Geneva Diaries #30

Art, Sex, CensorshipL’Origine Du Monde


Dear Roger,

Really looking forward to the much anticipated sushi meal and can’t wait to check out your kitchen, a true labor of love! I also wish to show off my current avatar, David Coverdale, I now have the hair, the swagger the attitude (all minus the voice).

 The story of Grislidis Real was getting much too stale, but boy was it hot while it lasted! Roger, it was uncanny how the world morphed around me as i embraced the persona of Grislidis Real and strutted around Geneva, it was as though the universe was reading my thoughts and seeing the images I had painted even though it was all in my mind. 

However, this adventure has truly illuminated my mind and I have come away with a fascinating life lesson on the way men perceive women. In the hearts of men I find there is a deep dark fascination, awe, envy and even hatred for one professing more knowledge (carnal knowledge). I have discovered the arena of sexuality and the tools, the tricks, and prowess are expected to lie out of the realm of woman, at least a respectable woman, and this thunder is expected to be wielded only by men, men who send women into orgiastic ecstasy by the flexing of this special muscle. Of course, the moment you share this fire you are on a level playing field, you share the same arena, until you are called a “ho”!  Of course, I am very familiar to that form of warfare having seen this unfolded out in its vivid hues in the corporate arena (where the highest offices are understood to be reserved for the men and women are indulged with the occasional concessions). 

So, as the Grislidis veneer washed away exposing a girl in a ponytail, gone were the looks of awe, fascination, regard for the “higher” knowledge (and of course coupled with a deep seeded jealousy), and instead replaced by a patronizing stare (its incredible how the look completely changes) at one whose mask had slipped. So, now its Coverdale with “Slide it in… right to the top baby”!

Still on the subject of women and prowess, I spent most of last night reading a fascinating book by Robert Winston, a British professor, doctor, scientist with many capital letters following his name (including one that spelled something like frog… now you know what’s really on my mind!) called Bad Ideas about the history of man from the perspective of compelling ideas which resulted in technological development and the world we find ourselves in today, it’s good, bad and ugly. Fascinating narrative, I was competing with the author throughout the book saying “I knew that, I know more, I could write your book… you pretending to be a FROG, you stole my idea, this should be MY book!”. The book was written in a male voice highlighting the narrators own culture and experiences which were a fascinating read (British politics is completely out of my realm). This got my brain cells twitching, i felt once again that the world so desperately needs a history of the world written in a female voice from the perspective of another world/universe, Asia, The Indus Valley, China, Japan and all the fascinating developments in technology across south east Asia today! For I saw, as I had mentioned to my kids just a couple of days back, instinctively the viewer, reader inadvertently sympathizes with the idols and accomplishments of the narrator and its about time history be read from an alternate perspective, don’t you agree? But you must, for the US is honestly neither the East nor the West! 

However, I must admit I enjoyed the book, the subject and the way it was written, truly a modern approach to writing (could do more though) scattered with references to artworks and the like, just as I would have done, have done in hyperlink. One of the references was a painting by Charles William Mitchell on the brilliant and fascinating 4th century female philosopher and Mathematician, Hypatia. Do check out this erotic and romanticized version of Hypatia :

There is much to share with you about this book, but since i’m still burning on the topic of women and Hypatia, the famous female fourth century philosopher mathematician of Alexandria. Renowned for her high intellect and cultivated mind, she appeared in front of the magistrates and assembly of men often openly expressing her views and opinions on public matters. This daughter of the philosopher Theon, who trained her is known to have far surpassed her teacher assisting him on many mathematical and philosophical works. Apparently (Hypatia was the head of the Platonist school in Alexandria) when in 391 AD Theophilus ordered the destruction of the Roman temples, the Musaeum and the sister library to the Great Library with an aim to erase all of Rome’s pagan past. Hypatia with her forthright manner, independence, prowess and rebellious streak (apparently she dissuaded a suitor by publicly holding out a cloth stained with menstrual blood in order to demonstrate the banality of the obsession with the body) this prowess openly exhibited by a woman infuriated the conservative establishment and she was violently and mercilessly executed. All this was captured beautifully in the movie Agora based on the story of Hypatia, which I also saw very recently, do check it out on Youtube below:

