Friday, May 17, 2013

Codex Seraphinianus

Codex SeraphinianusCodex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine that Stepan Chapman, M.C. Escher, Albrecht Durer, and Salvador Dali were locked in an underground dungeon with an infinite amount of art supplies and only LSD to eat. Suddenly, a wayward creator-god shows up with a genetic splicer set to randomize the mixing of species and common objects, creating before the artists a set of real-life models from which they might take inspiration.

Codex Seraphinianus is a natural history of the surreal, a book that truly defies categorization. It is reminiscent of the old Harper's Magazine Travelers Companion, a 19th-century anthropological survey, a modern biology and environmental science textbook, and a series of travel brochures. The asemic script that runs throughout merely heightens the strangeness of the volume. The language seems familiar, but is utterly alien. There's obviously something being explained, though one is never quite sure what.

Sections in the work display flora, fauna, environmental or biological cycles, mechanical systems, modes of transportation, modifications to human anatomy, different forms of dress and dwelling places of what one must assume are more primitive peoples, a taxonomy of human heads, maps, pictures of notable places and historically-significant events, and costumes of whatever culture is being represented.

The wonder of this book is that it doesn't constrain the reader with any kind of imposed narrative. You are free to interpret the drawings and text in any way you like. Here, there are no wrong answers and the representations merely serve as stepping off points for the imagination. Getting to the end of the book, one finds that it is just a beginning. And isn't that one of the finest compliments that can be given to a book?

Addendum: Codex Seraphinianus is back in print! It's 'spensive, but probably worth it.

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