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.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A response to "body history"

By 1985, Ivan Illich had come to the conclusion that "today's major pathogen [is] the pursuit of a healthy body." Twelve years earlier, in Medical Nemesis, he had famously stated that the "medical establishment" was a major threat to health and he identified many of its "iatrogenic" effects. But in subsequent years, he had seen that "the experience of 'our bodies and our selves' had become the result of medical concepts and cares." He explained his revised thinking in a "Plea for Body History," published in an issue of Lancet in 1986. Later, it showed up in a collection of Illich's essays, In the Mirror of the Past. (This essay may be read online, one page at a time, at the Michigan Quarterly Review.)

We recently ran across a somewhat sarcastic and humorous essay written in response to Illich's plea, "Philosophers and other threats to health." It appeared in the British Medical Journal for May 9, 1987, and it is available in PDF format right here. The author is George Dunea, an Australian doctor based in Chicago. In 1975, he began writing a regular column for BMJ called "Letter from Chicago." A nephrologist, he once converted a Maytag washing machine into a dialysis machine. Quite appropriate for the very good writer he is, Dr. Dunea is currently editor in chief of Hektoen International, a journal in the field of medical humanities.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ivan Illich and Nietzsche

A professor of philosophy at Fordham University has written a paper with the title "Education and Exemplars: On Learning to Doubt the Overman." Babette Babich opens her paper so:

In what follows I treat Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society as a general prelude to a discussion of Nietzsche’s philosophical engagement with his classical philology, a profession which he argued to be essentially pedagogical, one of a piece with cultural formation, understood as Nietzsche liked to put it as actively “getting” oneself a culture. Such cultivation is antithetical to the “schooling” Illich criticizes. I then take this educational point further by exploring the notion of the exemplar for Nietzsche as he analyses it in “Schopenhauer as Educator.” I conclude with a critical reading (or philologically contextual “de-schooling”) of the standard understanding of the meaning, the who, of Nietzsche’s Übermensch.

We won't try to summarize the paper as we wouldn't be able to do it justice. Twenty-six pages long, it appears mainly to discuss Nietzsche, whose philosophy, we gather, is one of Prof. Babich's specialties. (Among other things, this interest has led her to look closely at a certain YouTube video of KD Lang singing Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah"; in an hour-long, supremely erudite and slightly mischievous video available for viewing at the Fordham website, she discusses the YouTube phenomenon in general, this video in particular, and Lang's art and eroticism. The text of this lecture is available here, with many footnotes.)

Prof. Babich's paper about Illich and Nietzsche appears as a chapter in a book, Education, Dialogue and Hermeneutics, by a Paul Fairfield ($130 at Amazon), and also is available in PDF format off the Web.

The professor describes herself as "a friend of the late Ivan Illich (of the telephone and letter variety: we never met in person), … I find his views unsettling. I have yet to recover from the shock of reading (just reading) H2O and the Waters of Forgetfulness and I have yet to stop teaching it in my classes on technology and environmental ethics just because of its uncanny rightness (and for the same disturbing reasons)."

Prof. Babich has written another paper, "Nietzsche's Post-Human Imperative: On the "All-too-Human" Dream of Transhumanism," which appeared in The Agonist, a journal about Nietzsche. It also refers to Illich and his thoughts on education.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Schooling and social myth

Pat Farenga has posted an interesting piece about John Holt and Ivan Illich on his website, Learning Without Schooling. It quotes the latter:

Arnold Toynbee has pointed out that the decadence of a great culture is usually accompanied by the rise of a new World Church which extends hope to the domestic proletariat while serving the needs of a new warrior class. School seems eminently suited to be the World Church of our decaying culture . . .

. . . School serves as an effective creator and sustainer of social myth because of its structure as a ritual of graded promotions. Introduction into this gambling ritual is much more important than what or how something is taught. It is the game itself that schools, that gets into the blood and becomes a habit. A whole society is initiated into the Myth of Unending Consumption of services. This happens to the degree that token participation in the open-ended ritual is made compulsory and compulsive everywhere. School directs ritual rivalry into an international game which obliges competitors to blame the world’s ills on those who cannot or will not play.

Pat found this in Deschooling: A Reader, edited by Ian Lister.

Bremen Event

Our spies tell us there may be a celebration of Illich in Bremen this coming December, the 10th anniversary of his death. It may include a workshop devoted to him and his work. If and when plans gel, information will be posted on the Pudel website.
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Santa Rosa, California, United States
Writer, photographer, music fan; father and husband living in northern Calif.