[NetBehaviour] nota bene

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Sun Jan 30 18:06:55 UTC 2022

Hi - I wonder if looking at Sanskrit might help here? There's a number of 
extremely old texts on both music and dramaturgy that might offer some 
information. This is fascinating -

Thanks, Alan

On Sun, 30 Jan 2022, Max Herman via NetBehaviour wrote:

> Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2022 17:43:46 +0000
> From: Max Herman via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
> To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity
>     <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
> Cc: Max Herman <maxnmherman at hotmail.com>
> Subject: [NetBehaviour] nota bene
> Hi all,
> Trying to learn a bit of Italian here and there to better understand
> Leonardo, I looked up the etymology for "note" yesterday.
> Instant internet facts might not be true but it does appear to go back quite
> clearly to the Latin nota:
> 'c. 1300, "a song, music, melody; instrumental music; a bird-song; a musical
> note of a definite pitch," from Old French note and directly from Latin nota
> "letter, character, note," originally "a mark, sign, means of recognition"'
> -- 
> the above being interesting as always and to many artists and writers of the
> past I think.  The following I did not know, continuing the above sentence:
> -- 'which traditionally has been connected to notus, past participle of
> noscere "to come to know," but de Vaan reports this is "impossible," and
> with no attractive alternative explanation, it is of unknown origin.'
> It seemed very odd to me that such a basic word as "note" or nota could be
> of unknown origin.  I can see why historically linguists might wish noscere
> to be the origin, but it doesn't make much sense except perhaps as a
> reflection of the observers' bias (since their profession is largely
> premised on a definition of marks as knowledge).  
> Last year I had become interested in the Italian word nodo, knot, which is
> used often by Dante and of course appears visually in great profusion in
> both medieval visual art (both Islamic and European) and Leonardo's works. 
> I had learned that nodo is from the same root as "net," the PIE root *ned-,
> meaning "to bind, tie."  This is the root of "nexus" and "connect" as well
> as node, and of course "knot."
> "Note" is a significant concept in some ways because it relates music to
> words and writing to speech.  Could nota derive also from *ned-, given the
> many similar derivations?
> I'm further reminded of a Shakespeare class I took once in which the
> professor emphasized the Elizabethan pun on "nothing" and "noting" which
> were both pronounced, apparently, "no-ting."  I.e., the pun is "neither
> noticing nor writing is a thing."  Is knotting a thing?  Much Ado About
> Nothing is also much ado about coupling and "tying the knot."
> It seemed to me that nota could be another derivation from *ned-, to tie or
> bind.  Letters in script are kind of like knotted squiggles in many cases. 
> They "tie" a sound or shape (ah or A) to a word or a piece of a word.  Is it
> possible for linguists to have overlooked this?  If examined and rejected,
> was it done so accurately?  If yes, is it still interesting or useful as a
> flight of fancy -- notes as knots?
> Dante speculated in his non-fiction work Il Convivio (The Banquet) that
> knots and knotting were the basis of all language and literature.  He even
> made a very charming visual diagram, quite possibly his own invention from
> whole cloth, claiming that the word autore -- author -- derived from an
> obscure, supposedly Latin term auieo, of questionable existence, formed by
> drawing a knot-line through the vowels A, E, I, O, U, in the sequence first,
> last, middle, second, fourth.  This word purportedly was created to show how
> authors knot together the vowels, which in turn knot together the consonants
> into words, thence into sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books.  It's a
> marvelous, and marvelously modern, bit of literary theater so to speak which
> even prefigures aspects of Shakespeare's forays into modernity.
> Leonardo proposed an analogous idea that line, by means of a finger-touch on
> a cave-wall, was the root of all writing, numbers, visual art, techne, and
> math, since all of the symbols and images were ultimately made from lines
> and squiggles.  
> Despite Dante's auieo being almost certainly an imagination of his own
> making it does seem very plausible to me that nota derives from the same
> origin as nodo.  What ties together a net but nodes of knots?  What are
> notes if not knots in a net?  The visual reality of this, or potential
> reality, seems best illustrated by ornate knot-works such as Leonardo's Sala
> delle Asse (a trompe l'oeil ceiling of intricately interwoven tree-branches
> mentioned here onlist if I recall), many of his images of garments and
> fabrics, knot-designs for the Academia Leonardo Vici, and innumerable shapes
> both abstract and non- in his notebooks, as well as vast realms of other
> medieval, renaissance, and ancient knot images and geometry.  
> My sense is that this is so obvious, even trite, that it must have been
> looked into already ad nauseum, so I don't want to present it as necessarily
> new.  If it is, that strikes me as very odd which is neither here nor there
> perhaps.  If trite and utterly debunked, is there any chance of revitalizing
> it in the context of say string theory?  Knot theory is also still a live
> question in various fields.  I'm continuing to research and will report if I
> find anything interesting.
> One last tangent: Leonardo's father and grandfather (the latter raised him
> as an acknowledged but illegitimate offspring of the former) were notaries,
> plural notai, singular notaio or notaia, who were kind of the attorneys of
> the time who used special language to create binding contracts.  Any
> connection to nodo or *ned- aside, are these not nodes and nets, ties and
> bindings, with undeniably contemporary descendants?  
> All best,
> Max

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