On the edge of the world, Claude Drexel (2013)
Claus Drexel has conducted a raw and poetic report on homeless people in Paris. Some of them, who are in their thousands in the capital, simply tell the camera what they experience and think. The film’s title, On the edge of the world, is striking. The homeless, teetering on the edge of the abyss, are still part of our world – the same world that has pushed them to extreme limits. With these people living on the edge, we are violently faced with a question: is this the world that we want to live in?
In contrast, we are shown what our world is like when we look into the eyes of a homeless man. We live in a world that looks for efficiency (a homeless man doesn’t contribute anything). A world that is comfortable (a homeless man is completely deprived). A world that doesn’t want to be disturbed (it’s excruciating when a homeless man looks you in the eye). A world that dejected by its own powerlessness (a homeless man doesn’t receive a helping hand).
We look for efficiency in this world, and profitability, without a clearly defined aim. And we are prepared to make big sacrifices to achieve it. So are we not capable of making greater sacrifices to (efficiently) achieve an end that’s carefully thought out, humble even? Our world is comfortable. Yet the deprivation in which the homeless live hits us in the gut. They do not have the bare minimum to live, that would allow them to have a private life, and to give some meaning to their existence other than survival. Our own comfort hits us too. We find that we have too many useless possessions and continue acquiring more that fail to meet our desires.
Our world likes tranquillity. And the homeless give us bad consciences. Which means that we are capable of empathy. We recognise our good luck, yet guilt casts its shadow, as we recognise that the man in the street doesn’t have the same luck. So we decide to look the other way to chase the shadow.
Our world is discouraged: ‘It’s hard out there, but what can be done?’, one might ask. The extreme situation in which these marginalised people live fills us with horror. We want to help them, yet straightaway we feel our powerlessness. The act of giving spare change doesn’t seem to do much good, and might make things worse. How many times have you heard someone say, ‘they’ll just spend it all on alcohol anyway’.
So how about trying to speak to them? If language and co-dependence make man, then perhaps that would be the best thing we could offer them. And it’s possible that you could end up learning something from them. How about looking for a practical solution? Our sense of powerlessness is perhaps not as motivated, though this could be only an excuse. And if we fought against homelessness in political or charitable action..?
The fight against poverty is our primary political duty for Péguy, or even the pre-primary duty, the only duty that should be considered before any discussion about council estates. Destitution is not just a economical issue, and differs from poverty in it essence because it can break a man. The inability to meet basic needs in itself effectively banishes a man from our society, and exiles him. The poverty experienced by the homeless is not only economic, but also has sociological, psychological, and spiritual knockbacks. Poverty dehumanises man. This means that fighting against poverty is of the upmost urgency.
The issue of homelessness forces us to look for new beginnings for our world. It reveals its imperfections, as well as its beauty. Their extreme situation pushes us to re-centre the construction of our society upon what is essential. We end up questioning ourselves more about the meaning of things, and lead a necessary collective reflection on what technological progress should be used towards: fighting against extreme poverty and reconsidering our priorities in the fight against inequality. We’re incited to rethink social links, consider the suffering of unnamed sufferers and the isolation of our individualistic societies, without wallowing in nostalgia for holistic societies.
Poverty and destitution call us to explore new means of action.
Translated to english by Amy Clarke