I received a gift (again, a surprise!) from one of my now-favorite (we’ve met twice since) clients the other day:
It’s Luigi-Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus. I had it on my Amazon Wishlist for a while, but I never expected anyone to actually choose this, of all things! I’m so glad he did, though. I think it is the perfect addition to the other books on my coffee table: Bellocq’s Storyville Portraits and this coffee table book about Catholic churches in New Orleans. I love watching people’s faces when they sit down and idly flip through the pages of each, speculating on my choice to display these three books so prominently in my living room, and wondering what in the world that says about me, hahaha.
I love Codex Seraphinianus because it’s such a weird book, and I guess it’s only really a book in the strictest sense of the word. It’s more like a piece of art in book form. Here’s a sampling of pages:
Sorry for the blurriness; I took these pics with my phone in the aforementioned living room, which has terrible lighting, and by the time I’m too lazy to retake them and upload them again. Not that it matters, though–you won’t be able to read the writing anyway. It’s not written in any alphabet known to man, and the pictures make no real logical sense. Well, not any logical, comfortable sense anyway. Any sense you might be able to make of them is rather disconcerting.
People theorized and argued for years about what Serafini might have been doing with Codex Seraphinianus. Was it written in some kind of code? Many tried and failed to break it, though after expending much time and effort, some actually succeeded in making some sense of a few of the characters, words, and even tiny chunks of text. Or had Serafini entirely constructed a new language? Or maybe an alien manuscript had simply fallen from the sky, and Serafini was cashing in.
But the truth is even more fascinating, in my opinion.
Apparently the Codex Seraphinianus is what it is to whoever “reads” it. But a few years ago, Serafini himself explained that he was, at least in part, attempting to recreate the experience of a pre-literate child who encounters a text meant for adult readers, and the ensuing confusion, frustration, and fascination/wonder the child feels.
Do you remember that feeling? I do. When I was a kid, my father collected National Geographic magazines. The one I most clearly remember (and the one that fascinated me the most) was the November 1985 issue. The cover depicted the then-new discovery of Africa’s Taung Child. Here it is:
Now, obviously, the cover would captivate any pre-literate child, especially in the 80s, when holograms were a relatively new thing (though I have personally watched a child’s jaw drop at the wondrous, mind-blowing technology of the turn-crank, non-powered car window, and that was just last week). But I remember the feeling I had when I stared at this:
Now, imagine being a preschool-aged child and pulling this magazine off your dad’s bookcase. The cover is pretty and intriguing, so you open the magazine, tearing a few pages as you go because you’re too young to make your fingers do exactly what you tell them to because your fine motor skills still suck. Then you get to a fold-out page with a bunch of hairy naked people. Add in the fact that, in the real foldout chart that was in the November 1985 National Geographic Magazine, the penises of the apes/hominids/men were visible (I remember this clearly, hahah). It was one great big WTF, and I spent a lot of time pondering that fold-out chart, and since I could not yet read, the text that surrounded and followed it for pages and pages was no help. And I didn’t quite understand what the hell it all meant until probably a decade later.
So goes the experience of paging through Codex Seraphinianus.
Anyway. Thanks, you ;)
**If you’re curious, here it is on Amazon.com.**