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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.

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.

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