In the movie they show Hypatia, desperately trying to save the papyrus scrolls that were ordered to be destroyed, capturing in this a moment of the story of the great library of Alexandria and the waves of fires, arson which ultimately led to the destruction of one of mankind’s greatest jewels, a repository of all human knowledge of the ancient world funded by the Ptolemaic government. Robert Winston touches on this as well stating in his book “One of the greatest and most irreplaceable losses of literature were the successive burning of books in Alexandria” and goes on to say that the Great library was a depository of ancient writing with a complex of buildings, gardens lecture halls , effectively a university campus. Since the library was situated in a major port, it had access to ideas, thoughts and writing from around the known world both East and West. Apparently, books were collected though all means both fair and foul and often most persons who visited this city (many intellectuals and philosophers) were compelled to relinquish their books to the government to be copied and often the perfect copy was returned to them. Thus was built this great library which kept the ancient world alight for many generations. this of course brings me to the library i have listed to visit, yes, I’m in a city which is a nodal point In the world of today. Many ideas flow to these shores and many learned men and women pass through these gates, What If… a depository of knowledge, a data bank of information, a collection of all the novel ideas, could be kept in a neutral space untainted by war or politics, with no speech and though restrictions, kind of like a bank deposit of a group that wishes to preserve their idea for posterity relinquishing the key to the city that can offer the securest coffers. All this of course would be connected by a wormhole all the way to California where the future speech based restrictions would not make any such structure feasible on its sunny shores(yes, i’ve had Orwell by my bedside for what seems a decade!).

Good night and sweet dreams. See you tomorrow!

Dear Purnima,

I see you have been indulging in your early-hours-of-the-morning passion for producing exquisite prose.  I always love these treatises that are the products of the silence of the night and your wonderfully creative mind.  I agree with you when you say that you could have written Robert Winston’s book, and producing a tome of history of the world from a female perspective sounds like a fitting project for you.  Barbara Tuchman’s works are certainly respected and admirable, not to mention thorough, views on recent history.  Her Guns of August about WW I is still considered THE definitive treatment, but I haven’t read it with a feminist point of view and don’t know how feminist literary criticism would “deconstruct” her writings.

And we could both write tomes and tomes about that age-old conundrum of how men perceive women.  Freud spent his life dealing with the issue, and I’m not at all convinced that he came up with all the answers.  You are definitely right about the deep, dark fascination and awe, and you evoke that dichotomy of the impossible role that society places on women: mother (angel) vs whore (tool of the devil).  How can you possibly play both roles, but yet that is what most men want in the perfect woman.  And, the terrible part of it all is that when she plays the whore role too convincingly, she is unconsciously (or even consciously) condemned.  It’s a no-win situation.

But that fascination for all things female has always been with us, and modern art is certainly replete with examples of that mysterious attraction.  The Goyas, Modiglianis, Picassos (There was a wonderful exhibit in Paris several years ago of the erotic art that Picasso produced.  It was really interesting to see people from all walks of life, even little old bourgeois ladies, pausing and reflecting quite unabashedly in front of his paintings and sketches) have revealed their own penchant for the female body.  And ever since Courbet’s “scandalous” L’Origine du monde reminded every viewer of the unfathomable secrets hidden just beyond that dark, foreboding, ambrosial and luscious tuft.  But society has evolved, and the painting, as shocking as it was in the late nineteenth century (it and several other Courbet works were banned from public display), it is now on permanent display in the Orsay museum.

I’m in the process of occasionally watching the American series Mad Men about Madison Avenue advertising agencies in the 1960’s.  It is really fascinating to see the relics from my own past and to relive the political events that shaped the country during those times, but it is terribly discouraging to see the image of women during those Neanderthal days.  They are nothing more than objects, and more than once it is made perfectly clear that a girl who sleeps around will never be a fitting or respectable wife.  While it’s quite ok for the males of the time to chase after any and all forms of carnal knowledge, the females have a very strict set of rules to play by.  We could undoubtedly spend hours, if not days, discussing this whole issue of male fascination with women.

See you tonight,  Love the look of your new avatar !


Dear Roger,

It’s such a treat to get your mail, I find myself searching anxiously for a response after my long night at the keyboard and now feel fully rewarded! Your introduction to Courbets “scandalous” art ( has had my head spinning and heart pumping… this erotica has connected with something deep within, both the art and the idea of challenging the moral norms of this schizophrenic society…I find myself “turned on”…hmmm!!! 

