cleo de say, with
its ninety-minute running time and two-hour diegetic time, is subdivided
by thirteen chapter headings.
Clarissa, a 52-year old London socialite and diplomat s wife, is the prim,
senior Doppelganger of Cleo, the younger, unwed Parisian pop singer with
three minor hit songs to her credit. Although created almost forty years
apart?one modern, one Nouvelle Vague [French New Wave]?and regard
less of any generational or social gap between characters?one a bourgeois
housewife in a gentrified neighborhood and the other an avant-garde young
femme fatale in a downtown studio?Clarissa Dalloway and Cleo Victoir
are synchronous characters who probe an extra-subjective time and space
in their historical contexts. They exhume a temporality that envelops public
spaces with the humble artistry of domesticity and the integrity of personal
vision, creating private time and eluding men's time by way of fdnerie on
the streets of London and Paris.
In Cleo de 5 a 7, it is not only the title but also clocks that are pervasive
reminders of the objective shadow inseparable from subjective time.3 Betsy
Ann Bogart's dissertation in part traces the visual images of clocks in Cleo de
Say. "their ticking and chiming fills the soundtrack, reinforcing the theme of
the passing of objective time" (240). Cleo's apartment has a pendulum clock,
but more prominent is the small timer that paces her stretching. Another
image of the monotonous ticking is the swing hanging in Cleo's apartment
and the camera that physically mimics her movements. During her song
rehearsal, the camera also swings from character to character, recalling the
progress of time and the artists' implication in its passage, despite their
insistent and creative efforts to revise and affect the present. On the streets
outside, clocks are captured in the frame, and a clock's chiming indicates

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CLARISSA AND CLEO (EN)DUREE SUICIDAL TIME 343

the end. The working title of Mrs. Dalloway, "The Hours," signifies Woolf's
predominant concern with time. Original manuscripts in the British Museum
indicate that "The Hours" is initially the sole contender of authorial control
in the title, although it is interrogative: TheHour-5? But in subsequent manu
scripts also housed in the same collection, "Mrs. Dalloway" complements
the title as a supplemental power, and the subject becomes declarative: The
Hours or Mrs. Dalloway?
As Woolf s successive titles indicate, the author wresdes with the hierarchy
of life and time, a symbiosis, but nevertheless, in terms of narrative, only one
can reign supreme: one will come first, and one will monopolize our attention
in the end. Ultimately, Woolf s title announces the purveyor of time, the sub
jective rather than the objective element: Mrs. Dalloway, the protagonist who
usurps autocratic Father Time.5 Time is ultimately compressed when Woolf s
prim but restless socialite?like Varda's popular, brooding performer?endures
a death on a decisive day in which she confronts temporal illusions, becomes
transformed, and is reborn into timelessness (or "time-fiill-ness") once tem
poralities coalesce into a sort of hybrid, androgynous time.

Why Now?

"Real time" texts such as Mrs. Dalloway and Cleo de 5 a 7 are a modern
phenomenon, arguably initiated at the turn of the twentieth century with
the first stream-of-consciousness novella, Arthur Schnitzler's "Lieutenant
Gustl" (1900) followed by James Joyce's monumental novel, Ulysses (1922),
set on Dublin's "dailiest day possible." In this genre of "ticking-clock" nar
ratives, time is not authored by hours; instead, time is inscribed by artists
implicated in their own works both in the narrative as author/auteur and
also as projected in their protagonists. Shortly after Joyce came Woolf; a
generation later, Varda also reconfigures the audience's mental processes
and perceptions of reality. In these texts by Woolf and Varda, the chrono
logical stream of life becomes less deterministic and more improvised on
two different, dangerous days. The author/auteur unravels the threads of a
heroine's life and finds a woman who is everywhere present. In the diegetic
present, Clarissa is the sum of 52 years, and Cleo is a young woman. Argu
ably, the texts may be considered in the genre of fictional auto/biography:
"auto-" because they are written in first person consciousness and read like
a Bildungsroman, and "bio-" because these personalities are built like rolling
snowballs on the linear trajectory of a lifetime.

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344 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES

Yvette Biro and Catherine Portuges argue that Varda "might just as
well have chosen any other preceding or subsequent moment to reach the
same final result" because "[t]here is no privileged moment."6 But what if
insignificant days only occur because they are allowed to pass unnoticed?
In Mrs. Dalloway and Cleo de^aj, the very act of objectifying mortality in
a moment is significant?and even Faustian?to the poet or philosopher,
housewife or celebrity who prefers to leave earth for edenic eternity. Fur
thermore, a confrontation with?and proclamation of?death makes any one
day significant, differentiating it as "dangerous." In Aristotelian logic, the
ending of a masculine history prefigures death, a pattern further explored by
Frank Kermode in The Sense of an Ending. Kermode defines a denouement
as a metaphor of death:

Men, like poets, rush "into the middest," in medias res, when they are
born; they also die in mediis rebus, and to make sense of their span they
need Active concords with origins and ends, such as give meaning to
lives and to poems. The End they imagine will reflect their irreducibly
intermediary preoccupations. They fear it, and as far as we can see
have always done so; the End is a figure for their own deaths.7

Kermode argues that life only makes sense if we have "fictive concords with
origins and ends," in other words, an autobiography with both a back story
and vision for the future. As a contrapuntal text to The Sense of an Ending,
Edward Said's first book, Beginnings, comes to mind.8 Drawing upon
Giambattista Vico's work, Said's preoccupation with the will to begin also
acknowledges a burial or an end. In the rituals of death and remembrance,
civilization returns to its beginnings, founding a site or home for perpetual
return and rediscovery.
While Mrs. Dalloway may be considered as an ephemeral and purely
psychological narrative, it can also be viewed as a still life of a bouquet of
flowers, like the one Clarissa purchases on her first errand. Like a bouquet,
the busy London day is cut and is now dying: morning is the bud, the evening
its prime, and at night, its petals fall. Likewise, when an author presents a
character or an event such as a party, she cuts the stem of a life that will now
be compelled to end. Death is inimical to the cycle of gestation and entropy,
threatening every act that is creative and alive. And at the moment it dies,
the life is defined, measured by historical perspective.
Throughout his text, Kermode implies his own personal ending rather
than "men's," "a character's," "a story's," or simply "an" ending to history.
Seeking private knowledge of "fictive concords" requires not only prenatal,

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CLARISSA AND CLEO (EN)DUREE SUICIDAL TIME 345

but also postmortem self-reflection. In this sense, science can help us


understand physiology, but not a lifetime. Artists are left to recreate a
postmortem portrait. Neither Mrs. Dalloway nor Cleo de$ajtrack a linear
history, one that is typically determined by males, and yet Woolf and Varda
also refuse to concede to the binary of masculine and feminine temporal
perspectives. The texts do this by most emphatically resisting a traditional
denouement. In each story, the pilgrimage out of temporal bondage is
initiated by an awareness of time's otherness and objectivity. At this point,
the two women become integral to the cyclical process of life and death in
narratives set on a given day. Mrs. Dalloway and Cleo de 5 a y adhere to the
hours but belie the impossibility of experiencing every minute as uniformly
as the clock suggests. Unexpectedly on the given days, two women begin new
lifetimes post-denouement, suggesting an ellipses rather than a full stop. In
this, they defy Kermode's "sense of an ending" in the mode of temps or men's
time and evade a finite death. Woolf's and Varda's art controls and compels
time so it might reach the ultimate moment of being: the ideal, eternal state
of androgynous time potentially experienced by all.

