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, January 14, 2013

French book

A French book about Illich, Penser et agir avec Illich: Balises pour l'après-développement, is available from Amazon's French unit, we've just noticed. The authors are Martine Dardenne and Georges Turssart. It was published in 2006 and is 150 pages long.

The title translates as, To Think and Act with Illich: Post-development Beacons.

The publisher's description:

Ivan Illich (Une société sans école, La Némésis médicale, La convivialité) est un des plus grands penseurs et analystes de la société industrielle et des institutions de la fin du XXe siècle. Les auteurs de ce livre décryptent pour nous l'essentiel de sa pensée. Ils en dégagent des pistes de réflexion et d'action pour construire le monde de demain. La pensée d'Illich nous convie en effet à reprendre possession des outils que nous avons mis en œuvre - l'école, les soins de santé, les transports,... - et à les rendre conviviaux et non plus dominants. Car Illich n'a eu de cesse de dénoncer l'industrialisation des services, qui déracine véritablement l'homme de son histoire et de ses liens sociaux. Illich nous aide à comprendre que la scolarisation telle qu'elle existe aujourd'hui n'est peut-être pas la seule façon d'apprendre et qu'en matière de pratique médicale et de mobilité, ou d'utilisation de l'énergie, il existe des possibilités plus conviviales, plus maniables, plus à la mesure de l'homme. Les auteurs de ce livre prolongent et se nourrissent de cette pensée. Ils veulent mettre à jour, comme lui, chaque fois où la diversité - qu'elle soit biologique ou de pensée - est mise en péril. Ce livre s'adresse aux acteurs des domaines concernés ainsi qu'à toute personne soucieuse de penser autrement les manières de répondre aux besoins fondamentaux de l'humanité.

No reviews are posted on Amazon.

Meanwhile, we just noticed this essay about Illich and Andre Gorz, a thinker whose radical thoughts about ecology were influenced by and often compared to Illich's: "Les Critiques écologistes de la consommation" ("Ecologists critical of consumption.")

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Illich in Latin America: Folk Religion vs. Consumer Catholicism

Todd Hartch teaches Latin American history at Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, Kentucky. He has published a paper in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research for Oct., 2012, with the title "Ivan Illich and Leo Mahon: Folk Religion and Catechesis in Latin America."

It's available for reading and downloading at no charge, though registration is required.

Mahon was an American priest who led a mission project in Panama sponsored by the Archdiocese of Chicago from 1962 to 1980. It was a successful for a time and then, Hartch writes, it "ended in almost complete defeat."

In the early 1960s, the two men admired each other, but over time, as Illich worked to discourage North American priests from heading south to do missionary work in Latin America, they came to disagree. Illich "did not view popular Latin American Catholicism as deficient," Hartch explains, but Mahon did, and he set out to remedy the situation:

… Mahon did not waver in his conviction that beneficial missionary work was possible in San Miguelito and, by extension, throughout Latin America. As early as 1964 he was expressing doubts about the direction of Illich’s center [CIDOC], which was not surprising, since by that time Illich was indeed attempting to discourage many potential missionaries.
Many missionaries built Catholic schools and seminaries and saw staffing and running them as a major part of their ministry, but Mahon, because he believed that most poor Latin Americans did not know even the rudiments of Catholic theology, proposed the primacy of “catechesis,” or in more common language, religious teaching; he was not talking about formal education that takes place in schools, but about the kind of teaching that could take place in the actual Mass and in informal groups that might meet in homes and neighborhood centers. He was not against Catholic schools; he simply believed that they were too expensive and used too much labor to educate a small, often wealthy, minority, when other methods could reach many times more people.

Hartch describes Mahon's work in some detail. He concludes that while "in 1980 most observers would have said Ivan Illich" was "more influential" than Mahon, today it looks like Mahon "won," his "priorities [carrying] the day." It is clear, he writes, that

Mahon’s fundamental conviction that folk Catholicism was not forming moral, committed Catholics and therefore needed to be reformed had been adopted by the Latin American hierarchy and laity. The active and growing segments of the Latin American Catholic Church, with their base ecclesial communities, the charismatic renewal, and movements like Focolare, all agreed that folk Catholicism was not enough.

