The “destruction artist” Raphael Montañez Ortiz, known as Ralph to Kurt, is a senior Professor at Rutgers University after a long and distinguished career, but in the early sixties was notorious for his performance art. From taking a sledge hammer to a piano to splattering blood across a stage and onto the audience, he challenged accepted norms about what constitutes art and pushed its appreciation into previously taboo territory. In this essay from 1966 found in Kurt’s archives, Ralph writes about art, its emergence and its relationship to dreams and the unconscious, as well as the role of repression in acts of violence.
Kurt was taken with the writing and analysis of Psychiatrist Roland Fischer, and copies of several of Fischer’s articles are found in the von Meier Archives. In this essay Fischer explores the idea of the Triune Brain, and views presented in three books about the brain and mind, published in the mid-seventies. It’s an amusing and insightful essay filled with references to literature and culture; that it attracted Kurt’s attention is not surprising. Fischer writes with an educated vision , “…how the Universe becomes aware of itself through the evolutionary emergence of matter and energy into magical, mythical and mental structures of consciousness.”
In August of 1967 Kurt was invited to speak at the First Los Angeles Film Conference in Hollywood, CA., a four-day event sponsored by National Film Study Project and Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. His presentation was entitled “Pop Goes the Music.”
Kurt clipped articles like crazy, but infrequently went to the trouble to make photocopies of them. An exception is this piece by Roland Fischer, professor of experimental psychiatry and associate professor of pharmacology at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, written in 1972, exploring psychic states ranging from ecstasy to samadhi produced by various psychotropic substances, including Psilocybin, Mescaline and LSD. Kurt’s interest in Fischer’s observations was natural; his own experience and curiosity melded perfectly into the premise of Fischer’s work.
Fischer states, “Our credo affirms, then, that there is nothing but the universe becoming aware of itself through little islands of 'I's'-and-'Selves', which are experienced in, and recognized as, 'normal' and exalted states. Man, the self-referential micro-cosmos, is conscious of himself, although his 'l'-and 'Self' awareness is but a re-presentation of the universe (which it creates).”
This quote from historian Lewis Mumford (pictured - 1895-1990) was found typed and tucked away among various papers in Kurt’s archives .
“Within the span of early civilization, 3000 to 1000 B.C., the formative impulse to exercise absolute control over both nature and man shifted back and forth between gods and kings. Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and destroyed the walls of Jericho by martial music: but Yaweh himself, at an earlier moment, anticipated the Nuclear Age by destroying Sodom and Gomorrah with a single visitation of fire and brimstone; and a while later He even resorted to germ warfare in order to demoralize the Egyptians and aid in the escape of the Jews..
In short, none of the destructive fantasies that have taken possession of leaders in our own age, from Hitler to Stalin, from the khans of the Kremlin to the khans of the-Pentagon, Were foreign to the souls of the divinely appointed founders. of the first machine civilization. With every increase of effective power, extravagantly sadistic and murderous impulses emerged out of the unconscious: not radically different from those sanctioned, not only by Hitler's extermination of six million Jews and uncounted millions of other people, but the extermination by United States Air Force of 200,000 civilians in Tokyo in a single night by roasting alive. When a distinguished Mesopotamian scholar proclaimed that "civilization begins at Sumer" he innocently overlooked how much forgotten before this can be looked upon as a laudable achievement. Mass production and mass destruction are the positive and negative poles, historically, of the myth of the mega-machine.”
Lewis Mumford "The First Mega-Machine," Diogenes: Fall 1966, No. 55, p. 13.
Allegedly developed by Tibetan Monks, the Tibetan Eye Chart is used in various exercises to improve vision. This copy of the chart was given to Cliff Barney by Kurt. For information about the use of the chart, click here.
Kurt’s pal and collaborator Clifford (Walter) Barney worked as the Science Editor at the San Francisco Examiner, and one of his last articles was about chemist Albert Hofmann and his visit to UC Santa Cruz. His appearance became a reunion; Tim Leary, Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) and Ralph Metzner all attended and the 1977 event was as much celebration as conference. Read more to see the full text of the article.
The Diamond Sufi Ranch played host to a variety of groups and teachers during the early 70s, but this invitation was tied to a weekend devoted to Amanita muscaria, the sacred mushroom of the ancients. Kurt had taught a weekend seminar at Esalen on SOMA, but this ranch weekend was to be a hands-on affair, as this invite indicates.
PS: SANTA CLAUS IS A MUSHROOM.
Given our current political circumstance in America, it seems timely to post this set of “stamps” found tucked away in Kurt’s archives. Not sure of the date of issue, but especially timely right now!
The Universal Life Church was founded by Rev. Kirby J. Hensley in 1962 and offered ministry credentials to anyone who applied and sent a small financial offering. Of course, Kurt became a member, and received Certificate No. 66343, date May 2, 1962 making him an ordained minister. Regrettably, his first name is misspelled “Kirt.” Included here is his certificate, a printed sheet with information about the Universal Life Church, and a panel from one of its newsletters. The church remains in operation.
A booklet written by cyberneticist Heinz von Foerster was tucked amid Kurt’s archives, a document Kurt concluded was worth retaining. Entitled “On Constructing a Reality,” the twelve-page excerpt from a von Foerster address of 1973 puts forth the following postulate: “The Environment As We Perceive It Is Our Invention.” Von Foerster then goes on to make his case in support of this postulate. Heinz’ inscription to ”Walter and friends” refers to Walter (Clifford) Barney and Kurt von Meier. The booklet, in its entirety, is reproduced here.
