Just back from a visit with rural family (no internet)… so apologies for any inconveniences. Thanks to De for modding.
Hat tip to De for this post, btw, and gratitude. De made me a gift of The Rivers North of the Future – The Testament of Ivan Illich, which I am preparing to mark up a thousand different ways, because Illich is like that.
Here’s an excerpt on “distality,” a notion that I find unusually revelatory (from an interview):
We ended our conversation with your request that I interpret that which quite commonly today is called the beginning of postmodernity. I’ve explained why I don’t want to be pulled into the discourse that goes under that title. Another way in which I can speak, as an observer and an historian, about the threshold over which many people had the sense of having passed in the early 1980′s, is to call it the end of the age of dominant instrumentality. This makes sense only when you look at the concept of instrumentum, “tool,” as an historian of ideas — something we have already discussed. Together with Professor Carl Mitcham and others, I am by now pretty certain that the idea of the tool, in the narrow sense, is something which appears only in the high European Middle Aes. Just to repeat and sum up: when Plato or Pliny talk about tools, or devices, they call them organon. The tool is an extension of the human body. In the twelfth century we notice that an increasing awareness appears, partly under Arab influence, that certain material objects can incorporate, can be given human intentions. The intention to do something can pass from the hand into the hammer. The hammer can be seen as something made for hammering, and the sword something for killing, no matter if the haqmmer is taken in hand by a craftsman, or by a litle girl, or by a mill — it’s that way that in the twelfth century they begin to speak about it. The sword can serve for killing, or for war-making, no matter if he who touches it is a n oble born to the sword or any peasant trained to the sword. I believe this distinction between tool and user is characteristic of the epoch which I claim came to an end with the 1980s. There is a distance — I use the specific term “distality” — between the hand, the operator, and the instrument that performs the task. This distality disappearas again when the hammer and the man, or the dog and the leash held by a man, are conceived as a system. You can no longer say that there is a distance between the operator and the device, because according to systems theory the operator is part of the system within which he operates.
Now, why do I begin by once more calling to your attention my reflections on the age of instrumentality and my claim that it has come to an end? With the increasing dominance of insturmentality during this 800-year period, it became certain, obvious, natural, that wherever something is achieved, it is achieved by means of an instrument. The eye is perceived as an instrument for recording what’s before me, the hand is conceived and spoken about as an instrument shaped by evolutionary development. Love is an instrument for satisfaction. Just as it becomes almost unthinkable that I should be guided by an “ought” that is not determined by some kind of norm, so it becomes unthinkable that I should prusue a goal without using an instrument for that purpose. In other terms, instrumentality implies an extraordinary intensity of purposefulness within society. And hand-in-hand with the increasing intensity of instrumentalization in Western society goes a lack of attention to what one traditionally called gratuity. Is there another word for the nonpurposeful action, which is only performed because itis beautiful, it’s good, it’s fitting, and not because it’s meant to achieve, to construct, to change, to manage? You asked me to speak about a grace-less world, and it seems to me that the traditional word for the opposite of the purposeful act is the gratuitous act… …