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The Codex Seraphinianus
November 7, 2011 6:23 AM   Subscribe

The Codex Seraphinianus. This rare art book with text written in a still-unbroken code has been out of print for years. Now the whole thing is now available to read online.
posted by empath (65 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite

 
i met a guy that had this book years ago, and have always wished i could get a copy (i think it's like 500 bux on amazon). second best thing, thanks for this!
posted by fuzzypantalones at 6:27 AM on November 7, 2011


Awesome! I've had a dubiously acquired scan for a while now, and it's great to see it easily available to everyone like this. One of my Life Goals is to see a copy of this thing in person.
posted by griphus at 6:28 AM on November 7, 2011


Isn't this a double?
posted by Max Power at 6:28 AM on November 7, 2011


It contains a BLIT. Be warned.
posted by Renoroc at 6:31 AM on November 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Bowel-Loosening Italian Text?
posted by griphus at 6:32 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's been back in print since 2006 in the Rizzoli edition.
posted by misteraitch at 6:46 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I just looked at this this morning (of course I forgot to post it here!) Anyway, yeah it's fantastic.
posted by ob at 6:46 AM on November 7, 2011


*checks title page*

Yup... this is the scan I made in 2005.
posted by shii at 6:50 AM on November 7, 2011 [42 favorites]


It's been back in print since 2006 in the Rizzoli edition.

Is there any reason I shouldn't get this from Italian Amazon? It's not like the book will be printed in Italian, so....?
posted by shakespeherian at 6:50 AM on November 7, 2011


My library had this. It's so much better (and by "better" I mean "weirder") on paper.
posted by DU at 6:54 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sometime in the early 90s, there was a big stack of Codexes (Codices?) at Cody's Books in Berkeley, remaindered for $30. I didn't buy the whole stack, and that's why I'm not a wealthy Mogul Seraphinianus today.
posted by moonmilk at 6:59 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


shakespeherian - there might be some prefatory text in Italian (I've not seen that edition), but no, the body of it might as well be published anywhere - so as long as you're OK navigating through a non-English-language amazon site, I'd say go for it.
posted by misteraitch at 7:03 AM on November 7, 2011


There's gotta be a way to frame this as a Christmas present to myself.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:06 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Creative Commons?
posted by Flunkie at 7:13 AM on November 7, 2011


The question is whether this is legitimate. It's a low quality scan.
posted by Nelson at 7:16 AM on November 7, 2011


I scored my copy at a used bookstore in NYC that was having a going-out-of-business sale. This must have been around 1990 or so.

If you've never read it, i strongly recommend avoiding the dust jacket. The book is better without it: a black monolith with CODEX SERAPHINIANUS embossed on the cover, and not a single other recognizable word. It's the closest you'll ever get to a Tlön, Uqbar experience in real life.
posted by otherthings_ at 7:22 AM on November 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Previously and previouslier. Direct links to individual images are still working on Flickr account at the first link, but the imageset and navigation are disabled.

Personally, I consider the searchable text version of the Codex to be the most edifying.
posted by ardgedee at 7:22 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Creative Commons?

Absolutely not. This is an illegal scan. If you like it, buy a copy from Italy; the current printing is cheap, they used to be $500 each.

It's so much better (and by "better" I mean "weirder") on paper.

I agree with this. Flip through it online, and it's an image you can get rid of in a second. Have a physical copy in your house, that you're tediously scanning page by page by page by page, and you start asking questions to yourself:

Is this page the right way up?
Why is this page only text?
Why are half the pages only text?
Did I get the contrast right?
What is that picture supposed to be?
Parts of the book are so cutesy, why are others so eerie?
Why is there so much text?
Does the text mean anything?
If it does mean something, then what?
Does the text reference the images?
Why are half the pages only text?
What is this thing?


On the Internet you can ponder these curious thoughts for a few seconds, get bored, and move on. In the same way that an argument on the Internet is not an argument with a real friend where you have real stakes, some bits and bytes on a server in California is not the same as a six-pound book which is occupying space in your room and significant time in your day, because you are turning and analyzing each page as you feed it through. If we had a real Necronomicon floating around, it would be pointless to BitTorrent it and let the Internet investigate-- because the power of that book in Lovecraft's world is not its text but the ancient, cursed vellum bound in human flesh and silently screaming at you.

