Bert Olivier

Identity: A complex thing

In the first of their trilogy of books — Empire, Multitude and Commonwealth — Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri make a distinction between two kinds of racism: “modern racism” and “postmodern racism”. The first, they point out, is recognisable by an essentialism of biological properties, specifically the pigmentation of one’s skin, which is supposed to…

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Art: Elaborating on history or erasing it?

This essay (longer than my usual post length) first appeared in the catalogue for the Re-Sponse “retrospective” art exhibition that recently opened at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum (NMMAM) in Port Elizabeth, as a joint project between the Art Museum and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s School of Music, Art and Design. I have…

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What’s the connection between music and love?

“If music be the food of love, play on!” With these opening words of Twelfth Night, Shakespeare captured an essential bond between two things without which no human being should have to do, but — at least in the case of the latter — many people regrettably often have to do without. Nietzsche once observed…

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Why is the (hi)story of Spartacus so fascinating?

The short answer to the question, why the story of Spartacus has fascinated people for centuries, is that it is a story of the endless quest for freedom on the part of humankind. Why endless, one may object — has history not “ended’, normatively speaking, when liberal, capitalist democracy appeared to triumph conclusively at the…

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Choice in relationships, and the price people pay

In her incisive book, Choice (2010) Renata Salecl — colleague of redoubtable philosopher and psychoanalytical theorist, Slavoj Zizek, and a formidable thinker in her own right — probes what she calls the “tyranny of choice” in the present era. Everywhere we turn in our capitalist society (which thrives on variety), we are confronted by a…

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‘People are tired of the elites telling them what to do’

In a recent issue of TIME magazine, Joe Klein makes an interesting suggestion. Harking back to an ancient Greek selection process or practice in BCE Athens, called the kleroterion, by which several hundred citizens (“free” males only; Athens had a limited democracy) were randomly chosen by drawing identity tokens every day, and tasked to make…

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Pornography and the question of censorship

Recently I was asked to contribute to a debate on pornography in a local newspaper, the Weekend Post, by responding to a number of questions on the matter. Probably because of limited space, my contribution was fairly drastically cut, which made me decide to post it here in its entirety as originally written. The questions,…

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Are we witnessing signs of ANC fascism?

Recent events in South Africa (like the looming attempts to control the media), together with a comment by “Maria” on one of my previous posts, have set me wondering if we are seeing the beginnings of what Arundhati Roy, Indian social activist and novelist, called “creeping fascism”? Referring (in 2003) to what was happening under…

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Do teachers care?

Listening to SAfm this morning, I heard part of a phone-in discussion between the presenter and a representative of a company that has done research on the number of public schools as opposed to private schools in South Africa. The discussion focused, among other things, on the levels of responsibility and accountability encountered on the…

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Political and economic intertwinements of globalisation

The world ain’t what it used to be. Globalisation arguably started as long ago as Macedonian Alexander the Great’s military expansion towards the East, followed by the Roman Empire’s far-flung hold on the ancient world (and if one really wanted to push the argument, you could claim that it commenced almost 150 000 years ago when…

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