Time Flies

Critics have found that Virginia Woolf's Active treatment of time in the
1920s coincides with the far more prominent philosophy of her contem
porary, Henri Bergson. In "Literature and Time," Grozdana Olujic argues
that Bergson's theories about the nature of memory are as important as the
discovery of the atom and Einstein's theory of relativity.9 Almost unani
mously, they qualify this statement by noting that Woolf never mentions
Henri Bergson in her diaries, although absence is not evidence. However,
with uncanny resemblance, Bergson's theories illuminate Woolf's fiction,
and, 40 years later, Varda's. Bergson distinguishes between two kinds of time:
physical {temps) and psychological (duree).10 Ascribed to science, physical time
(temps) is objective, measuring outward events through "time on the clock."
Since it is reduced to the succession of identical moments, temps provides
little insight into character motivation or the significance of events.
Alternately, psychological time (duree) describes the duration of the
conscious subject through "time in the mind": lived, inner time that is
dispossessed of superstructure. In duration, there is only one fluid, simul
taneous stream without clear division. The ego lives in these successive
moments that forge the past and present into one organic whole. Lacking

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346 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES

chapter divisions, the quick, uninterrupted pace of Mrs. Dalloway reflects


a cumulative, snowball effect as the novel develops a memory of its own.
Using similar means, with thirteen chapter divisions, Cleo de$a/maintains
a continuity of experience in a type of "poetic enjambment" that omits clear
cuts between scenes. The viewer becomes absorbed, carried forward as
though perched on the protagonists shoulder like a hand-held camera.
Almost a century later, Bergson's theories (1889) of temps and duree seem
to fulminate in Julia Kristeva's theory (1979) of le temps des hommes [mens
time] and le temps desfemmes [women's time]. Temps is tantamount to men's
time, and duree to women's time. Rejecting men's time and excluding it from
further consideration, Kristeva further analyzes the more palatable women's
time and finds two components: cyclical time and momentous time, which in
turn correspond with Bergsonian duree and temps, respectively. Each binary
{temps/duree and men's time/women's time) is an insufficient framework
because it stops short of synthesizing polarities into a new thesis, reinforc
ing, as it were, the progressive, dialectical pattern outlined by philosophers
from Heraclitus to Hegel and beyond to such notable works as Derrida's
reading of Marx.
Before their transformations, Clarissa and Cleo are estranged from
society as well as from their own identities ascribed to and accepted by them.
Within their historical contexts, Clarissa and Cleo are bound to masculine
narrative patterns as they negotiate the present under the scrutiny of an author
and director. They travel through the mechanical cycle Bergson calls temps,
and Kristeva calls le temps des hommes. Significantly, these forms of time can be
identified with the reigning patriarch itself, Father Time, who is personified
as a straw man in the fictions of Woolf and Varda. While Father Time is
sufficiently emblematic of men's time?empirical and historical?women's
time is abstract and more complex. Both cyclical and monumental,
women's time shatters traditional associations with objectivity. Cyclical
time "conforms to nature through gestation, regularity, and physiological
rhythms"; monumental time "attests to the infinity of extra-subjective tem
porality through its affiliation with myth, mysticism, and the cosmos."11
Upon their transformations, Clarissa and Cleo exit textual, narrative, and
linear temporal dimensions that fail to comprehend cyclical and monumental
dimensions of the day; the characters?and the same would apply were they
men?enter le temps desfemmes. And yet even after progressing from men's
historical time to women's natural time, these iconoclastic characters are not
left at this first stage of temporal awareness. An alternate reality emerges
from duree or women's time?with cyclical, monumental aspects?but also
passes beyond this illusory realm. For our purposes, I will call the resulting

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clarissa and cleo (en)duree suicidal time 347

dimension "androgynous time." It is not coincidence that the added element


bridging from the "transformation" to "androgynous time" is a man: Clarissa
with Peter Walsh and then Septimus Smith; Cleo with her boyfriend and
then Antoine.
Clarissas and Cleo's pilgrimage toward this out-of-the-book and
off-screen experience?if it is anything like this reader's, and regardless o
gender?would look something like this:

TEMPS DUREE ^ transformation ^ androgynous


men's time women's time time
FIGURE I

Despite wedding liturgy that pronounces "the two will become one,"
reason fails to empirically grasp the reality of a mystical union, tallying even
the most intimate pair as two units. On the other hand, Woolf and Varda
suggest that male and female physiological counterparts form a single unit,
conjoined in a space created by their art. The symbiosis, neither masculine
nor feminine, is androgynous when experienced by male-female couples: in
Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa and her first love from childhood, Peter Walsh; in
Cleo de 5 a 7, Cleo and a veteran on holiday, Antoine, whom she meets for
the first time.

Like the fictions of Woolf and Varda, the possibility of this androgy
nous ideal is postulated in the I-Ching [Book of Changes] as the yin and yang
(figure 2). The yin and yang posits the economy of an integrated, mutually
dependent, masculine-feminine universe.12
SUMMER

./fe.
SOLSTICE

VlF
EQUINOX* ^^^B EQUINOX

WINTER
SOLSTICE
FIGURE 2

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348 comparative literature studies

The two halves are colored differently to denote their different natu
therefore we might conclude that they are opposites, leading us
that objective time operates independently from?but simultaneou
subjective time. The resulting tension is a constructive-destructive du
a natural fusion?like the consummation of elements that combin
fire, an unseen but always potential reality that dodges representatio
conjured into the more fully realized presence of androgynous tim
And yet the goal is not for all rivers of thought to converge in
homogeneous basin. The male and female principles of the Yin Ya
surrender their subjectivity in order to form an undifferentiated, un
mass. Similarly, Woolf, Varda, Kristeva, and Bergson are connecte
study, but each one?with nuanced and distinct structures, metho
and insights?requires a different kind of reader. A theoretical or Act
may symbolically represent or explain temporal convergence, and
union is possible to metaphorically incorporate into the text?the a
of art?the most potent representation is activated by a text and
upon its conclusion.
The yin and yang (analogous to the star on the right in NASA's
below, figure 3) provides a philosophical ontology, while another
enon signifies its physical?and yet immaterial?aspects.

figure 3: In NASA's illustration, the magnetic forces of a black hole (seven time
mass) draws energy from a star (right) while a high-speed wind escapes from t
yet multi-dimentional, co-orbiting system. Illustration: M. Weiss (CXC),

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clarissa and cleo (en)duree suicidal time 349

The cumulative effect is like that of a black hole: the collapse of matter
into infinitely small space and infinitely great density. And, hypothetically
when the spiraling "yin and yang effects" in the novel and film intensify to
the point that the dark and light halves collide, the energy could be seen
creating this phenomenon: a realm that permanently traps all other for
of energy, like light, and leaves utter blackness, like Woolf s and Varda's fin
scenes. On this "extraordinary night," Clarissa Dalloway recalls a line she rea
earlier that morning from a book in a storefront display: "Fear no more the
heat of the sun" (9,186). In a moment that is detached from the jurisdiction
either the sun or moon, the ebb and flow is unpredictable despite the presen
of the sun and moon in space. A bottomless black hole cannot be observe
but it can be sensed through its emission of visible wavelengths?like B
Bens "leaden circles [that] dissolved in the air" (4), or the revealing silenc
and absences at the party?whose gravitational and magnetic forces affe
its environs. Clarissa felt siphoned by the party into being something th
was not herself, but "unreal in one way; much more real in another" between
the semi-formal attire and the break from routine, so one could speak w
the effort "to go much deeper" (171). Nothing could be deeper than a bla
hole (figure 4), or for Clarissa, a line from a book.

figure 4

The texts present a sublime experience that is only potentially actua


ized after the final page is read, or with the black screen that follows F
The subjective experience will doubtless be as unique as each individual.
However fleetingly, Clarissa and Cleo?along with the reader or viewer w
might identify with the characters?are finally set free from their historical
lives, the implicit narratees' scrutiny, and the author/auteurs hand. As such
each couple?Clarissa and Septimus, Cleo and Antoine?is a complem
tary whole that not only eludes mens time, but also the text, narratee,
author/auteur.Tht reader and viewer experiences an off-page and off-screen
"black hole" effect, an aesthetic gravitational pull that compels the audie
into this new realm (figure 5).

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350 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES

OBJECTIVE SUBJECTIVE ^ EXTRA-SUBJECTIVE ^ THE BLACK HOLE


FIGURE 5

Danger on the Streets of London ...

