If you’ve joined the Convivial Society over the past two or three months, this installment requires a brief introduction. I’m always ready to acknowledge my extensive debts to an older generation of scholars and writers, who have shaped my thinking about technology. Among those scholars, Ivan Illich has played an especially important role. The newsletter’s title, for example, pays tribute to his Tools for Conviviality. So last summer, as we were growing accustomed to life in Zoom-world, I began a newsletter-based reading group around Illich’s work, and that group led to an ongoing series of conversations with some of Illich’s friends and colleagues, all of whom have been extraordinarily generous with their time and encouragement. This installment, then, is the latest in that series.
For over thirty years, David Cayley worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, producing numerous interview and documentary programs, including two programs devoted to Illich’s work. The first of these also became the book Ivan Illich in Conversation, which remains an excellent introduction to Illich’s thought. The second became Rivers North of the Future, which provides a sketch of Illich’s unique and stimulating interpretation of the modern world.
In our conversation you will hear about the backstory to those interviews and about the relationship between Cayley and Illich, which took shape around them. And, of course, you’ll hear about a lot more, too.
You can also find the audio of the Illich interviews on Cayley’s website, which includes a remarkable archive of his programs over the years. (Notable examples include his interviews with George Grant, Charles Taylor, and Richard Sennet.)
Finally, Cayley is the author of a forthcoming intellectual biography of Illich, which I feel pretty confident saying will be the best guide to Illich’s life and thought for years to come. Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey will be published this month by Penn State University Press, and you can order your copy here [30% discount code: NR 21].
I remain grateful to each of them, as I am to David Cayley, for their hospitality.
I trust you’ll enjoy the conversation.