20 May 2005


I'd been thinking about writing something about this for here for a while, but I basically decided to when my best friend sent me this link. This is something that I basically am wanting so bad. (As an aside -- check the shipping costs. I find that really hilarious, actually -- "I want that $19,000 book! I simply MUST have it NOW! Here, take all my money! Now to get it to me? Eh, just chuck it in a mailbox, whatever.")

Codex Seraphinianus (aka The Codex) is a very, very large book by Luigi Serafini, a neo-Surrealist from Italy. It was written (or, rather, created) in 1981 (or thereabouts), and it's referenced in Douglas R. Hofstadter's Metamagical Themas (a collection of his early 1980s columns for Scientific American).

The Codex is an illustrated encyclopedia of a world that doesn't exist, in a language [The image linked does not show the complete symbolary] that likewise doesn't exist. Even though it doesn't use characters like any other language, as far as anyone can figure, Codex Script is consistent. There's even a Rosetta Stone on one of the pages. Unfortunately, it just translates to another script, which is, of course, just as inscrutable. One neat thing -- all the pages are numbered... in Codex Script. And, the society depicted uses a different number base.

The book is separated into sections, including (roughly) Science, Technology, Plants, Animals, and Humans. One of the neat things is, unlike a lot of things like this, the world isn't nightmarish at all -- it's actually pretty nice. There's a Fish-Tap! You can have a faucet that gives you fish! It's definitely a bizarre world, but it's not a dystopia or anything. Nor is it a utopia -- it's just pretty much a normal-type world, only with Fish Taps and people with Fountain-Pen fingers, and creatures with one base and 4 or 5 human torsos/head/arms going around and doing stuff. It's pretty damn keen.

There is one down-side of the Codex: It's incredibly expensive. It's actually in print, but only in a French edition (which doesn't actually mean anything, except that the cover is in French, and there's a French-language introduction), and they're around 220 Euro (or about $275), plus shipping. (For me, shipping was 20 Euro to the US - the grand total for me was 237.24 Euro, for the record. That's a bit pricey fr shipping, but it is a very large and heavy book.)

I've had this book for about a year or two now, and I love it. It's great to show to people, just because it's such an odd book, but incredibly beautiful as well. The publisher did a very nice job as well - heavy paper, a special box cover, beautiful printing. It may be very expensive, but you really do get your money's worth. (And if you're not willing to spend $300 on a book, sometimes you can get it through Inter-Library Loan, if you've got access to that type of thing.) It truly is a magnificent piece. Also, there's a short video on Luigi Serafini's site, which seems to be a little bit of computer animation based on the Codex; I'm not sure what that means, but I've often thought that there actually could be a really cool (and incredilby unprofitable...) film that could be made from it, basically like a travelogue in Codex Speech. I'd love to do that. But something tells me it'd be a hard sell... ("Yes, I'd like to do a film that's not in English or any language, really, not subtitled, a fake travelogue-style documentary that'd require loads and loads of special effects to do right. Hello?")


Blogger Lee H. said...

I've heard of this before, but your links are awesome. I love art books anyway, and this one in particular is fascinating to me.

Of course, it might be cheaper for me to fly to your city and see YOUR copy than get one, but hey... :D That's part of the fun, I guess.

I actually used to own a copy of Metamagical Themas but it was so long ago I don't remember this book being mentioned in it. I remember the Codex from somewhere much more recent, probably online.

8:40 PM, May 20, 2005  
Blogger Lee H. said...

BTW, did you really title this post [CHARACTER SET NOT SUPPORTED] ? If so, that is freakin' hilarious, given the context... :D

And if not, that's actually pretty funny, too. Heh heh!

8:45 PM, May 20, 2005  
Blogger Rev. Syung Myung Me said...

Yep -- I was hoping I got the wording on the real-live error right; I just thought it'd be funny, and I couldn't think of any other subject line, other than something straight-forward, like "Codex Seraphinanus" or something, but that's boring..8)

Like I said, though, it's really unfortunate that it's so expensive. Apparently, when it came out, there was actually a cheaper American edition. (I want to say it was ~$25, but that strikes me as really insanely low for what it'd have to be, even in 1981 dollars.)

I couldn't remember if it was mentioned in Metamagical Themas or Le Ton beau de Marot, but I looked it up since my copies of the Hofstadter books are right near my computer now, and it 's MT. Looking it up, it's in the Postscript to "Stuff And Nonsense", where he also talks about A Humument (the "Treated Victorian Novel" -- it's an older novel that Tom Phillips went over with ink and re-made; similar to Crispin Hellion Glover's books). Looking over what he wrote, there isn't really a whole lot of other information (he mentions the Rosetta Stone, too -- though I think my mentioning of it is because a) it's neat and b) I think it kinda needs to be mentioned with the whole language aspects of it and c) subconciously lifted from DRH. The one strange thing -- Hofstadter mentions that the Codex is sometimes grotesque or disturbing, and that people he's shown it to are sometimes frightened by stuff in it; I... really don't get this at all. The art seems really good-natured to me. Even some of the Modified Humans might be a _little_ grotesque, but not really in a "Oh, this is horrifying!" way, just in a "Oh, I wouldn't expect to see a writer with fountain-pen nib fingers writing in French (the only example of a known language in the book -- though the French is, itself, nonsense) with ink for blood!" way. IIRC, even the things that have to do with death are more in a "This is temporary" type state -- skeletons getting up and moving around, going about the day to day, etc.