At another site, The Coming Home Network, Hartch describes his conversion to Catholocism; he'd grown up Episcopalian. Playing a significant part in his move to the R.C. church were several years of research he conducted into Illich's activities in Latin America.

Illich’s impact on me was more complex [than certain other Catholic writers] because his writing sometimes resonated with me and sometimes infuriated me. But I could see something of the same deep truth in his work as well. That Illich could reach me was startling, since I disagreed both with his political views and with his underhanded sabotage of the missionary initiative.

One result of Hartch's research into Illich is a paper, "Ivan Illich and the American Catholic missionary initiative in Latin America." It, too, was published (in 2009) in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research and it is available for reading here. Drawing from several sources, including an article by Illich called "Mission and Midwifery," Hartch describes Illich's work at CIDOC -- his "passionate, ongoing, semi-deceitful crusade against the American Catholic missionary initiative in Latin America" -- and the controversies it aroused. He admires much about Illich, and especially for his "delicacy, an ability to perceive nuance and to respond with appropriate subtlety." But Hartch concludes that

Illich, for all his learning, had a limited understanding of the dynamics of the missionary encounter. He did not spend much time with missionary letters and journals and reports, all of which show us the deeply transformative nature of missionary experience on the missionary and on the host culture alike. He does not appear to have read Paul's letters with missionary eyes, nor did he give missionary biography the attention that he gave to medieval philosophy or to Latin American anthropology. Ultimately, Illich did not have enough trust in the Gospel message, which can transform cultures regardless of missionary ineptitude and can bring even American missionaries to Pauline humility.

Hartch's CV lists the following items, as well:

“Ivan Illich in Puerto Rico,” Midwest Association of Latin American Studies, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 22 November 2008.

“Anti-Missionary Genius: Ivan Illich's Sabotage of the American Catholic Missionary Effort in Latin America,” Yale-Edinburgh Group for the Study of Missions and World Christianity, Edinburgh, Scotland, 4 July 2008.

“The Strange Origins of a Radical Think Tank: Ivan Illich, Cuernavaca, and the Catholic Church,” Midwest Association of Latin American Studies, St. Louis, 2 November 2007.

An appreciation of Illich

A site called Design-Altruism-Project has run a piece entitled "Four Tools for Ivan Illich." In it, site-founder/editor David Stairs discusses his interest in Illich, his difficulties in getting his students interested in Illich and most importantly, Illich's "attack on the paternalistic assumption that the industrialized West, having made such a success of imposing its technology on the labor and resources of the rest of the world, actually knows what is best for people everywhere."

The piece takes its title from a series of intriguing, nonsensical tools created as works of art, photographs of which illustrate Stairs' essay.

He writes of a friend who

worries that Illich has fallen out of favor with the young because they are constitutionally blind to the extent that their privacy and freedoms have been usurped by a coalition of industrial (Facebook/Apple/Google) and governmental (Homeland Security) institutions. I’m a little more optimistic. The institution Illich, the rebel priest, wrestled most with was the Church of Rome. Throughout history many Catholic saints have been culled from the ranks of religious orders. While there’s absolutely no risk that the Vatican will promote Illich to its elect anytime soon, I’m willing to bet that his ability to scrutinize and pillory large social institutions will make him a saint-in-waiting to Occupy Movements for generations to come.

The Design-Altruism-Project site is affiliated with a group called Designers Without Borders, "a consortium of designers and design educators working to assist institutions of the developing world [mainly in Africa] with their communication needs. Our volunteers provide instruction, consultation, and varieties of development advice and assistance in both community and educational environments." Stairs, a member of the group's board, "coordinates the graphic design program at Central Michigan University."

Remembering Illich - a memoir

Few people, we imagine, can truthfully describe themselves as a “retired private investment banker, an economist, poet, musician and astrologer.” But those are the words Wolfgang Somary chooses on his personal website.

