Imagine giving to six persons a book and asking them to read it aloud for a few guests you have invited. The six (let’s call them the readers) open the book only to realize that yes, they can read it, but they don’t understand a single word. Nothing at all.
It seems like the meaning is gone, maybe it slipped away in the frantic movements of the paper sheets -the readers are panicking as they turn rapidly the pages hoping to make some sense of it all.
It’s too late to give up and it looks like the audience catches perfectly what the readers say
(which it doesn’t, but it would be rude to state differently!).
Steadily and slowly continuing in their performance, the readers get more comfortable with the text, a glimpse of understanding crossing their mind -totally wrong.
As they go on they acquire confidence, growing increasingly bolder and multiplying their efforts in pursuit of significance.
The audience is raptured.
As if by magic, words do begin to make sense, blooming into sentences, flowing like rivers across the public and opening in plains: the plains collide to create mountains and even further the riverbeds become streets in a beautiful city, a city of living tales merging and diverging in shouts and whispers…
The readers make their way to the central plaza where it suddenly dawn on them that the city with its rivers, mountains and plains is nothing but air, the breath coming from their lungs while they were reading. The book itself is just a monument, an effigy built to prove how books (and cities, rivers, plains or mountains) lack any sense.
In fact, the first impression was the very right: although rivers, cities, etcetera, etcetera seemed to exist – nothing but for a short while.
Now, switch this unknown language with Proust’s french to get a grip on how “Le Premier Jour” works.
Created by Serafini in 1976-78, the Codex is an illustrated encyclopedia counting eleven different sections, moving from botany, physics and mechanics to cookery, ethnology and architecture.
Exquisitely crafted drawings, not to mention a preface written by H. M. Italo Calvino, would have been enough to explain the enthusiastic and widespread appreciation of the first edition, but two other features made the Codex well known:
it depicts an insubstantial world inhabited by bleeding fruits and rainbow-weaving machines; it reveals how trees can learn to swim and careless lovers change into crocodiles.
the language filling the 400 pages of the encyclopedia is totally impenetrable: although an alphabet and a few occurrences are clearly distinguishable, any attempt to translate it failed.
In 2009, during a lecture at Oxford University Society of Bibliophiles, Serafini has eventually acknowledged (as expected!) that there is no hidden significance in those symbols.
The author’s intention was to recreate the feeling of a child inspecting a book for the first time or the astonishment of a barbarian entering a library: in both cases the subject can’t wrap his head around what he’s looking at, but he senses that those marks on the paper may have a meaning for someone else.
This idea is of primary importance in my score.
CODING THE CODEX
The Codex loses its opacity twice: there is a French quote halfway in the book, towards the end of a chapter on cultural anthropology. A man with a nib in place of his hand contemplates the sentence he has (probabily?) written. Scattered on the floor lie a few other french words.
The sentence reads
On the following page, the same man can be found skewered to death by a BIC pen. Some shreds of paper at his feet say :
Having found a single intelligible sentence in a 400 pages tome , I felt pushed to dig out its source. Google took me rapidly to this excerpt:
The words scattered on the ground appear later on the very same paragraph.
Serafini intentionally quoted the text and I was under the impression that I had found the key to disclose the Codex.
I subsequently tracked down every single occurrence of these words within “La recherche”.
Orgiaque produced a remarkable result, appearing only three times (excerpt above included).
The first emergence – in “Prisonnière” – is scarcely notable:
The other one – in “Within a budding grove” – is quite astonishing. It states the exact opposite of what has been written a thousand pages before, mantaining nonetheless a similar structure and metaphore.