Admiring, even envying, Londoners as they ran "errands of mystery," Clarissa


has "a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out
to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous
to live even one day" (8). Critical studies often cite this line as significant,
but leave it unexamined as though self-evident, which to my satisfaction,
it is not. Determining why the day is "dangerous" will help us decipher the
danger inherent in time. Clarissas paranoia and alienation seem ridiculous in
context: she is merely preparing to host a party that evening. But she does not
proceed inanely with routine errands; instead, she intuits a feeling she always
had: it is dangerous to be connected to transience. This fear is symptomatic of
a vague or false conception of time, an inaugural stage of understanding. But
from the first pages of Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissas perception is being honed
on this dangerous day and soon she will be able to remove herself from temps
and experience duree. If only London could extend her life.
Clarissa feels neither old nor young, neither clever nor extraordinary as
the omnibuses pass by on Piccadilly. She consciously desires what she does
not have: "perpetual life, the never-ending rush of omnibuses making their
rounds: what she loved was this, here, now, in front of her_Did it matter
that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her;
did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended
absolutely?" (9) As she watches the rush with absurd and faithful passion,
she disappears as a subject in the outward gaze and reveals her innermost
desire. At age 52, she wishes: "Oh if she could have had her life over again!"
(10). She visualizes herself as an omnibus that will repeat its route several
times a day, every day, and she projects herself into the heterogeneous rush
of London that will never end, as though she were the clocker of a race who
refuses to halt the stopwatch.
What does her daydream indicate? Namely, that Clarissa watches the
hours through a masculine lens, entrenched in physical time. By definition,
a "desire" is unfulfilled satiety, so while Clarissa may imagine herself to be an
omnibus, the fantasy is, in fact, possible because she emphatically knows she is
not a bus. By nature Clarissa seems to love the act of imagining or fantasizing
to such an extent that were she an automobile, the reader might expect the

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CLARISSA AND CLEO (EN)DUREE SUICIDAL TIME 351

machine to dream of being a woman. She takes in the scene permissively,


holding in her mind everything the city offers, just as her fantastic life as
an omnibus would allow her to contain and carry others. Clarissa triumphs
in making a day last by inserting doses of life into the moment to weigh it
down. Her objective reportage is rooted in temps, but articulated through
the imaginative power of duree.
Like Clarissa on the streets of London-the-Cosmic-Metropolis, Goethe s
Faust never wishes to freeze the intoxicating rush of life, but rather to perma
nently orbit within the endless rush of the cosmos so that it might sustain his
life. Faust faces damnation when he becomes enamored of der Augenblick [the
moment] and longs to be suspended with it in timelessness, saying:" Verweile
doch, du bist so schon" ["Abide, you are so fair?"].13 But the audience of angelic
creatures righdy understands the statement and deduces that falling in love with
the moment is not a petition for the end, but for more time. Faust pleads for
beauty and strives for a goal, and this warrants salvation in Goethe's?although
not in Christopher Marlowe's?drama. By Goethe's standard, might Clarissa
Dalloway, on the other hand, be considered suicidal for loving the loose ends
of a world that is unraveling, for clinging to moments that are dead the instant
they are noticed? Doses of life?like the animated, sentient characters of
Clarissa and Faust?are too precious and rare to be annihilated.
Temps lulls and enchants Clarissa with an end that masquerades as a
greater, more complete ideal than reality, one that would erase disappoint
ments such as the distance from her closest friends and a perfunctory mar
riage. Above all, the unmistakable regular tolling of Big Ben, Father Time's
figurehead and local patriarch, threatens to end the intoxicating rush of life.
Clarissa fears that in the event of death, subjectivity would be replaced by
extra-subjectivity, and she would cease to be herself. Clarissa is still ignorant
of the narrative's proposition?and ultimate conclusion, to be discussed later
in this paper?that only the false conception of temps and duree end, and
rather than "ceasing to be," an individual becomes transformed in mythical
time. Such a symbolic or literal postmortem apotheosis may be set amidst
a collective gathering or "hubbub," but in the estimation of Mrs. Dalloway s
narrator, the "I" will nevertheless remain "I."

... On the Streets of Paris

In Cleo des a7->a Parisian pop-singer has greater cause than Clarissa Dalloway
for considering the given day to be "very, very dangerous." She passes a

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352 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES

long, summers day?literally the longest of the year as the first day of the
solstice?awaiting the results of a biopsy that will determine whether or
not her tumor is malignant. The 13 chapters are set in "real time," paying
homage to scientific fidelity by way of narrative certitude, as if adherence
to a temporal code would guarantee safe passage for the cancer patient and
offset her premature death so we could have "more film," prolonging the
pleasure of viewing a mysterious, engrossing story. Varda is at play with
smug formalism as the self-reflexive film destabilizes its own structure by
eliding time at whim.
Yvette Biro and Catherine Portuges agree that the unrelenting rhythms
of temporality are central in Varda s work:

[T]ime itself is the main protagonist of Varda's films?not just its


passage, its fertile construction-destruction, but its many facets, its
metamorphoses and burdens. Time is seen as a natural milieu of
everyday life, with its gently pulsing rhythm, its impenetrable con
tinuity; and time as a moment of strong density, suspended by the
violent twists of life, time as messenger, death's herald, its brother
sent out ahead to scout.14

Further confirmation comes from Alison Smith, who writes that Cleo de5 a 7
falls during a period in Varda's filmography in which time is chronological
and objective, and events are presented as they would have occurred; in later
films, repetition, flashbacks, and subjective patterns visibly depict memory
(142,151).15 Considering these two analyses in addition to a less metaphysical
explanation from Varda herself will develop the portrait of time as it appears
in her films. Varda describes the way she uses time, particularly in Cleo des ay,
as "both objective and subjective."16 Objective time (like temps or men's time)
obeys laws and facts that prescribe time to run out as if to a finish line: the
ending. Subjective, unpredictable, anxious time (duree or women's time) is
creative and covets more life, activity, and drama. For Varda, the two operate
simultaneously, which could produce the resulting tension, a "constructive
destructive" dualism described by Biro and Portuges, but with the added
qualification that the creative aspect of time, not only the destructive aspect,
is also "death's herald." The constructive-destructive duality creates a space
for time and envelops it in a film that will self-destruct by ending abruptly
and prematurely?leaving a pitch-black screen.
The film's prologue opens at five o'clock as Cleo sits in a fortune teller's
parlor where she is told that "une transformation profonde de tout votre etre"
["a profound transformation of your entire being"] is about to occur. Her

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CLARISSA AND CLEO (EN)DUREE SUICIDAL TIME 353

assistant, Angele, accompanies her to a cafe and then to a hat shop before
returning home where Cleo meets her boyfriend, Jose. Then, at a rehearsal
with her composer and lyricist, a new song causes a crisis of conscience, and
she storms out of her apartment, claiming that no one loves her?everyone
spoils her. The spoiled starlet walks on familiar, busy sidewalks, but for
the first time, she is unaccompanied, exposed to temps with her newfound
strength. She had previously been enveloped in her own orbit (around a
lonely planet) as reflected in her frequent use of taxis, wherein the meter
(the clock) ran for her alone. Duree is initiated when she relinquishes?at
least from "5 to 7"?her schedule, colleagues, and assistant. She visits her
friend, Dorothee, a model posing in a sculptors studio, then watches a short
silent comedy before taking a cab to the Pare Montsouris where she meets
Antoine, an irresistible, eccentric veteran who escorts her to the hospital for
the results of her tests.

Temporality is pervasive, announcing or predicting the time in each of


the thirteen chapters. With the documentary quality of Italian Neo-Realism
of the 1950s, the chapter titles disrupt the continuity of the narrative and
distance the viewer. Significantly, Varda's hand overrides temps or men's time in
order to find inhabitable space and life. As director, she recreates the units of
the day by interjecting captions according to the feminine experience of Cleo's
moods and meanderings. On the summer solstice, the feminine aspect?the
yin with her monthly cycle around earth?assumes a greater role in scripting
events otherwise controlled by the masculine yang?the sun with its annual
cycle. An accelerated sense of temporality results from experiencing change
on a monthly basis according to the lunar orbit, instead of charting time more
slowly by the solar year. For example, menstruation is a monthly physiological
rhythm, encompassing the possibility for gestation or, when the blood flows,
signifying an abortive life at the death of the egg. With the potential for a new
life almost monthly and with cycles in sync with the moon's orbit and tides,
time may hypothetically proceed more quickly?and more noticeably?for
women on these dangerous days of death and rebirth.
Clearly dissatisfied with the stifling nature of temps and its fascist pro
nouncements, Cleo is first seen having a tarot reading in the salon of Madame
Irma, a typically female clairvoyant. Resonant with the name "Clarissa," "Cleo"
is also evocative of clairvoyance or clarity. In this four-minute prelude to the
film, Cleo will draw a total of thirteen cards (first nine, then four more) for the
reading, as though drawing the thirteen chapters of the film. The tarot reading
maps Cleo's course through thirteen chapters between five and seven o'clock.
Like the chimes of Big Ben that track the London day in Mrs. Dalloway, every
event of Cleo de 5 a 71s assigned its own tarot card and precise hour.

