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Bizarre Rainbows: CODEX SERAPHINIANUS

Here’s a bizzare art book with strange creatures and illegible writing.

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The book itself costs $400 (or $100 if you order from Europe). Seems like more of a novelty book than anything substantive. Douglas Hoftstader comments:

Many of the pictures are grotesque and disturbing, but others are extremely beautiful and visionary. The inventiveness that it took to come up with all these conceptions of a hypothetical land is staggering.

Some people with whom I have shared this book find it frightening or disturbing in some way. It seems to them to glorify entropy, chaos, and incomprehensibility. There is very little to fasten onto; everything shifts, shimmers, slips. Yet the book has a kind of unearthly beauty and logic to it, qualities pleasing to a different class of people: people who are more at ease with free-wheeling fantasy and, in some sense, craziness. I see some parallels between musical composition and this kind of invention. Both are abstract, both create a mood, both rely largely on style to convey content.

For another novelty book that is substantially cheaper, I recommend How to Create a  Flawless Universe in just eight days. Every person I show the book to finds it amazing, and I do too. (Here’s the Teleread piece I did about novelty books and How to Create a Flawless Universe). The print copy is available for less than a dollar.

From the wikipedia article on the Codex, two other interesting links: Ummo, an extraterrestrial hoax and Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, a Borges story I thought I had read but turns out not to have done.

From a great thread on obscure novels, some great Eastern European finds: Frigyes Karinthy fiction and Hungarian short stories.  Keep in mind by the way that I blog on Teleread about literary matters (the RSS feed is on the right side of the page).

Save the Short Story, a literary blog discussing shorter literary forms.  Run by Pei-Ling Lue, a literary editor. Interesting that such a generic subject for a blog can be so interesting and relevant.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Jim Thompson 5/3/2008, 10:12 pm

    Holy crap, it’s been years since I heard or thought about the Codex Seraphinianus. I tried to find a copy years, ago, after reading about it in one of Hodfstadter’s books, but couldn’t find it.

  • Stephane Meer of FreeAudioBooks 7/13/2009, 8:51 pm

    I like how Mr. Douglas Hoftstader relate it to musical compositions. I’m a musician myself, so I can envision what he’s trying to describe. Great post, thanks for sharing!

  • Grif Torres 2/28/2013, 6:11 pm

    I bought the Codex somewhere around 1982 or 1983 from a bookstore that sold lots of remaindered books, for about fifteen dollars. I love it in all it’s surrealism. It’s right up my alley. I got it about the same time I discovered the music of Robyn Hitchcock, and I think Robyn’s songs and this book go together really well. I’m really surprised that It’s so “valuable” these days. People I showed it to at the time mostly looked at it as something like an overpriced, overproduced “Zap Comix”-type of thing. Interestingly, I see certain paralells with some of the art of Rick Griffin (Griffin used indecipherable alphabets in some of his posters and comics, too), Victor Moscoso, and maybe Robert Williams, though Serafini’s drawing style is quite different, of course.

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