⟨ Book ⟩

PLETHORA MAGAZINE

Diverse universe

Words / Phaedrus Lam
Photography / Kimio Ng
Translation / Iris Heung

在人類歷史上,知識從來不像你以為的平等,舉凡如血統、階級、性別或職業,都可以造成同群體內的知識落差。而更何況,在印刷術尚未昌明的年代,知識憑藉口述方式流轉,只要是人力無以跨過的山和海,就等同隔絕於主流知識以外,因此在不同聚落之間所理解的世界也迥異不同;好像一種別樣的理解,就等同於一個異世界,而即使說是「不同次元的宇宙」也不為過。

PLETHORA MAGAZINE》是一本來自丹麥哥本哈根的半年刊,每期訂製出不同的主題,遊走在部落風俗、古典科學、神話傳說和另翼文化之間;是一本題材涉獵廣泛、充滿野心的刊物。然而在打開刊物,探索雜誌的編採內容以前,你卻可能會先被它的開本尺寸嚇到。

不宜於大多數閱讀情境,《PLETHORA MAGAZINE》的開本達70×50公分,打開來可以佔滿一整張咖啡桌,翻頁時更要雙手並用,份量感十足。而撇開存心要刁難讀者的潛在理由(我不排除這理由),其煞有介事的大開本,理應是對數位時代閱讀文化的抗逆;並懷著使紙本閱讀一事,重又獲得隆重其事的良好願望。不過,《PLETHORA MAGAZINE》的抗逆又豈止反映在書幀設計上?

以創刊號的題旨「Flatlands」為例,其命名大抵來自於英國小說作家Edwin Abbott Abbott的作品《Flatland》。小說中,Edwin Abbott Abbott虛構出一個平面國,國民都是二維空間的生物,只有線條構成的身體輪廓。在情節推移下,某天一位平面國的國民,遇到分別來自零維度國和三維度國的國民,期間發現大家理解世界的方式截然不同,彼此之間難以溝通,根本是「不同次元」的人。

小說《Flatland》付梓於維多利亞時代,內容除卻暗喻當時社會階級之森嚴,也帶來一種知識論範疇的思辯——對理解世界的落差,造就出不同的世界觀。把這想法套用到現實世界之上,並深入歷史上各個文明的、古老的、科學的、異教的族群,便成為了《PLETHORA MAGAZINE》編採的大方向;而不僅是以「Flatlands」為題的創刊號,就連後續期數也依循著這個路數,探索那些知識或封閉、或匱乏的體系,歷史上眾多的「平面國」。

於是在《PLETHORA MAGAZINE》裡頭,我們一會兒讀到歐洲的異教傳統文化,如何以驚聳駭人的扮裝提升靈性;一會兒讀到古典植物圖鑑中,出現了不曾存在的想像品種;又甚或是潛水科技發展史、建築草圖上的牛頓紀念館、尚比亞共和國未竟的航天夢;種種光怪離奇中仍不失歷史厚度的專題。除此以外,雜誌另一個令人心動的地方,是時而穿插在專題之間,只有蓼蓼幾幅的插畫或照片;乍看以為無關宏旨,實際上卻是用非文字方式,以對應題旨的含蓄回應。這種從內頁編排中所迸發出的聯想力和詩性,自然是紙本專屬的浪漫。

而總歸來說,《PLETHORA MAGAZINE》就是用最謙卑的態度,去審視歷史上不同群族間,頭殻內的怪思異想,以作為對人類這個物種的禮讚。

《PLETHORA MAGAZINE》現正於香港書店Book B公開展覽中,展期從現在到10月10日為止。為迎合雜誌的氛圍調性,書店特意把二樓的展演空間刷成黑色,並備好了六期雜誌、兩張桌椅,讓客人能在舒適環境下閱讀本書。誠然在黑漆漆的空間內,配合小功率的探照燈,會令人有一種欲罷不能的暢讀感;而就著專題彌漫的怪異氣息,甚至會生起翻閱邪典禁書時的亢奮,是一本非常適合在微光下閱讀的刊物。

common room & co.
深水埗大南街198號地下

 


The door to knowledge is never unbiasedly open to everyone, it has always been determined by one’s descent, social class, gender, and occupation. The contrast was particularly apparent during the era before printing became widespread. Back in the days when lore was only communicated orally, physical distance could be an unconquerable hurdle for people to learn about how other tribes interpret the world. Therefore, it is perhaps not exaggerating to suggest people in the old times, when separated by oceans or mountains, comprehended the world so differently as if existing in a universe of a different dimension.

PLETHORA MAGAZINE is a biannual publication founded in Copenhagen. With themes that revolve around tribal traditions, ancient science, mythology and alternative cultures, every issue of PLETHORA MAGAZINE brings to its reader a set of diverse and unconventional content. In fact, it is fair to say the awe-inspiring size of the publication is as impressive as its content.

The magazine measures 70×50 cm when flipped open, in another word, it can easily cover up the entire surface of a coffee table. Before starting to read, it is necessary to first settle at somewhere comfortable and spacious as the magazine is not only big but also heavy. The editorial team’s intention here is too obvious to omit — by reviving the almost-ritual-like experience of sitting properly to read a printed material, it is a bold notion to challenge the current digital age where reading materials have become too easily accessible. But its ambition goes further than this.

Apart from the book design, PLETHORA MAGAZINE also posted another challenge to its reader — its content. “Flatlands”, title of the magazine’s inaugural issue was very likely named after the novella Flatland written by the British author Edwin Abbott Abbott. The novella is set in a two-dimensional world where the people are figures of simple line-segments and polygons. As the story progresses, one of the characters gets acquainted with people from zero-dimensional and three-dimensional worlds. He fails to conceive anything from these people as dwellers in worlds of different dimension have dissimilar mentality.

Flatland is a metaphor to comment on the rigidity of the hierarchy of Victorian culture and to elicit an epistemological discussion about how possession of knowledge can shape different worldviews. The editors of PLETHORA MAGAZINE try to apply this argument to our actual world, including all the civilized, ancient, scientific or pagan tribes that ever existed or exist in the human history. The ideology began with the magazine’s first issue, and continued to guide the publication in exploring the numerous “flatlands” in history and their closed or feeble systems of knowledge circulation.

The topics discussed in PLETHORA MAGAZINE may appear random and peculiar at first glance — for instance, the European pagans’ ritual of wearing bizarre costumes to reach higher spirituality, the illustrations of some imaginary plants in some classic encyclopedia of plants, the development of diving technology, the design sketch of “Cenotaph to Newton”, or Zambia’s forgotten space programme — but they are all significant chapters in human history that should not to be neglected. The articles in the magazine are separated by a couple of illustrations or photos that require a careful look to apprehend them as the editors’ subtle and non-verbal response to the topics discussed. Printed media is the only platform that allows one to express creativity and poetic imagination through typesetting.

Through taking the most humble approach to examine the queer imagination of various tribes, PLETHORA MAGAZINE shares with its readers a sincere praise to mankind.

 

From now until 10 October, the Hong Kong bookstore, Book B, is hosting an exhibition of PLETHORA MAGAZINE. The bookstore has painted the wall of its exhibition room on the second floor in black to adapt to the magazine’s style. Visitors can sit on one of the two chairs in the room to leisurely read the six magazines in display. The minimal yet optimum lighting in the room in fact prompts visitors to crave for reading more; the dimness of light surely gives one a sense of guilty pleasure of sneaking into a room full of occult knowledge.

common room & co.
G/F, 198 Tai Nan Street, Sham Shui Po,  Hong Kong