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354 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES

Time flows subjectively as the cards introduce the four main players in
Cleo's life, all men. First, a card showing the man who made her artistic career
possible, Jose. His card is replaced by that of "son enterprise est hasardeuse"
["the man with a hazardous task"], the doctor. The director's name appears
on the screen beside hands cutting the deck as Madame Irma instructs Cleo:
"Le jeu est difficile, complique [. . .] Je ne vois pas tres bien. II faudrait en
faire un autre. Coupez, s'il vous plait" ["The cards are hard to read. We must
try again. Cut, please"]. (The caption forms a rhyme with the shot, stating:
"Directed by Agnes Varda.") Functioning as temporal master, the director
scripts feminine time with the double-entendre, coupez; the director's cue is
easily imagined. Time is negotiated as the women?the psychic, the director,
and Cleo?look for ways to reformulate Cleo's life as duree. The next set of
cards reveals a talkative young man who will amuse her; this proves to be
Antoine. The final figure is death, although Madame Irma explains: "Cette
carte n'est pas forcement la mort. [. ..] C'est une transformation profonde
de tout votre etre" ["This card doesn't necessarily mean death.... It means
a complete transformation of your whole being"]. This is enough for Cleo,
and she leaves suddenly, saying: "Assez, taisez-vous! Depuis deux jours je le
sais" ["Enough! I've known for two days"]. Madame Irma's clock on the wall
is ticking audibly, even louder during pauses in the dialogue. But the clock
is unwound?emasculated?because its pendulum is stationary; the loud
ticking is nondiegetic. In a room with an unwound clock, the women are
unscathed by temps. Temps itself is physically present but existentially dying
as it measures, counts, and amputates itself.
Commensurate with temps, the women are powerless in the face of death.
Masculine, medical time pronounces the end, and the end comes as cancer
in the feminine womb. Although Cleo has this knowledge, she nevertheless
visits the psychic in order to learn to what extent she can manipulate men's
time. Close-ups of old and young hands reveal the possibility of temporal
manipulation: an old and a young woman orchestrate events in a psychic's
parlor, in tandem with Varda's orchestration of events in the film. After the
tarot reading, Cleos palm is read. The palm reading traces the lines on a
hand, a mapped life, representing Cleo's trajectory through Parisian streets
as traced by Varda. Like Clarissa Dalloway's vocation of conducting parties
at home with the force and conviction of a politician, Madame Irma endows
the domestic with public significance. Symbolically, women become auteurs
of time in the film: Varda, Cleo, Madame Irma, a cab driver, her assistant
(Angele), and a friend (Dorothee). Men are shuffled like cards in the deck;
they are drawn and discarded like fleeting temps, until the redemptive man,
Antoine, rises from the deck and is allowed to accompany Cleo to a happy

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CLARISSA AND CLEO (EN)DUREE SUICIDAL TIME 355

ending (albeit off-screen). Comparably, Clarissa Dalloway passes into a new


dimension upon the intervention of Septimus, her symbolic escort.
After Cleo is escorted out, Irma opens a door to reveal a man reading
a newspaper?a cultural icon that epitomizes transience as it becomes "old
news" the instant it is published. All traces of the diplomacy and poetic ambi
guity of her tarot-reading persona vanish as she bluntly shares the breaking
story of Cleo's fortune: "Les cartes dissent la mort. Et moi j'ai vu, j'ai vu le
cancer. Elle est perdue" ["The cards spelled death and I saw cancer. She is
doomed"]. Madame Irma quickly shuts the door and the man immediately
resumes reading the paper without responding to the fatal prophecy. His
concern is with incontrovertible facts that answer who, what, why, where,
when, and how. Inescapably, he reads yesterday's news in order to under
stand life, clinging to a narrative that is verifiable because it resorts to the
context of temps?a cyclical pattern in which temps begets and canonizes
temps.The newspaper purports to be objective, offering one exclusive reading
about public figures. Temps is determined to reach a future goal at the end
of a linear trajectory directly ahead, like the river of Heraclitus's wise saying
that remains continuously in flux as it makes its fated journey as quickly as
possible. Upon Cleo's departure from Madame Irma's salon, she passes four
people waiting in line to see the clairvoyant, but only one man?and he is
reading a newspaper.
From a perspective rooted in temps or men's time, a story told from the
perspective of duree or women's time would be difficult to substantiate and
even dismissed as dubious. Madame Irma offers unique readings for every
visitor, and if necessary, duree even allows for re-readings to gain further clar
ity. The fortune teller provides Cleo with an immediate, up-to-the-minute
reading about people and events in the singer's unique past, present, and
future (reading three cards for each period in this scene).The Madame is not
confined to a journalist's litany of questions: who, what, why, where, when,
how? She believes she has the gift of seeing only what is relevant, so rather
than interviewing experts and eye-witnesses, Madame Irma relies on the
patterned shifting of the astrological chart as well as on the tarot cards that
are shuffled and dealt in the sphere of duree.

After Six

Through her civilizing efforts as hostess, Clarissa shuns the advent of death.
Clarissa's stance is firm: "Those ruffians, the Gods, shan't have it all their own

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356 comparative literature studies

way,?her notion being that the Gods, who never lost a chance of hurt
thwarting and spoiling human lives were seriously put out if, all the s
you behaved like a lady" (77). She defies her mortality and renounces m
historical temps by taunting and rivaling the gods' power through hosting
party?a brazen and dangerous (and apparently innocuous) feat. Her p
pacifies refined guests and sets them at ease despite the immanent end of
for the well-endowed upper middle class guests who ignore their unive
transience and feel more in control with every passing, conquered mom
dealt with civilly. Like bodies in Newtonian physics (see figure 3, pa
348), people exert gravitational force on all other bodies. Drawn toge
for a party, the interconnections ward off the encroaching tide of entrop
but, still, the guests are gradually dying. The party is a veneer, hiding tem
behind the posture of duree.
Denying the prognosis of death, Clarissa's staunch act is an offering th
combines and creates in more than domestic ways. For example, she obliter
disparity between the male politicians and female housewives?with the exc
tion of Lady Bruton, a lobbyist whom Clarissa regards as "a dragoon of gen
als" for hosting political luncheons in order to enlist support for her agen
and a character who seems to lack any connection to duree (105). The priva
act of hosting a party becomes international: outranking world affairs wit
firm, confident foundation in the present, rather than in the machination
capitalist discourse from the past and present projected upon the future. T
party is the necessary convergence of the public and private, creating a tim
and space that revises bastions of patriarchy. As such, the party becomes sec
communion, a ritual with a religious passion that clings to the physical wo
and consciousness instead of to an ablative afterlife. Clarissa seems to i
that monumental time will allow London's transient rush to outwit temps,
this would allow the strategic hostess to orchestrate a party forever.
Working within Aristotle's theoretical unities on a hot Wednesday
London, Woolf evokes psychologically expanded moments?Bergson's du
der Augenblick of Goethe's Faust; and Woolf s "moments of being"?f
countless historical places and times, inviting infinity into temps. As h
Mrs. Dalloway forms the connective web and oversees the gathering,
the Greek fates Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos who weave, measure,
cut life, respectively. Ironically, Clarissa has summoned her guests a
appointed hour and thereby recast moribund time into life?one of m
cracks in the veneer of duree.