The language of the book is really intriguing too; aside from the different number-base, it's sort of up in the air whether or not Codex Script is an actual, devised language or not. Evidence seems to point to "not", however -- as my friend Ben points out, there's a lot of duplicated characters in the Codex's words, which typically isn't the norm. (His example: It'd be like, in English, if "bookkeeper" were a common word.) Still, though -- it could be possible, since we don't know how the grammar of the language would work (and perhaps double/tripled symbols have different pronounciations. It looks like the symbols are either an alphabet or syllabary, probably the latter. As Ben points out, there are tons of characters, generally not a feature of alphabets, but there's words with over a dozen characters, generally not a feeature of pictographic systems. For the record, here's my original, kinda incoherent and out-of-date, post on it from about a year and a half ago, which has a bit of back-and-forth on the nature of Codex Script -- I summarized the main info there, though. And pretty much all of the stuff on the language comes from Ben, but what he says makes sense, looking at other Existing Languages. So, yeah -- it's Possible Codex Script works as a language, but not necessarily probable.)

10:15 PM, May 20, 2005  
Blogger CatsFive said...

Metamagical Themas is on eBay for $4.99 GBP... as for the Codex Seraphanis, it was on sale at one time, but now it's not.

I personally find books like this fascinating. This sort of reminds me of the Voynich manuscript, of which there are a lot of good links on the 'net about... you really wonder what world the people who created these things live in.

11:44 AM, May 24, 2005  
Blogger Rev. Syung Myung Me said...

Metamagical Themas is a great book, too, actually. But I'm a Hofstadter fan, so I'd say that. That copy of the Codex looked like it was the original US edition... also pretty beat up. But still it went for about 50 bucks cheaper than the new French edition. I think copies occasionally pop up on eBay. (Or I've seen them occasionally on Amazon for insane amounts of money.)

I actually thought about mentioning the Voynich, but didn't for some reason..8) It's probably a good frame of reference for the Codex, anyway. But, yeah, I'm really drawn to the Fake-Presenting-Itself-As-Real. I mean, the Codex doesn't necessarily present itself as A Real Encyclopedia, but it also doesn't give away the Joke (aside from the introduction-in-real-languages that some editions have, but those aren't by Serafini, so I don't think they count. But minus that and the book's spine which is also in English/French -- and perhaps the writer artwork where he's writing french gibberish -- it looks as if it could have just dropped over from another dimension/reality.

5:35 PM, May 24, 2005  
Blogger CatsFive said...

And speaking of gibberish, for some reason I'm reminded of that Sims music, you know, which I think we've already discussed in some forum, where the music is all gibberish but from "far away" sounds like real music.

Also, if I recall correctly, my favourite song on the Clockwork Orange soundtrack was complete gibberish. Lee, what was that song called?

4:42 PM, May 25, 2005  
Blogger Rev. Syung Myung Me said...

I know that with the Sims 2, Mark Mothersbaugh did the music (some of the music) for it. I've heard that on the CD for that, there's also a music video for a Sims Song that's the old DEVO song "Recombo DNA", with either new lyrics/Sims lyrics/no lyrics. I have yet to hear/see it, but I would love to. I'm basically having to wait for the Mac Version, since I don't think I own a PC that's good enough to actually run it.

I wish I had the Clockwork Orange soundtrack. I've got the Wendy Carlos box set though of all the Switched-On Bach stuff. I guess there's a Special DVD thingy of ACO that comes with the soundtrack, but I've heard they're going to remaster/trick out the Kubrick DVDs yet again, so I'm holding off on buying them, so maybe I will only have to buy Dr. Strangelove just _one_ more time. (Actually, I think I only have the one copy of it; I didn't get the new one, because IIRC, it's got a lot of doubled bonus material, (though it's added some new stuff), and they've also matted it, instead of having the Shifting Aspect Ratio. Which is weird, because when the Shifting Aspect one came out, they were all "THIS IS WHAT KUBRICK INTENDED!!!" and then when the matted one came out, they said "NO, THIS IS WHAT KUBRICK INTENDED!!!!! THIS IS HOW IT PLAYED IN THEATERS, RIGHT? SO THIS IS WHAT HE WANTED!!! BOOYAH BOOYAH BOOYAH!!!" (No, I don't know why the people who put this out are the dummy robot of Cyborg from that episode of Teen Titans where he infiltrates the Academy either. Also, yes, I do realize I'm in a silly mood.), so I'm not really sure what the deal is. But, still, I'm not sure if it's any better, so I haven't picked it up. But I almost did, but for the time being, I'm happy with my old DVD of it.)

7:44 PM, May 25, 2005  
Blogger Lee H. said...

CatsFive said...

Also, if I recall correctly, my favourite song on the Clockwork Orange soundtrack was complete gibberish. Lee, what was that song called?

I have no idea, man. The CO soundtrack is all electronicized classical music and a few tracks of real-orchestra classical music, plus one fake-60's-pop song ("I Want To Marry A Lighthouse Keeper").

Are you sure you're thinking of A Clockwork Orange? What does the song you're thinking of sound like?

12:48 AM, May 27, 2005  

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