In 1972, Kurt’s later-to-be friend and Diamond Sufi Ranch resident, Walter (Clifford) Barney wrote a thesis about Gestalt Therapy while pursuing a Master’s Degree in Counseling. His collaboration with two friends became as much of the subject of his thesis as Gestalt Therapy itself—his documentation of their interaction a practical demonstration of the Gestalt process. Combining concepts with process documentation, this paper anticipated elements of what is conventionally referred to today as “mindfulness” training, bring attention to body-mind awareness.
Barney writes, “Most people read books in order to learn something from them. By writing a book, we collude with this expectation of the reader. We deal with this trap in two ways: by letting the reader watch our process as we write the book, and so become aware of our dilemma; and by playing verbal tricks on him, so that when he begins to think that he learns from us, rather than from himself, he suddenly finds himself in a blind alley, logically.”
For a while, Kurt von Meier and Walter (Clifford) Barney established an on-going relationship with James Keys, aka G. Spencer Brown, poet, mathematician and author of Laws of Form. They exchanged letters and corresponded after Brown’s attendance at the AUM Conference at Esalen in 1973. In these two letters from Brown in September of 1976, he makes special note of Kurt and Walter’s appreciation and understanding of his work. “Before enlightenment people deal only in opinions, afterwards there can be only an exchange of gifts, as in heaven. It is important how pretty the ribbons are. You and Kurt are the only members of the team with any clout who have realized this.”
In September of 1975, Benchen Radha Tulku, also known as Lama Chime Tulku Rinpoche, visited Kurt's Diamond Sufi Ranch for a week-long retreat. (Above left: Chime Rinpoche in the late 1970s; above right: Chime Rinpoche in 2010) The Ranch was often host to teachers and healers of various traditions. Born in 1941 in Kham, Tibet, Chime Rinpoche was one of the first of the Tibetan Lama's to begin teaching in the West, and as Lama in the Kagyu-pa school of Buddhism was associated with HH the 16th Karmapa. Here is a segment from one of his first talks--on the Four Noble Truths--and his conversation with retreat participants.
From today's perspective, this court transcript from 1968 seems rather quaint, but it represents a transitional moment in American culture. The publication Earth Rose, created by poet Steve Richmond, was declared obscene in Los Angeles County, California; he was charged and a trial on a misdemeanor charge was held. Here's background on the case. In addition to a written statement, Kurt testified in person on behalf of the defendant. In doing so, he had the opportunity educate the judge about literary criticism and the history of poetic styles. Ironically, the word "Fuck"--its use still illegal in some settings--is liberally spoken and its meaning explored during the trial. From the transcript:
THE COURT: Well, what works, if any, would you consider to be obscene?
THE WITNESS: Okay. Let me talk about this publication for example. I would say if you had your choice between two words and one of them were obscene, it would be "Hate" that is obscene.
THE COURT: "Hate" is obscene?
THE WITNESS: And not "Fuck." I think there is a lot of hate and I am speaking very personally here. I am not for a minute suggesting that this was the intent of the poet, but if something morally offends me, it is to see human suffering that is permitted to continue knowingly, and I think that is working definition of hate.
I think that does happen in the world today. It is no new revelation. All of us know it. I think that some scenes of people dying in our living rooms on television in the war in Vietnam rightly or wrongly, I am not suggesting that, I am speaking as a veteran. I have served my time. I have no problem about that.
THE COURT: No.
THE WITNESS: I am saying that here our problem is when women and children are shown dying and somebody opens another can of beer, that gets much closer to the sense of what is obscene in the world.
Illustrations and hyperlinks have been added to this transcript that further illuminate the references made in the hearing.
In this essay, Kurt's longtime friend and Vajrayana Buddhist practitioner Joe Duane generously provides some background about the Shen Yantra (above) which occupied Kurt's devoted attention and appeared on the poster promoting the exhibition of his teaching collection. Joe explains the origination of the Yantra in Bon (pre-Buddhist) Tibetan ritual, and its underlying role in the construction of ritual sand mandalas.
Jene LaRue (pictured above), one of Kurt's partners in the Diamond Sutra Restaurant, was a fellow-Princetonian, and went on to become a professor of classics. This paper, The Meanings of Mythology, encapsulates Jene's view of mythology, its origins and its continuing influence on modern life. Filled with interesting and valuable insights, the paper's ideas can also be seen in Kurt's writings. Kurt authored some commentary on Jene's essay. Both Jene and Kurt looked through--not just at--society and human activity to the divine in action. The link below will open Jene's paper in a new window, and can be printed as a PDF.
Kurt was an avid collector, particularly fond of textiles and blankets. Having traveled to the southwest to visit the Hopi, he acquired a large number of antique Navajo blankets of extraordinary beauty and significance. He discussed their use and meaning in his lectures, and on chilly nights at the Diamond Sufi Ranch he'd sleep warmly beneath them. Read more to see some examples from his collection (images courtesy of Ishi von Meier, Kurt's grandson).
The Idea Institute was a presentation of the University of California Extension, and reflected how deeply new ideas about art and communication were overtaking modern society in the late 1960s. In addition to Kurt von Meier, the speakers included Mel Blanc (the voice of Bugs Bunny), Fordham University Communication Arts Professor Edmund Carpenter, Sociology Professor Lewis Yablonsky and others. As usual, Kurt made notes prior to his remarks; to see them, read more.
Kurt was a collector. He'd find objects and relics, then place them in containers and boxes which he'd squirrel away in closets, cabinets and hiding places known only to him. From time to time he'd pull one out and talk about each item so contained. Some treasure boxes were filled with Native American artifacts, others with bones and ivory. Every item had a story. This box held horns, mostly. For a closer look at the contents, read more.