Thursday 22 March 2007

"One of those close English friendships that begin by excluding confidences and very soon dispense with dialogue."

Somebody has put the whole Codex Seraphinianus on Flickr (some 350 pages). (Thanks for the heads-up to drjon in the comments yesterday for my March 12 post)
Codex Seraphinianus, by Luigi Serafini - 1983, US edition. Not that it matters what edition it is as the whole book is written in an alien script of the author's invention. It's an imaginary encyclopedia. As usual with this sort of thing, I arrive to find John Coulthart is there before me:
"The Codex Seraphinianus is unique in placing its invented world centre stage and, even more uniquely, purporting to be a product of that world itself. Its creation seems the inevitable result of a trend of fantasy writing that delights in invention purely for its own sake, particularly invention that goes to great lengths to seem authentic or authoritative, academic even. The great precursor here is Borges’ short story ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ which relates the invention of a Britannica-style encyclopedia describing with the greatest detail and authority a completely fictional world. Typically for Borges (as for Harrison), the story is also a commentary upon this kind of invention, as well as the effect it can have on our “real” world—for Borges and Harrison reality is more mutable than people like to think. Luigi Serafini takes the whole game a very difficult step further, by creating a complete work which describes his own fictional world in detail, with numerous colour illustrations and the whole written in a completely invented language and alphabet."

This guy's telling you how to get a print copy.

Codex Seraphinianus, Hallucinatory Encyclopedia, an essay on the work by Peter Schwenger.

More, with some other works by the artist.

The story by Borges, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius referred to by John above can be read in English here.
"Some limited and waning memory of Herbert Ashe, an engineer of the southern railways, persists in the hotel at Adrogue, amongst the effusive honeysuckles and in the illusory depths of the mirrors. In his lifetime, he suffered from unreality, as do so many Englishmen; once dead, he is not even the ghost he was then. He was tall and listless and his tired rectangular beard had once been red."
I like Borges' take on the British.
"He and my father had entered into one of those close (the adjective is excessive) English friendships that begin by excluding confidences and very soon dispense with dialog."

anyway, the meat of the matter:
"Now I held in my hands a vast methodical fragment of an unknown planet's entire history, with its architecture and its playing cards, with the dread of its mythologies and the murmur of its languages, with its emperors and its seas, with its minerals and its birds and its fish, with its algebra and its fire, with its theological and metaphysical controversy. And all of it articulated, coherent, with no visible doctrinal intent or tone of parody."

and our favourite subject here at campbell blogspot:
"In literary practices the idea of a single subject is also all-powerful. It is uncommon for books to be signed. The concept of plagiarism does not exist: it has been established that all works are the creation of one author, who is atemporal and anonymous. The critics often invent authors: they select two dissimilar works - the Tao Te Ching and the 1001 Nights, say - attribute them to the same writer and then determine most scrupulously the psychology of this interesting homme de lettres..."

Michael Evans links me to this piece by Rick Poynor about the various covers over the years on the front of J G Ballard's novel, Crash
Collapsing Bulkheads: The Covers of Crash Mon 12 Mar 2007
"J. G. BALLARD’S Crash tests the limits of the reader’s taste and sympathies in the most profound ways and it has always provoked strong reactions – positive and negative. British novelist Will Self has said, ‘I only have to look at a few paragraphs of Crash to feel I am in the presence of an extreme mind, a mind at the limits of dark imagination.’ He meant this as a commendation. Even Ballard sometimes seemed ambivalent. ‘How many people are there who’d want to read a book like Crash?’ he once asked. ‘Not many.’"

sure enough, there's John Coulthart in the comments

I just noticed it was Poynor, mentioned more than once in my archives, who started EYE magazine. I noticed it in his biog at The Design Observer site, where I went to read a review by Dan Nadel, the fellow who put together the Art Out of Time book last year. I liked the book, but as for this review of his, I'm starting to think Nadel may be what we call in our house a 'surface dweller'. He knows a lot of names but doesn't leave me with any feeling of increased wisdom.

Apropos of my talking about The state of reading awhile back: 20 March: Schools refuse gifts of 'boring' classics
"Dozens of schools have rejected gifts of free classic books because today's pupils find them too 'difficult' to read, it has emerged.
Around 50 schools have refused to stock literary works by the likes of Jane Austen, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens after admitting that youngsters also find them boring.
The worrying figures were released by the Millennium Library Trust, which donates sets of up to 300 books to schools across the country.
David Campbell, who runs the Trust, also revealed that a further 50 schools had sent back the gifts."

I don't know what to say. Let them eat comics

Finally, on the subject of cake, and relevant to yesterday's post, Jim Burrows has an illustrated history of the pin-up. What I like most about his site is that at the bottom of his opening page he has negotiated an ad with "our gourmet cheesekakes are made entirely by hand, from scratch, and fresh to order. Discover for yourselves why food critics call ours 'The world's most indulgent cheesecake' "



Blogger James Robert Smith said...

I discovered JG Ballard when I was sent a review copy of an sf novel he wrote in the early 60s (about the Earth overheating and all the ice caps melting). It was very damned good, so I went a-searchng for more of his work. Then I read COCAINE NIGHTS and CRASH and was completely disappointed. I am cured of searching out JG Ballard work.

22 March 2007 at 05:41:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yike, it's a small world... That very same Rick Poyner left a comment on my epic Barney Bubbles posting and also linked it at Design Observer which gained it much fascinating comment from people who knew and worked with BB.

Regarding Ballard, if you like The Drowned World, I'd recommend his early short stories, especially Vermilion Sands and The Terminal Beach collections.

22 March 2007 at 06:53:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was glad to see the CODEX online, it's a favorite book of mine.

