We're delighted, today, to have discovered online some 40 minutes of video showing Ivan Illich speaking to an audience in 1984. His topic: the changing metaphors of water - how the ancients saw water as a magical stuff that separates this world from that of the dead and how today, water is merely a solvent that washes dirt and excrement from the city.
Illich spoke as part of a conference on "What Makes a City: Water and Dreams" that was held by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. The Institute had originally approached him to address the issues raised by plans - discussed and debated for many decades - to create an artificial lake in the center of Dallas. Somewhat to his own surprised, Illich accepted the invitation. The result was a series of discussions held in Dallas, this lecture, and a short but wonderfully provocative and poetic book, H2O and the Waters of Forgetfulness, published by the Institute in 1985. In it, Illich discusses how the ancients founded their cities; how city space differed from that of nature; how people experienced city space as much through their noses as their eyes; how urban water and images of the female nude came to be so intertwined; the histories of smells, of sewers and indoor toilets, of soap and, of course, of water itself. The book's subtitle is "Reflections on the Historicity of 'Stuff'."
Perhaps the book's most widely-quoted sentence: "[W]e do not feel free to question the natural beauty of water itself because we know, yet cannot bear to acknowledge, that this 'stuff' is recycled toilet flush."
We're not aware of any other such video showing Illich speaking publicly. A good number of audio recordings of him are available, but not video, as far as we know, probably as a result of Illich's well-known aversion to being recorded in any way. ("Modern-day pornography," he testily described the commercial recording of his "conversation" about de-schooling with an evangelical audience in the 1970s.)
Here's Part 2 of the Dallas video:
Illich's water book draws a good deal on the thinking of Gaston Bachelard, who wrote about the "poetics of space," and that of Joseph Rykwert, an architectural historian with whom Illich worked at the University of Pennsylvania. For anyone interested in the study of cities, as we are, Illich's book provides a wonderful bibliography and many detailed footnotes.