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.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

UK blogger catches up with Illich's Samaritan

Blogger Mark Vernon, an ex-priest, philosopher, and author in Britain, has been writing about friendship - today, before, long ago in Ancient Greece, etc. In May, he posted a short essay inspired by Ivan Illich's radical reading of the Parable of the Good Samaritan:

I thought I understood [the parable], and moreover that we are living in a society that could be said to embody its message to a remarkable degree. In the NHS [UK's National Health Service], for example, care is free at the point of need. That surely is what the Samaritan offered the Jew in the ditch, and what the other two [a priest and a Levite] did not. But it was not until I started to think about friendship, and read the rebel Catholic philosopher Ivan Illich, that I saw otherwise. Illich thought that the parable has been subtly misunderstood, and in so doing its meaning has been what he called ‘perverted.’ It’s not about welfarism, he argued. The key detail is the way Luke describes the compassion the Samaritan has for the Jew. The important word is one of those wonderful Greek ones – splankgnizesthi, from Splanknon, the bowels. The Samaritan is moved in his guts. That’s what fundamentally distinguishes him from the priest and the Levite, not that he offers the care.

Illich, as anyone who has read The Rivers North of the Future will understand, reads this parable not as an instruction always to help those in need but rather as a definition of neighbor. It makes the point that one is free - everyone is free - to choose whom they want to relate to as their neighbor. And this complete and absolute freedom to choose, Illich argues, is enormously disruptive to tradition and "normal decency." It means that people are free to ignore traditional tribal boundaries, for instance, and it topples many certainties and unleashes much volatility. And the ramifications of this disruption, Illich argues, are still being worked out by the Western world.

Vernon may be pleased to know that his blog post is, according to Google, the only page on the Web that uses that word, splankgnizesthi. That, or he is misspelling it. Illich reads the word as referring to the part of an ox's gut that one discards during a sacrifice "because there's too much shit in it." Hence the title of Vernon's post: "On being moved in your bowels".

Monday, October 11, 2010

Two characters in John le Carré - a question arises

Is it possible that we are the first ones to notice that John le Carré has used essentially the same name for two different characters in two different books? We sure like to think so, and judging by a quick Google search (at 2pm PDT, Oct. 11, 2010, let it be recorded) we may well be the first.

In his new novel, Our Kind of Traitor, a central character is named Peregrine (Perry) Makepiece. He's an Oxford don who, bored with teaching, goes on vacation to Antigua and soon becomes involved with Russian mobsters, money-laundering, and shifty City of London bankers. (Or so we've been reading in reviews of the book published in the UK and related territories.)

In A Perfect Spy, le Carré names a character Sir Makepeace Watermaster. He's the father-in-law of Rick Pym, the father of the book's protagonist, Magnus Pym. To say the least, Watermaster's not happy about his daughter's having married this charming and always-on-the-run con man.

Of course, one of the great joys of le Carré always has been the names he gives his characters: Jack Brotherhood, Toby Esterhaze, Jonathan Pine, and George Smiley, for instance. Perhaps, as many critics state, only Charles Dickens is better at such naming. And perhaps Makepiece/peace is not as rare as we, situated in America, tend to think. But it certainly isn't a name like Bob or Joe or even George.

In any case, we look forward to reading the new book, which this morning informed us is on its way, slated to arrive at our door on the morning of the official pub date, Oct. 12. Reviews, so far, have been mixed, but that won't stop us from reading it. First, though, there's Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter to finish - a marvelous book. And once we've read Our Kind of Traitor, all that will be left for us to read of le Carré's will be his long-neglected and largely dismissed early novel, The Naive and Sentimental Lover, and his second African intrigue, The Mission Song. Of course, most of his books are worthy of re-reading; even if one already knows how things will turn out, the characters and overall writing are quite superb.

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