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the man without qualities

In a daring theatrical venture the Flemish Toneelhuis staged a three-part adaptation of Robert Musil's contemplative and largely plotless novel 'The Man Without Qualities' ('De man zonder eigenschappen'). In the hands of director Guy Cassiers, who has made complex literary adaptations his trademark (remember his version of Proust?), it becomes a heady but mesmerizing audiovisual experience - especially when seen as one blurred marathon.

The Man Without Qualities - De man zonder eigenschappen - 1

The Man Without Qualities - De man zonder eigenschappen - 2

The book's title understands qualities not in the sense of talents but of characteristics ('Eigenschaften' in German), and these in turn are interpreted as limiting, as ballast one acquires by living. Thus the man without qualities lives in a state of total possibility, by permanently keeping all options open and basking in the richness of ideas, of what could be.

The dreamy passivity involved in such an ideal reminds of Musil's contemporary Pessoa, but Musil's anti-hero is more involved in society - that is the high society of Vienna in 1913, when World War I has not yet destroyed the anachronistic Austro-Hungarian Empire of Franz-Josef, but its decadence is already apparent. In part one, 'The Parallel Action' ('De parallelactie'), Musil shows himself a great satirist of the wealthy indolence and ineffectual political maneuvering of the Viennese beau monde. This also makes it the most relevant part of the trilogy, with interesting parallels with today's navel-gazing society.

The Man Without Qualities - De man zonder eigenschappen - 3

Part two, 'The Mystical Marriage' ('Het mystieke huwelijk') zooms in on the relationship of Ulrich and his sister Agathe, which after the death of their father develops into a close bond with incestuous implications. Mostly, however, their relationship serves as another illustration of Musil's theme of possibility preferred over actuality.

'The Crime' ('De misdaad') completes the funnel-like structure of the trilogy by exploring the conscience of another of the novel's characters, the murderer and rapist Moosbrugger, as well as the author himself. Inspired by the novel, this part was written by Yves Petry, and while it certainly provides a spectacular closure to the trilogy, its postmodern inclusion of Musil as a character feels awkward, a break with the early 20th century modernity of the novel.

The Man Without Qualities - De man zonder eigenschappen - 4

Throughout all three parts, Cassiers puts his immersive and cinematic style of video projections and stage design to optimal use to compensate for what would otherwise be rather static and wordy theatre. Despite the consistently strong acting, it can't hide the lack of real dramatic involvement of the play.

But in the scenes where it succeeds the result is magical.

Recommended:

finding lost time

Finally saw the last episode of the awesome four part theatre adaptation of Marcel Proust 's ' À la Recherche du Temps Perdu ' by the Ro Theater . All directed by Guy Cassiers, probably the only theatre director in Holland who kn… Read the full post »

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