Pnima... ins Innere was created in 2000 for the Munich Biennale and was awarded the Bavarian Theatre Prize as well as world premiere of the year (Opernwelt magazine). In the piece, which is based on a story by David Grossmann, the composer deals with the transmission of trauma, the archaeology of memory and thus indirectly with her own biography as the daughter of two Holocaust survivors. The work helped the composer achieve her international breakthrough at the time.
In Darmstadt, Pnima was staged in a new production by Karsten Wiegand in four performances from 27 January to 28 March. The premiere took place as part of a weekend of events under the slogan "Never again is now - against silence". In this context, Chaya Czernowin took part in a panel discussion with general music director Daniel Cohen, director Sapir Heller and artistic director Karsten Wiegand on 26 January, following the performance How to remain humanistic after a massacre in 17 steps.
statement by Chaya Czernowin
2 December 2023
In times of rising antisemitism in Germany and in the world, Karsten Wiegand, the director of Staatstheater Darmstadt has done something unprecedented: He changed the program of the the theater in order to bring Pnima, my 2000 opera, to the stage as a way of protest. Within two months from the decision, Pnima will be brought to the stage, premiering on 27th January 2024, in an initiative which circumvents all the standard operating-mechanisms of producing an opera. I am deeply grateful to Karsten Wiegand for his courage and his idea that art can speak to reality, and have the utmost respect for his position and perspective. I am also grateful to The Darmstadt Stadttheater and to all the participants who agreed on such a short term to dedicate the next two months to this unpredictable production. At the same time, I realized that my own perspective on Pnima and its connection to the situation is also important to convey. Here it is:
Pnima is about the transmission of trauma. It surrounds the subject of trying to communicate a trauma, the festering of trauma and its inheritance from generation to generation. It is absolutely not only about the trauma of the Jewish people. I used the trauma of my biography because this is what I know. However this is a universal subject, and it belongs to all of us.
Three complementary reflections:
One: Empathy has no race, religion or nation. It feels real pain and senses trauma. Empathy is not a call to wallow in pain. Rather, empathy is a deep cry, moving us to recognize the pain of other people and our own pain. Unrecognized trauma wounds left untreated, might become an infection, turning from passive to active or even aggressive, in a horrific unavoidable mutation. The victims become the oppressors inflicting their own agony and suffering on others.
An unpredictable and dangerous inheritance, trauma sustains itself through its own pain as it infects greater and greater areas, more and more people, becoming an infestation. But if one recognizes the suffering of the other, one can stop this metamorphosis of the victim becoming the perpetrator. Seeing and understanding multiple perspectives elevates the centrality of one's gaze and stops the bleeding... Genuine empathy is a kind of an antibody against further grief.
Two: Extreme positions are so attractive. Grayscales are much less appealing. Social media calls on us to scream our certainties over the rooftops. Social media works mainly through strict binaries. But nothing is truly binary... If you criticize the Israeli government, you are not necessarily anti semitic, and if you care about Palestinian lives, it doesn't mean that you do not care about Israeli lives. Social media is fast, immediate and effective. It wants to yell, it is unwilling to listen. It could provide some temporary pain relief. In comparison, the powers of empathy are much slower, less apparent, and hesitant. it is the ground where things can grow, but who looks at the ground? Does it need feeding at all?
Three: When a situation escalate,s everything seems so urgent - we need the clear cut, the certainty... The current discourse demands: "what is your red line?" Reality screams: "on which side are you?" "you must take a side!" "Are you a worm or a person?" Worms are easily crushed in these conditions, but worms are so important for the ground and its productivity...
In these dark days there are a few points of certainty:
Israeli and Palestinian's lives must be protected, and with full human rights.
All innocent civil lives have to be protected.
To stop the festering of trauma, one must start talking, stop the killing,
Babies are innocent, and so are teenagers.
Most people would just like to live and prosper.