In suspended "moments of being" in the stream-of-consciousness n


tive, time only seems to have stopped?whereas Big Ben is emphatically
ing offstage throughout. Sending out the irrevocable hour from its tower

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CLARISSA AND CLEO (EN)DUREE SUICIDAL TIME 357

Sinai above London, Big Bens "leaden circles dissolved in the air" (4). The
clock tower easily conjures new circles by the half-hour. Clarissa's party, her
circle, will converge that evening only to dissolve. A day is constituted by
each one of its moments. Each moment begins from nothing, like a pinpoint
that spirals wider and wider to such an extent that it dissolves into nothing.
Like the springs of a clock, Big Bens leaden circles unwind London?its
people, animals, buildings, landscape, and machinery?from non-existence
to non-existence. Big Ben, however, is exempt from the danger of a day.
So does time only exist when it is noticed, read, and ascribed to a notch
on a clock? Coincident with the first musical booming of mortal temps is the
first reference to Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway's heart condition, as if time itself is
the illness (15). Clarissa is reminded of the end of life with every one of Big
Ben's chimes, and she perceives every toll that occurs in the novel, as though
she is an enlisted servant of the most royal of all divinely instated monarchs:
Father Time; and of the next in rank, a husband. Big Ben is the transition
from one consciousness to another as Clarissa and Septimus both hear the
chimes at noon from different points in London: Clarissa is getting ready
for her party, and Septimus, for the final meeting with a doctor. By the end
of the six tolls, the two characters awake into a new reality.
Another one of Big Ben's subjects on that June day in London, Septimus
Smith is a war veteran being "unwound" by hallucinations and other symp
toms of shellshock. He hears his deceased comrade and calls for him, "Evans,
Evans!" which sounds like "Heavens, Heavens!" as though making an appeal
for divine relief from the torment (93). At 6:00 p.m., Septimus stares at
the face of civilization and screams?as if exclaiming to doctors, his wife,
and nations driven to war?"I'll give it you!" as he throws himself out the
window onto wrought iron fence posts (149). The war spares the soldier and
leaves him for civilians to welcome home, hospitalize, and then pronounce
dead?an admittedly cynical, but common, fate for many soldiers. News of
his suicide travels by word-of-mouth and soon arrives at the nearby Dalloway
estate, which is most likely encircled by wrought iron fence posts similar to
those that speared Septimus. Though it was off-site, it was all too close to
the Dalloway s residence and would soon permeate its oeuvre.
In direct contrast to Lady Bruton's political luncheons that devise ways
to manipulate temps, nothing untoward is ever expected to happen in such
a "hallowed precinct" as the Dalloway estate. But temps successfully crashes
the party and cracks the Dalloway's veneer: "Oh! thought Clarissa, in the
middle of my party, here's death, she thought. . . . What business had the
Bradshaws to talk of death at her parry?" (184). An indignant Clarissa feels
no one has the right to defile the sanctity of an event, of history in the

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358 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES

making, by hinting at life's aftermath: facing one's death alone. Here she
had established a regal estate with majestic gardens to offer her guests a
safe haven, but suddenly, with only a single announcement, she is defeated,
having failed to protect them from men's time {temps). Her guests, victims
of men's time, would fall from a balcony one by one, and despite her grace,
she would be the last to fall.
Clarissa's surfeit of life is initially drained as she imagines Septimus's
fall, the "thud, thud, thud in his brain, and then a suffocation of blackness"
(183). She is in limbo because she is fleeing temps, but she is also terrified
about the unimaginable next dimension: monumental, infinite time. As a
middle-aged woman, she has left changeable youth and has merged into the
passive moment. But suddenly, 6:00 p.m. arrives and the sum of everything
in infinite time converges into domestic, everyday objects for Clarissa: cut
flowers in her vase, visitors in the Dalloway estate, an aged neighbor oppo
site her window, sunrise and sunset?and all of these things with Septimus.
The suicide encompasses all. The guests may be her closest companions in
temps, the empirical present, but they provide no solace to her. In the far
more intimate duree, Septimus and death are her present intimates.
After the melancholy passes, the tumultuous process of imagining death
abates Clarissa's nervousness and ennui, and brings excitement. Clarissa,
clearly traumatized and thinking in abstractions, admires his playful and
poetic suicide for bringing fruition to life and fulfilling all aspirations in
an act of beauty. His act overrides the party in Clarissa's consciousness and
transports her into her longest "moment of being" in the narrative.

She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away. The clock was
striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel
the beauty; made her feel the fun. But she must go back. She must
assemble. (186)

The chimes of Big Ben accompany the dissembling of Septimus and Clarissa,
both of whom experience a state other than mortality, and Clarissa feels
compelled to share this awareness with her guests. As if incarnating Clotho,
Lachesis, and Atropos, Clarissa invokes the all-encompassing mythic time
that has always hung like a canopy above the guests. Ultimately, for Septimus,
the only redemptive aspect of his suicide is perhaps that he never moves
into one of Dr. Holmes's homes for the mentally disturbed and therefore
preserves his?shell-shocked?integrity.
Peter Walsh, Clarissa's first love as a youth, experiences a dis
tilled, suspended moment of clarity at the novel's end when his ideal of

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CLARISSA AND CLEO (EN)DUREE SUICIDAL TIME 359

happiness is made tangible in Clarissas form. In his pivotal?and appropriately


summative?conclusion, Peter believes Clarissa has the gift "to be; to exist;
to sum it all up in the moment as she passed . . ." (174). In the end, as a
leaden circle suspended like the still life of a single chime of Big Ben, "It is
Clarissa, he said. For there she was" (194). The consummate hostess rejoins
her party, having "passed" through temps to duree\ and now, "she was." On
this June day, as on every previous day, Clarissa is a survivor rather than a
suicide, and yet, when Clarissa Dalloway plunges into the infinite moment,
life becomes dangerous. She, too, has plunged from a window. Like time
itself, death rises and falls, coming to life before dissembling.
Without the influence of women's time, the text might be viewed as an
exercise in nostalgia that takes analeptic flights from the quotidian present.
But with the rise of momentous and cyclical time at the fall of perceived
forms, Clarissa spends the few remaining moments occupied with friend
ships, lovers, marriage, evening, and a lifetime. She distances herself and
affronts the authority of the divine "ruffians" who oversee chronology at the
level of perception {temps and mens time, duree and women's time). While
Big Ben claims the minutes and hours as his own by seizing life with his
ticking, Clarissa and Septimus?together, and with similar psychological
processes?transfigure narrative temporality into a natural, extra-subjective
experience that prolongs life in mythical, monumental time. While taking
different paths, Clarissa and Septimus confront both horror and ecstasy in
androgynous time that attests to natural rhythms that include the spiritual
cycle of rebirth.

Sans tot

While the climax occurs in the final pages of Mrs. Dalloway, in Cleo de 5^7,
Chapter VII (out of XIII) is the actual, nondiegetic temporal center of the
film in which musicians arrive for rehearsal at Cleo's apartment.
Cleo's radical reversal?her crise de conscience?unexpectedly comes
through a new song, "Sans toi" [Without you] whose lyrics evoke absence
and death.

Toutes portes ouvertes


En plein courant d'air
Je suis une maison vide
Sans toi, sans toi . . .

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360 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES

Belle en pure perte


Nue eu Coeur de l'hiver
Je suis un corps avide
Sans toi, sans toi...

Et si tu viens trop tard


On m'aura mise en terre
Seule, laide et livide
Sans toi...

[With its doors open,


Drafty air running through,
I am an empty house
Without you, without you .. .

Beautiful to no avail
Naked in the heart of winter
I am an avid corpse
Without you, without you . . .

And if you come too late


They will have buried me
Alone, ugly, pale,
Without you . . .]

