Ivan Illich

A RatBag of the highest caliber. His Energy and Equity is available at http://www.cogsci.ed.ac.uk/~ira/illich/texts/energy_and_equity/ (DeschoolingSociety is also available on-line).

The most comprehensive list of pointers to Illich's writings available on the Web is at http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich.html.

Ivan Illich died on Dec. 2, 2002, in Bremen, Germany, surrounded by his circle of friends, collaborators, and students. Their website is here: http://www.pudel.uni-bremen.de/. Many interesting papers are available there by Illich and others.

So radical he makes NoamChomsky look like an AmericanRepublican?. He argues for the inversion of industrial progress in order to allow the human race to survive and allow humans to live decently. He makes up lots of new vocabulary like "radical monopoly" and "convivial tools," all of which accurately describe concepts that should be generally known. Wonderful at pointing out paradoxes. Much better writer than NoamChomsky.

Incidentally, the French attitude towards philosophers is that they are paid to enlighten and improve society, and are actually given space in the media to do their job! For instance, Energy and Equity was first published in Le Monde, a major daily newspaper.

All this LeftWing rhetoric comes from Europe. Then they look in wonder at the UnitedStates' "capitalistic" economy.

You mistake disgust and contempt with wonder. L'horreur Economique (the Economic Horror), describing the anglo-american economies, was a best-seller in France.

Don't worry. All that RightWing rhetoric comes from the UnitedStates.

Easily the best obit for Ivan Illich, so far, was published in The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,4563612-103684,00.html

What makes Illich interesting at this point in history, when the end of the cold war no longer forces us to align ourselves with crudely defined blocks (LeftWing , RightWing), is that neither side (and his writing was mainly done when there seemed to be sides) liked what he had to say. Since he criticised institutions in general as destructive of the human spirit, his ideas continue to pose a potent challenge to ideologues of both stamps. His openly apocalyptic prediction of 'the collapse of power' is explored in the radio broadcast available from http://www.unwelcomeguests.net/523_-_Ivan_Illich_and_The_Collapse_Of_Power_%28Nowtopia_and_Why_Money_is_not_Power%29.


One of the best introductions to Illich's life (up to about 1988) and thought is a book called Conversations with Ivan Illich, by David Cayley. It is based on a series of interviews that Cayley did for the Canadian Broadcasting Co. (CBC). These interviews formed the basis of a CBC program by Cayley called "Part Moon, Part Traveling Salesman," cassette tapes of which are available from CBC and Amazon. The program runs about 5 hours and is extremely well done; Cayley knows his subject and is a good interviewer and interpreter; the book is a more complete transcript of the interviews, which can be heard online in two parts at http://www.cbc.ca/tapestry/archives/2000/022000.html

Illich figures prominently in an CBC Ideas series called "The Medium and the Message", about orality and literacy. This series was based on a conference held in Toronto in June, 1988, at which the notion of literacy as a presumed good was questioned and in some senses attacked by a group of scholars. Eric Havelock, Barry Sanders, and David Olson were among the other scholars who attended the conference and who appear in the interviews in the series, again conducted by Cayley. The series makes for compelling listening and consideration.

Cayley did more interviews with Illich in later years, which yielded two more CBC programs. One is called "Life as Idol," in which Illich reflects on the word and notion of "life" and their use by various theologians, marketeers, and others. Life, Illich posits, is an amoeba word, seemingly straightforward in definition but loaded with scientific connotations that are beyond most of us yet enable us to speak with a sheen of scientific authority. Fact is, no biologist can define the word life; nor can the anti-abortionists or the theologians. Ultimately, the word has such a wide range of meanings that everyone who uses it gets lost. All of which is a simplistic summary of Cayley's program, which lasts about 1 hour. Also available on tape from CBC and perhaps Amazon.

The next program, and the last Cayley did with Illich, is called "The Corruption of Christianity: Ivan Illich on Gospel, Church and Society" (2000). A transcript and a five-part CD is available on the CBC website (try this link, http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/transcripts/c.html, or else search for a show called "Ideas"). This program is more or less a history of the western world according to Illich. It is also the most explicit expression of how his thinking is deeply rooted in the gospels of Jesus -- something that peeks out here and there in earlier writings through implication but that he never explicitly relied on to buttress or formulate his argument. Illich sees much of the horror of the modern western world, with its deep poverty and dependence on all those institutions he railed against for all those decades, as essentially a corruption of some quite radical ideas that Jesus put forth. Illich is particularly concerned with the parable of the Good Samaritan, whose lesson, he argues, got co-opted and misused by the Church long ago and which in turn gave rise to today's service institutions. This program bears repeated listening, as it is dense with ideas and references and gives one a good taste of Illich's dazzling and wide-ranging intellect. Illich, Ivan (Author) Cayley, David (Editor) (2000)The Corruption of Christianity (Toronto: Anansi Press)ISBN 0-66018-0995 .

A number of recorded interviews with Illich are available from the Altruists International website, at http://www.altruists.org/illich.

A particularly good summary and interpretation of what Illich was thinking about during the last 20 years of his life has been prepared by one of his closest collaborators, Barbara Duden. It is available at the Pudel site, here: http://www.pudel.uni-bremen.de. As Duden shows, even though Illich was widely dismissed as a has-been, he was hard at work all these years, anticipating many topics of research and thinking that others now actively pursue. Among them: the historicity of gender, the body, and the senses.


View edit of May 5, 2011 or FindPage with title or text search