[NetBehaviour] G-E-B-C

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Fri May 1 23:02:28 CEST 2020

Hi all,

Some "notes" written earlier today.  A tiny micro-melody for the weekend.  🙂

All best,



I have two hypotheses interesting me most lately: one is that Six Memos' final unfinished chapter, titled "Consistency," is a reference by Calvino to chapter 4 of Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach (which is titled "Consistency, Completeness, and Geometry").  I contacted Hofstadter at Indiana University and he replied that he is not aware of this reference, and has not read the Six Memos, but I think it is clearly and undeniably a direct reference.  Chapter 4 of GEB focuses on Bach's "The Art of the Fugue," of which the last section was unfinished at the time of his death (just as the sixth memo was unfinished at the time of Calvino's death).  I believe that publishing this hypothesis .... could be a "big step forward" in both Calvino scholarship and the study of Hofstadter's GEB.... "on the map" so to speak regarding this type of integrative analysis, since Hofstadter's work also incorporates a lot of math, AI theory, and neuroscience, as well as music and visual art.  Perhaps in a way .... write "Godel, Escher, Bach, Calvino"!

In GEB chapter 4, Hofstadter points out how Bach's "The Art of the Fugue" includes the notes B-A-C-H (H being A, the note after G).  Hofstadter's subtitle for Godel, Escher, Bach is "the Eternal Golden Braid"; which is to say, G-E-B and E-G-B.   I am not a skilled musician at all, but I have written a few songs and played in a couple of garage bands, and when I bought my house it contained an old upright piano which I like to play on occasionally.  I just played the notes G-E-B-C, and they sound pretty good.  🙂

My other current hypothesis is about the Mona Lisa.  I call this the "Bridge-Garment-Experience" hypothesis.  It is an original interpretation, based mainly on my own literary reading of Leonardo's notebooks from a Calvino-like perspective.  I have contacted many Leonardo scholars and Mona Lisa experts who have confirmed that it is new, and I have verified this with quite a bit of internet searching.

The basic idea is that the rivers in the landscape illustrate the long-term processes of nature on geologic time scales (this is very mainstream interpretation).  The bridge represents the appearance of the flow of human art and science in evolutionary history, a new "river" flowing orthogonally to the natural ones (the bridge is almost never mentioned in Leonardo scholarship; I found only one mention, from 2012, just as remarks in passing from a talk described in the Leonardo da Vinci Society newsletter).  This bridge then flows directly into the garment, by way of the hydrological image of the vortex in the sitter's shawl.  This flow "weaves" the fabric of acquired artistic and scientific knowledge, which Leonardo repeatedly likens to academic robes in the Notebooks.  Thus the incredibly real and proprioceptive intersubjectivity we experience immediately and directly with the person of the Mona Lisa, the human, takes pre-eminence over the garment of authoritative, scholastic data and expertise of the past (indeed over technology itself).  The picture, not unlike a map, proposes a value system and we experience this "in the body."  It is a portrait, so to speak of "experience," the term Leonardo uses to describe direct scientific experiment and observation as well as artistic creation and perception.  He wrote that "experience was the mistress of all who wrote well," and that he would "cite her in all cases."  The Mona Lisa is this citation, for all time and in all cases.

Perhaps this hypothesis is a bit bold for someone like me to suggest, not having a PhD in art history.  Perhaps it is not.  Perhaps our models of expertise need to evolve a bit; perhaps not.  There is room for many hypotheses in this world, even some bold ones, and Calvino encouragingly writes in Six Memos that "overambitious projects may be objectionable in many fields, but not in literature" (Six Memos, page 112).  I have great respect now for the Notebooks, in which Leonardo stated that his highest wish was "to serve others," i.e. a profoundly Hippocratic ethos quite essential for today.  To me he was a novelist, one of the first great moderns, not just a painter who liked science too.


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