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Fri 25
May 2007

On Beggars

Posted by dora under Letters to the actors

In a welfare state, and seen from the eyes of a public space passer-by, one wonders about the origins of beggary. In a welfare state, one wonders, beggary is not any more a profession as once it was, but a vocation. Is that possible? Would any one want to be a beggar if other options were available? Again, from the point of view of a public space passer-by, two seem to be the reasons to submit to beggary: disease, mental, physical, or addictive disease; and inability to integrate in the economic life because of an identity defect (lack of legal papers). Third, another possibility: just for the hell of it. There are many nuances in between. Then, there are people who are not beggars properly speaking, but who perform a certain talent in the street and expect to be paid for it… These are not properly beggars, but like with everything else, the borders are blurred.
There are beggars with no talent whatsoever but who nevertheless consider more efficient to ask for money while they torture a violin; and there are very professional musicians who perform in the street just because the public is there and they can earn money that way. Complex, a complex agora, beggary and its satellites.
From the point of view of a public space passers-by, the curious thing about beggars, moving between the two limits of the homeless (not necessary a beggar) and the street artist (not a beggar), is that they do not pass by public space: they inhabit it. You can see it very simply in the physical position: respectable, active citizens walk; beggars stand or sit in public space, occasionally lie down.
A beggar is a marginal figure, so much is clear; but precisely because of that, and because of his position in public space, the beggar can speak up his / her mind. The beggar, and this is of course what interest me, forms a figure that in some points is coincident with The Prophet (I said this once to Peter) and in that sense to the figure of Saint John The Baptist: dressed in rags, he speaks the truth to whoever has ears to hear it.

In many a sense, beggars are a clear indication of the moral and economic situation of a society. In the time of “El Corralito” (Corralito was the informal name for the economic measures taken in Argentina at the end of 2001 in order to stop a bank run, and which were fully in force for one year. The corralito almost completely froze bank accounts and forbade withdrawals from U.S. dollar-denominated accounts.) In Argentina, a very high percentage of the middle class entered poverty and therefore resorted to beggary. To see those still well dressed families camping in the street because they could not afford any more the rent of their apartments and they had no money to buy food was everything one needed to know to understand what was going on. The same for the elegantly dressed yuppies that from one day to the next started begging in the streets as a result of the economic crash end of the eighties in NY (Stock markets across the world crashed on Black Monday, October 19, 1987. The New York Stock Exchange suffered its largest one-day stock market drop in history)

So, as with madness, no one is safe from beggary; and to enter it, as entering madness, has the one positive feature among so much misery, that one can finally say what one really thinks.

So the beggar can take for himself/herself the attributes of many others well-known inhabitants of public space: the homeless; the street artist; the clown; the prophet; the city-guide; the agora teacher; the sophist; the Diogenes (Diogenes, a celibate and a beggar who made his home in the streets of Athens, made a virtue out of extreme poverty. He taught contempt for human achievements and a return to animalism (he barked to those he disliked). Diogenes used his body to upend the conventional association of decorum with the good. He broke etiquette by publicly carrying out activities an Athenian would typically perform in private. For example, he ate, drank, and masturbated in the marketplace. His was a relentless campaign to "debunk" social values and institutions— the Greek word for dog-like is “cynic”) ; the saint; the Saint- Francis; the mad, the retarded, the deranged; the agitator; the innocent; the messenger; the story-teller; the informant; and many others.

Tue 29
May 2007

Dear Dora, Let me say a few

Posted by anonymous user

Dear Dora,

Let me say a few things I learned or think to have learned from our conversation, so you will know if I got something wrong. 1. The character of the beggar is not only a beggar but he is an essential beggar. 2. As such he is a stylized figure which is - as being part of your staging, and inspired by the "Three Penny Opera" - somehow a drama figure that is thrown back on the streets where its inspirations came from. 3. He should not provoke pity or be compassionate. - And this can, in my opinion, be reached best if we make him a rather active person.

With best wishes,

Samir Kandil