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, December 31, 2012

A "wandering Jew, a Christian pilgrim"

We often wish we had even a fraction of the linguistic skills that Ivan Illich had for that would enable us to appreciate more of the writings about him -- and by him, as well -- that are to be found here and there on the Web.

As noted a few days ago, for example, we recently discovered a fascinating document written in Croatian that concerns Illich’s ordination as a priest, as described in a number of church documents from the 1940s and 1950s on file in Split, the Dalmatian city that Illich’s father called home. Google’s translation robot provides some help in understanding the document, but only some.

Here, as grabbed from that Croatian document, is something that requires no translating, a photo of young Ivan (and one of several in the document) seen during a visit to Sutivan, on the island of Brac, where his grandfather lived:

Illich Donkey

This is the island Illich would later remember as gaining its first loudspeaker when a Victrola arrived on the same boat as he did, brought there as an infant to meet his grandfather. Now promoted as a seaside resort, Brac has a population of 13,000. One of its churches is that of St. Ivan, from the 6th century. The Ilic name is one of the island's oldest; a windmill and a 16th-century complex of houses is attributed to the family.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Almo collegio Capranica, and a fascinating document in Croatian

Looking into Almo Collegio Capranica, the seminary in Rome that Ivan Illich attended, we have come across a remarkable document.

Sources on the Web say this is the oldest college in Roma, founded in 1457. And it has a reputation:

On page 23 of her 1991 book, The Undermining of the Catholic Church, Mary Ball Martinez, speaking of the Capranica, says "In the 1890's this seminary was known up and down Italy to be the headquarters of the kind of theological radicalism soon to be labeled 'Modernism'. To our day the school has upheld that reputation, feting the "Red Abbot" Franzoni after his suspension a divinis in the 1970's and CIDOC's Ivan Illich while neighbors continue to complain of all-night celebrations spilling out into the darkened old streets at each major Leftist triumph from the abortion victory in the Italian Parliament to referendum results in Chile."
800px Almo Collegio Capranica prospect

The college offers a short version of its history in English, here.


While looking for more information about the college and Illich's time there, we discovered a lengthy document (in PDF) about Illich that is written in Croatian. We cannot understand the text, but it appears to concern Illich and his ordination as a priest in Rome and his move to New York. It is based on research in archives in Split, aka Grad Split, the coastal city in Dalmatia that was home to Illich's father. The document looks closely at the communications between church administrators in Split, where Illich was baptized, and those in Rome and New York.

If nothing else, the illustrations are fascinating. They include copies of many original documents, some of them signed by Illich, some of them letters between clergy written in Latin, as well as photos of a young Illich and his family and even a photo of the Illich home in Split.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Everett Reimer book available online

What appears to be the full text of Everett Reimer's book School is Dead is available on the Web in PDF format, right here. The pages are not numbered and it is not clear how the text was obtained, by scanning or retyping.

According to Wikipedia, School is Dead was published in 1971. Deschooling Society, published that same year, opens with these lines:

I owe my interest in public education to Everett Reimer. Until we first met in Puerto Rico in 1958, I had never questioned the value of extending obligatory schooling to all people. Together we have come to realize that for most men the right to learn is curtailed by the obligation to attend school. The essays given at CIDOC and gathered in this book grew out of memoranda which I submitted to him, and which we discussed during 1970, the thirteenth year of our dialogue. […] Since 1967 Reimer and I have met regularly at the Center for Intercultural Documentation (CIDOC) in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
At Google Books, one can read a somewhat critical 1972 essay entitled "Confronting the Educational Philosophies of Ivan Illich and Everett Reimer," written by a Paul R. Reid.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

An interview, 1974

We recently stumbled onto this article about Ivan Illich and since it is a new one to us, we thought we'd share it. Published in The New Scientist for Dec., 1974, it shows some of Illich's thinking about publishing and about the response of his audience.

Ivan Illich will now write a book

“I have not written a book yet,” said Ivan Illich last Thursday, the day of British publication of his Medical Nemesis by Calder and Boyars (see Review, last week, p 835). He claims that all he has published so far is a draft for seminars to be held at CIDOC in Cuernavaca, Mexico, which is Illich’s home base, and he hopes to produce a revised manuscript -- taking into account criticisms made at these seminars and elsewhere -- by the end of the next year. This, he says, will be first book.

