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Today, Rizzoli is rereleasing Codex Seraphinianus by Italian architect-turned-artist, Luigi Serafini. Codex is a 400-page book handwritten in a fictional script accompanied by unearthly illustrations. The pen-and-ink and colored-pencil images seem self-explanatory. There’s a white mountainous car with melting tires covered in ants. A seed grows into a tree-chair. A deer head grows out of a flowerpot. The text is handwritten in cursive-like strokes. For years Serafini’s elusive nature helped infuse the book’s mysticism and eventual eclipsing of its author. Couple weeks ago I discovered Codex through the_dimka, who also put me onto the Voynich manuscript. I never heard of these books before, but with Codex, I never heard of writing a book in an “imaginary language” about a “parallel world.”

Published in 1981, Codex garnered a cult following and since then, copies of the out of print book have been going for thousands of dollars. It’s an acid trip in book form. Perplexing diagrams pose as logic and meaningless language begs for explanation. When the Italian artist was recently interviewed by Wired, he was asked if he used any drugs when creating Codex, “I did mescaline, a drug that was used to expand the boundaries of your mind. I’m talking about a real mind-transforming tool, it had nothing to do with today’s recreational use. At the time in the US Native Americans were allowed to use it for religious purposes. But it didn’t help me in the creative process: under the influence of mescaline you lose any sense of criticism, you think you are creating a masterpiece, but when you get sober you realize it’s very modest. To produce a body of creative work is a practice based on small details, like word puns. You have to be focused, and there are no shortcuts.” It took Serafini three to four years to finish the book. It was an attempt to get out of the gallery scene. About the book’s cursive like text he said, “What I want my alphabet to convey to the reader is the sensation that children feel in front of books they cannot yet understand.”

People have been trying to crack the Codex since the 80’s. Serafini said some guy copyrighted a developed system that randomly translates the book’s symbols into meaningful text using the Latin alphabet. A woman said she transported into the Codex world through hallucination, before she even heard of the book. A Bulgarian linguist supposedly discovered a code in the page numbers. Most fans of the book believe it’s written in an actual language. About the meaning Serafini said, “It’s an obsession related to the persistent fascination with mystery. I always said that there is no meaning behind the script; it’s just a game.” Although it was written in the late 70’s, Codex is a cerebral kaleidoscope sifting through the noisy mind of a suicidal society. It reflects an anxiety-riddled collective conscious trying to birth an otherworldly version of itself; anything to escape the roots of a self-destructive nature. “It’s a book that speaks about crisis and about communication and it’s quite apocalyptical, suited for the present times.”

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All images are from the complete online Codex Seraphinianus at Luigi Serafini

Good reads:
The Return of the Codex Seraphinianus
Codex Seraphinianus, meet Luigi Serafini the man behind the strangest book in the world
The Codex Seraphinianus: A New Edition of the Strangest Book in the World
The Codex Seraphinianus 

 

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