July 16th, 2009 / 7:54 am

The Codex, the Hurders, and me: a new book, an old book, and two years of intermittent emailing

If I had to pick the single piece of my own writing that has generated the most reader responses, I would without hesitation name “The Codex Seraphinianus: A Fragment of the Complete History of an Unknown Planet,” an essay about Luigi Serafini’s hallucinatory faux-encyclopedia which The Believer published in May, 2007. (Aside: I’m hoping to meet or beat this record with “A Figure in the Distance Even to My Own Eye,” my new essay in the current issue of The Believer.) Two years out, the Codex essay continues to bring me new and interesting correspondence, to the tune of at least a letter or two per month. People write to say they enjoyed the piece, to thank me for turning them onto the Codex, or to share their own stories about when they first discovered it, or what they think it all means. Sometimes they want to know if the text has been “deciphered” yet, or if I personally think it can be deciphered at all. Often, they just want to know if I can send them the full text of Calvino’s introduction (it isn’t available in English, so I commissioned a translation from the French version, but it was only briefly quoted in the essay). Anyway, today I’m thrilled to share with you all news of a new Codex-related publication: Confronting and Collecting the Works of Luigi Serafini, available as a severely-limited edition (100 copies!) chapbook by Jordan and Justine Hurder.

When I first met Justine, in December of 2007, she was going by the last name of “Rubyred,” (never did find out if that was real or a nom de net). She told me she was in school in New Zealand, and working on a paper about the Codex. She wondered if I could send her the Calvino text (I did, as I always do). But the nice thing Justine did was, instead of just asking for something, offered something up as well. She sent me several photos she’d take of another Serafini work, The Pulcinellopedia Picolla, along with some doc files containing translations her boyfriend had made of various Italian phrases found throughout the book.  I had heard of the PP, but never seen it, so this was a very fine treat. The PPedia is a kind of sketchbook, at least that’s the way I interpreted what she sent me- black drawings isolated on large white pages. At least one of the images she sent recurs in much more detailed form in the Codex, suggesting that the PPedia was–at least in some measure–a sort of scratchpad for Serafini while he worked out ideas for his major book project. Justine and I corresponded a bit, and I wished her luck on her paper.

About four months later–in April ’08–I heard from Jordan, the boyfriend. He wanted to let me know that he had just completed an article of his own on Serafini, which he had published on his blog. It was called “The Worlds of Luigi Serafini,” and it combined personal narrative with a very thorough and informative look at both the Codex and the PPedia, all from the perspective–his–of an amateur book collector. (He also said some nice things about my essay in his essay, which didn’t hurt.)  Anyway, I was very excited to read his article, and weirdly enough, at the time he contacted me I happened to be working on a new Codex piece of my own– a very very short “lost books” sort of deal for Paste magazine. But I thought Jordan’s essay brought something new and valuable to the Serafinian table, so I included a shout-out to it in my piece, which, if memory serves, ran in November 2008 (though I’m having trouble right now figuring out if it ever actually ran, because it had been held back a few times, and now I can’t find it in my archives–but that’s a whole other story).

I heard from Justine again on June 18 of this year. She was writing to tell me that she and Jordan–who are now married, and living together in the US–have started their own small press, Chance Press, whose second book (after a Bukowski tribute anthology) is a revised and expanded version of Jordan’s “Worlds of” essay, now entitled Confronting and Collecting the Works of Luigi Serafini.

The essay touches on all of Serafini’s major book works, including the publishing history of the Codex, although at it’s base, it is about how a chance encounter with a rare book can snowball into a veritable obsession with the gifted mind of an author or artist.  This book will interest anyone familiar with Serafini and his work, as well as those who appreciate the hobby of book collecting in general.

Being book wonks themselves, it doesn’t surprise me that they went all out on process, printing the book trimultaneously in a “regular” first edition of 50, an already-sold-out “deluxe” edition of 10, and a “trade” edition of 40.  At $5 bucks (plus $2 for shipping) the trade edition is the cheapest way to go, but I’ve got my eye on that deluxe edition, which they describe thusly-

The deluxe edition features textured wrappers with a Gocco-printed pastedown (printed on Rives BFK), rounded corners, and each copy contains a hand-sewn mini chapbook with additional material attached inside the rear cover with a ribbon.  (Each mini chapbook is unique, with a different type of fancy paper cover and a some snappy sewing by Justine.)  Deluxe copies also have a color photograph of the Codex Seraphinianus tipped inside the front cover, and each copy is signed by the author.

The Chance Press Headquarters, presumably also Living Quarters

I really can’t begin to describe how happy it makes me that people like Justine and Jordan exist. And not just people like them, but the two of them in particular. They just seem incredibly rad, wise, and kind. And it’s great to know that there’s a lot more coming from Chance Press. Just check out their Published & Forthcoming page.

This story is nothing if not one of the digital age, and yet all the parties involve remain signally interested in physical culture in the form of book-making and collecting and reading. I love that part of it. I feel like this entire saga makes clear what’s best about the internet–how much potential it has to connect people to one another (interesting footnote: J&J first met on a Bukowski fan site, and presumably the web was integral to their staying close during the longest-distance-imaginable courtship between the US & NZ). Also, it’s demonstrative of the way in which print and digital cultures can (and in fact *do*) co-exist, each to the benefit of the other.  So let’s all raise a belated glass to the newly(ish)weds and their brand new baby press. If anyone’s wondering where they’re registered, it’s PayPal. You should send them a gift, and let them send you one back.


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