Somary, born in 1932, was a close friend of Ivan Illich, and he has described their friendship in an essay published by Aisling Magazine, an Irish publication. It’s full of acute observations of Illich at CIDOC in the 1970s and later, in other locations. We highly recommend it:

When some three hundred university students and lecturers attended his nine Bremen talks on the sensual love of God in the sermons and writings of St. Bonaventura, he was not busy hyping that here was a sample of joyful contemplation of God which pastors could not even think of offering. Nor was he offering easy fare: it took four hours of full attention to relish the testimony of one paragraph. And most listeners were pronounced left-wingers with no use for church jargon.

After the marathon in the university aula, the celebration of life continued, as a small crowd flocked to Barbara Duden's home to enjoy her warm hospitality and Ivan's laughter. There the art of listening obliquely was practised without being named. The conversation might revolve around questions such as: What is the nature of Middle C in music? Which novelists analyzed history far better than academics? What has happened to the relationship between value and utility in the last 25-30 years? Why do you have to be old before you can describe what takes place in your body during acupuncture? What is the difference between possessing a Stradivarius violin and owning a stock option? Why were people formerly buried under the hearth or beneath the place where people slept? What was the significance of conspiration among the late Romans and early Christians?

And this:

Ivan always had interesting questions. Except once. My phone in Zurich rang early one morning and I heard a weak voice saying: "This is a pilgrim from Benares, who sits in front of your office. Could you give him shelter?"

It was not a joke. Ivan had spent several months in India, where he tried so hard to understand the geni loci, learning some Hindi and Sanskrit as he watched pilgrims bathe, pray, chant, paint their bodies, tell stories, water their buffaloes, feed or chase away monkeys, honk their horns and cremate the dead on the ghats of the Ganga, that his body rebelled.

I found him sitting on the ground, too exhausted to stand up, all his strength having gone into a smile. He settled in with Gabriele and me for a couple of weeks and became as one of our children. Even during his weakest moment, his curiosity would not abandon him. "You have guests from Wall Street for lunch? Could I join you just to listen how people from Wall Street talk about the economy and the world of money? This would fascinate me."

So he dragged himself to the table, could not face apple sauce, and for the first time in my career I was ashamed of my professional colleagues, whose subject of conversation too often consists of borrowed opinions that are reported as news. Perhaps it was this aspect of the human comedy that intrigued Ivan, coming as he did from another world.

After Somary's essay, the page links to a poem that a "poetteacherperformerscientistecologistwarpoet" named Mario Petrucci wrote in memory of Illich. It’s called “Death Wine.”

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

CIDOC invites MLK

At The King Center is displayed a letter that Valentina Borremans wrote in 1967, inviting Dr. Martin Luther King to participate in a summer seminar at CIDOC. As far as we know, he did not attend.

Illich event in Cuernavaca

As noted here a few weeks ago, an event celebrating Ivan Illich was to be held in Cuernavaca, Mexico in mid-December: "El humanism radical de Ivan Illich." Evidently, that event took place and a detailed program (in Spanish) is available here.

Surprisingly, there is no mention in the program of Valentina Borremans, who ran CIDOC and was Illich's collaborator there.

'Medical Nemesis' in Croatian

A Web page devoted to Sutivan, on the island of Brac, in Dalmatia -- -- notes that the publishing house LITTERIS Zagreb has published for the first time a Croatian translation of "one of the most famous works of Ivan Ilic (Illich), a world-renowned philosopher, sociologist, social critic, and erudite polyglot with Brac roots: Medical Nemesis - the Expropriation of Health."

Illich nemeza

The blog notes, too, that "the celebrated monograph 'SUTIVAN: A Cultural History'," dedicates some space to Illich. This book, published by the same company, is edited by noted Croatian writer Drazen Katanuric and Franjo Minac.

On Dec. 6 last year, a symposium on Illich was held at the Dana School in Rijeka, a coastal city in Croatia that's known as Fiume in Italian. A detailed program for this event is available for viewing here in PDF. We don't recognize any of the speakers but it appears to have been a busy one, with many talks given.

ScreenShot001 421x600

A Croatian scientific bibliography lists a 2011 title, "A Note on Ivan Illich," by Mirjana Polić Bobić. Ten pages long, it appears in a book about The Croation Church and the Second Vatican Council.
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Santa Rosa, California, United States
Writer, photographer, music fan; father and husband living in northern Calif.