Kurt loved teaching, honored his teachers, and felt gratitude for the entire lineage of teachers who came before him. This was true in his experience of both the academic and spiritual world. In this short, devotional homage we see Kurt’s immersion into Vajrayana Buddhism of the mid-1970s. Of the teachings, he sings, “…up from the mud & Kurt von Meier, through the waters of the Lake Danakoss, wherever it might be as in the Taoist Water Wheel "reversing the flow" of the Golden Light within, onto the lily/lotus flower…”
In this segment from the pinnacle of his work and study, his 350,000-word opus, A Ball of Twine: Marcel Duchamp’s With Hidden Noise, Kurt expounded upon matters historical, ecological and social, extensively quoting Doctor Helen Caldicott (above), whose many books warning about the dangers of nuclear weapons and corporate greed earned Kurt’s admiration. Kurt’s own views matched Caldicott’s, as noted in this excerpt.
“If destruction of the global ecosystem is at all a ‘business,’” he writes, “then it is a bad business and must stop. If the nature of the job leads to leeching lead into groundwater, producing generations of sickly, sad and suffering children with their poor brains malformed and their bodies wracked with wretched pain, and poisoning the Earth itself, then these are jobs no one should be doing.”
“Refugee cultures reflect, in their adaptation to new spatial surroundings, the temporal changes undergone by cultures which remain in place. The refugee is a 20th Century archetype in which we may see our own process of transformation; like the Hopis, we are refugees in our own country.”
This quote is included in a three-page summary of Kurt’s plans, perhaps in light of an upcoming sabbatical leave. It provides some historical information about Kurt’s activities, but also adds to the considerable store of his written material focused on archteypes, transformation, Laws of Form, and Tibetan Buddhism.
Long before the advent of Photoshop filters like “Gaussian Blur” (a form of Fourier Transform shown above), Kurt was fascinated by such transformations, and curious about the underlying archetypal information contained within them. His interests in the visual world merged with his interests in the mathematical world, and with his colleague Clifford Barney, in 1976 he conceived of an experiment to potentially identify archetypal truth.
In their proposal, they write, “Fourier analysis of the optical transforms will be of importance in showing the deep mathematical structure manifested in cultural forms. Thus may the temporal be related to the universal.”
Following the explication of the experiment, an addendum discussing fifth-degree equations, Laws of Form, Pascal’s Triangle, and Fritz Perls’ five “layers” of personality was included.
The late 1970s were a particularly creative period for Kurt, both in terms of personal creativity and professional academics. In this project proposal, Kurt describes what we now refer to as a Wiki, a hyperlinked relational database. In this case, his plan to was construct a database focused on architecture, but also linked to various courses he planned to teach at Sacramento State University in upcoming semesters.
He writes, “The unique characteristic of the ARCTEX project is an emphasis upon generic architectural concepts as a way of mapping architecture to other models of whole systems...A central and recurrent idea in the history of art and architecture is that the work as a material manifestation may be read as a map or model of a whole system.” In addition, “A planned example to be worked in detail is based upon the symmetry set based on the number nine…”
In 1979 Kurt participated in a group forum “online,” an “Omnicon” open to invited parties provided access to what was an early precursor to the World Wide Web. Sponsored by Omni Magazine, (now defunct), over a ten-week period, utilizing the EIES (Electronic Information Exchange System), the topic for discussion was Superliterate Societies, ie: reading and writing via computer code (Fortran, hence the warning ‘only 57 lines may be used for this text’), use of a connected terminal, and the issues that might arise from it, such as elitism. One participant was Kurt’s pal Walter (Clifford) Barney, and this gave Kurt the opportunity to also toss his many ideas into the online mix, which he did with enthusiasm. Again, in 1979 we find Kurt ahead of his time, as his Omnicon comments about the environment clearly indicate.
“Transcending belief is the task of consciousness in coming to recognize itself. All of which prompts a few searching inquiries--specifically about the four "great killers" in the present history of our watery planet. They may be identified as pollution, population, climatic change, mismanagement of the earth's resources. …The problem is not running short of fossil fuels, it is burning them.”
This short excerpt from a sheaf of neatly typed onion-skin papers utilizes one of Kurt’s literary devices, namely the use of a “message” to “Soofi Central” to spin a tale and ramble on about essentially anything. In this case, the topic is in part about a turd too large to flush, an exercise in Scheisshumor Kurt often found irresistible. Ultimately, after invoking the spirits of Tibetan Buddhism, he navigates to a discourse on prime numbers and Pascal’s Triangle via transformations based on Middletown’s roadsign. Classic von Meier.
After a visit to Sacramento State University from Latin American photographer Jaime Pereira in 1988, Kurt and Jaime hatched a scheme to help aspiring photographers in Equador acquire camera equipment through the donation of used, older and broken cameras owned by Sac State students. In his usual fashion, Kurt promoted the idea creatively by creating the Cryptic Quito Camera Club. “Let's face it: cameras are expensive.,” Kurt wrote, “And those of us who appreciate good design, or who become fascinated with the delicate intricacy of precision technology, just cannot bear to throw away something like a camera. That would seem so illogical. And so it is, despite all the conditioning from the throw-away society in which we live.” This article contains Kurt’s full description of the program.
