One day in July I found my way back to one of the very first web-sites I can recall ever having visited, François Almaleh’s. Amongst the things there that caught my eye were some scans from a book called The Flight into Egypt by Timothy C. Ely, an American book-artist. A quick check at Abebooks revealed that this volume was readily and quite cheaply available: I ordered a copy from Spoonbill & Sugartown in Brooklyn, which arrived here a few days ago.
Ely makes books: beautiful, hand-made, one-of-a-kind books full of intricate diagrams, drawings and maps, accompanied by an indecipherable script of his own devising. He draws much of his inspiration from such esoterica as UFOs, alchemy and sacred geometry. Besides his unique productions, Ely has collaborated with the late ethnopharmacologist and psychonaut Terence McKenna on a limited-edition book called Synesthesia. As far as I know, The Flight into Egypt is the only one of Ely’s works to have been multiplied into a normal, trade edition: it was published by Chronicle Books in 1995.
In his foreword to the Chronicle edition, McKenna provides a memorable account of his encounter with the original manuscript:
I had never experienced the actual presence of the original Flight into Egypt until that moment, when alone, in good light and suitably activated by the lighter esters of delta six tetra-hydrocannibinol, I removed brass screws from a heavily insured wooden packing crate, lifted away the top, and gazed upon the work. Reality outran apprehension at last, and the thing lay before me.
Inside […] lay the book itself: a most unlikely object. The binding was a symbol-studded, finely worked leather of many colors and textures. The binding style seemed more sixteenth-century than modern. I could not help but notice the colored threads at the base of the spine, their placement obedient to some logic I could not discern. In the act of opening the book, my anticipation of otherness bordered on the Borgesian.
And there it was, the open tome […] part book, part journey, part secret doctrine, part jewel. The heavy pages must be turned carefully; the aura of magical craft is inescapable. The impression is of cartography, landforms and mindscapes. [...] There is text, but little is recognizable. Most is glyptoglossia, the rare written equivalent of spoken glossolalia...
In his introduction, Ely reveals that his primary inspiration for the book came from a notebook of his grandfather’s that contained a fragmentary record of the latter’s trip to Egypt: ‘Between the two world wars, for some sixteen weeks, my grandfather had journeyed on a solo mission of undetermined logic to a land difficult to reach’. Puzzlingly, Ely writes, the notebook gave neither the exact year when the trip was made, nor its purpose. Over this background, Ely has superimposed his own perceptions of ancient Egypt, fused with his experiences as a book-maker: several of the book’s illustrations depict the book’s own creation as a physical object. The result is a rather impenetrable, yet richly resonant work: ‘I wanted to create a manual, a device which, like a mandala, would impart or reveal certain knowledge if meditated upon,’ Ely adds.
Regarding the invented script, McKenna’s glyptoglossia, Ely has the following to say:
The “language” in my books comes from a peculiar situation that feels like a hybrid of automatic writing, automatic drawing, automatic marking. I can’t say that I’m tranecstatic when it’s happening. I do feel that when I am drawing it, making it, that the marks themselves correspond to the ideas that I am currently dazzled with.
Click on the images to see them enlarged. Note that the book’s pages are larger than A4 size, and all but the first of these images offer incomplete views of the contents of a given page. If I’d given it a little more thought, I would have scanned pages not already shown on M. Alamleh’s site: oh well. The images are Copyright © Timothy C. Ely, and are reproduced without permission, only for as long as no-one objects to their presence here.Posted by misteraitch at September 2, 2004 11:48 AM | TrackBack