The piano is joined by a nondiegetic orchestra and the music dramatically


swells. She looks up from her sheet music at the phrase, "beauty unseen,"
stares into the unknown for the first time and continues to sing as though
channeling the lyrics. The camera swings around and tracks in on her, framing
her face in a medium close-up with a black backdrop. Similar to the moment
when Clarissa learns of Septimus's suicide at her party, Cleo is extracted from
the scene, like a remnant salvaged from among the dead.
When the song ends, the camera pulls back to a full shot and she
says: "Its too much" (C'est trop). She sees the horror of death and calls
the song a doubtful hit, like a successful funeral. The self-pitying starlet
throws a tantrum at the prospect of death and its obscurity; her binary logic
can accommodate nothing but subjective, feminine fame represented in
historic continuity with men's temporality.17 She storms off and violently
sweeps a black curtain across the screen, and with a jump cut, instantly
emerges, changed from her white dress into a black one. The diegetic time

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CLARISSA AND CLEO (EN)DUREE SUICIDAL TIME 361

has been compressed by the jump cut, yet still contained within the specified
5:45 to 5:52. The compressed time is a clue that the transformation is too
great to be contained in the seven minutes of diegetic time. The mechanical
hours are inadequate measurements of duree.
The "profound transformation" can be analyzed through the correspond
ing differences before and after this disturbing, pivotal song: before the song
she is a flawless doll, and afterwards she is a brooding cancer patient. And
yet she has only exchanged one form of objectification for another. Like the
moment in Mrs. Dalloway when Peter Walsh sees Clarissa Dalloway reappear
at her party, in Cleo de$aj, after staring at the black screen, we are captivated:
is Cleo. For there she was [C'est Cleo. Pour la el/e etait]. If a day is the sum
of a lifetime, both women are recognizably themselves, unchanged in their
roles for the present, but psychologically more earnest and self-assured, with
a drastically different future ahead of them. Feeling adequate to live in the
face of death transforms these women into new characters, having returned
the gaze of Father Time. The audience faces the second black screen of the
film at FIN. Paradoxically, the black screen that typically signifies death is
used to initiate life for a woman who has overcome suicidal time through a
new perception of reality that dissembles the individual.
One hour after visiting the clairvoyant, Cleo is still escaping temps,
unwittingly by further retreating into representation and objectivity because
she still lacks the self-awareness to transition into the subjectivity granted
in duree. At exactly 6:00 p.m., the midpoint between five and seven o'clock,
Cleo attends the screening of a high-speed, two-minute burlesque film that
is ultimately autobiographical and prophetic. In Mrs. Dalloway, six o'clock
is an equally pivotal moment: it announces the canonical hour of vespers at
the end of the day, and the hour of Septimus's suicide that in turn prompts
Clarissa's crisis of conscience.
The short, farcical film encompasses Cleo's life. Two possibilities for
her final hour are projected onto the screen: in the first, a heroine's death; in
the second, her rescue. Based on this screening, life is dangerous if one relies
upon only one objective view. Like Madame Irma's tarot reading in which a
deck of cards is "hard to read" and must be "re-cut," in women's time?part of
nature, myth, and infinity?a story is renegotiated and relived. In the second
version, the medical practitioner is killed instead of the heroine. Through
watching the inevitable cycle of life passing before her eyes, the voyeur Cleo
dies and is resurrected along with the heroine. Similarly, the voyeur Clarissa
imagines Septimus's suicide, and it is enough to catapult her into infinity.
Like the yin and the yang, masculine and feminine conceptions must work
together in order to avoid conflict and pursue peace.

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362 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES

Like the news of Septimus Smiths suicide interrupting Clarissas party,


destiny disrupts Cleo's coquetry and allows her to transcend a persona con
structed in temps (men's time) and exit the narcissistic moment. She becomes
aware of duree (women's cyclical and momentous time) as the grand relation
ship with mythical Parisian life and death. She leaves the historical narra
tive that has defined her as a "sex symbol" and becomes an extra-subjective,
mythical figure who coexists with nature, gestation, and mortality.18 In the
taxi, Cleo and her companion play on the sounds of two models of Citroen:
DS and ID, French puns for goddess and idea. As the critic Sandy Flitterman
notices, Cleo herself is translated from DS to ID, or deesse [goddess] to idee
[idea] as she makes the journey from object to subject of time. Flitterman
sees the change as one from narcissistic self-absorption in the first part to
self-recognition mediated by an awareness of others in the latter half.
Temps does not present new information; it mirrors experience. Since
a mirror is objective and the self is subjective, the gaze at our reflection is
indicative of time itself. Cleos self-perception seems to be complete?and
ultimately is completed by the film's end?within these "two hours," as sig
nified by the number of reflections in the mirror of Madame Irma's lobby:
seven, a traditional number for perfection. The intact, framed mirrors in the
first part of the film suggest the pop-star's presumably intact facade, but the
film's second part no longer features mirrors. Instead, a shattered storefront
window?evoking infinite women's time?is a predominant image. In the
crowded street scene, the camera shoots from behind the glass broken by
a bullet that killed a man. Cleo is no longer the protected feline goddess
swinging in time to a metronome in a palatial apartment (a vision of temps,
the architect of men's time). Duree enters Cleo's life as if it were a window
to eternity, allowing her consciousness and agency to give time meaning.
Now Cleo stares at the bullet hole, an epicenter that exposes the true
nature of an unpredictable and dangerous day. She faces the otherness of
duree when she looks through a window in an act of reciprocity, following a
bullet's path to its target, while the camera views her through the murderous
network. Like the contours of the yin and yang, she views curvature without
beginning or end in a pattern of vulnerability and violence. The yin and yang
exposes the false security promised by temps', illusory notions of mapping, pre
dicting, protecting, and knowing. Throughout the film, even the soundtrack
portrays profound differences in temporal perception, as noted by Bogart:
"[Varda] likens Cleo's constantly shifting perception of time to a violin, and
real, measured time to a metronome, with the violin taking precedence....
By varying the rhythm and phrasing, the violinist can make musical time
expand or contract at will, while the mechanical metronome must measure

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CLARISSA AND CLEO (EN)DUREE SUICIDAL TIME 363

every second equally and monotonously" (216). Cleo is the violinist playing
against the metronome.19 She may be anxious about what the future brings,
but she is at last compelled to watch and wait in the presence of monumental
time. Hers is not the subjective gaze into a mirror but an extra-subjective
glance through clear windows into the unmappable infinite.

AvecAntoine

After temps has been shattered, Cleo is prepared for a rebirth in the second
half of the film when she meets Antoine, a gregarious soldier enjoying the
last day of his leave. She had squandered the first part of the film in self
indulgence?shopping, worrying about her cancer, being adored by her
boyfriend and doted upon by her assistant?and now decides to share her
time with another. Antoine and Cleo agree to make the most of their hours
together: he escorts her to the hospital, and she promises to see him off
the next day. Woolf 's and Varda's heroes are analogous, as though the same
character appears with one generations difference. Woolf s Mrs. Dalloway
concludes after Clarissa identifies with a war veteran, Septimus Smith, a less
successful, but equally sympathetic character as Antoine, whereas Antoine
is able to resist victimization at the hands of a patriarchal, militaristic
government designed by men who are inoculated against natural, physiologi
cal rhythms so they are able to enforce a violent narrative history. Clarissa
and Septimus never physically meet in the text, but because of Antoine's
resistance to mens time, he remains unscathed, humane, and?despite the
war in Algiers?carefree. He is liberated from the falsity of historical time
and is able to equip Cleo to confront death and discover new life in momen
tous time. That evening, Antoine joins her private struggle with illness; her
boyfriend, Jose, remains ignorant of the matter. Cleo is invited by a gentle
soldier into the masculine realm of militarism, and together, the two poetic
mutineers usher in timelessness.
Read according to mapped time zones originating at Greenwich, clock
time is a mere reflection of the solar system's greater universal order, and
ultimately insignificant. On the other hand, the yin and yang and astrologi
cal calendar are read globally and reflect a much greater order. According to
the I-Ching, the feminine principle, yin, is the moon, and forms the darker
part of the yin and yang as the nocturnal principle, having more shadow.
Yang, the masculine sun, is represented by the lighter part of the circle. The
two are interdependent: yang enables yin to give birth, and yin allows the

