Chantier Musil

22.24/05 > 20:00
23/05 > 22:00
Duration: 60’

Chantier Musil is finally here after being postponed last year. Chantier (building site) as in the place where building materials are assembled, providing support for something that people are making together.

Musil since the material in it is The Man Without Qualities(1910-1942). François Verret is inviting to this building site craftsmen and women from everywhere whose “craft” conceals treasures of the imagination.

After Kaspar Hauser (Kaspar Konzert) and Bartleby, Chantier Musil probes the figure of their ‘brother’ Ulrich, a man intentionally ‘without qualities’. “Which silent actions, which movements, which positions, which lights, which sounds, what kind of mobility can convey what Musil has given us in his words?

based on the reading of:

Robert Musil, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften


François Verret


Mathurin Bolze, Dimitri Jourde, Irma Omerzo, Vincent Fortemps, Christian Dubet, Jean-Pierre Drouet, Alain Mahé, Gaëtan Besnard, François Verret

Set design:

Claudine Brahem

Scenographical elements:

Zouzou Leyens


Jean Pierre Drouet, Fred Frith

Sound score:

Alain Mahé

Visual Artist:

Vincent Fortemps

Artistic collaborator:

Sylvie Blum

Video Montage:

Françoise Arnaud

Direction video:

Gaëtan Besnard


Christian Dubet avec/met/with Gwendal Malard

Technical director:

Jean-Noël Launay

Construction Set:

Vincent Gadras, Stéphane Potiron

Thanks to:

Atelier Proscenium - Rennes
et pour les voix/en voor de stemmen/and for the voices: Paulette Beffar, Sylvie Blum, Gaëlle Héraut


Théâtre National de Bretagne/TNB (Rennes), Compagnie F.V. (Paris), Théâtre de la Ville (Paris), Festival d'Avignon 2003, Le Cargo-Maison de la Culture (Grenoble),Théâtre des Salins - Scène Nationale de Martigues

Supported by:

Parc de la Villette dans le cadre des Résidences 2002 et de la résidence de La Fonderie / Théâtre du Radeau - Le Mans
avec le concours du Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication dans le cadre du dispositif DICREAM et du Conseil Régional d'Ile de France, l'Association Française d'Action Artistique (AFAA) et le service de coopération et d'action culturelle de l'ambassade de France à Bruxelles, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts


Halles de Schaerbeek, KunstenFESTIVALdesArt

La Compagnie FV is supported by:

la DRAC Ile de France, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication & le Conseil Général de Seine Saint-Denis

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Our work begins with a reading of Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, a fictional account centred on the character of Ulrich. Through Ulrich’s eyes, Musil’s intention is to re-present reality in its entirety in the context of a changing future. For this reason it is destined to remain an unfinished fragment with no middle or end.

He affirms the multiple, shifting nature of reality, the inexistence of reality or a given truth, whereas for him there is only the game of the gods with dice, the endless merry-go-round of all the interpretations possible, the changing colours of possibilities. Reality is an infinite series of centres similar to the complex, anonymous and multiple physiognomy of the city described at the beginning of The Man Without Qualities.

Like all big cities, it was made of irregularities and changes, of things and matters slipping one in front of the other, refusing to go at a walking pace, banging into each other, intervals of silence, major routes and a wide-ranging rhythmical heartbeat, eternal dissonance, eternal disequilibrium of rhythms.

This is a sphere of relationships that is immense and changing, governed by the principle of indecisiveness, continually modified by the observer who wants to grasp it and, therefore, alter it, or by the narrator whose words don’t have an organic totality to represent but a dispersion that is open for an indefinite period of time.

The place where the story is located is Cacanie, a big city full of people of all kinds, men and women of quality, people who have professions, status, identities, property, certainties, things to do that, with every action, fill the space they pass through with a sort of frenetic activism. And then there are men and women who challenge this mode of how to relate to reality, notably Ulrich, ‘the man without qualities’, Agathe his sister, the murderer Moosbrugger (but is he an identity?) and Clarissa who is said to be mad.

In short, lots of motifs, a constellation of characters, narrative lines autonomous from each other that develop and overlap according to different inner rhythms.

The narrative (if there is one) tells the story of Ulrich, the man without qualities, his journey (linked to critical thought), indissociable from the context (landscape-environment) in which he is living, or how this man passes through reality, how he perceives reality, what he sees, what he hears, what he thinks, whom he meets, what is going on around him, what surrounds him, what he does. Of course examples of events give emphasis to the narrative. The paradox is that despite this in a way nothing happens. If nothing happens it is because “it is always the same story” and because from Ulrich’s point of view, the elements coming into his experience do not have any real value as events.

Moreover it is not objective events that govern the temporal structures of the narrative, but the unpredictable chain of Ulrich’s thoughts and memories that has lost its narrative sense[i] and perceives itself as a place where a flow of sensations passes by. In his writing, Musil applies the physicist Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty to reality. He develops a perpetually changing optical process that allows him to shift his gaze, apprehending reality in different ways and questioning it indefinitely. Without stopping he changes directions as he writes. It is constructed with fragments. It is not linear. It is complex.

