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, May 27, 2013

French interview, now with subtitles

We recently pointed out a 1972 interview with Ivan Illich, produced for French television, that has been made available on the Web. As it turned out, Clarke Mackey, in Ontario, had prepared a transcript of the program as well as an English translation of that transcript, both of which he made available to us.

Now, a reader named Marty Kent, who was friends with Illich, has used Mr. Mackey's transcript to add English subtitles to the video, and he has posted the results for all to see right here.

Mr. Kent writes:

Long a great appreciator of [Illich's] work, I was privileged to meet and become dear friends with him in the last couple years of his life (he died in 2002). I have no-one whose work I hold in higher regard than Ivan. It's been a great pleasure to prepare the subtitles for this movie, because I had to listen to each sentence over and over to set the time for each piece of text. That's what I suggest you do: play this video over and over; consider it most carefully, be entertained, provoked, awakened.

'Disembodying Women' Reviewed, Harshly

In 1995, Barbara Duden's book, Disembodying Women: Perspectives on Pregnancy and the Unborn, came in for a highly critical and dismissive review at a site called New Oxford Review. The publication calls itself "an orthodox Catholic magazine, … addressing head-on the full range of issues confronting Holy Mother Church, and doing so with unswerving loyalty to her Pope and Magisterium."

The reviewer is Laura Garcia, a teacher of religious philosophy. She has co-founded two organizations, University Faculty for Life and Women Affirming Life. One of Duden's concerns in her book -- and one that she discussed at length with Ivan Illich -- is the idolization of "life," particularly as encouraged by the visualization of the human fetus through intra-uterine photography and ultrasound imaging and the reframing of pregnancy as a process, and the mother as a system, that both require intensive management.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"Hindi is our mother, but English is a beautiful prostitute."

"(M)Other Tongue Syndrome: From Breast to Bottle" is an essay that draws on Illich's thoughts about mother tongue and taught language. The 2001 piece is by a linguist named Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay, of the Indian Statistical Institute, and it is available here. It looks at the tension in post-colonial India between Hindi and English.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Oakland Event, Aug. 1, 2, 3

Here is a flyer for the upcoming Illich get-together scheduled for Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 1-3:

Sajay leaflet Dist A temp

The event will take place at the Oakland School for the Arts, which is located in an old movie palace, the Fox Oakland, built in 1928:

450px Fox Oakland Theatre

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"I prefer not to speak about my friends in a superficial way"

A few days ago here, we noted that an hour-long interview with Ivan Illich, filmed for French television in the early 1970s, has shown up on the Web. It is available for viewing at no charge right here.

We now have the pleasure of making available both a transcript of the interview, in French, and a translation of that document into English. Both were prepared by Clarke Mackey, a film maker, professor of film studies at Queens University, in Ontario, and friend of David Cayley's.

The transcript in French may be viewed and downloaded here; and the translation here. (These links will bring you to the Dropbox site.)

Here is the start of the interview. Illich and his interlocutor, Jean Marie Domenach, are standing in a garden, discussing a well-weathered statue of a woman, Pandora.

Illich: You know the story. She came, and there were two brothers: Prometheus, the one who looks ahead, the planner, and his brother Epimetheus, the one who looks back. Prometheus said to Epimetheus, “Leave her be.” But Epimetheus fell in love with Pandora and stayed with her, who, as the story goes, opened her amphora. According to Hesiod, all of the words flew out, and Epimetheus remained with the only gift that didn’t escape, hope. We rarely see him again in classical mythology; since that time, all of classical mythology has focused on the future, on the attempt to put all of the words let out by the classical Pandora back into a box. The man Epimetheus develops by trying to turn his attention away from Pandora and onto the words and by trying to create a world where we have what I call institutions, sanctuaries to hold the different words that were originally released.

I think that the story of Pandora, I repeat, the story of Pandora is the best story about how man went from trusting in the Delphos of the earth, from interpreting dreams and images, to become man that plans. You know that Delphi later became the main centre for planning because all of the, how do you say it—

Domenach: The Greeks.

Illich: Yes, the Greek cities were founded where the priests of Delphos said they should be founded. They had more knowledge than most because everyone came to Delphi to tell their stories, so the priests were able to give the right advice like planners do nowadays by listening to what was being said among the people and predicting for the future what they already saw in the present.

On her genital area you can see the serpent with death for a head. This woman’s womb was placed in her hands, and it became a moneybox. To me, she is one of the most fascinating figures in Western history. I think that the entire rise of capitalism, what I call capitalism in the broadest sense of the word, can be studied by knowing this woman. In today’s world, if we don’t turn back to Pandora Gea, who lives, who lived, and I believe still lives in her cave at Delphos, if we don’t regain our ability to recognize the dream language she can interpret, we are condemned; the world cannot survive.

