Arrested Chinese artist Ai Weiwei wrote a blog that was, if anything, even more provocative than his art. We hear from Beijing-based translator and art critic Lee Ambrozy who has translated Ai’s blog posts into English.
Next in the pod, fellow Big Show podcaster Clark Boyd on the trials, tribulations and silliness of living in Belgium, where most people define themselves not by nationality but by mother tongue. Clark lives in Brussels, which is officially bilingual. Most of the rest of Belgium is determinedly monolingual — Dutch in the north, French in the south.
I put it to Clark that Belgium is a bit like the former Yugoslavia, but without the guns. I was feeling pretty good about that thought until he told me I was by no means the first person to articulate it. He also said Belgians have it way too good to take up arms over their linguistic differences — despite the fact that they cannot form a government, and they may even one day opt to slice the country in two.
That got me thinking: when we talk about conflicts sparked by language, are we missing the point? There’s no question that language can be an emotional issue. But how often is is the root cause of a disagreement? Mostly, it seems, language either awkwardly stands in as a symbol for the real cause, or it is used by the protagonists as a weapon to divide people in conflicts whose roots are material — land, water, minerals etc.
In Belgium, there’s not much of a material divide. The Dutch-speaking Flemish are richer than the French-speaking Walloons, but not that much richer. Nor do they control the preponderance of land and resources. Which may be why Belgians aren’t trying to kill each other.
Also, as Clark points out, even though there isn’t much shared culture in Belgium there is some, and it’s important: Belgians, he says, have a universal admiration for surrealism (Magritte is a native son). That must come in handy, given the topsy-turvy nature of Belgian public life.
In honor of all things Belgian, the pod’s Eating Sideways segment offers up one French expression, and one Dutch. Listen to the podcast to decide which describes Belgianness most accurately…
Finally, Alex Gallafent has a report on the latest children’s TV hit in the UK. It features Jamaican-British musical mice, with dialects that are offending English purists. This summer, incidentally, Rastamouse will be “playing” Glastonbury Festival, Britain’s premier music festival.
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