Dr. Natalia Nowakowska is a Tutor & Lecturer in Early Modern History at Somerville College, University of Oxford.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Seeing Double

This week, after years of work on the part of many people, the Kraków publishing house Societas Vistulana has published the Polish edition of my first book, which appeared in English in 2007. Translated by my Oxford colleague Tomasz Gromelski, Church, State and Dynasty in Renaissance Poland: The Career of Cardinal Fryderyk Jagiellon (1468-1503) has now become Królewski Kardynał. Studium Kariery Fryderyka Jagiellończyka (1468-1503).

Seeing the handsome blue-white-red cover of the Polish edition, initially in proofs and now on the Societas Vistulana website, has been exciting but also unexpectedly unsettling. When you’re writing a monograph, for months and months it exists just as a series of messy Word files on your computer (usually pock-marked with comments to yourself in bold typeface: ‘check this fact!’ ‘Where did I find this quote?’), but you think of it as a material object in waiting. The great moment, the moment when you know it really is finished, is when you tear open a brown cardboard package from your publishers and hold the gleaming book in your own hands. (Kindle et al may yet change this moment of epiphany, but I’m not so sure).

It’s therefore slightly strange when that same book, i.e. the text and its arguments, metamorphose and take on a second, alternative physical form – transposed into a different language, in the process becoming a different object, with a different physical appearance. Seeing the Polish edition has undermined my own (perhaps naïve) sense of the materiality of my book, perhaps betraying a Platonic assumption that it can have only one ultimate form. I’m going to put both covers on my college webpage – the appropriately Somervillian red and black of the Ashgate edition, with a woodcut of Fryderyk kneeling before Saint Stanisław, and the more abstract Polish cover, showing half of Fryderyk’s carved coat of arms bathed in an electric blue light. Now that the book exists in two parallel forms, it suddenly feels like a slippery, intangible thing again, as it was when it was just a series of Word documents on my computer. The artist Grayson Perry said in a television interview this week that there is, even in this digital age, a basic human need for the object, for its 'tangible, visceral experience'. Even when seeing double, with two books where once there was one, I think he's right.

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