Look at what happened in the cave when her womb became a box. Male priests of Apollo came from Asia Minor and replaced Pandora by putting a little girl on the tripod in her cave, a girl that they took prisoner, that they drugged to make her say things, and then predicted the future like modern-day engineers in hexametric verse. I have the impression that today we’re seeing a new Pythia in a different form—a new Pythia has been established in the form of the computer, the calculator, the electronic machine that speaks to us not in hexameters, but in dodecameters with its rhythm of 12 bits per unit. It’s the end of the world. It’s the final, ultimate conclusion that we’ve reached by substituting the Pythia, the world that understood Pandora as the holder of a box, for the ancient Mother Earth that we now see—our generation, at least young people again—as the blue star that we gaze upon with nostalgia from the moon.

This degenerate Virgin Mary was brought to Mexico by the Spanish, in her degenerate form as granter of mercies, but there the Spanish found a different goddess, Tonantzin, a very different understanding of the world according to another primitive people. The Spanish associated the Virgin Mary with Tonantzin, just as the first Christians associated the Virgin Mary with the Hellenistic Gaia, very rarely with the ancient Pandora, Gea Pandora. Tonantzin is a completely different goddess. I see her every day from our balcony.

Domenach: In Cuernavaca.

Illich: Yes, we have the two great volcanoes, Popocatepetl and his wife, Tonantzin Iztaccihuatl; the sun rises each day between her feet. However, it’s a world that we don’t understand here in Europe, because at night, Tonantzin eats the sun and gives birth to the stars; she eats it at night, and that’s why her stomach is full of the bones of ancient eaten stars. You can see the whole problem as well with extending Western culture to the Americas when people try to make associations through symbol, by merging the symbols of the Virgin Mary and the Hellenized Gea with the Neolithic Tonantzin of the Aztecs. But there’s so much to say about that.

Domenach: You’ve talked a lot about these goddesses surrounding us, but throughout our conversation, you haven’t mentioned the name of Christ. Is that done on purpose?

Illich: Well, I prefer not to speak about my friends in a superficial way. And, to take it one step further, I think that nowadays, people tend to use the name of God in vain, usually to justify something. I would rather make it known that I love him without talking about it. It’s almost impossible to do that these days without getting trapped in dangerous, very dangerous ambiguities.

continued ...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Essays, in Spanish, by Jean Robert

Some essays by Illich collaborator and fellow Cuernavacan Jean Robert are available on the Web, in Spanish, here. The titles:

‣ Hacia una ecología política del agua

‣ Primicia de la percepción o apocalipsis científico

‣ Confesiones de un toreador toreado

‣ La custodia de la mirada en la época del “show”

‣ Destellos de paz en el país entre el río y el mar

‣ Un llamado de paz desde Palestina ocupada

‣ En los caminos de Palestina ocupada

‣ Los lugares santos en estado de sitio

‣ Cuatro tesis sobre la tauromaquia y la centauromaquia

Two videos about Illich, in Spanish

An hour-long video made in Mexico in September last year shows a number of people speaking about Ivan Illich. Among them is Jean Robert. The discussion is in Spanish.

Another video, made last year in Spain, "Iván Illich y las teorías de la desescolarización: Historia y actualidad," shows a talk by Prof. Jon Igelmo Zaldívar of Universidad de Deusto, in Bilbao, Spain.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Interview with Illich, 1972, on video

In 1972, left-wing, Catholic writer and intellectual Jean Marie Domenach (1922-1997) spent several hours talking with Ivan Illich. At the time, Domenach was editor in chief of Esprit, a French literary and political journal that published Illich in the early 1970s and again in 2010. Their encounter, or at least, parts of it, was filmed for broadcast on French television and resulted in a 51-minute program.

We've just discovered that a French audio-visual archive -- L'Institute National de l'Audiovisuel (INA), which claims to be "the world's largest digital archive," holding, among other items, 3.5 million hours of radio and TV recordings -- is selling digitized copies of the program (in MP4/.avi format), for 3 Euros. The site offers a 5-minute preview at no charge. In it, or so we gather from a once-through interpreted with our miserable French, Illich explicates for Domenach the symbology of a classical-style garden statue that shows a woman -- the Virgin Mary? -- holding a spherical vessel of some kind. Much astronomical talk ensues.