22 March 2007 at 12:19:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Aaron White said...

The codex looks at a glance a bit like the Voynich Manuscript:

22 March 2007 at 13:06:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Stephen said...

This is genuinely awesome. As I mentioned on my own blog, I have often read about the Codex, but until now had seen only random sample pages. (And I'm getting the sense that it works very much as a sequence, not simply a book to see random images/pages out of.)

Two questions, of very different sorts.

First, is there some technical reason that the book costs so gorram much? I mean, I know that big, full-color art books are expensive, but even by those standards the $250 price tag seems high. Is this just a supply-and-too-little-demand issue, or is there some reason that one couldn't put out a book like this for, say, $75 (to quote the price of the recent, long, full-color Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie book just as an example)?

Second, am I the only one who kept thinking of Jim Woodring? It seems to me very much the same aesthetic -- though I have to say -- much as I enjoyed The Frank Book -- that the Codex is operating at levels far beyond what I've seen Woodring do within that aesthetic. (Don't hurt me.)

Thanks again for the link, this is wonderful. Everyone should go look before the copyright police shut it down.

22 March 2007 at 15:08:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe the original book was a quality publication from Ricci and it's these--and maybe the first American printing--that command high prices among collectors.

Colour is expensive whatever you're printing for the simple reason that four plates have to be made for each page, rather than one. And the paper stock is often higher quality, especially with an art book. Companies like Taschen print large volumes (which reduces cost somewhat) with multi-language text that they can then sell all over the EU. But for smaller publishers with small print runs, colour is a very expensive option.

As far as the influences go, I think it's fair to say that the Voynich MS was most likely the original inspiration. Then (for me) it most closely resembles European fantasy works like those one sees from Roland Topor and various bande desinée artists rather than people like Jim Woodring. Not that there isn't an American influence in there somewhere but it is very "European" in tone and content.

Mister Aitch over at the essential (for this kind of esoterica) Giornale Nuovo has a great post about his quest for the Codex:

22 March 2007 at 20:23:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Sean Michael Wilson said...

I am glad that our Borges has become a 'regular guest' on this blog. Thank you Eddie and John for introducing me to the Codex Seraphinianus and its connection to the story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.

So, Eddie, does this mean you have begun reading through Borges now?

in that case you amy have seen that, as well as his various comments on the English, Borges is more than prone to throw in a Scottish person, real or imaginary. Several of his stories mention people like David Hume or Stevenson, and of course one whole collection is called BRODIE'S REPORT (1970). The story of that same name is written supposedly in Glasgow and has such lines as: " is curious then that men may look indefinitely into the past but not an instant into the future..." then later: " Philosophcally speaking, memory is no less marvelous than prophesying the future; tommorow is closer to us than the crossing of the Red Sea by the Jews, which, nonetheless, we remember."

(By the way, thanks for viewing my blog and saying a nice thing about my comics,Eddie. It was very nice to read that.)

23 March 2007 at 02:02:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Borges was something of a Caledonophile or whatever the term is. He always rated Robert Louis Stevenson as one of his favourite writers and may have lifted the name Brodie from the infamous Deacon Brodie who haunted Stevenson's childhood imagination.

Eddie would be amused by the funny and informative 1967 interview Borges gave to The Paris Review during which (as I recall) an assistant informs him that a party of Scots are waiting to see him so he keeps exclaiming "The Campbells are coming! The Campbells are coming!"

23 March 2007 at 09:15:00 GMT-5  
Blogger drjon said...

Just to continue the trend, here's something completely different: Top 15 Unintentionally Funny Comic Book Panels, including the legendary Captain America "wank".

I've seen most of these spotlighted before, but it's certainly worth a revisit...

23 March 2007 at 11:49:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Ms Baroque said...

Hi Eddie,

I've just discovered your fabulous blog - don't even ask me now, I forget already, but I will be back. I left a comment the other day but of course it was on a post so far down...!! See, I wandered in so far I didn't realise I couldn't see the road. I've marked the spot now.

All best

24 March 2007 at 02:32:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Ms Baroque said...

Of course I mean don't ask me how.

I also see I am on a post several posts down! God. One day I'll climb back to the top!

24 March 2007 at 02:36:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Ms baroque
I did catch your remark about Chekhov earlier. But as you can see, i'm putting a lot of energy into posting daily so I only get a chance to cast a backward glance once or twice a week.
thanks for bookmarking

John, Sean
yes you've got me on a Borges kick...
we'll see where it leads.

John answered Stephen

drjon changed the subject

I checked the Voynich. Curiouser and curiouser.

Mikel, Hemlockman,
always glad you stopped by


24 March 2007 at 02:59:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Sean Michael Wilson said...

How about Kafka's contemporary, the lesser known writer Robert Walser? Surely an influence on Borges (though i am not sure if Borges mentions him anywhere).

Anyone taken by HIS writings?

25 March 2007 at 10:17:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

I haven't read Walser. I'll keep an eye open. On the other hand, I expect we'll find that Coulthart has already written a disertation on him.


26 March 2007 at 02:10:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Sean Michael Wilson said...

Well John C - have you written a dissertation on Robert Walser?

If so, lets see it, sonny Jim!

Eddie - crudely speaking his writing is like Kafka's early and more whimsical short stories, but perhaps easier to read. There is more vigourous 'health' and positive attitude in them. Though like Kafka and Borges, they are all short, sometimes only a page or two.

My book by him 'Masquerade and other short stories' ( stuff from 1896 -1933) says something about him that might imediately win you over: "...the experimental and innovative nature of his writing cost him the favour of the more conformist reading public of his day."

Ah, that plague of creativity, the 'conformist reading public' (known as CRP from now on) - they have a lot to answer for!


26 March 2007 at 23:13:00 GMT-5  

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