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This century, live – The Speaking Book

is the title of the edition by Dragoslav Simic, the author of the website,
journalist at the Radio Belgrade and the author of a number of radio documentary pieces about people and events which have marked the 20th century.

Since many years, like a persevering gold digger, Dragoslav Simic has been sifting enormous quantities of spoken material in order to extract threads which will be then woven into his radio shows and special audio editions produced on CDs. At present, this collection includes over one hundred titles, and this number alone – besides the contents and especially the quality of these works - represent an outstanding value in our culture. It is known that such editions exist worldwide; BBC is particularly famous for them. Hence, if an important entity such as our radio broadcasting system, does not initiate this kind of work, probably considering that the effort would not earn its value, that it would require too much dedication or that it would not be justifiable enough because its audience is rather limited, it certainly is not bad when one individual takes such an initiative, especially because this individual is himself the author of the majority of those materials comprised in these audio cassettes which, on the whole, represent an audio anthology. Of course, the question of an individual's motivation to deal with such a huge amount of demanding work imposes itself. In Mr. Simic's case, we are talking, before all, about his passion for witnessing, about his desire to leave behind truthful documents about our century and thus stand against the threat of silent oblivion. Recordings in the audio anthology THE TALKING BOOK relay to us as contemporaries, but I believe that they are capable of reaching out into the 21st century, similar to the fingers touching on Michelangelo's monumental creation of the universe. This edition certainly establishes this kind of connection, at present mostly due to the fact that we are likely to relate to the subjects which concern us as all.

They are mostly from the field of politics and history. For instance: Yugoslavia, a quick overview of its dissolution; Kominform (Informbiro); The Trial of Draza Mihailovic; Panic and Cosic; Massive opposition rallies; Knin, already forgotten, which is one of the most sadly disturbing titles. At the same time, this edition also includes certain artistic landmarks of our era. We can listen to testimonies and poetry-reciting by different distinguished personalities, creators of our culture, like Professor Rasko Dimitrijevic, painter Mica Popovic, poets Ljubomir Simovic and Matija Beckovic.

The question of the utility of this entire enterprise would be legitimate. Why couldn't memoires bare the testimony? Why this material, as it is recorder, couldn't be transcribed and transferred onto the paper, which would enable its quick and efficient global over-viewing without having to sit through hours of listening to linear speeches. In other words, the question would be: do these audio cassettes serve solely as some kind of auxiliary tool to illiterate or sight impaired persons? Or, going into the heart of the matter, the question would concern the advantages, if any, of THE SPEAKING BOOK as opposed to the traditional book which is being read speechlessly, absorbing its deep meaning in the soundless silence of contemplation.

Bringing up this question directs us toward a trap – the notion of the book is connected with the tradition, while the notion of the radio and audio cassettes relates to something quite modern. It certainly is so form the technological innovations' angle. Nevertheless, when it comes to the essential meaning of these mediums, it can be said that the core substance of the radio is connected with the everlasting value that a spoken word had had in the ancient world. We do know how much this spoken word was praised by Socrates who had never personally written down any of his works, but has left behind such a wonderfully meaningful quotation: SPEAK THAT I MAY SEE YOU.

According to this concept, a man is best revealed through his action of speech, the manner in which he communicates his thoughts; and, according to the Socrates' tradition, this thought is, in its nature, primarily pertinent to dialogue and speech, as the spoken word is, in comparison with the one that is only in our thoughts - the real instrument of dialogue as opposed to a monologue. Moreover, the spoken word prevents us from a certain self-censorship which is regularly imposing itself in the process of precise defining of written words. Socrates' knowledge was to be confirmed, if only partially, by latter more substantial research results which criminologists are so familiar with: the human voice is one's expressive characteristic far more representative of each individual than fingerprints. Radio shows and audio cassettes renew, in these modern times, the live word tradition of the antique era.

Documentary narration that they bring to us contains elements which cannot be adequately written down, and those non-written elements form the integral part of its contents and the meaning of the document. The manner in which a man speaks, his breathing and silences, sighs, accents, intonation and emotional charge being released through his speech, with occasional speaker's attempts to restrain it, all these characteristics of speech can never be transmitted to paper, they cannot be written down, and much of what cannot be written down is extremely important with regard to the content and meaning of the said.

Undoubtedly, the spoken word has certain advantages over the written word, and vice versa. Of course, no one would question the fact that the written word is, before all, the word of science and the intellectual in-depth pursuit of knowledge, while it is also the word associated with some exclusive forms of artistic expression. On the other hand, the spoken word bares the advantage of its emotional potential and the immediate human touch with another person via his or her voice, whether this person is still living or already deceased. Naturally, this advantage is more important in the case of poetry if compared to narration of notes recording, due to the fact that the poetry has always been more a matter of oral qualities of what is heard than what is written down. No one can better interpret a poem than the author himself, his own voice, at least when it's about his genuine intention. Punctuation that we dispose of is insufficient to reflect in any way in written form all spoken inflections that are irreplaceable and priceless in poetry narration.

There is another interesting question: how could the treasure of speech be saved from, it appears to be, the inevitable interfering mediation of the alphabet, and how to communicate it better than by letters. The mankind has been struggling with this utopia for ages.

On another occasion, in the course of a discussion about Dragoslava Simic's edition, I have already had an opportunity to mention seemingly science-fictional notes by Cyrano de Bergerac from mid-17th century in which, in a certain way, he anticipates the appearance of audio books, should we rather call it the radio or the gramophone record, but in any case some kind of a materialized carrier of sound which could preserve it and keep it permanently.

Later on, at the end of 19th century, Cyrano de Bergerac has served as a role model for the famous character in Edmond Rostand's play. But, as early as in 1657, he wrote in his utopian piece "The States and Empires of the Moon" about a man who went to the Moon where he left a mysterious box. "When I opened the box", he wrote, "I could hardly describe what I found in, something similar to our clocks, with lots of tiny coils and invisible devices." In fact, this was a book, but a strange one, without pages and letters. After all, this is a book whose reading doesn't require eyesight, all that is needed are ears. When someone wishes to read, he connects this machine with a multitude of all sorts of wires, then he places the needle on the chapter that he would like to listen to and, at that very moment, as if they were coming out of a man's mouth or from some music instrument, the machine starts releasing all possibly imaginable articulate sounds, which among adult inhabitants of the Moon serve for oral expression purposes.

A little bit further he wrote: "Thus you are surrounded by all great personalities, both dead and alive, who converse with you in living voices." In a certain way, this hallucinatory prediction is nowadays brought to existences through the radio and audio cassettes; this audio anthology that we are going to discuss tonight is also a continuation of that prediction in its remote form.

In one of his texts, Mallarmé makes a statement that everything finishes with a book, but we know that the Bible reads: "In the beginning was the Word." Throughout his lengthy work dedicated to creative documenting, which has offered a number of precious gems to the Radio Belgrade, Dragoslav Simic has succeeded in reconciling these two realities which, actually are much closer than they appear to be at a first glance: he unites the speech from the beginning and the book from the end into one – the priceless and the irreplaceable SPEAKING BOOK.

Djordje Malavrazic
Journalist, Radio history researcher

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Dragoslav Simić

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