I forgot to turn on the lights in the room I was in, being oddly mesmerized and repelled by the Codex from the start. Only the intense glare of the scanner at work lit up my face as I went through each page. On the computer screen, page after page of incomprehensible text, filling a screen usually full of English words-- like a disease was spreading. When I turned the page, sometimes I didn't know if I had gone forwards or back, because of all the pages of only text, and I had to check my previous scans to make sure. My original plan was to admire the book a bit when I was finished scanning, but midway I was reasonably frightened of the thing and only finished the job out of sheer determination, which is why the quality is universally poor. When I was done I returned it to where I took it from immediately.

I actually feel somewhat safer that the scan is crappy and not quite booklike. If it were really a perfect clone of the book, it would haunt me a little. I wouldn't want to know about its continued existence, and I certainly wouldn't want it framed on my wall. It really is like a BLIT. I don't want the image to resolve.

In the original scan there were two extra pages at the back, where I imitated the author's gesture to his own hand in his creation by inserting a picture of my own hand... apparently other people didn't like this and removed those pages from later uploads. Yeah, that's pretty much all I've got to add.
posted by shii at 7:24 AM on November 7, 2011 [26 favorites]


...and not a single other recognizable word.

Only to the uninitiated, my friend. Now put on this ceremonial robe and eat all this acid.
posted by griphus at 7:25 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


shii, thanks for posting. I want to be explicit about what you're saying: you say you made this scan yourself, you recognize the images, and you know it to be unauthorized?
posted by Nelson at 7:43 AM on November 7, 2011


Creative Commons?
Absolutely not. This is an illegal scan.
To be clear, I meant less "Is this licensed under Creative Commons?" and more "The person who uploaded it is claiming that it's licensed under Creative Commons."
posted by Flunkie at 7:51 AM on November 7, 2011


Thanks, that's beautiful. Reminds me a lot of the 1973 French film Fantastic Planet, as well as Dr. Seuss. Interestingly, the code looks similar to one I made up as a college student. I will put this on my wish list!
posted by xenophile at 8:07 AM on November 7, 2011


The script looks a bit like my elementary school cursive penmanship combined with Kawi or something. Fun stuff, though.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:11 AM on November 7, 2011


I have the Rizzoli. It's a very beautiful book, and as accessible to someone who doesn't read Italian as any other edition of the Codex could be -- there's a single page with the copyright notice at the end of the book that has some Italian. (There's also a thick pamphlet in Italian in a plastic sleeve on the back cover called "Decodex". While it's a little disappointing to be unable to read it, it's not like that takes anything away from Codex itself.)
posted by Zed at 8:13 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reminds me a lot of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, which was written around the same time.

EDIT: there is a connection between them.
posted by modernserf at 8:17 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's been back in print since 2006 in the Rizzoli edition.

If you want a copy, better hurry up: Amazon.it only has two copies new and zero used.
posted by francesca too at 8:18 AM on November 7, 2011


The Believer article modernserf links is really great so far. Lots of neat info about the book. Thanks for that.
posted by mediareport at 8:27 AM on November 7, 2011


This is an illegal scan.

An arrest warrant has been issued. Unfortunately no one can understand it.

Also, the illustrations of sweating anus flowers on it aren't helping much either.
posted by panboi at 8:47 AM on November 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Isn't this how the Mormons and Scientology got started?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:48 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Isn't this how the Mormons and Scientology got started?

You'll need a prophet to interpret it.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:49 AM on November 7, 2011


If you are US-based, no need to buy the book from amazon.it. With standard shipping to US, the cost comes to ~ 90 euros. Or you can buy a brand new copy of the same edition on amazon.com for $125, which is pretty much the same thing.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 8:54 AM on November 7, 2011


I just read this book, in print form, which I acquired via Interlibrary Loan.

It is nothing short of astonishing, one-of-a-kind, unique, confounding -- every superlative you've heard about it really does apply. Seek it out in print. It's unlike anything else on earth.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:08 AM on November 7, 2011


I just read this book, in print form, which I acquired via Interlibrary Loan.

Interlibrary Loan you say...

My library had this. It's so much better (and by "better" I mean "weirder") on paper.

Another mystery solved. TAKE 'IM AWAY, BOYS.
posted by griphus at 9:09 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nothing to worry about, agents edited the Codex years ago, removing anything that could be dangerous to the untrained reader, at a not unsubstantial cost to the agents involved if I may add.