Ulrich can only give discontinuous or incomplete images of reality, where the narrative’s linearity is constantly broken, where attention jumps from one subject to another. The narration, if there is one, is no longer done from a single point of view, but from narrative perspectives and discursive positions that are mutually relative. It is from this view-thought of Musil-Ulrich’s that we will be inventing a text for stage.

We will not be looking for a unitary style capable of giving us an all-encompassing vision that a “conscious subject” would have of the world he is passing through, but as the subject discovers that he is no longer the unitarian centre synthesising and organising things into a hierarchy, but the chaotic and incoherent place where contradictions encounter each other, overlap and merge, we will be inventing a form of writing that through its own dislocation, anarchic multiplicity and plurality of styles will give an effective account of a dispersion that is open for an indefinite period of time, a definitive dislocation of reality.

To do this we will be inventing the tools – a mechanical cinema2, a space for wires, a table with rolls3, figures-mannequins – that seem to us capable of translating into action our vision of the universe created by Musil.

The stage will be the place where a language is invented that cuts across a multiplicity of viewpoints, but also a plurality of styles linked to different subjective visions borne by the artists without any homogenising desire to incorporate all these points of view into “stylistic cohesion”.

François Verret

1 In Chapter 122 of Volume 1

Musil tells of how impossible Ulrich feels subscribing to the conventions of classic narration to be.

It suddenly came to him (it was one of these apparently displaced and abstract thoughts that often took on such immediate meaning in his life) that the law of this life, to which one aspires when one is overburdened with tasks and when one dreams of simplicity, was nothing other than the law of classic narration! Of this simple order that enables it to be said: “When that happened, this took place!” It is pure and simple succession, the reproduction of life’s oppressive diversity in a one-dimensional form as would be told by a mathematician to reassure us; the alignment in space and time of everything that has happened along a thread, precisely this famous “thread of the story”, with which the thread of life ends up becoming confused. Happy the one who can say “when”, “before” and “after”! He may have been struck by misfortune, he may be writhing in the worst agonies, but as soon as he is in a position to reproduce events in the succession in which they occurred in time, he feels as good as if the sun were shining on his belly. This is what the novel has benefited from skilfully: the traveller can move through countries under downpours of rain or make the snow crunch under his feet at minus 20°, and the reader feels at ease. It would be quite hard to understand if the narrative art’s never-ending piece of trickery, to which even wet nurses turn to calm children, if this “perspective of intelligence”, this “shortening of distances” were not already an integral part of life. In their fundamental relationship with themselves, most men are narrators. They don’t like poetry or only occasionally. Even if some “because’s” and “so that’s” blend in with the thread of life here and there, they nevertheless have a horror of any reflection that tries to go beyond it. They like a well-regulated succession of facts because it has all the appearance of necessity, and the impression that their life is following a “course” is like shelter from chaos for them. Ulrich was noticing now that he had lost the meaning of this primitive narration to which our private life still remains attached, although everything in public life has already escaped narration and, far from following a thread, is spreading out on a subtly interwoven surface.

2 Mechanical cinema

It is a kind of Méliès-type DIY bringing mental landscapes to life in movement. With the use of tools, the reveries combine the transparent celluloid on which Vincent Fortemps draws with his soft lead lithographic pencil and a sheet of glass through which a camera films in real time what is being drawn. In this space currently being constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed, Christian Dubet intervenes with several sources of light to make the internal life of the landscapes, spaces and associations that Vincent is drawing appear, disappear and be precisely modulated.

It is a kind of narrative – through the image that is also movement, where it is about making the intensities, presence and dense burdens appear, disappear and be varied through the sensitivity of the light’s movement, thus creating a kind of atmosphere.

It is in the image of a reverie where there is perpetual fragility and where time does not stabilise. It is the tangible setting in motion of what it is “to be without qualities”. It is not about making a well-centred, stable and fixed image, being sure of its grain and colours. It is about questioning the very content of this image, its precariousness, its quality. Questioning it whilst making it is setting it in a relative movement. At every moment it is a test, it does not stabilise itself, the image is looking for itself, it is looking to extend then delete itself to bring another to life, and then the same happens again.

Mechanical cinema is an art closely linked to the inner time of Ulrich, the man without qualities. By dint of seeing these men and women of reality, men and women of qualities unfurling as he sees them, he says to himself occasionally: “I would really like to jump off the train, get off and take time differently, open up a space of perceptions, of feelings, no longer be a conscious subject that asserts an “I”, but a flow of perpetually changing sensations in a perpetually moving reality.

3 Tables with rolls

By displaying tables with rollers Zouzou Leyens is representing Ulrich’s view of this city.

This roller of images contains bits of landscapes unfolding, landscape after landscape, an infinity of landscapes …

It is “always the same story” and the view-camera comes to dig around in this parade, this unreeling of images. It is looking to pierce the mystery of this reality. It is putting into practice movement from a view that tirelessly questions reality.

The table with rollers embodies the perpetual optical process emphasising Musil-Ulrich’s view of the world around him, and lays out the mental landscape of one figure or another.

On the politician Leinsdorf, for example: suddenly from the continual unrolling of a tapestry of repeated baroque motifs a task buried in the depths of the motif-ritornello resurfaces. It is the photograph of a broken man (injured, murdered…) and then rapidly this motif is buried again in the image of a use of realpolitik that constantly places a principle of denying reality on the work, where aspects of reality that do not suit are deleted or suppressed.

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