Squatting Demoiselle of Picasso : Aditya Tripathi

By Aditya Tripathi

To my continued interest in scholarly pursuits of folks in social sciences, humanities, to a lesser extent in sciences and amusingly much in the interdisciplinary interface of the three, I intend to put forth some of my observations here. This urge has been recently aroused due to a reading of Picasso’s works and their interpretations by ‘scholars’.

As I am going to discuss ‘scholarly pursuits’, we should first recognize the scholar as one. A first order scholar is a dilettante mostly sporting an unshaven look with dishevelled ‘hairdo’, fond of unhealthy lifestyle and reserves a very personal and private language for scholarly discussions. An exception is a mathematics scholar, mostly due to the common formal language prevailing throughout the discipline causing a mono-linguistic limp and also one reason for his/her not being taken seriously by society in general and women and salesmen in particular. For example Turing turned himself into a homosexual, Gödel was fearful of death by pneumonia, Euler was blind so had few options anyway, Perelman still lives with his mother etc. A few wise mathematicians took resort to or flirted with philosophy and led  nice social lives having at least one certain dinner, accompanied by wine and music e.g. Bertrand Russelll. However, the most intelligent of the lot turned themselves into polymaths enjoying better material comforts e.g John von Neumann.

Anyway, I am not here to discuss scholars much. So, I was reading about how Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon’ came into being and how the five whores, though I see none in the painting, are important from a geometric point of view and how it was the beginning of cubism. The author’s intention is to interpret the painting from a mathematical (geometric) point of view. You know, the scientists, the mathematicians the killjoys of human fancy and license. According to the Author  ‘Les Demoiselles’ is a gradual geometrization of the human form as the ‘action’ progresses from the left whore to the right most squatting whore, giving the squatting whore a 4-dimensional representation. The author confides us about the technique of getting to a 4- dimensional representation of objects by an ‘analytical method’ for rotating a complex polyhedra so as to obtain different perspective of their 4-dimensional structure seen as projection onto a plane (author quotes Esprit Jouffret’s 1903 treatise ‘Traite Elementaire de geometrie a quatre dimensions’ and claims that Picasso knew of this work through an autodidact named Princet a member en marge of la bande a Picasso). Well I am happy to know that, but it may also be noted that the squatting whore is the ugliest of all in the painting if rest of them are also whores. If 4-dimensional representation mars things so ruthlessly, personally I would like to see and restrict myself to the three dimensional world itself.

Now a few words on the dimension 4. I am not sure whether Picasso ever tried to represent the squatting whore in dimension 4, as not only I can’t see from my naked eyes on the 2-dimensional perspective of the canvas any 4th dimension whatsoever, there is no such testimony by Picasso too of such fact. Jouffret’s has some convincing arguments though about visualizing the 4th dimension by projection on plane by rotation of polyhedra, his projections would let you believe what he argues but I don’t buy it, the visualizations  I mean. I had gone through similar troubles reading Einstein’s relativity; the Minkowskian 4-dimensioanl space is very convincing till it is algebraically geometric and it may be understood but when the authors start let you visualize pure geometric 4-dimensional configurations e.g. through stereographically projected Clifford parallels on three dimensional sphere in Euclidean Space ( a 3 parameter family of circles and one straight line), you actually start believing that the world constitutes of only evil forces and your routine life is funnier than the seekers of truth and related commodities. Above all it is anti-intuition.

In the studies by Picasso for ‘Les Demoiselles’ from carnets 8 afterwards he finalizes the squatting whore’s (squatting demoiselle) head with the geometric reduction of the form to a so-called four dimensional representation. I am telling you the effort would not have been worth it, if Picasso were still alive and had yet not completed ‘Les Demoiselles’. I would have invited him to my office and have shown him one colleague with the strangest head I have ever seen and it is so similar to the squatting demoiselle’s head and yet sits in dimension three of the space.
  Aditya is a post graduate  in Economics from Delhi School of Economics. He can be contacted at adibrasco@gmail.com.

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