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Ivan Illich in Conversation Paperback – Jun 9 1992


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: House of Anansi Press (June 9 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 088784524X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0887845246
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 12.8 x 20.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #122,281 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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Format: Paperback
Ivan Illich "got it" about the modern world in a way that few others have done. He recently died, and I miss him very much. I met him once at Penn State, which was an experience I treasure -- it's a treat to met a person whose work can move you like Illich's work does for me. This book collects his views on a wide range of ideas -- technology, medicine, loss of the vernacular, and many more. The interview format makes it easy to follow his thought. I bought copies for all of my grown kids, I don't know if it resonated with them as it did for me. Highly recommended.
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Amazon.com: 9 reviews
42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Common Sense April 10 2005
By Panopticonman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The New York Times has been of many minds about Ivan Illich, beginning with its review of "Deschooling Society" in 1971. According to The Times' December 4, 2002 obituary of Illich, the Times reviewer found the book to be "'a mind-bending litany of abstraction' and a distraction from schools' all too real problems." In that same year however, Anatole Broyard found Illich's critiques "illuminating." But this was apparently a burst of youthful enthusiasm, for twenty years later in 1989, Broyard repented his earlier endorsement of Illich: in an article about winnowing down his library he said he would "especially" discard Mr. Illich's works.

It's not surprising Illich's project flummoxed the NYTimes. As progressive advocates of the modern project, and now the last outpost of bourgeoisie brownstone liberalism, the Times' promulgates a kind of idealist pragmatic middle ground where technocrats can dispassionately design and administer systems that will promote the Good and the Beautiful. Illich, on the other hand, ultimately rejected the modern project, whatever its political orientation, because he viewed it as inherently corrupt. In his earlier writings in the early 70s, such as TOOLS FOR CONVIVIALITY, he believed that it might be possible to stop, rethink and humanize mankind's relationship with man and the earth. But by the end of his life he saw that the modernist project could not be arrested in its destructive disenchantment of the earth and humankind.

The socio-philosophes employed by the Times were more willing to hear these critiques during the high-water mark of radical politics in the late 60s and early 70s. The center of political gravity was left of center then, pulling the pragmatic middle of The Times along with it. Now, of course, the Times employ liberal idealist philosophers like Thomas Friedman who preach the neo-liberal creed of economic expansion as the means to usher in a democratic millennium. Or David Brooks, the liberal's favorite conservative, who, like Friedman, routinely spouts tendentious and intellectually dishonest examples to buttress his dogmatic assertions on the moral rightness of the invasion of southern or eastern nations by Western powers. It's not surprising that in the current environment the NY Times obituary would characterize Illich's critique as "watered-down Marxism." In fact, Illich's critique is actually considerably more radical. Marx believed that once the expropriators were expropriated and the state withered away a worker's paradise would ensue. He didn't want to arrest industrialization, he wanted the workers to have control over their destiny. Illich thought the whole project was monstrous, no matter who owned or ran it.

Illich believed that the penetration of systems logic into the lifeworld had to be opposed on an individual basis. One way to do this was to engage in deep compassionate friendships. Another was to be sensitive to and eschew the kind of infernal comparisons technocrats make between people and technologies, i.e., that humans are systems consisting of software and hardware, inputs and outputs. As part of this, he also attacked the technocratic reconceptualization of mankind through new definitions of old words and their former meanings, e.g., the new notion of "life" as some general entity that can be nurtured on some general level, presumably by a technocrat or politician, i.e., the "culture of life." Rather he insisted that life is embodied in and inseparable from biological entities -- that there is no life, only lives. Illich also suggested reading history, especially the writings of key monastics from the 12th century, as a way to defamiliarize oneself the hegemonic power of the current version of "common sense" and so understand that other ways of living and interacting with each other and with the world were possible, and necessary. He sought by such readings to demonstrate that beyond a certain level of institutionalized expertise, most experts and their expert systems are actually counterproductive.

Illich's critique cannot be countenanced these days when the ideology of technical progress has so permeated us that the notion of organ repair kits (from our clones) seems like a good idea. It seems clear now that the desacralization of the lifeworld cannot be stopped. The spark of hope that it might was extinguished by the counterrevolution of the bosses in the mid-70s. The NY Times meekly fell back into line along with just about everyone else. Illich was a conscientious objector to modernism to the last, preferring to let a cancer on his jaw take his life slowly and painfully rather than surrender himself and his dignity to the anti-human ethos of the medico-technologico community.

IVAN ILLICH IN CONVERSATION is an excellent introduction to Illich's radical humanist perspective.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Appetizer April 17 2005
By James Hardt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Long before I became a librarian I had the good fortune of hearing Illich speak in Las Cruces, NM at NMSU in the early 1970's. The following morning at 8:30 a.m. by chance I met him in the university's library. Those encounters lead me to read a number of his early books. In addition I also heard him speak in Santa Fe, at St. John's College and at the University of Illinois Medical School in Chicago. After his death I ordered this book and THE CHALLENGES OF IVAN ILLICH. Both books capture both the man and his ideas. If one adds THE RIVERS NORTH OF THE FUTURE you can see the great distance he traveled from his early works. These three books should be read in chronological order. You may also want to read the discussion between Illich and J. Krishnamurti in Pupul Jayakar's KRISHNAMURTI; A Biography, Harper, 1985, 302-307.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
A Good Introduction to Illich's Thought and Life Dec 12 2003
By thomasrodd - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ivan Illich "got it" about the modern world in a way that few others have done. He recently died, and I miss him very much. I met him once at Penn State, which was an experience I treasure -- it's a treat to met a person whose work can move you like Illich's work does for me. This book collects his views on a wide range of ideas -- technology, medicine, loss of the vernacular, and many more. The interview format makes it easy to follow his thought. I bought copies for all of my grown kids, I don't know if it resonated with them as it did for me. Highly recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Leaves you wanting more Sept. 15 2005
By David D. Derauf - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Get this book. Read it, reread it, put it away then pick it up and read it again. Illich's ideas can confuse, aggravate, startle, and provoke like only a small handful of thinkers I have ever come across...

There are times reading when I wished I could trade places with Cayley: to tell him: "no, listen, why are you steering the conversation THAT way?!" But by and large it is a wonderful interview.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Helpful,challenging discussions with a contrarian Feb. 7 2012
By A. Doug Floyd - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ivan Illich makes statements that offend the modern mind. He calls compulsory education a myth-making, mythopoetic ritual. He challenges the confidence of our modern world at virtually every level from education to medicine to technology and more. He shines a light onto our myth of progress, showing how many institutions not only fail in their mission but create more problems. He's the kind guy many folks would prefer to ignore. His challenges are not simply for the sake of being a contrarian, but to help preserve some aspect of our humanity. Illich sees the dehumanizing impacts of many modern, pragmatic approaches to problem solving. If anything, he's worth reading to help create pause. To force us to question ourselves and our culture.

This particular text is helpful because Illich's ideas are introduced via a series of interviews with Canadian broadcaster David Cayley. These interviews are the fruit of a long engagement between the two thinkers, so Cayley understands Illich but also understands how to ask questions that will help Illich clarify some of his unusual pronouncements. If if you disagree with Illich's ideas, you may discover that his challenges helps you to reframe issues in a new light. Illich offers a more thoughtful challenges than many of the over-simplified texts on culture.

For those who are interested, Cayley also recorded a series of interviews with Illich, and wrote another final book of interviews with Illich called, "The Rivers North of the Future." Both books are superb and highly recommended.

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