It's a fictional streetscape we wander, here, a metropolis whose buildings, boulevards, and back alleys are in a constant state of flux. This is every place, and yet, no place at all - a city of dreams and a dream of a city.

Here, we explore the life and work of Ivan Illich and his circle of collaborators. There's no comprehensive index to the articles published, but we invite you to use the Search box, to the left, and to explore the Archive links that appear at the bottom of each page. Comments are welcomed.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Illich and Sontag

Illich states in his book of Conversations with David Cayley that he greatly admired Paul Goodman. He describes Goodman talking at CIDOC about the law and being interrupted and brought to tears by a woolly-red-haired young man - a self-proclaimed anarchist whom Illich had earlier discovered in the process of stuffing forks down the toilet.

We just came across the following passage in a remembrance of Goodman - written upon his death in 1972 - by Susan Sontag, who also admired him a good deal. Her full piece is available on a site that's promoting a new documentary about Goodman:

... Each time he rebuffed me and I retreated. I was told by mutual friends that he didn’t really like women as people — though he made an exception for a few particular women, of course. I resisted that hypothesis as long as I could (it seemed to me cheap), then finally gave in. After all, I had sensed just that in his writings: for instance, the major defect of Growing Up Absurd, which purports to treat the problems of American youth, is that it talks about youth, as if it consists only of adolescent boys and young men. My attitude when we met ceased being open.

Last year another mutual friend, Ivan Illich, invited me to Cuernavaca at the same time that Paul Goodman was there giving a seminar, and I told Ivan that I preferred to [c]ome after Paul Goodman had left. Ivan knew, through many conversations, how much I admired Paul Goodman’s work. But the intense pleasure I felt each time at the thought that he was alive and well and writing in the United States of America made an ordeal out every situation in which I actually found myself in the same room with him and sensed my inability to make the slightest contact with him. In that quite literal sense, then, not only were Paul Goodman and I not friends, but I disliked him – the reason being, as I often explained plaintively during his lifetime, that I felt he didn’t like me. How pathetic and merely formal that dislike was I always knew. It is now Paul Goodman’s death that has suddenly brought him home to me.

We never knew of Illich and Sontag's connection, but it's quite interesting that she calls him a friend. This makes sense, actually, as they must have been avid readers of each other's work. Both explored the topics of sickness and pain as well as the modern world awash in images - Illich in his history of the gaze, Sontag in her book On Photography. (We received this book as a Christmas present during college - from our mother - then read it with great relish, and have been meaning to re-read now that we are older and, perhaps, wiser. It sits on the shelf next to Janet Malcolm's Diana & Nikon, which we have heard much about but have yet not opened.) Meanwhile, the great encyclopedia in the sky informs us that David Rieff, Sontag's only child, dropped out of Amherst College and "went through a vagabond period, during which he labored for the radical Catholic priest Ivan Illich in Mexico and worked as a cab driver." He's now a political writer and analyst.

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Santa Rosa, California, United States
Writer, photographer, music fan; father and husband living in northern Calif.