On Reckoning with Time, Labor, and Exhaustion

Exploring the nature of time and housework, Cesare Casarino talked Deleuze, Italian neorealist cinema, and the banality of exhaustion in his April 7 visit to UC Davis.

The DHI Research Cluster on Temporality and Its Limits invited Casarino to speak on “Housework: Expression, Representation, and the Time of Domestic Labor in Gilles Deleuze’s Study of the Cinema.” The Temporality Cluster seeks to address the “fundamental problems associated with the uses of the concept of temporality across key humanistic disciplines” and “cross-examine the very idea that time is an independent or immutable variable in relation to life as movement and change.”

Casarino is professor of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota, and a former fellow in residence at the University of California Humanities Research Institute’s “Speculative Globalities” research group. He is the author of numerous texts, including the books In Praise of the Common (2008) with Antonio Negri, Modernity at Sea: Melville, Marx, Conrad in Crisis (2002), and co-editor of Marxism Beyond Marxism (1996).

According to co-convener Sudipta Sen (Professor of History at UC Davis), the Temporality Cluster is concerned with how “recent studies of temporality in disciplines across the humanities have broached new questions relating to individual perceptions and normative orders implicated in common forms of time-reckoning.” In arguing that “Italian neorealist cinema was born in a kitchen,” Casarino added to the conversation on temporalities by showing how cinema developed to capture forms of labor and time that were “crucial for its development,” including and perhaps most importantly, housework.

“Housework: Expression, Representation, and the Time of Domestic Labor in Gilles Deleuze’s Study of the Cinema” drew from Deleuze’s two-volume works Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 and Italian neorealist films of the mid-twentieth century. The first part of Casarino’s talk presented Deleuze’s ideas about cinema as a “medium of representation and triadic expression” and the relations established between these forms. In particular, he focused on cinema as an expression of time, which is “unrepresentable” and yet everywhere established in the cinematographic image.

Casarino then used scenes from Italian neorealist films Obsessione (1943) and Umberto D (1952) to draw attention to how domestic labor is expressed and how it transforms cinematic representation. Housework is invisible labor; Casarino summarized Karl Marx’s point that housework “has never been seen, precisely because it is not paid.” The scenes of Obsessione and Umberto D allow us to “see the time of domestic labor,” Casarino argued, particularly in the exhaustion of the female characters.

An important scene in Obsessione involves the main character Giovanna returning sluggishly to a kitchen crowded with piles of dirty dishes. She picks a morsel of food from a plate, ladles soup into a bowl and then plops into a chair to scoop the meal into her mouth. Giovanna mechanically props an open newspaper against a stack of dishes and, after two hasty spoonfuls of soup, her head drops slowly to the table, fast asleep.

“This woman is not tired,” Casarino said, “she is exhausted.”

In her exhaustion, Giovanna is without “subjective possibility” – she has “exhausted the whole of the possible and can no longer even possibilize” Casarino explained.  In this particular reading of labor in cinema, Casarino articulated the key ideas of the DHI Research Cluster on Temporality and Its Limits, which in part, explores the affect of temporality, lived experience, and the “detritus of unrealized possibilities” that time actualizes.

The “Temporality Cluster picks up on some of the questions raised at the Time-Reckoning Faculty Research Seminar in 2014, which we could not fully explore. We were lucky to have two of the authors we discussed last year actually join the (small core group) conversation this year,” Sen explained.

In January, the Temporality Cluster hosted Jane Guyer, George Armstrong Kelly Professor of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University whose work addresses the idea of time-horizons in contemporary discourses in the age of post-industrial capital (including in radically dissimilar areas such as macroeconomics and evangelism). Guyer joined the Temporality Cluster morning discussion group and talked about her work, including the future of apocalyptic and prognostic time, and the task of ethnography.

– Stephanie Maroney, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral candidate in Cultural Studies