Currently, Illich, who writes in French, English, Spanish, and German, is working on the French draft of Medical Nemesis. To be published early in 1975, it will differ in parts from the English draft, because his thoughts have developed and changed since the English version was completed.

Surprisingly, in view of the orientation of its attack on medicalisation, there are no plans to publish Medical Nemesis in the United States now. Illich is disappointed by the lack of reaction form the US to his previous “draft” publication, Energy and Equity (which is still selling 300 copies a day in the UK, nearly a year after publication). It produced virtually no American comment, although he received many comments on the manuscript from European countries, and several people in France and Germany are now following up his ideas in greater detail.

Illich is taken very seriously in France, although not always with great understanding. He went to Paris in Spring 1973 with three draft essays, which were to form the basis of Energy and Equity, in order to get the critical comments of a friend. One of France’s leading newspapers heard of the existence of these essays and told Illich that they wished to publish them. When he remarked that they did not even know what the essays were about, he was told that did not matter; they were by Illich, they must therefore be important. So he agreed to their publication. Shortly thereafter, one of the senior staff on the paper contacted Illich and said he hoped that Illich would not mind being offered some advice, but it was really not a good idea to open an important newspaper article with a phrase which no-one would understand. The phrase in question was “la crise de’energie.”

Illich is concerned about becoming a cult figure. He says that he gave up lecturing at American universities because he felt that students were making a cult of him. In England, he says, he does not feel that yet, although, when he lectured at York earlier this month, “for the first time, I realised the ghost was there.”

He is also concerned about the way in which some of his ideas have been taken up so that they strengthen what he sees as the abuses of industrial society. His ideas on deschooling, he says, have been used to bolster the hold of the institutional educators on lifelong learning -- called by them “education permanente”, by Illich “education interminable”. Education is now being geared, he says, “to increasing people’s capital value to society through the whole of their lives.”

Much of his published material contains hints of what is to follow. Medical Nemesis was foreshadowed, for example, by a few paragraphs in Tools for Conviviality. At the end of Medical Nemesis, Illich writes about some of what he sees as being wrong with modern agriculture. Will this be his next subject? He refuses to commit himself, saying that he must first complete the work he is doing on Medical Nemesis.

“I am now 48; that’s already old. And there are several other things I want to do.” But what those things are, Illich does not say, although he leaves the impression that they are perhaps of a more personal, spiritual nature than the work he has been going during the past few years.

He writes and talks, he says, for anyone who will read or listen, and make intelligent comments. He was delighted, for example, by the space which the British Medical Journal gave to three critiques of Medical Nemesis a fortnight ago. This type of criticism, he says, was just what he wanted, and he seemed surprised that the British medical establishment should pay him that much attention. On the other hand, although always impeccably polite he shows little patience towards questioners who want specific answers about how their lives and society should be run.

He is a man who provides ideas on the basis of which other people ought to be able to find their own answers, and he refuses to be drawn into the particular. But then the whole basis of his thought is a belief in personal autonomy -- that industrial society saps our potentialities by providing too many ready-made answers. It is difficult to come away from a conversation with him without a strong feeling that one could be a better person if only one tugged one’s own bootstraps a bit harder.

-- Martin Sherwood.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Illich and the f-word

In 1970, Illich's thinkery in Cuernavaca, CIDOC, published a book (CIDOC Cuaderno 57) with the title: Formative undercurrents of compulsory knowledge: Some comparative historical observations on learning and school. The co-editors were Jordan Bishop, a liberation theologist, and Joel Spring, a professor of education at CUNY's Graduate Center.

Perhaps that title strikes you, even if only subliminally, as suspect. If so, you win a cigar. If not, look again. (Alas, the book is out of print and, as far as we can tell, not available in a used copy, either.)

This reminds us of an anecdote that Ivan Illich used to relate to his audiences in the early 1970s. On one recording we've heard, of a talk given at UC Berkeley's Newman Center, it went like this:

Let’s distinguish two sets, two different levels of radical analysis of the educational system. One is, recognize what schools really do.

Now, all over the world, schools school.

There is a titter of laughter in the audience.

