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.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Illich, architecture, and candles

William Braham is a professor of architecture at University of Pennsylvania. One of his interests is lighting. In the late 1990s, he participated in a seminar that Ivan Illich held at that university, in the architecture department then chaired by Joseph Rykwert. Braham (with Rykwert and Illich) also participated in The Oakland Table discussions hosted by Jerry Brown in the late 1990s, when he was mayor of that city.

Braham in 2000 published a piece in the Baltimore Sun, "Learning To Stop The World With Candlelight Dinners," which touches on Illich's thought. Illich was known, of course, for typically having a lighted candle on the table where he met and ate with his circle of friends. This candle represented the person who might knock at the door, an uninvited but welcome guest. Braham asks:

Can the candle at the table really provide a healthy means of achieving leisure in modern life or a more leisurely approach to health?

Attention to such acts of resistance does not suggest that the dictates of life lived according to the progressive and linear time of the clock can be arrested simply by lighting a candle at the dinner table. But as the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard observed, the gentle, moving flame of the candle offers the one kind of light into which you can gaze, which gives a place for your mind to wander. Neither the electric light nor the television allow for that kind of attention or create that kind of time.

Braham published another piece in 1998, "The Candle at the Table: Work, Waste, and Leisure in the Modern Home," which can be downloaded from U. Penn's website, here. It, too, references Illich, though only in passing, and considers the use of candles as a potential act of resistance in the modern, electrically-lit world.

In 2007, Braham co-edited a book, Rethinking Technology, A Reader in Architectural Theory, which collected a good number of essays -- "chronicles, manifestos, reflections, and theories produced by architects and architectural writers." The book's preface begins:

The possibility of this volume grew out of conversations at the University of Pennsylvania over a decade ago. For a brief and remarkably intense period Ivan Illich taught a weekly seminar in the PhD program in Architecture headed by Joseph Rykwert. Like so many moments of intensity, it was surprisingly short lived, though its topics and debates continue to reverberate among those fortunate enough to have participated. Illich brought his broad experience to questions fostered by Marco Frascari’s studies of representation, David Leatherbarrow’s writing about materials and assemblies, Peter McCleary’s seminar on the philosophy of technology, and Rykwert’s depth of knowledge and curiosity about everything.

That was one seminar we truly wish we could have attended. Rykwert was a major influence on Illich's thinking about water and urban space and Illich helped Rykwert think about architecture and the "dancing column."

Braham maintains a website describing some of his activities.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

'Back from the Future' with Gustavo Esteva

A lengthy essay about learning from Ivan Illich, education, and more is available at the website of Gustavo Esteva, a friend of Illich's. Esteva, a Mexican who started his career working for IBM, now describes himself as "a grassroots activist and de-professionalized intellectual." "Back to the Future" describes efforts to create an alternative network in Oxaca, Mexico, called Universidad de la Tierra, which is deeply influenced but Illich's thinking.

Another essay of his, "an account of his turning points or 'rupturas,'" is available here, as well. Esteva describes his move from Catholicism to Marxism to a disillusionment with the notion of development.

Numerous videos of Esteva speaking are available on YouTube. One that caught our eye was filmed last year at a conference about the Economics of Happiness. His topic, there, was "challenging the institutional production of truth." It is ordinary men and women, he says, including those "buying shit at Walmart," who are the rebels who can change the world.

'Medical Nemesis' in PDF

I particularly clean and legible copy of Ivan Illich's Medical Nemesis has been posted to the Web and is available for downloading at no charge. The text is that of the book's 1976 edition, published by Pantheon. The 201-page PDF's footnotes are shown at the very end of the text, however, and the book's indices of subjects and names are not included. The PDF appears on the website of Désirée L. Röver, a Dutch medical journalist.

Occupy and Conviviality

"In defense of conviviality and the collective subject," an essay by Manuel Callahan, appears in an online journal called Polis. Among other things, it looks at the Occupy movement in the U.S., the Zapatistas in Mexico, and the Universidad de la Tierra Califas, a San Diego-based learning network with which Callahan is associated.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Glenn Beck, Walt Disney, and Deschooling

One of the mad dogs of conservatism has spoken in favor of deschooling and homeschooling, or at least his version of those ideas. Read all about "Glenn Beck’s Educational Utopia" at a blog called I Love You but You're Going to Hell, written with style by Adam Laats, teaching at SUNY Binghamton.

Laats writes:

Beck described his vision of utopia in his plans for a new theme park, Independence, USA. Like Walt Disney’s early visions, Beck wants a new kind of park, one that embodies Beck’s vision of proper American culture and society.

Parts of that vision include a radical de-schooling. As Beck promoted it, this park would include a chance for students to learn by doing. He asks …,

“Does everybody have to go to an Ivy League university? Or can we teach craft, can we teach business, can we teach things? Are there people willing to teach through apprenticeships? . . . If it’s not possible, then America’s golden streets are dead.”

More profoundly, Beck insists, “Schools are a thing of the past the way we’ve designed them.” For those who would live inside the boundaries of Beck’s Potemkin, children would learn in “neighborhood” clusters. Children would be freed from the artificial constraints of institutional education, freed to learn by downloading content directly from the archives in Independence USA.

Others have written about the deschooling argument as put forth or interpreted by the Beckish, Tea Party right. Here and here, for instance.

New book about Illich

Unless we are mistaken, a book with the title Repensar el mundo con Iván illich, or Rethinking the World with Ivan Illich, has been published recently in Mexico. It is edited, we gather, by Gustavo Esteva, one of Illich's close collaborators. A short passage of the text translated into English has been posted to a Spanish-language website that's devoted to Simone Weil. The publisher is Taller Editorial La Casa del Mago, or "The House of the Magician."

Somewhat related, a full program of the Illich event held last December in Cuernavaca -- El humanism radical de Iván Illich -- is available on the Web, in Spanish.
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Santa Rosa, California, United States
Writer, photographer, music fan; father and husband living in northern Calif.