Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lee Hoinacki; Looking back on a life long friendship with Ivan Illich

--> Lee Hoinacki is a former Dominican priest, professor of political science, and subsistence farmer. He collaborated with Ivan Illich many projects and still works today to spread the thoughts of his life long friend.
This is an excerpt from an interview a few years back:
Illich's concerns around technology, what it’s doing to society can we talk a little more about that?

He was interested first of all in the effects of technology - the actual effects first of all and later the symbolic effects. He would use an example, say a photograph. The photograph was introduced in the 19th century and into history. But this technological artifact changed people’s perception so he thought it was a serious question which people should try to look at, figure out, whether anyone sees anything today. Period.
Anyone who is exposed to photographs that is. When you see the person are you able to see the person in front of you - see the nature etc and what you are able to see the people you claim to love etc and that kind of thing, you are not going to see them. That was his point. Because what technology is doing is creating an artificial universe and a lot of it has to do with the question of perception and so he spent a lot of time on perception and how technology affects ones perception, what one sees.
Ultimately, he thought that technology was changing what we call the ‘human condition.’ There he is coming out of an atomistic perspective-say Thomas Aquinas in terms of human nature, based first upon Aristotle and he is saying that those people had a certain notion of what it is to be human-what you call human nature and technology is changing that.
He would say for example, are there any human beings around today? Do humans still exist? He would say that would be a serious question....
I want to backtrack a bit and get to the idea of man created in man’s image- the cosmos in man’s hand.
Illich thought that humans are created in God’s image and he was very traditional in that. So that’s why he was believing that the question of image is important. He did a lot of writing on images i.e. these were late writings. He thought that what is happening today is that people are recreating human beings, but it isn’t in man’s image- it’s in a sort of pseudo man, a technological, artifact man.
He actually called it a kind of perversion that is going on. He believed that because of what is going on in the medical system today with respect to death an so on that what we are doing is producing monsters. So that people under intensive care as they approach death, these are not human any more.
These are creatures or what ever they are- well he used the word monsters and word like that. Now obviously, with respect to schooling there are people who learn in spite of schools- so there are people who die in spite of medical technology- who die their own death. Illich would spend a lot of time on words- so he would say, is it possible today to die? And he would think, "well no. It’s not because of technology."
The thing is, that subject of death and technology is not simple to get at. Very complicated and it would take along time to delineate his meaning with respect to technology and its effect on human beings. He would carry this through on everything. That is, for example any kind of vehicle he would think is a kind of monstrosity, a kind of perversion- once you take a person’s feet of the ground, flying and that kind of thing- he would be very critical of that object. He would be very critical of this kind of thing- of talking over the phone over wires. He was critical of that.
But many people would think-okay, this is going back! Did he want to go back?
No! No he said you’ve got to live right now. You’ve got to live in this world. We’ve go to live in the modern world. So he would get into an automobile, or an air plane for example. Although, realizing that this is not a good thing to do. And he would use things like telephones and so forth but as he said, “I would never want to speak to a person I love over the telephone. He never had any photographs of those friends and intimates. He would say, you have to live in this world but you try to live with technology at the same time being critical of it in terms of trying to see what is good and what is bad in the whole thing.
He placed a lot of emphasis on what he called askesis - he like to use Greek words now and then. We would call that in English an asceticism-which is life long process of trying to discipline your senses so that you are able to feel, to see, to smell, and so on. And it’s a life long process disciplinary practices which one can use- you see that in people today who are into mediation. He did not go for that kind of stuff, because he thought anything that smacked of new age- he avoided. It was sort of an anathema to him. He thought that was the worst kind of junk you can imagine. And he was quite explicit and vocal about that.
But he was very strong on the question of disciplines that are necessary in order to train ones self to be able to hear, to see to taste and so on....the point is to be in the world but not to be of the world. And he said this was a kind of mystery that one had to figure out- him or herself. So renouncing the world, it doesn’t mean that you close yourself up in some sort of ivory tower which he did not do, or go of to the desert some place which he did not to. Because he was in the midst of things all the time.
But he was living in what in the, the Roman Catholic tradition is called 'detachment.' That is, he wasn’t attached to any of these things for example a good wine, flowers, a comfortable bed. Well he didn’t have much of a comfortable bed because he just slept on a futon which I built. But he felt that one could not become attached to any of these things.
