Dado Nagy: The book is not only a carrier of text but also a fetish

02/05/2011 19:00

By courtesy of Dado Nagy


Although literature courses no longer seem to be enjoying popularity with the Department’s students, there were times when things were different. One of the students who could not get enough of reading was Dado Nagy, the avid reader and passionate populariser of reading and books. Perspectives talked to him about how he remembers his time at the Department and about his love for literature, which he made his career.

Perspectives (PP): You studied English and Russian at Comenius University. There is a long list of literature to read for the seminars of English Literature and the bachelor’s final exams. Have you read it all? Or do you prefer choosing what you will read to following a list of prescribed literature?

Dado Nagy (DN): I don’t remember precisely if I read it all, but I guess I read most of it. To tell the truth, I found it, together with playing the English theatre and classes with our American teacher David Williams, the most pleasant part of my studies. I would say I embraced the list. Reading and discussing books in seminars was always more fun than learning textbooks by heart.

PP: Do you consider it meaningful to deal with 18th and 19th century literature rather than contemporary Slovak and English literature?

DN: As I said, I didn’t care if I was reading a contemporary work or a novel from the 18th or 19th century. I even found there were too few literature and literary theory classes. What I had to suffer through was the historical grammar of the English language and morphology. These subjects were driving me crazy. I really doubted the sense and form of how they were taught. On the other hand, I was grateful for being introduced to novels by Jane Austin, the Brontë sisters, Lawrence Sterne, D. H. Lawrence, but also to many poets and playwrights – from Shakespeare to Lake Poets. It is true that there could have been more modern British and American literature. Unfortunately, we couldn’t specialize only in literature.

PP: You love reading books. Do you prefer reading them in Slovak or in the language they were written in, if you understand it?

DN: Now I read books in original only rarely. The only exception is my favourite American author Paul Auster. Unfortunately, I have no time for this. I know it will sound strange, but my job hardly ever allows me to read a book leisurely. It requires me to read quickly, for information. It’s ‘scanning’ rather than reading.

PP: Pavel Vilikovský writes in his book Pes na ceste that Slovaks aren’t interested in their national literature. Do you agree?

DN: Well, it depends on what we define as “national literature”. There may really be only a few dozens of what Stanislav Rakús calls “musing readers of high literature” in Slovakia. And it is totally alright. On the other hand, works by Slovak authors are nowadays doing better than ever before. While the 1990s were a relatively “dead period” for Slovak literature, there is a great demand for books by Slovak authors now. The editions of some books often total ten thousands of copies. What I consider a problem though is the cultural policy of the state itself. There is no real literature house in Slovakia, we don’t hold any major renowned literary festivals, and the quality of literature instruction in schools is poor. The state doesn’t support libraries. When did Slovakia last build a truly modern and representative library? In Scandinavian countries the state supports the publication of high-quality literature by purchasing selected works for libraries nationwide. Compared to these countries, Slovakia is in the Stone Age. So, in this respect, I agree with Vilikovský.

PP: Vilikovský also states that book editors have practically disappeared. There are only proofreaders now.  Do you think that a good editor can improve the quality of a literary work?

DN: I am deeply convinced of it. Book editors can significantly help the literary work and take it a few levels higher. Thanks to their detachment they can remove dead weight from the text, make it more dynamic, offer useful tips to the author, link motifs and affect changes that give the text a depth and a system. At the moment, it is more or less up to the author to find a good editor who would help him put finishing touches on his book. It’s quite common that a book has a good base but there are some petty things that keep it from perfection. Writers are coming to understand that a good editor, whose advice they trust, can help them a lot. But the question remains where to find such a person.

PP: E-books have been becoming more and more popular recently (also thanks to smart phones and e-book readers). Do you think they will replace printed books soon?

DN: No, I rather think that e-books are one of the blind alleys of spreading a text. They are practical and fascinating, but rather marginal in the long term. Of course, e-books have great advantages, including various hypertext features, yet the book is not only a carrier of text, but also a fetish, which will survive in its classic form without difficulty. This topic is dealt with in a recently published book, Don’t Hope to Get Rid of Books, the result of conversations between Umberto Eco and Jean Claude Carriére.

PP: Do you own all the books (or at least the majority of them) you have read? Do you borrow books from libraries?

DN: Yes, I own most of them. There were times when I hoarded great numbers of books at home. Today, I’m getting rid of them and keeping only those I find important. Unfortunately, I visit libraries only when I participate in discussions within literary festivals.

PP: You once said that the transformation of literature into sound is something that has always fascinated you. Is this the reason why you decided to do the Literary Review?

DN: No, it was more or less a coincidence. I started the show while at university, out of boredom, to let off steam. I wasn’t very fond of school, so I was looking for something else. I worked for the student dormitory radio station MD1 and then I applied for a job with Radio Twist. I found the transformation of text into sound interesting especially with respect to recording and publishing audio books. My first encounter with an audio book took place at the Department of English Studies. I was working as an assistant in a language laboratory when instructors started to bring various interesting recordings. It’s when I became keen on the phenomenon. I listened to some of the recordings again and again until I learned them by heart, e.g. Garrison Keillor. I wanted to open my own audio-book publishing house. But making a really good audio book involves investing a lot of work and money and making almost no profit. A good audio book, as I understand it, is like a film in small size. Despite that, I set about it some time ago. Together with my friend, musician Juraj Dobrakov, I have recorded two audio books -- Stories by Daniil Charms and two love stories by Ivan Bunin. But it’s more like a hobby – what we’re investing is only our free time. I’m the one who reads texts – I would prefer to have them read by a professional actor, but we would have to pay him or her. It takes us about half a year to make one recording and our publisher, Kniha do ucha, is in charge of everything else.

PP: Are you planning any other projects concerning the transformation of literature into sound?

DN: At the moment we’re recording a third audio book, a book for children. It looks like great fun. To tell the truth, I don’t think it’s for children. It only has the form of a children’s book. It’s a Monty Python’s Flying Circus for children. We’ll see if we’ll manage to finish it. Still, I can only recommend the book -- You’re a Bad Man, Mr. Gum, by Andy Stanton.

PP: I heard that your favourite cartoon characters are Homer Simpson and Shrek. Do you identify with them in any way?

DN: Yes, I feel we are somewhat similar. Even in terms of my character, I’m like a mixture of Shrek and Homer Simpson. I’m a bearer of their values (smiles). I like the idea that the world and life are totally absurd, although I hope that it’s not completely true -- fortunately.

 Kristína Kallová

Jozef Dado Nagy (1970) is a literary publicist. From February 1993 to December 2005 he worked, with two breaks, for Radio Twist as editor and presenter of the Literary Review. As author and presenter, he has also cooperated on literary programs with Slovak Television (Litera, Silná káva, Literárne oko). He has written a book of parodic cooking recipes, Slepačie polievky pre otrlých (Sofa, 1996). He often moderates and emcees or helps organize literary events. He has performed in three plays for the GUnaGU Theatre.