Codex and the Maze: Labyrinthus Seraphinianus
â By Jose-Luis Moctezuma | September 10, 2010
Borgesâ parable, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” posits the existence of an anomalous conflation: a labyrinth which is also a book, and a book which turns out to be a labyrinth; âa labyrinth of symbols… an invisible labyrinth of time.â Within the complex layering of a compact narrative, Borges briefly limns the (fictional?) life of an ancient Chinese scholar named Tsâui PĂȘn who retired from public life to construct a labyrinth and write a book — ââEvery one imagined two works; to no one did it occur that the book and the maze were one and the same thing.ââ Italian publisher extraordinaire, Franco Maria Ricci, has accomplished the nearest possible thing, except in separate phases: he financed the publication of the Codex Seraphinianus, an encyclopedia written in an indecipherable language that describes a bizarre alternate world; and, six years after retiring from publishing duties, Ricci focused his resources on constructing a real-life labyrinth, a seven-hectare bamboo hedge maze that is also the largest in the world.
Justin Taylor — whose 2007 Believer feature article is a good introduction to the curious existence of the Codex — compares his discovery of the book to the events in Borgesâ eternally anthologized story, âTlĂ¶n, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.â Taylorâs encounter with the Codex in a college class leads him on a bibliographic detective search for the bookâs origins — not to mention failed attempts to prod Serafini for answers — in similar fashion to the narratorâs discovery of an obscure encyclopedia article describing the existence of an imaginary planet named TlĂ¶n.
Franco Maria Ricciâs labyrinth, located in Fontanellato near Parma (where he was born), covers 17.5 acres, making it the largest permanent hedge maze in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records. (Second, in case youâre wondering, is the Pineapple Garden Maze in Hawaii.) The maze is due to open to the public in 2012 after a visitorsâ center is completed. The question remaining is whether itâll be easier to navigate the Fontanellato maze or unravel the language at the heart of the Codex Seraphinianus. If the maze ends up being no different from the book, it is because (as Calvino describes it in his introduction) they share âin the contiguity and permeability of all the domains of being.â