From ashes to ashes

In Nord, a play written by Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Europe can be seen kneeling in front of the ashes of 1945. The entire Continent reflects on the chaos of a devastated Germany filled with relics and despair. The controversial French playwright passes through the 20th century, from one war to the next, from one rupture to the next, haunted by the demons of his time, writing about the gloom that springs from the cracks. The play, recently staged in Athens by Berlin’s Volksbuhne, brings to life the demons of Europe in 1945. Director Frank Castorf took a risk and succeeded in staging what is in many ways a provocative spectacle, while making a provocative statement about Europe of today. Nord is about the end of a world, the harshness of the fall, and the chaos that drags down winners and losers alike. It’s like watching Salo, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s dark elegy. For Castorf (born in what used to be East Germany), the rupture is the fall of the Wall, as he stares at 21st century Europe through Celine’s eyes. Is he stumbling once again? In the play, Celine is in a delirium about the genes of the new, powerful races, the viruses and the parasites, the decline of the old Continent. His delirium is disconcertingly timely. The Europe of 2007 is no longer the source of innovation, but a passive observer of the rising superpowers. Castorf depicts our single-currency and passport-free Europe as a train car that has become the scene of an orgy, as Felix the cartoon hero flies overhead and home videos play in the open wasteland dominated by the enormous James Bond slogan Die Another Day. As for the Europeans, they are depicted as wandering, basket-making gypsies. Their days of hegemony are over. This sobering outlook is wise in its admittance, but also offers a way of staring reality in the face. Art has the questions but not always the answers.

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