Now if someone had put the 12 "lost" chapters of the Codex online, well then yes I'd be the first to head for the bunker, screaming and trying not to look at anything.
posted by The Whelk at 9:22 AM on November 7, 2011


Weird. I was just thinking about this last night.
posted by sacrifix at 9:46 AM on November 7, 2011


I bought the Rizzoli edition from AbeBooks recently. Like zed, I was disappointed to not be able to read the "Decodex". You need to see this book in print.
posted by Specklet at 9:59 AM on November 7, 2011


I think I put down about 375 for my copy several years back, the 1993 edition in a heavy textured box-case. It is beautiful in the form of cryptic wonders - holding it grants an almost palpable sense of touching an artifact from another world.

It's also not true that the code is completely unbroken - the numbering system has been decrypted to some extent, altho only by using the obviously sequential page numbers. It is, according to Wiki, a variation on base 21. This either grants credence to the concept that the whole thing is breakable, or that the author merely took the most obviously comprehensible part of the text and made THAT a code, and the rest is gibberish. Luigi Serafini, while still living, has not disclosed much in the way of hints as to the rest of the text.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:59 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Very Fantastic Planet.
posted by jiawen at 10:16 AM on November 7, 2011


francesca too: If you want a copy, better hurry up: Amazon.it only has two copies new and zero used.

Now there is one. But you can also buy from an Italian re-seller through Amazon.com, an d the end price is close to the price as converted with shipping from Amazon.it.

Otherwise, there is someone on eBay selling 10+ copies for $218.99 with free shipping in the US (no link to the sales page, because it may be a dead link within days). That's the cheapest I've seen the new edition. The 1993 edition is still going for ~$400 from what I've seen around.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:21 AM on November 7, 2011


Also, the visceral confusion of it really reminds me of the Aeon Flux episode "End Sinister."
posted by griphus at 10:22 AM on November 7, 2011


Google language translation of Decodex.
posted by Zed at 10:29 AM on November 7, 2011


This either grants credence to the concept that the whole thing is breakable, or that the author merely took the most obviously comprehensible part of the text and made THAT a code, and the rest is gibberish. Luigi Serafini, while still living, has not disclosed much in the way of hints as to the rest of the text.
I'm pretty sure that I read that he has said that it (with the obvious exception of the numbers) is... uh... some term that I had never heard before and which I forget now but which means something like "a writing system without meaning".

Ah! Asemic writing.
posted by Flunkie at 10:38 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


re: "still-unbroken code":
From the wiki:
In a talk at the Oxford University Society of Bibliophiles held on May 12, 2009, Serafini has stated that there is no meaning hidden behind the script of the Codex, which is asemic; that his own experience in writing it was closely similar to automatic writing; and that what he wanted his alphabet to convey to the 'reader' is the sensation that children feel in front of books they cannot yet understand, although they see that their writing does make sense for grown-ups.
posted by memebake at 10:39 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Gone now.
posted by vanar sena at 10:40 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


In a talk at the Oxford University Society of Bibliophiles held on May 12, 2009, Serafini has stated that there is no meaning hidden behind the script of the Codex, which is asemic; that his own experience in writing it was closely similar to automatic writing;

Oh ho, he finally came out about it! I missed that. Well hell, that removes a smidge of the mystery...
posted by FatherDagon at 11:20 AM on November 7, 2011


I love this thing. It seems like more than a book, somehow - it rests in a black case like some sort of relic, and the paper is thick as whipped cream. The formatting is off, the words don't make sense, the images are provocations, but it seems like a document from another world, rather than an artsy indulgence....
I bought i copy after having my mind blown by Philippe Decouflé's Tricodex, which lingers in my imagination as one of the most lyrical and inexplicable dance/theater pieces I've ever seen.
posted by jcrcarter at 12:03 PM on November 7, 2011


This was the first I heard of this book and it sounds truly fascinating. Just placed an order on Amazon.it and there seemed to be still three books left.
posted by baueri at 12:47 PM on November 7, 2011


Just found this:
The item is not available due to issues with the item's content.
posted by doctornemo at 2:11 PM on November 7, 2011


Aw, I can't get it on inter-library loan.
posted by Pronoiac at 3:08 PM on November 7, 2011


moonmilk Sometime in the early 90s, there was a big stack of Codexes (Codices?) at Cody's Books in Berkeley, remaindered for $30. I didn't buy the whole stack, and that's why I'm not a wealthy Mogul Seraphinianus today.