I’ll never forget when I first realized what this means with a group of Black Power leaders in Chicago some three years ago, and suddenly somebody said to me, “You know, yeah, you’re right, schools are made to school you." And I understood that schools are made to school you, and everybody laughed when in the afternoon they showed up with buttons saying, “School you.”

Illich and his audience have a good laugh at this and then, he continues:

You cannot go to school for a year without believing that, without learning at least one thing, that the society as it is considers that it would be better if you had gone on to the second or the third year.

Therefore, the people who drop out -- the concept of drop-out is also a beautiful one -- who drop out of the school system are already deeply schooled. They are schooled into their inferiority. ...

In another talk, recorded around the same time, he tells the story as follows:

School is losing its legitimacy. The very great danger, about which we finally now get a lot of people to consent with us that it exists, is that we seek new devices for education.

There is an enthusiasm, a recognition, a first early recognition that the school system as it stands doesn’t work, … uh, five, six years ago, seven years ago and people rushed out to find other ways of schooling up their neighbors.

I’m using that word because in a black community, once, somebody said, “Yeah, school, yeah, you’re right, school is made to school us". And I understood that school is made to school us. So in the afternoon, I understood what they had said when they all showed up with buttons, ”School you.”

Now, people rush out …

Again, Illich chuckles and there is much laughter from the audience.

Excuse me, this just what happened … that’s the reason why Deschooling Society has really a different meaning and I am very surprised that nobody caught it. But Bob Silver of the NY Review of Books crossed out that line. I usually don’t allow an editor to touch my manuscript but when it comes to good taste, I defer to Bob Silver.

Illich laughs with his listeners and continues:

Now, the real danger at this moment is that we seek new ways of educating people for an environment in which school has lost its legitimacy, therefore more effective, more efficient, more subtle ways of education can be financed and become acceptable. For instance, teachers can escape the classroom and bother us like mosquitos all during our lifetimes, just as doctors now can tell us all day long what we have to do. …

We have to say, we cringe when hearing Illich, of all people, adopting here a fairly lame imitation urban black voice to quote the African-Americans.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Home movies

An extraordinary glimpse into, well, the extraordinary early life of Ivan Illich has turned up at, of all places, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington, D.C. There, in the Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive, one of Illich’s relatives has deposited twenty reels of 16mm home movies shot in the momentous years 1936 to 1943.

Evidently, Ellen “Maexie” Regenstreif, Illich’s mother, was an avid movie-maker. She not only filmed Ivan and his twin brothers at home and on various vacations, she also took the time to edit her films and add titles throughout. She shot in black-and-white and in color (using Agfa and Kodak film); the footage is silent, with no audio. And she bothered to capture some remarkable scenes, perhaps most notably the family (mother and three boys) packing its belongings into a truck and handing over to leather-coated Nazi officials the keys to the expansive Regenstreif villa in Vienna.

We’ve not actually seen any of this footage, we’ve only read about it. The site labels the film reels as “rights restricted.” As we understand it, that means they may be available for viewing, in video format, by appointment but only at the museum itself. It’s not possible, except perhaps with special permission, to order copies.

Still, the Spielberg archive’s web pages provide fairly detailed descriptions of what each reel of film shows -- perhaps provided by Yvonne Illich, the daughter of Illich’s brother Sascha (1928-2009). She is listed as having given the films to the archive.

It’s hardly news that Ivan Illich grew up amongst wealth, tended to by a governess, an art tutor (from Bremen) and chauffeurs. Among other features, Villa Regenstreif had its own bowling alley and a “Chinese garden.” From the pictures we’ve seen, it was a remarkable place. Yet, the descriptions of these home movies hint at a particularly warm, playful, and art-filled family life. Judging by photos we’ve seen elsewhere and by these descriptions recently found on the Web, Illich’s mother must have been very special, a woman deeply engaged with, and much loved by, her three sons.

The archive has organized Maexie’s home movie reels into four groups. They are listed as Tape Numbers 2911, 2912, 2913, and 2914. Each reel is given its own page and description.

Here is the archive's general explanation of the family and films’s history (which we’ve broken into paragraphs for easier reading):

A collection of twenty reels [we count only 18 reels; perhaps a couple have been merged into one - ed.] of 16mm film dating from 1936 to 1943 illustrating the daily life of a prominent Austrian family named Regenstreif and Illich. The films were taken under the name Maexie.

