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Radio review: The Conversation, Transcendence: How can I feel art again?, and Grounded with Louis Theroux

15 January 2021

BBC/Zeppotron/Endemol Shine UK/Brian J Ritchie

The comedian Frankie Boyle was the subject of Grounded with Louis Theroux (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week)

The comedian Frankie Boyle was the subject of Grounded with Louis Theroux (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week)

“HOW am I supposed to know what you are feeling? I’m not a mind-reader.” So familiar is the complaint in our domestic disputes that it would be regarded even by soap writers as a cliché. But, says the American-Korean writer Euny Hong, the reply ought to be that you have a responsibility to become a mind-reader. We should all be training ourselves to “read the room”, whether that room is full of people, or contains only your life-partner and budgerigar.

In short, we need to become experts in Nunchi: the “superpower” by which South Koreans acquire emotional intelligence and, ultimately, happiness. But, if that sounds too much like hard work, then The Conversation (World Service, Monday of last week) also offered us the secret to why Denmark perennially tops the chart for happiest country in the world. It is because, as Malene Rydahl explained, the Danes are taught empathy from six years of age, and apparently love paying taxes. They trust their government and public institutions, and think of citizenship as the striving for common purpose.

I suspect that most of us would prefer to experience the Korean or Danish systems of contentment as tourists rather than immigrants. But the real problem with this programme is that one never got a sense of how these “philosophies” played out in daily life: good manners, consideration of how one might contribute to society, listing the things one is grateful for — all fine words, but, as the saying goes, they butter no parsnips.

Gaylene Gould was somebody who found her happiness — or, more specifically, Transcendence: How can I feel art again? (Radio 4, Thursday of last week) — in works of art. But, as a professional curator — she is the head of the British Film Institute — she admits to having lost her mojo, and grown resistant to the magic of art. She never went so far as to say she was bored, but that was how it sounded, and it is a daring confession for somebody who is expected to spend a large part of the day as a gushing advocate of her chosen artistic medium.

There was some promising material here, including a discussion of Stendhal syndrome: a condition that renders its victim physically incapacitated by encounters with great art. The artist Mark Leckey talked of the importance of entering into the “rituals” of any work of art, and of his fascination with the sight of dancers losing themselves in the dance. But there is another, more provocative programme yet to be made in which curators of the standing of Gould discuss their cultural ennui. I do not believe that she is the only one to have dreaded the sight of yet another Botticelli or the sound of another Mozart symphony.

Grounded with Louis Theroux (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week) continues to be among the best things on the airwaves. Like all the very best interviewers, Theroux possesses a charisma that renders his guests more appealing than they tend otherwise to be: Frankie Boyle was a case in point. The comedian of outrage has never sounded so thoughtful or vulnerable as he did in last week’s encounter.

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