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364 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES

masculine yang to grow. Cleo dejdyis set on the first day of summer when
yin is born. During the moons (yin's) infancy, when the sun (yang) is at his
height, the masculine principle dominates, but only until winter solstice,
when the moon (yin) matures and the sun (yang) is born. Cleo, like the
moon, is symbolically born on the day of the summer solstice, while the sun,
Antoine, shines brightly at its height?a mature, confident guide who allows
her to grow. Time fuses the objective and subjective into an incongruous
amalgam consisting of tenderness and anger, terror and comedy, ideal beauty
and the commonplace.
The cosmos requires the human presence to fetishize time. Like
Septimus Smith and Clarissa Dalloway, Cleo and Antoine are harnessed
together in a portrait of the androgynous yin and yang that allows for both
the cyclical (temps) and the mythical (duree). Strolling beside Antoine in
the park, Cleo confesses that she is superstitious?in other words, she feels
subject to and alienated from the cosmos. After Cleo makes this confession,
the camera sweeps 180 degrees, encircling Cleo and Antoine in a two-shot
that evokes a yin and yang?as well as a clock. Both the clock and the yin
and yang allow "readings," so the viewer might expect the couple to be
"readable" as well.
It is 6:30, Clarissa Dalloway s favorite hour to be in the garden in
Woolf 's novel; at the same hour in Cleo de 5 a 7, Cleo and Antoine are in
the lush hospital grounds. After twenty-five minutes with Antoine, her
diagnosis seems to be reversed; the doctor becomes irrelevant once monu
mental, relational time with Antoine encompasses her. Cleo is freed from
her fear of death when she confesses, "Cancer," as though she is speaking
the name of the objectifying Father Time. Sandy Flitterman offers a reading
of the scene in which "Cancer" is announced: "Visually this is connoted as
a positive thing by Varda's use of an emphatically bleached, sunlit image,
and by the amplified noise of birds and other 'summer sounds' on the
soundtrack" (89). Varda affirms this reading in her scenario: "This sequence
was actually filmed at 6:00 in the morning in order to achieve the desired
lighting effect." Set at 6:30 p.m., but filmed at 6:00 a.m., narrative time
does not reflect the hour of shooting. Nor do some scenes shot in multiple
takes, although Chapter XII is shot in one long take, "like a deep breath,"
Varda writes in the scenario (cited in Flitterman 89).
For the first time, Cleo is content and seems to be relaxed in the moment,
which is mortality: "II me semble que je n'ai plus peur. II me semble que je
suis heureuse" [My fear seems to have gone. I seem to be happy]. Death,
an integral part of the yin and yang, becomes an ally working with Cleo's
natural diurnal rhythm, instead of stunting her growth and passage into a

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CLARISSA AND CLEO (EN)DUREE SUICIDAL TIME 365

new day. Instead of fleeing mortality, Cleo is indebted to death for its real
presence that intervenes and demystifies itself.
In the hospital gardens, reminiscent of Big Ben's interjections, a clock's
chimes are heard as Cleo and Antoine look at one another, walking together
with their footsteps in perfect unison; without a metronome or ticking clock,
they share synchronized time for the final minute of the film and seem to step
according to the second hand. Until this point, the film's thirteen chapters are
set in real time, reflective of scientific, temporal fidelity; the film adheres to
a temporal code that may offset premature death. Once temps is no longer a
threat, the couple successfully abides in the moment. Now the raw material
of the hours concedes to another level of time inscribed by experience. The
film's final image shows Cleo and Antoine gazing into each other's eyes,
experiencing a new sense of duration that is interpersonal, spontaneous, and
unafraid. They are simultaneous, without difference, like two halves of the
yin and yang mirroring one another for a minute, interdependent with the
present and with infinity. The audience has access to the nonsynchronous
synchronicity of duree, the reward of Varda's art.
The French expression cinq a sept refers to the hour of lovers' rendezvous
in the afternoon, reputedly occurring between the hours "5 to 7."20 Therefore,
the final thirty minutes are relegated for the censored tryst to be imagined
in monumental time. The sands have run out too soon for the audience, but
having learned to play with time, Cleo and Antoine claim thirty minutes
away from public life of doctors, music producers, boyfriends, the army.
Rhyming with the first black screen after the interrupted rehearsal at the
film's midpoint, the film cuts to a close-up of Cleo, again staring into the
camera, before cutting to the final scene: the second series of solid black
frames. The editor abruptly cuts to FIN and the film ends at 6:30 rather
than 7:00 as contracted in the title. In Varda's art, the raw material of the
hours concedes to the level of time inscribed by experience. A playfulness
or jouissance emerges from physiological rhythms and ultimately eradicates
the final thirty minutes, which are not depicted.
The film's integrity to off-screen personal vision invites voyeurs to
experience inhabitable time first-hand. The audience is left with time to
imagine the couple's future. What is ultimately gained since Cleo will report
to the doctor at 11:00 a.m. the next day, and Antoine will ship out at 8:00
a.m.? The narratee can only project that this experience will have a lasting
transformative effect after Cleo's expected recovery in two months, and
that the singer will record provocative, original music, instead of inane pop
songs. She will begin treatment at 11:00 a.m., the empirical time fixed by
the clock that applied science relies upon, and yet, the film leaves us with

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366 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES

a new sense of time that is not made in a patriarchs image. Like Cleo, the
presiding patriarch of the hours, Father Time, undergoes une transformation
profonde de tout votre etre [a transformation of his entire being]. No longer
an alluring, omnipotent, objectified god reigning from a clock tower, time
becomes a curious, reflective companion that prolongs life through androgy
nous relationships.
The hours refuse to concede to objectified temps as Cleo and Antoine
elude the director s and viewers quantifying gaze that records the qualitative
experience of lovers. In fact, the couple forms a temporality off-screen in
an unsignifiable dimension, which is true to the nature of women's time as
cosmic and vital, and not terrestrial and structured. In feminine time, there
is power in erasure and privacy?acts left to the imagination rather than to
political negotiations, for example, between the conquered and colonized. In
Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, patriarchy sends men to war to die, while
women wait at home in ignorance like Kurtz's intended; she is protected
by the luxury of London while her fiance is in the jungle, and they are in
two different worlds, each with its own temporality. In the hands of Woolf
and Varda, the binaries intersect so edenic/maternal time and social/public
time oscillate, allowing people to renegotiate borders and be reborn as part
of the cycle. Cleo, the performer, becomes an active participant whose role
is realized in her love for Antoine, a friend from 6:12 to 6:30 who displaces
cancer to become her destiny, thereby initiating a new epoch for Cleo. She
moves from narcissistic containment into the maturity of companionship
and shared time; she is less afraid, more introspective, self-possessed. Her
transformation allows her to recast her image and her image of time. As a
result, Cleo de 5 a 7 ends with the realization of androgynous time.

There She Was

A compressed narrative is a prism through which a single ray of a lifetime


passes to be deflected into a rainbow of facets. Within Mrs. Dalloway, a
paragraph fuses a spectrum of moments into the relative time of whiteness
when all colors intersect, or in Cleo de 5 a 7 when a scene ends in blackness,
the absence of color. Mrs. Dalloway and Cleo de 5 a 7 depict the ongoing
activity of the characters' minds as they synchronize "the sixty or seventy
different times which beat simultaneously in every normal human being."21
This is an additional challenge for the author or filmmaker of a narrative
set in real time within a day: to encompass the yin and yang which is in

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CLARISSA AND CLEO (EN)DUREE SUICIDAL TIME 367

perpetual motion, and nonsynchronous synchronicity which is ever present.