Ellen (Maexie) Regenstreif Illich (1901-1965) came from a family of converted Sephardic Jews who had settled in Germany. Her industrialist father, Fritz (Pucki) Regenstreif (1868-1941), had a lumber business in Bosnia where he owned a sawmill at Zavidovic. He also owned an Art Nouveau villa on the outskirts of Vienna in Pötzleinsdorf built by Friedrich Ohmann.

Piero Ilic (1890-1942) came from a landed family in Dalmatia, Yugoslavia with property in Split and extensive wine and olive oil producing estates on the island of Brac.
Ellen and Piero married in 1925 and established a home in Split. There was a resurgence of anti-foreign and anti-Jewish sentiment in Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav government made claims against her father as a landowner in Bosnia at the International Court in the Hague, so in 1932, Ellen returned to her father's villa in Vienna with their three children: Ivan (1926-2002), Michael (Micha) (b. 1928), and Alexander (Sascha) (1928-2009). The boys never saw their father again; Piero died of natural causes in Split in July 1942.

After the death of Ellen's father on May 8, 1941 and the forced sale of his splendid home to the Nazis in 1942, Ellen moved with the children to Florence, Italy by way of Split, where they lived for three months. In Nazi Austria, Ellen was considered an ethnic Jew although she was a baptized Christian, and the children were classified as half-Jewish.
The films were kept in a wooden cabinet in the basement of Sascha's New York home from 1961 to 2006, when they were preserved by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

And here is the archive’s description of the second reel in the collection, shot in 1936; Ivan would have been 10. All of the other reels get described in similar detail and are well worth reading. (We've added the hyperlinks seen here, by the way.):

Introduced with German titles throughout, some are comical. This film is titled "Dreibubenhaus" [The House of the Three Boys] in honor of a then current theatrical presentation in Vienna. CUs [close-ups], the twin boys don hats and joke for the camera. Sequence of the boys waking up, saying prayers, washing faces, getting dressed, and ready for school. The three Illich boys eat breakfast and exit their home (filmed from mother Ellen (Maexie) Regenstreif's room on the top floor of the villa), walking the grand grounds of Villa Regenstreif. The governess "Selli" Frauer escorts the boys onto a tram and kisses them goodbye as they enter school. Pan of the city square with the school on one end, panning up to the grand Baroque Piarist Church of Maria Treu. The boys eat lunch with their grandfather, Fritz Regenstreif, and governess. Views of the ornate home. CUs of the boys eating.

01:05:34 Sascha and Micha play the piano and the violin with teacher and friend Olga Novakovic [a student of Arnold Schoenberg], and then sit at their desks and do their homework. Ivan holds a little bird named Hansi. The twins play with a wooden model house. The three boys say their prayers, kiss each other good night and go to sleep.

01:08:24 Part 2 - on Sunday. Pan of the Vienna skyline from the top of the landmark highrise building at Herrengasse ("Hochhaus Herrengasse", built in 1931-32 by architects Theiss and Jaksch, was Vienna's first highrise). The boys chase a car as it drives by the camera. The family makes a trip to the grave of their grandmother, Johanna Regenstreif (d. 1934), in Potzleinsdorf.

01:09:43 The boys go sledding in winter on the meadow of "Wasserturm". For Three Kings Day, the family dresses in costume and act for the camera. The women -- Maexie, friend Vita Kuenstler [who worked at the Neue Galerie and apparently took over its management when it was Aryanized], and the governess -- playfully hassle one another. One of the twins is costumed as Hans Albers, and another as Michael Moser [probably 'Hans Moser', a prominent film and stage actor of the 1930s whose role as the muckraking civil servant ("Amtsdiener" as the intertitle suggests) were legendary].

01:12:56 Blossoms on the trees in springtime, followed by a sequence in autumn with the family visiting Vienna's most famous overlook at Leopoldsberg (a church and estate at the top of a hill). They continue on to the monastery at Klosterneuburg and pose for a photograph at St. Leopold with their grandfather.

01:15:10 Children gathered around a table with sweet treats for a birthday tea party. Ivan sits next to his friend, Marion Stein (daughter of Erwin Stein, a very important colleague of Mahler, Bartok, Weber).

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