Ivan Illich

Life As Idol

In 1989, the year after I first interviewed Ivan Illich, he made an extraordinary presentation to a convocation of American Lutherans.  He began it by pronouncing a solemn anathema on the contemporary conception of "life."   He was thinking of the life that is imagined when one says, "Get a life!" or the life that so many current discourses seek to to conserve and manage.  I was intrigued by Illich's argument that life had become a dangerous contemporary idol and sought an opportunity to talk with him about this theme, which had been entirely missing from our first conversation.   The opportunity came in the winter of 1992 in Bremen, and the results were broadcast as a single programme later that year.  A transcript of that conversation also comprised the final chapter of my book Ivan Illich in Conversation (1992).  The broadcast remains in my memory as probably the least commented, and, as far as I could tell, least listened to programme I ever put on the air.  It was almost as if neither of us had even spoken.  This was especially striking to me because I found Illich's claim so bold, so pertinent, and so illuminating: to my mind, and I have continued to think so, he was doing nothing less than identifying the very shape of contemporary religiosity.  In the hope that it will get a better hearing today, here it is...

The Corruption of Christianity: Ivan Illich on Gospel, Church and Society


This series was broadcast in 2,000 twelve years after my first interviews with Ivan Illich were presented on Ideas.  We had become friends in the meanwhile, and I had spent as much time with him as his peripatetic style and my more settled life in Toronto allowed.   During that time we again and again discussed a theme I had barely been aware of when I recorded the first series: Illich's idea that the Western civilization that grew out of Latin Christendom could only be fully grasped when understood as the corruption, or perversion of the New Testament.  When itbecame clear that he would never be able, in the the time remaining to him, to write a book on this theme, I offered to try and elicit his ideas in a series of interviews.  These took place over a period of several weeks in 1996 and 1998 and were then broadcast on Ideas.  Four years later, and two years after Illich's death in 2002, a complete transcription of these interviews was published, with a preface by Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, under the title The Rivers North of the Future: The Testament of Ivan Illich.   Here are the radio programmes...

Part Moon, Part Travelling Salesman: Conversations with Ivan Illich


This series was first broadcast in 1989, following an epic eight days of interviews with Illich in State College, Pennsylvania where he was teaching during the fall semester at Penn State University.  Three years later in 1992, a transcription of the entire interview was published as Ivan Iliich in Conversation by House of Anansi.  It has remained in print to this day and continues to attract interest.  In 2000 I presented a second series of broadcasts with Illich called The Corruption of Christianity: Ivan Illich on Gospel, Church and Society.  The interviews on which this series were based were published in 2004 as The Rivers North of the Future: The Testament of Ivan Illich, also by House of Anansi.