The Life of Ivan Illich
This Sunday's conversation with Sam Ewell and David Cayley
This is one of my favourite photographs of Illich, apparently taken during a visit to Oxford in the late 1970s. Twenty years later, he visited again, as part of a series of public lectures, though I only learned about this years afterwards.
It was only in 2003, in the pages of Alastair McIntosh’s book Soil and Soul, that I first met the name of Illich and mention of his concept of the ‘vernacular economy’, a way of life centred on the activities of the home and the relationships of the community, which had still been alive on the Isle of Lewis in Alastair’s childhood. Illich had died a few months earlier, in December 2002, when he lay down for his afternoon nap in Barbara Duden’s house in Bremen and did not wake up.
But when I learned about the Oxford lecture, it gave me a shock, as I had gone to hear Noam Chomsky give the next lecture in that series, in the Sheldonian Theatre. The shock was realising how close I had come to stumbling on Illich’s work within his lifetime and crossing paths with the man himself. Though who knows what I would have made of him back then.
I’ve been talking a lot about Illich lately, but it’s someone else’s turn this weekend. Two someones, in fact: my friend Sam Ewell, a theologian and urban gardener and author of Faith Seeking Conviviality, will be in conversation with Illich’s co-conspirator David Cayley, in the second in this series of fortnightly conversations. Then, in two weeks’ time, it will be Sam and I who take up the baton.
If you’d like to join the conversation live on Zoom, it’s open to paid subscribers to this newsletter and the link is below the paywall on this post.
And watch out, as the clocks change on this side of the Atlantic on Saturday night, so if they haven’t changed for you, then 8pm UK time will work out differently than it did two weeks ago!
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