In an attempt to fix and measure time, a numerical equivalent is assigned to
each moment?9:00 a.m., noon, 3:00 p.m.?thereby ascribing significance to
the hours. The hours, like the tarot cards, disent la mort [announce death].
Woolf, in contrast, meditating on the fall of a flower in To the Light
house, noted in a November 23,1926, diary entry: "My theory being that the
actual event practically does not exist?nor time either. But I don't want
to force this."22 For Woolf, chronology is no longer a major component of
experience. And yet time-bound artworks like a novel or film are emblem
atic of the limit of human potential and memory, which can never function
beyond the present. For example, Cleo's proclivity is toward prolepses, while
Clarissas sensibility is initially hostage to the past. We end a paragraph in
Mrs. Dalloway, a moment passes; and then a statement from Clarissa con
tains eternity: "I am alone; I am alone!" (24). But the fullest immersion in
the present moment can provide an escape from the futures pining and the
past's losses. With the corrective of a hybrid, fused time in these two texts,
banal and important elements of the day give rise to a meditation on love,
life, and death. Clarissa and Cleo are no longer lost in dichotomies; they are
ready to confront fear and alienation. Ambitious ruffians, like a "god," might
long for the immediate power temps offers, but relief comes for people who
crave detached, liberated fragments of time: duree.
Woolf and Varda trump time by refusing to concede to the traditional
patriarch: Father Time. Their resolutions are facilitated by a poetic soldier.
In Mrs. Dalloway, the reader ultimately beholds the metamorphosis when
Clarissa reappears at her party, radiantly alive after hearing the news of a
shell-shocked war veteran's suicide. Peter Walsh, the proverbial "old flame,"
is filled with "terror," "ecstasy," and "extraordinary excitement" as he exclaims
in passive past tense: "It is Clarissa, he said. For there she was" (194). And
with this line, the novel concludes. Like the final scene of Mrs. Dalloway
(especially the last ten pages, 183-94), the second half of Cleo de 5 a 7 follows
a woman's emergence, this time christened by a new name: Florence. The
film's final thirty minutes are designated for a rendezvous between Cleo and
Antoine?a scene withheld from the viewer. When a close-up cuts to a black
screen with the caption, FIN, the audience is confronted with a persona?like
Clarissa?"who was," whose presence is past tense. Like Clarissa, Cleo passes
from subjectivity to extra-subjectivity.
Mrs. Dalloway and Cleo de 5 a 7 teach their audiences to envision and
symbolically reenact these creative gestures and perform the apotheosis.
When the protagonists are prematurely extracted from the diegesis, the
reader and viewer are invited on a mimetic plunge out of artificial, textual,

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368 COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES

or filmic time and into a natural experience of relationship, recurrence, and


eternity. More than enduring the death sentence of a lifetime, Clarissa
and Cleo proceed through aspects of time until the women prevail on a
monumental, dangerous day. After the restrictive, narrativized day ends in
Mrs. Dalloway and Cleo de 5 ay, the false construct of temps self-destructs as
an autonomous force, revealing its nature as suicidal time. Qualitative hours
have allowed an escape from past trials and, in turn, Father Time is castrated
with his own menacing scythe: the pendulum. Two interdependent trends
of temporality?the masculine, denotative action of temps and the feminine,
creative aspect, of duree?are transformed, finding their consummation
in the androgynous yin and yang when romantic idealists?Clarissa and
Septimus, and Cleo and Antoine?are animated by the thought of authentic
relationship and meaningful tomorrows. The conclusion of each text seems
to foment the creative onset of a Big Bang (more technically, "primordial
nucleosynthesis") that allows the mutually exclusive dimensions of timeless
ness and time to intersect as more than a theory or paradox. In this sense,
the reader or viewer can independently and perpetually entertain the idea.
Because of this newfound element of awareness, intensely personal, extra
subjective time can more accurately be experienced off-stage in a promised
black hole, where androgynous time awaits.

San Diego State University and Perelandra College

Notes
1. All primary textual citations in this study are from Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925;
New York: Harcourt, 1981); Cleo de 5 a 7 [Cleo from 5 to 7], dir. Agnes Varda (1961; South
Burlington, VT: The Criterion Collection, 2000); and Agnes Varda, Cleo de $ a 7: scenario
(Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1962). English translations are the subtitles from the film. Further
citations in text.
2. The one exception is a study by Janice Mouton that considers the theme of female
flanerie in Varda's Cleo de5 a /and Woolf s "Street Haunting, A London Adventure." Janice
Mouton, "From Feminine Masquerade to Flaneuse: Agnes Varda's Cleo in the City," Cinema
Journal40.2 (Winter 2001): 3-16. More recently, a 2007 volume in the French Film Guides
series, Cleo de 5 a /by Valerie Orpen (Urbana and Chicago: U of Illinois P, 2007), quotes in
passing the French novelist and film critic Jean-Louis Bory (1919-1979) for dubbing Varda
"the Virginia Woolf of modern cinema" (62; cf. 79 n. 63).
3. Betsy Ann Bogart, Music and Narrative in the French New Wave: The Films of Agnes Varda
andJacques Demy (PhD diss., UCLA, 2001). Further citations in text.
4. Research from the Dalloway archive in the British Museum, London, is cited by
Harvena Richter, "The Canonical Hours in Mrs. Dalloway" Modern Fiction Studies 28.2 (1982):
236-40.
5. In the Dalloway manuscript in the British Museum, London, volume I of the novel
begun in June 1923 is entitled The Hours?; volume II, begun April 1924, is entitled The Hours

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CLARISSA AND CLEO (EN)DUREE SUICIDAL TIME 369

or Mrs. Dalloway; and volume III, begun July 1924, is Mrs. Dalloway or the Hours (Richter
236-37)
6. Yvette Biro and Catherine Portuges, "Caryatids of Time: Temporality in the Cinema of
Agnes Varda," Performing Arts fournal 19.3 (1997): 4.
7. Frank Kermode, The Sense ofan Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction (1967; New York
Oxford UP, 2000), 7.
8. See Edward W. Said, Beginnings: Intention and Method (New York: Basic Books, 1975).
Also see Ana Dopico, "The Recourses of Necessity: Repetition, Secular Mourning, and Edward
Said's Inventories of Late Return," Social Text 24.2 (Summer 2006): 111-23.
9. Grozdana Olujic, "Time and Literature," Indian Literature 27.2 (1984): 30.
10. Bergson develops theories about temps and duree in Essai sur les donnees immediates de la
conscience (1889; Paris: Librarie Felix Alcan, 1924); trans. F. L. Pogson, Time and Free Will: An
Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness (New York: Macmillan, 1910). For discussion of
le moiprofond and le moi superficiel, see Bergson's Matiere et memoire: Essai sur la relation du corps
a Vesprit (1896; Paris: Felix Alcan, 1908); trans. Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer,
Matter and Memory (New York: Macmillan, 1911).
11. Julia Kristeva, "Le Temps des femmes," Cahiers de recherche de sciences des texts et documents
34/44.5 (1979): 18. Also reprinted as "Women's Time," Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory
and Criticism, ed. Robyn R. Warhol and Diane P. Herndl (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP;
1997). Also see Alice Jardine, "Introduction to Julia Kristeva's Women's Time," Signs: fournal
of Women in Culture and Society 7.1 (1981): 5-12.
12. The I Ching; or. Book of Changes, trans. Cary F. Baynes (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1967).
13. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: der Tragodie erster und zweiter Teil [Faust: A Tragedy,
Parts I and II] (Stuttgart: A. Kroner, 1959), line 11582; trans. Walter Kaufman, Faust, Part One
and Sections from Part Two (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961), line 171.
14. Biro and Portuges, "Caryatids of Time," 1.
15. Alison Smith, French Film Directors: Agnes Varda (New York: Manchester UP, 1998), 4.
For general treatment of the phenomena, see Jacques LeGoff, El orden de la memoria: el tiempo
como imaginario (Barcelona: Ediciones Paidos, 1991), also published as History and Memory
trans. Steven Rendall and Elizabeth Claman (New York: Columbia UP, 1992).
16. Melissa Anderson, "The Modest Gesture of the Filmmaker: An Interview with Agnes
Varda," Cineaste 26.4 (2001): 24.
17. See Janice Mouton, "From Feminine Masquerade to Flaneuse: Agnes Varda's Cleo in
the City," Cinema fournal 40.2 (2001): 3-16; and Mona Fayad, "The Process of Becoming:
Engendering the Subject in Merce Rodoreda and Virginia Woolf," Catalan Review 2.2 (1987):
119-129.
18. Sandy Flitterman, "From Deesse to Idee: Agnes Varda's Cleo from Five to Seven" Enclitic
7.2 (1983): 82-90.
19. Bogart uses the violin and metronome metaphors from an article by Jean-Yves Bloch,
11 Cleo de 5 a 7: 'Le Violon et le metronome,'" in Agnes Varda, Etudes Cinematographiques, ed.
Michel Esteve (Paris: Minard, 1991), 236-37.
20. From a personal interview, May 1, 1998, quoted in Bogart, Music and Narrative,
205-206.
21. Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography (1928; New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
i973)> 215. _
22. Virginia Woolf, A Writers Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf, ed.
Leonard Woolf (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1954), 101. Woolf thought To the Lighthouse superior
to Mrs. Dalloway because it was more interesting and less complicated.

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