Bert Olivier

Spaces of power and spaces of gentleness

Today we experienced two kinds of space that are diametrically opposed, or mutually exclusive. The first was the palace and gardens of Versailles, known as the residence of a succession of French kings, of whom Louis XIV and Louis XVI are probably the best known (the latter with his equally well-known queen, Marie-Antoinette, who was…

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I love Paris in the springtime…

How many people still know that song, I wonder. Or the one where Dean Martin sings “Oh, what I’d give for a moment or two, under the bridges of Paris with you … ” The point is that Paris is, and has been for a long time, one of — if not THE — most…

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Why people are such inherently conflicted beings

While preparing for a seminar on the roots of contemporary theory among the ancient Greeks, the Hellenistic Romans and early Christian thinkers, I was struck by the way that the different, and divergent, strands of the cultural legacy of the West (as well as of other cultures globally which share some of these roots) explain…

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Heidegger and today’s ‘everydayness’

“Everydayness” (“Alltäglichkeit” in German) is a concept associated with the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century. In the English-speaking world, many “academic philosophers” (or what Arthur Schopenhauer dubbed “bread-thinkers” and Robert Pirsig called “philosophologists” in Lila, the marvellous sequel to his earlier masterpiece Zen and the Art…

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Welcome to the new Middle Ages

In the 1970s the famous semiotician and novelist Umberto Eco published a collection of essays titled Travels in Hyperreality, in which he elaborated on a variety of interrelated topics, such as wax museums, holographic representation and our evident fascination with the Middle Ages. In fact, he argued, although we think of ourselves as modern (or…

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An intimate connection between ‘belief’ and (human) biology?

Have you ever heard of a biologist (more precisely a cell-biologist) called Bruce Lipton, who is a bestselling author as well, and an internationally known keynote speaker on what is known as the “new biology”? You will find him through several links on YouTube. It is worth reading his books, The Biology of Belief and…

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Quantum computing and the real: Ontological implications

In an engrossing (pun intended) article in the most recent TIME magazine (February 17), Lev Grossman wrote about the “Infinity Machine – Quantum Leap” (pp. 28-35). A revolutionary new kind of computer is introduced to those who are willing to expand their minds in an effort to understand it. Admittedly, this is a mainstream magazine,…

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Gavin Hood’s ‘Ender’s Game’: Intelligence, ruthlessness and empathy

When intelligence, ruthlessness and empathy co-exist in the same person, one might expect the person concerned to perform certain actions, made possible by the first two attributes, which leave him or her guilt-stricken because of the last. Empathy is a stronger concept than sympathy; empathy allows one to feel what others feel, whether it is…

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Is state surveillance only about violating the right to privacy?

In a recent article (sent to me by an astute and observant friend) on “Totalitarian paranoia in the post-Orwellian Surveillance State”, the renowned “critical pedagogics” intellectual, Henry Giroux, dwells at length on the implications of state surveillance on the part of agencies such as the American NSA. Giroux provides a thorough analysis of the relation…

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Ranciére and ‘the police’

The more acquainted I get with the work of Jacques Ranciére, the more it strikes me that his uncompromisingly philosophical treatment of familiar phenomena is a way of doing what has been recognisable as philosophy’s archetypal function since the time of the ancient Greeks, namely to expose the familiar as covering up what is “truly”…

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