I’ve seen him eat all kinds of junk and drink all kinds of stuff and thought well this is crazy to eat and drink this way. But he could also enjoy a good meal and wine without attachment. The question of renouncing the world is a question of attachment - he would give me clothing that his brother would give him.
We were the same size so I could get his brother’s good shirts or whatever because his brother gave them to him thinking, he’s got to wear something! He’d be like in rags- well not rags but these sort of torn, old clothes. His brother would go out and buy him these expensive things and he’d pass them on to me. “I don’t want that stuff. I don’t need that!”
He’d say. So he would take what he needed but that was all. He wouldn’t take any more.
Do you want to go back and talk about the idea of friendship and how that could help us navigate ourselves through this world?
He thought that we live in an awful society. This society is not going to do anything to encourage us to be good. Because it’s just a mess. So the one thing he thought that could possibly save people or,may be that’s not the proper word, was the notion of friendship. Friendship for him was gaditas in Latin-charity that is, it was a grace. It was a supernatural thing. ......
So he would say, "Friends are everything- without my friends I would just be nothing in a sense."
And then of course, one of the deeper key notions is what he called hospitality. That is to be an hospitable host. His door was always open in a sense that any one could come in. I mean I’ve seen all kinds of crazy people come in, living with him over a number of years. And so he felt that it was extremely important to be hospital to the stranger and to friends. There are people I know who interpret Illich just in terms of hospitality- they say that’s the most important thing he had to say in his life - there is some truth in that.
Did he think that the world was just going to hell in a hand basket?
Well yes. I think so. Um hmm.
Do you think so too?
I feel perhaps much more stronger about that then he did. I feel that there’s no hope in a sense.
That’s very discouraging.
He would say, I don’t speak this way to young people because it’s too horrible, I can’t say these things. And so he would talk to me about his views that way. But he wouldn’t really come out and be explicit with respect to others. At the same time, he was a ‘man of faith’ so he believed well, this world could go to hell in a hand basket because it doesn’t make that much difference anyway "because there is another world in which I believe. That’s the world in which I want to die."
He was a peculiar person in the sense that he was a genuine believer so while he was looking at the world and seeing what it was, he also was not discouraged. He was not depressed because he saw that there was more then what meets the eye.
He was very active in Europe protesting the implantation of Persian missiles in Germany and he supported people who were in the green party in Europe and he did a lot of behind the scenes work supporting people when Pinochet overthrew Rajende in Chile and when Goulah was overthrown in Brazil, Illich did a a lot of stuff behind the scenes- very active with respect to Comunotorez in Columbia - those are just incidences that come to mind at the top of my head.. He took a very active part in things that were going on in the world. He would really work for what he thought were good things. So he said, "Who knows what will come of it? ....................
That’s Illich. It’s very hard to say his influence because I met him in 1960 and I’ve live with him for many many years and my wife said what are you going to do when this guy dies because your whole life has been centered around him? .....
I think that Illich’s books are important and as he said himself, "You don’t read these books as you would a newspaper." And so, I worked with him on number of these books, some people would say trying to make them more intelligible but they are his ideas and they require some work to understand what he is all about.
Gender, which I think is the most important book he ever wrote, is not reviewed. There is one review, an important review, but other than that it’s never mentioned in any bibliography and nobody reads it and no one know it. But it’s a theory of economics which if one were to take it seriously, would have to reinterpret what is called a social history of Europe. And it think it’s powerful enough that it requires that kind of rethinking of what is called a social history of Europe.
His book, Tools for conviviality is a theory on technology and no one has ever come whatever near those 5 dimensions that Illich talks about there. Bits and pieces of people are saying all kinds of important things and doing all kinds of good things here and there, but I would just argue that I think Illich too was saying something that could perhaps be taken into account.

Listen to the audio here: http://radio4all.net/index.php/program/10512


clementine said...

I didn't realize Illich was a Christian. That part about not being so concerned about this world because another world is at hand, came as a surprise

dave kast said...

Ivan Illich was a Catholic priest who came under scrutiny of the Vatican in the late 60s and early 70s. He went to Rome and voluntarily gave up doing some of his priestly functions, but never gave up the priesthood. He died a monsignor, a priest, in the Church. He attended mass regularly or semi-regularly and worked with both religious (meaning vowed religious) and lay people of many persuasions his entire life. He died in 2002. Rivers North of the Furture, his last set of interviews with David Cayley has a wonderful 50 page Introduction by Cayley that outlines his life's work up until those interviews which took place in the late 90s.

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