If they had remainder marks don't feel too bad about it, though I hear you owning a stack would be nice.
posted by mlis at 7:17 PM on November 7, 2011


I wonder how many additional Rizzoli editions have been sold in the last 12 hours (when this story at least started making the rounds), and if scarcity will drive it back up to 400+ by tomorrow?
posted by porpoise at 8:09 PM on November 7, 2011


Not that Rizzoli (?) will necessarily make more money, unless they sold directly, or if this new demand encourages them to make additional runs...
posted by porpoise at 8:10 PM on November 7, 2011


Dag, where the heck am I going to find 7,500 disposable dollars to spend on a first edition?
posted by TheCoug at 8:44 PM on November 7, 2011


Sometime in the early 90s, there was a big stack of Codexes (Codices?) at Cody's Books in Berkeley, remaindered for $30

If it isn't "Codexen" it should be.

I think they unearthed another batch in the late 90s. IIRC, I paid around $200 for my copy. The guy manning the phone was pissed because he was getting about 10x the normal volume of calls. I think they started upping the price when they got a call from Japan and they realized that they were dealing with something special.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:18 PM on November 7, 2011


I recognise the first part of the Decodex as Franco Maria Ricci's letter from the publisher to the reader which was included (in Italian, and with translations in English, and, I think, in French and Spanish) as a 'foglio volante' (loose leaf) in the first volume of the first edition of the book. Ricci advised the book's owner to rip up the letter, lest its mundanity contaminate the work's strangeness. Foolishly I did exactly that: given this action's likely effect on the book's resale value, I may as well have torn up a couple of banknotes!
posted by misteraitch at 4:43 AM on November 8, 2011


I WILL PAY YOUR TWENTY DOLLARS FOR YOUR CLEARLY RUINED USELESS COPY THIRTY DOLLARS COME ON FORTY DOLLARS
posted by griphus at 6:43 AM on November 8, 2011


GRIPHUS ONCE I RECEIVE THE USELESS COPY THAT IS BAD AND RUINED I WILL FAX YOU A COPY WHICH IS THE SAME THING
posted by shakespeherian at 6:55 AM on November 8, 2011


The single link in the FPP no longer works, apparently because of copyright issues.
posted by aught at 7:33 AM on November 8, 2011


for those of you with the buying power, the Pulcinellopedia, one of Serafini's two other books, is also pretty amazing. Where the Codex is deluxe and indulgent, the Pulcinellopedia is sparse and restrained - it is a series of scenes with Pulcinella all done in black and white pencil sketches with very limited color. But so surreal still, and so beautiful.

A major part of my thesis was about the Codex, identifying what about it made it so intriguing, so numinous. I met Serafini last summer on a trip to Rome. He proved quite difficult to get a hold of, but when I actually got to his apartment/studio, and got to talk to him in person, he was quiet and understated - it was hard to believe that he'd created that lush world full of pomp, especially because his apartment reflected the book so perfectly. He was so surprised that people all over America had or wanted his book. It was pretty lovely to see.
posted by taltalim at 10:25 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, the whole "Signs of Man" series described in that Believer article looks incredible.
posted by speicus at 11:06 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Aha! Italo Calvino's introduction to the original edition of the Codex.
posted by speicus at 11:15 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


OK, now that I'm looking at the scanned book (thanks metafilter member!), the intro really does not do it justice (though I love how stoked Calvino clearly is about it). The art reminds me of Jim Woodring, while the world-building reminds me of Ben Marcus.
posted by speicus at 11:39 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


What's weird is that there's enough similarities between Woodring and Serafini to suspect an influence one way or the other, but the Codex is from 1981 and Woodring started publishing his underground comics in 1980 (so it's unlikely his influence would spread overseas in that short time).

Makes me wonder if they have a common ancestor, or if it's just one of those funky instances where two people just happen to stumble into the same territory around the same time.
posted by speicus at 12:03 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I own this book, and love the hell out of it. My wife hates it because she doesn't understand it. :P
posted by Vamier at 2:38 PM on November 8, 2011


[folks, maybe don't use this space to swap files that have been removed from the main link. Sorry this happened, but that probably shouldn't go on here.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:46 PM on November 12, 2011


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