Codex Seraphinianus, originally published in 1981, is an illustrated encyclopaedia of an imaginary world, created by the Italian artist, architect, and industrial designer Luigi Serafini during thirty months, from 1976 to 1978. The book is approximately 360 pages long (depending on edition), and written in a cipher alphabet in an imaginary language. Yes this book is exactly what we wrote it is about. This bizarre book is one of the weirdest books ever published and for good reason too!
The book contains kooky hand drawn illustrations of fantastical flora, fauna, anatomies, fashions and foods.
The illustrations are often surreal parodies of things in the real world: bleeding fruit; a plant that grows into roughly the shape of a chair and is subsequently made into one; a lovemaking couple that metamorphoses into an alligator; etc. Others depict odd, apparently senseless machines, often with a delicate appearance, kept together by tiny filaments. There are also illustrations readily recognizable as maps or human faces. On the other hand, especially in the “physics” chapter, many images look almost completely abstract. Practically all figures are brightly coloured and rich in detail. The writing system of the book boorishly put is simply a fake writing system. It has defied complete analysis by linguists for decades. The book is divided into 2 sections. The first contains descriptions about the natural world; the second deals with humanities and the various aspects of human life. It has been subdivided into 11 more chapters. There are a few lines of text written in French on two plates in the sixth chapter. It is a quote from Marcel Proust’s “A la recherche du temps perdu: Albertine disparue” (In Search of Lost Time: Albertine Gone). The words scattered on the floor of the picture are from the same book.
The book flirts with the boundary of surrealism and fantasy. It’s amusing to note that the book has been given a literary status of “a book of fact”. The book has received a lot of mixed reviews, while some called it grotesque and disturbing; some noted it to be beautiful and visionary. The book is well on its way to glorify entropy, chaos and incomprehensibility. According to Italo Calvino, the skeleton is “the only nucleus of reality which endures in the same way in this world full of interchangeable shapes”. For this ironic and involving variability, the Codex Seraphinianus keeps in touch with the psychic area and establish an attempt of “contradictory world’s cataloguing of halfway shapes”.
Here’s part one of a symphony devoted to the Codex Seraphinianus, with great images of the early part of the book: