Wish you were here, een avond over Jonathan Littell en De welwillenden bij Toneelgroep Amsterdam

Als opmaat voor de voorstelling De welwillenden – die Toneelhuis samen met Toneelgroep Amsterdam creëert – organiseerde Toneelgroep Amsterdam op 15 februari een avond met auteurs en acteurs die hun licht lieten schijnen over het werk van Jonathan Littell. Onder de titel Wish you were here brachten enkele acteurs nog niet vertoonde scènes en waagden enkele professoren zich aan een kijk op de problematiek in Littells bekende roman. Een kaderende avond die aanzet tot nadenken. 

“Jonathan Littell’s book shows a man who is closely involved with the extermination of the Jews in Eastern Europe. The novel is loaded with horrific acts of violence and descriptions that are hard to stomach. But the real horror is that as a reader you are forced to identify with an executioner. That causes much discomfort, not least because you constantly fear that you yourself also might make the wrong choices in those circumstances. For me, that shocking fact is one of the primary reasons for staging it.” – Guy Cassiers

In his lecture, Professor Bart van der Boom examined the perspective of the perpetrator that Littell uses in The Kindly Ones. Why do people kill others? Van der Boom formulated five possible answers to that question. So what type of perpetrator is Max Aue, the main character in Littell’s novel?

The Kindly Ones is a shocking book that keeps haunting you as a reader. That was the experience of Professor Job Cohen in the days and weeks after he had read the novel: “It affected the way I looked at almost everything I was doing. It all seemed almost grotesquely silly and insignificant.” Cohen connected the dilemmas Littell addresses with the war in the Middle East and today’s refugee crisis. In order to emphasize the danger of the current situation, he referred to a statement Max Aue makes in The Kindly Ones: “But always keep this thought in mind: you might be a luckier person than I, but you’re not a better person. Because if you have the arrogance to think you are, that’s just where the danger begins.”

Guest speaker Boris Noordenbos went into the question of why a character like Max Aue is given a platform in Littell’s book and Guy Cassiers’ production. Why does an author or director give such a monster the chance to present his perspective to the world and arouse sympathy for it? Professor Noordenbos raised a question that nags at every reader and spectator: “Are you and I just like Aue, does Littell really believe that? I don’t think you can give a clear answer to that.” So not every question had an unequivocal answer, but Noordenbos did stir up the debate. According to the professor, the plurality of voices in Littell’s work is what makes it so complex.

“We hear the voice of an author, we hear the imaginary voices of readers, but those different positions are filtered through the consciousness of the first person narrator, who talks about what he thought and believed decades earlier and who also regularly contradicts himself. Aue indeed dominates the book, but precisely because of that we see that his story is far from coherent and unequivocal.”


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