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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Codex Seraphinianus: How Italian Artist Luigi Serafini Got here to Write & Illustrate “the Strangest E book Ever Printed” (1981)


The Codex Seraphini­anus will not be a medieval e book; nor does it date from the Renais­sance together with the codices of Leonar­do. In actual fact, it was pub­lished solely in 1981, however within the inter­ven­ing a long time it has gained recog­ni­tion as “the strangest e book ever pub­lished,” as we described it after we pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured it right here on Open Cul­ture just a few years in the past. Since then, Riz­zoli has pub­lished a for­ti­eth-anniver­sary edi­tion of the Codex, which author-artist Lui­gi Ser­afi­ni has grant­ed inter­views to professional­mote. What new mild has thus been shed on its greater than 400 pages crammed with weird illus­tra­tions and inde­ci­pher­ready textual content?

“The e book is designed to be com­plete­ly alien to any­physique who picks it up,” says the nar­ra­tor of the Curi­ous Archive video on the prime of the submit. “Not solely are the pictures utter­ly mind-bend­ing, it’s writ­ten in a made-up and thor­ough­ly untrans­lat­ready lan­guage. And but, the extra you learn, the extra you would possibly discover a unusual sense of con­ti­nu­ity among the many pictures. That’s as a result of Ser­afi­ni intend­ed this e book to be an ency­clo­pe­dia: an ency­clo­pe­dia of a world that does­n’t exist.”

The expe­ri­ence of learn­ing it — if “learn­ing” be the phrase — “jogs my memory of being younger and flip­ping by means of an ency­clo­pe­dia, star­ing at pic­tures and never com­pre­hend­ing the phrases, however really feel­ing a wierd, untrans­lat­ready world hov­er­ing simply out­facet my beneath­stand­ing.”

Ser­afi­ni him­self describes the Codex as “an try to explain the imag­i­nary world in a sys­tem­at­ic method” in the Nice Huge Sto­ry video above. To cre­ate it, he spent two and a half years in a state he likens to “entering into a trance,” draw­ing all these “fish with eyes or dou­ble rhi­noc­er­os­es and what­ev­er.” These pictures got here first, they usually had been all so unusual that he “needed to discover a lan­guage to elucidate” them. The end result­ing expe­ri­ence lets us expe­ri­ence what it’s “to learn with­out know­ing the way to learn” — an expe­ri­ence that has entice­ed the atten­tion of thinkers from Dou­glas Hof­s­tadter to Roland Barthes to Ser­afini’s coun­attempt­man Ita­lo Calvi­no, a person pos­sessed of no scant inter­est within the unusual, fantasy­i­cal, and inscrutable.

In a 1982 essay, Calvi­no writes of Ser­afini’s “very clear ital­ics,” which “we all the time really feel we’re simply an inch away from with the ability to learn and but which elude us in each phrase and let­ter. The anguish that this Oth­er Uni­verse con­veys to us doesn’t stem a lot from its dif­fer­ence to our world as from its sim­i­lar­i­ty.” Clear­ly, “Serafini’s uni­verse is inhab­it­ed by freaks. However even on the earth of mon­sters there’s a log­ic whose out­strains we appear to see emerg­ing and van­ish­ing, just like the imply­ings of these phrases of his which are dili­gent­ly copied out by his pen-nib.” All of it brings to thoughts a joke I as soon as heard that likens human­i­ty, with its invin­ci­ble intuition to ask what each­factor means, to a race of area aliens with enor­mous trunks. When these aliens vis­it Earth, they reply to each­factor we attempt to inform them with the identical ques­tion: “Sure, however what does that must do with trunks?”

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Intro­duc­tion to the Codex Seraphini­anus, the Strangest E book Ever Pub­lished

The Imply­ing of Hierony­mus Bosch’s The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights Defined

Primarily based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His tasks embrace the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the e book The State­much less Metropolis: a Stroll by means of Twenty first-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video collection The Metropolis in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­e book.



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