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.

Friday, July 26, 2013

'Beyond Economics and Ecology' to be available in Oakland

Those attending the upcoming Illich symposium in Oakland next week (Aug. 1-3) will be able to purchase the newly-published book of Illich's essays, Beyond Economics and Ecology. Copies of the book, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who has contributed the book's preface, will be on sale at the event. This will be the book's first availability. The 128-page paperback, released by Illich's longtime publisher Marion Boyars, reprints four of Illich's most incisive essays:

Energy & Equity (1974) -- After Deschooling Society, this is the most widely-quoted of Illich's works, shining a penetrating light on industrial society's addiction to fossil fuels. Intensive consumption of energy, Illich shows, inevitably leads to social inequity: While a few get to enjoy jet travel, the majority is forced to wait for the bus.

Shadow Work (1981) -- Here, Illich looks at industrial society's need for a "bifurcation of work," an "apartheid" much like what was then the norm in South Africa: While much effort, generally paid for, goes into producing commodities, much additional effort is required to make those commodities useful. And this latter, which he calls shadow work, draws on unpaid labor that is largely provided by women -- the housewife, in particular. A key essay in his effort to write a history of scarcity, "Shadow Work" is where we see Illich getting started on the far-ranging analysis and research that culminated a few years later in Gender.

War Against Subsistence (1981) -- In which Illich relates the story of how Elio Antonio de Nebrija in 1482 urged Queen Isabella of Spain, fresh from seeing Columbus off at the dock, to enforce on her subjects a taught "mother tongue" -- a key chapter in the history of compulsory schooling and of the determined eradication of vernacular ways.

The Social Construction of Energy (1983) -- Here, Illich looks closely at how the meaning and connotation of the words energy and work have expanded and morphed, particularly in the 19th century as Marx formulated his theories concerning the "labor force." The energy that Einstein famously equated with matter is not, for instance, the same energy that today we are all urged to conserve or harvest from alternative sources. This essay, not available until now in English book form, offers some of Illich's most trenchant thinking about the computer and automation, as well.

Here is an excerpt from Sajay Samuel's introduction to the new book:

Forty years ago, Ivan Illich (1921-2002) foresaw the coming crises. He then argued that the industrialized societies of the mid-twentieth century, including communist Russia and capitalist USA, were already burdened by too much employment and too much energy. Arguing that habituation to paid work frustrates and destroys self-reliance, and that the increasing power of machines deepens the dependence on them, he warned against those whose misunderstanding of ‘crisis’ would perversely bring on what they sought to avoid. Even though that is precisely what they have wrought, politicians and scientists continue to stubbornly insist that the ‘economic crisis’ is a matter of not enough jobs and the ‘ecological crisis’ is a matter of not enough clean energy. ‘Not enough jobs’ channels attention to producing more employment by expanding the economy, just as ‘not enough clean energy’ confines debate to getting more of it through techniques that reduce carbon emissions. This persistent fixation on more employment and more energy has now found expression in dreams of a so-called ‘green economy’, which at one stroke is expected to wipe out unemployment and renew the environment. The fixation blinds us, Illich then noted, to recognizing the thresholds beyond which useless humans will have to occupy uninhabitable environments.

Doubtless, the fear and anxiety of a jobless life is palpable to the intern who must pay to work. So are the incomprehension and anger of the homeless family displaced by a hurricane. But even others, who may be luckier, now feel trapped between the pincers of shrinking paychecks and rising costs, whether of gas, heating oil, or food. For the increasingly many who must bear it, this feeling of vulnerability and precariousness need not lead to paralyzing despair. Instead, forced by their circumstances to acknowledge that widespread unemployment and a ravaged environment are likely here to stay, they may, with a flinty humor, reinvent ways to live well. And precisely because they have become scarce, it is perhaps now possible to begin this task by rethinking the once dearly held attachment to ‘employment’ and ‘energy’.

Selected from Illich’s many essays, pamphlets, and drafts, the four items reprinted here remain vitally important to that task. Though written between 1973 and 1983, they have an urgent relevance to those who must inhabit a world without secure employment or supportive environments. Employment is good’, ‘economic growth is necessary’, ‘technical innovations liberate’ -- these were thought obvious when Illich wrote these pages. Though not as obvious now, such notions still dimly maintain their hold on the popular imagination. Just as words on a page blur when a book is held too close, so also one must take sufficient distance to what one thinks obvious to better question it. This effort at distancing becomes all the more difficult when an assumption has been left unquestioned long enough to be taken for a certainty and to even congeal into the way the world is perceived. Unlike many of his time and later, Illich’s thought is radical in the sense of going to the roots of such modern perceptions. These still unsettling and disturbing pages are likely to be useful now to those who seek to find a way, for whatever reason, beyond economics and ecology.

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