Art Censorship: See below a video of the takedown of the post on FB of l’Origine du Monde and the cultural issues surrounding Art censorship by FB’s takedown of the same:

From the above article:

The latest work deemed “pornographic” is the 30,000 year-old nude statue famously known as the Venus of Willendorf, part of the Naturhistorisches Museum (NHM) collection in Vienna. An image of the work posted on Facebook by Laura Ghianda, a self-described “artivist”, was removed as inappropriate content despite four attempts to appeal the decision.: here.

It’s time we take a deep look into whether we can really permit corporations to dictate our cultural expression which is in the essence an expression of a people to mould debate and express. In the above instance the FB post removal of a 30,000 year old world heritage icon/statutory impacts not just the culture of a particular nation but the story of man for this is the first sculptural example of the female form corresponding with the birth of human creative expression. By acquiesing to the removal of this image we are permitting the erasure of the story of humanity for in the Venus of Willendorf is engraved the story of mankind.

See below what some may deem at the fringe of unacceptable, but no human was harmed during this performance and the majority applauded:

In my opinion this was an artist posing in front of the painting l’Origine du monde and by such a performance extending the art and creating a theatrical art installation:

See you this evening.


Dear Roger,

I have read and reread your email, thrilled that you believe that i could have written Robert Winston’s book and with a sexy twist, yes throwing all that mysterious, erotic female energy in the mix. But, don’t you think I would have written it also from another world perspective, one that is often not evoked as passionately in the English language, encompassing a universe that seems to be fleetingly touched, almost bypassed  by this treatise on technology (Winston’s book, Bad Ideas), technological development across the story of man. Yes, an Asian perspective, the idea, the story and the potential. In this book tracking the history of man vis a vis technology, while mentioning tools, copper and bronze, where are the references to the place that predates its usage in the western world by millennia, the Indus valley civilization(India/Pakistan). A place where in 2500BC copper tools and weapons use was widespread , city planning found at such an efficient scale not found in the same place today, beads fired at high temperatures in sophisticated kilns, then of course when discussing technology how can you overlook ancient China and its technological sophistication found in pottery baked not only at very high temperatures but the ability to control the heat and consistency of such kilns. It would be interesting to have these and the many other remarkable technological developments across the ancient world and the excitement of the tech potential that seems to bubble from that region today in a book written by a girl in a ponytail that takes the journey back to the Bay Area, California. A place you could get both the flavors of Singapore (Banana leaf), Indonesia and south India(sambar/idlis)…I’m still waiting for “idlis in Geneva!

 But Roger, I wish I could incorporate some French in my book… I am still languishing in English after having spend over two years in Geneva, finding myself primarily writing reading and expressing myself in English,(having completely abandoned French) to the extent that I might even be found guilty of being a British agent silently and scandalously spreading the English language and of course along with it the culture worldwide. I find even though my book may be trapped in this tongue, my “Ideas” are not, so i promise you another perspective.

Back to the book (which I will visit again) and Hypatia, I found upon surfing the internet numerous references Hypatia and many written from a very sympathetic perspective, that in order to further bolster this brilliant woman, the authors had chosen to proclaim (as always there are never any claims to veracity other than one that is “most accepted” which translates into accepted by most) her virginity, that she was a virgin when she was brutally murdered. Now tell me Roger, what does virginity have to do with any of the great scientific and mathematical breakthroughs made by this remarkable woman? So what if she was a virgin, does that make her crime of questioning the establishment any better, does that make her violators more violent, does that remove her from the realm of base humanity to an ethereal plane where the woman has risen above her supposed “fickle” (Remember the Lombrosian ficklemindedness imputed to some women) self to a higher plane? Of course she was 60 when she was murdered, a 60 year old virgin, is everyone on acid!

Well, the fun does not end here, as I read through Winston’s book, I met Charles Davenport an American biologist that was promoting Eugenics at the turn of the century 19th), proposing the screening of traits (imbecility, alcoholic, sexually immoral which he believed were genetically determined) of potential immigrants to the US. Winston goes on to highlight how Davenport believed that postitutes were motivated not by economic necessity but an innate eroticism (which your mind must immediately say bad bad bad), …and more fun still, these women he termed as “wayward girls”! Wayward again, first Dalrymple then Davenport!! Gosh, when will you guys ever give up on that word when referring to women you can’t get your arms around in more than one way. What would we girls do without men like you!!!

Love to the family, see you soon!


Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto.

Purnima Viswanathan 

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