What could possibly be that rare? A comment about the Codex Seraphinianus by the man himself, Luigi Serafini, that’s what. Serafini scholars (all two of them) generally consider Serafini to be a reticent man, content to put his work out into the world and let people form their own conclusions about it. (See, for example, Justin Taylor’s Codex article in which Serafini coquettishly dodges Taylor’s request to interview him.) However, in some sort of life-imitating-cliché, I finally managed to unearth a real, actual, written (well, translated, most likely) quotation by Serafini about the Codex only after I had stopped looking. (And yes, I plan to blab on about it at length before transcribing the quotation itself, which is actually pretty short.)
The funny part is that I found this rare gem in a book that’s not rare at all. In fact, I picked it up on Amazon Marketplace for $6, and although there are less copies of this particular book available online than the Codex itself, it doesn’t seem like a terribly difficult book to find. The book is called New Italian Design (edited by Nally Bellati, whoever that is), and it’s an anthology of Italian designers, tucked amongst which you’ll find Serafini. I bought the book mainly because it was so cheap, and I’ve been feeling lately (rightly, as it turns out) that if I simply hoard everything that has anything to do with the man, I’m bound to find some interesting stuff.
Of course, the Serafini-related content of the book is fantastic (including a jug shaped like his “King Botto” character, who is most prominently featured in the new introduction to the Codex, a two-headed horse teapot, headless goblin wine bottles, and one of the most uncomfortable-looking chairs I’ve ever seen). Worth the $6 I paid for the book for sure.
What I didn’t expect to find, however, was the two-page introduction/bio. The bio treats Serafini mostly as a designer (although it concludes, “For Serafini is first and foremost a poet and a thinker who not only mediates between the world of dreams and that of reality but also manages to blur the division between the two”), and my amateur detective theory is that, since the audience for this book probably had never heard of the Codex, Serafini didn’t see too much harm in going on the record about it a little bit. In other words, here, Serafini isn’t the “Codex guy” that most people know him as- although the few pages devoted to him are the high point of my reading this book, the book certainly doesn’t make a point of elevating him above any of the other 40 or so designers it features. Having written the Codex is merely a feather in his cap, an additional credential that bolsters his status as a visionary designer. Taking this line of reasoning a little further, this book showcases Serafini’s commercial pursuits- many of his designs are manufactured, rather than composed solely by him (although there are some prototypes present). It therefore stands to reason that, while he might playfully turn away an interested Codex scholar like Justin Taylor, he doesn’t mind waxing eloquent about the Codex when it can make him seem like a desirable asset for a manufacturer looking for striking new designs.
So, on to the main event: so far, this is the only published comment I’ve seen Serafini make about the Codex. I don’t doubt that there is vastly more available in Italian newspapers and magazines (not to mention design books, etc.), although this is all I or anyone I know who has researched the Codex has found in English. And it’s here and only here on this here muthafuckin blog. Enjoy!
On the Codex:
“I’d call it a dream in writing,” he explains with a whimsical smile, “an image of something that has been deformed, and yet is nevertheless recognizable. The writing itself is vaguely reminiscent of Arabic script, although it is entirely the fruit of my imagination. And the strange thing is that it sort of looks realistic, intelligible. In fact a few people have actually studied it in some detail, and have discovered that there are certain shapes, certain signs that are recurrent and that give the impression of real words and a kind of syntax [my emphasis, meant to convey the “holy shit” I emitted when I read this part].”
On his work in general:
“My work really derives from a sort of vision that there and then seems to be completely autonomous. It’s usually only sometime later that I begin to realize that certain memories and recollections spurred that vision into being. On occasions, these images may also act as antennae for something that’s in the air. When this happens they’re more like visions of things still to come.”
On leaving Rome to travel to the US in the 70’s:
“At the outset, I was knocked out by the whole experience. That leap from the seventeenth century to the year 2000 was almost more than I could cope with. I knew no one there, and I just started traveling, almost obsessively, all over the place. And when I did get back to Rome, I couldn’t sit still. I set off again, for the MIddle East, as far as Babylon. And then for equatorial Africa, where I was mistaken for a spy and flung into jail for several days. All these experiences were bound to find their way into my work sooner or later.”
On his “current” projects (ca. 1990):
“At present I must confess that I’m not very pleased with how I divide my time between my various activities. I tend to get asked to do things and am unable to say no. So then I find myself involved, but not with much enthusiasm. I hope to get myself a bit better organized in the future. [These] are the years of my maturity, I suppose you’d call them. I’m aware of a certain fullness, like in the mid-afternoon when all colors seem particularly intense and nature exhibits a richness that is only visible before the first breeze of evening.”