UPDATE: A reader has kindly informed us that this video is viewable elsewhere on the Web, in its entirety, at no charge, right here.


We look forward to watching the full program, which touches on Illich's career, his reluctance to talk about religion, the founding of CIDOC, education and de-schooling, and more. The men address each other as friends.

"Quel est ton projet?" Domenach asks. What's your project?

Illich pauses for five long seconds, his face twitching slightly as if he is unsure what to say. And then, he raises his eyes to look at the camera (the two men are conversing on a garden bench, the cameraman standing) directly in the eye -- perhaps to address his future viewers or perhaps to make it clear he is aware of (and annoyed by?) the camera's presence and role as eavesdropper. He looks back at Domenach and says quietly, "I don't know."

"To study?"

"To live," Illich corrects him.

The INA's description of the program (and we quote):

C'est à l'occasion d'un voyage en France, que Jean Marie DOMENACH a pu s'entretenir quelques heures avec Ivan ILLICH. Voyageur infatigable en quête de justice, utopiste sans patrie "Déloyal à tout drapeau par conviction", Ivan ILLICH est tout le contraire d'un rêveur; son utopie est nourrie d'une expérience concrète qu'il a acquise au contact des pauvres et des paysans, dans les rues de New-York, avec les porto-ricains, puis en parcourant à pied l'Amérique du Sud et l'Afrique où il a appris à connaître "l'indignité de la misère". Evêque non conformiste, Ivan ILLICH a accepté d'être le fils d'une mère indigne - l'église décadente. Il trouve dans le message évangélique et l'amour du Christ "une raison de croire dans l'essentielle beauté de l'homme, même s'il est aujourd'hui gravement blessé". Si Ivan ILLICH s'est fait le prophète de la déscolarisation, c'est que pour lui "l'école enseigne à l'enfant qu'il a besoin de l'institution pour apprendre, et que l'éducation et le savoir sont devenus des marchandises dont l'école introjecte la capitalisation". A Guernavaca, au Mexique - son seul point fixe -, Ivan ILLICH a fondé une petite "République intellectuelle indépendante", le Centre d'Information et de Documentation - CIDUC. Dans cette université libre - qui survit en "vendant" de l'enseignement de la langue espagnole et où professeurs et étudiants viennent de partout s'informer et discuter sur les problèmes de l'Amérique latine -, Ivan ILLICH poursuit avec des amis, des analyses similaires à celles de l'éducation dans le domaine de la santé, de la vitesse et de l'habitation où les besoins interpersonnels ont également été transformés en marchandises.Toutes ces recherches s'inscrivent en effet dans un vaste projet: la nécessité "d'inverser les institutions", c'est à dire d'arrêter le mouvement qui spécialise, miniaturise et paralyse les hommes, de les inciter à retrouver une "convivialité humaine", une "disponibilité à la surprise par l'autre" qui sont le fondement de toute espérance. Ivan ILLICH ne souhaite pourtant pas un retour en arrière mais plutôt "l'instauration d'un monde technologique sans spécialistes , qui limite les bienfaits de la technologie au seul bien des peuples". Pour que notre civilisation technologique survive et que le "navire spatial terre" ne sombre pas, il est désormais nécessaire de fixer "non plus un minimum que tout le monde doit avoir, mais le maximum sur lequel tout le monde peut se mettre d'accord".

Images of Illich

A recent visit to the Bing search engine, run by Microsoft, surfaced some less-familiar images of Illich. In no particular order:

At a site of the National University of San Marcos in Peru, these images of Illich and Paolo Freire (spelled Pablo Freyre on this page) are posted on a page with the title, "Commission for the Reform of Education." They were made in 1972:

9 5a

9 10a

9 11a

At a Brazilian site devoted to Freire, this photo of him (at right) and Illich is displayed:

FPF ICO 01 0253

The same site also offers this cartoon:

FPF ICO 02 0001

At a University of Geneva site, we see this:


Finally, at a blog titled LaNegra "2", run by someone who goes by Mr. Pink, there is collection of caricatures displayed that includes this one:

Caric ivan illich

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Illich Event planned for August in Oakland

We've just learned that an event celebrating the life and thought of Ivan Illich is scheduled to take place in Oakland, Calif., this coming August. The dates are Aug. 1, 2, and 3. Planning is still in the early stages, with Sajay Samuel of Penn State leading the way. All we know beyond that is that Gov. Jerry Brown, a longtime friend of Illich's (and former mayor of Oakland), will be involved. Stay tuned for further details.
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Santa Rosa, California, United States
Writer, photographer, music fan; father and husband living in northern Calif.