Kurt’s prodigious memory was not simply an accident of nature, but also the result of his concerted efforts at memory training. As he notes in this essay circa 1979, the use of mnemonic devices to enhance memory were promoted by Giordano Bruno during the Renaissance, and the use of complex mandalas by Tibetan Buddhists serve a similar function. Kurt employed a comparable technique, which combined with his natural powers as a polymath allowed him to teach and speak extemporaneously on a variety of topics for hours at a time, without resorting to any notes.
When it comes to the exercise of memory, he states, “Any person capable of reading, understanding and following injunctions can now practice the exercise of constructing this psychic space with the disciplined imagination. Although this is a very ancient exercise, traditionally it has been a part of the esoteric teaching, distinguished from the exoteric tradition that concerns itself with outward manifestations rather than with the interior imagination. Therefore, published indications for performing the exercise, if any, have appeared in symbolic guise, as in the literature of Western alchemy.”
Kurt’s hand filled thousands of pages of paper in his daily notebooks, a practice he maintained for at least 40 years. A combination of poems, reflections, discursive writings, doctor appointment dates, meal planning, teaching ideas and more, they documented Kurt’s daily experience of oracles and signs. These four pages from a May, 1996 lined pad are representative of his style and mode of contemplation. For the student, they are a treasure trove of scholarship and insight.
Kurt wrote letters, and kept carbon copies of them in his archive. This letter to Ron (?) is dated September 1, 1966, which is during the time Kurt was teaching at UCLA. Rod may have been a student, or perhaps a colleague, and had sent Kurt a paper about a proposed symposium entitled The Human Agenda (Part II). Kurt’s reply is generous and interesting, as he raises issues of life, psychology, relationships and art. “Which is to ask, the more we love, should we expect our psychic intimacy with work (or with art) to increase or to decrease—since psychic intimacy surely requires some expenditure of human resources, (not to mention mere time, etc.) This leads to a question of whether our capacity for psychic intimacy is in some way fixed or not—alternatively developing in the mentally more healthy individual as a total capacity, which is strengthened by its (mutually stimulating) fulfillment in any or all of the various basic human activities.”
This chapter from Kurt’s 350,000-word masterwork A Ball of Twine illustrates the range and depth of his knowledge, interests and humor. His analysis of Duchamp’s sculpture With Hidden Noise proceeds in a systematic yet constantly surprising way, in keeping with Kurt’s talents as a teacher and polymath. “What we can perceive, measure, and record of such micro- and macrocosmic events must be integrated into human consciousness no less so (but neither with any greater imperative) than our perceptions of theater, music, flower arranging, or any of the other arts. Any one of these "soft" activities undertaken by an accomplished practitioner may illustrate--in the end, with the same order of legitimacy as for any of the "hard" sciences--those underlying laws governing all formal interactions and thus determining (besides helping us to describe or explain) why things are the way they are.”
A unique find among Kurt’s archives was a very large sheet of paper, folded into 16ths like a map, entitled TWINE. In keeping with his interest in Marcel Duchamp, upon this sheet Kurt mapped a series of links and associations tied to Duchamp and a number of his most notable works of art. This combination of abbreviations, authors’ names, books, art history, and cultural references — in addition to providing a thread pertaining to Duchamp — also provides a view into Kurt’s mind, and his map-like way of seeing connections and organizing his thinking. Enlarged sections of this “map” are provided on the following page.
Here is another selection from Kurt’s magnum opus “A Ball of Twine”.
“The merchants, as a class in traditional China, were typically ranked at the bottom of the social ladder: middle men, schleppers, people who performed a derivative function, something that does NOT belong to a primary order of reality. For, although the Great Spirit is One and abides in all things, and in the dance that all things do, ordinary human beings come to know It best through primary expressions of art (including architecture, music, poetry, calligraphy, theater), through plants (from gathering to farm and garden), through animals (from the primordial rite of hunting to the companionship of pets), and through the regenerative mystery of a baby newly-born. Aesthetics relates to the ways in which we structure material stuff to articulate the spaces and durations, recreating expressions of the Great Spirit: naturally emanating from orders of aware consciousness. Money--unless it is a beautiful coin by Pisanello or a Check by Duchamp--does not.”
Though the dangers of burning of fossil fuel receives considerable attention today (2018), in 1974 the very wisest among society were already ringing the alarm bell and advocating alternative energy sources. Kurt von Meier knew that “Lady California, bound and raped” was not the way, and he penned this short, poetic contemplation about harnessing geothermal energy. Not alone in his concerns, his voice and the voices of other visionaries were drowned-out by yet another in a series of global oil booms, a suicidal activity which continues today. GTO, whatever it meant to Kurt, was the designation of a gas-guzzling sports car sold by Pontiac.
“The contribution of the Gestalt approach is the recognition that figure and ground are formally the same and may be exchanged without violence to the whole, and in fact must be changed for a complete experience of the whole. When we understand something, we stand under it, experience it from without as well as within.” So states Kurt von Meier and Clifford Barney at the beginning of this 1975 exploration into the relationships between the Gestalt therapy and psychology of Fritz Perls, mathematics, and knowledge of the divine as seen by Dante Alighieri.
Kurt penned this short contemplation in July, 1972, on his Birthday while at Karma Dzong in Colorado, reflecting upon his Tibetan Buddhist name, it’s connection to the great Tibetan sage Tilopa (The Fisherman) and his father Julian “the great fisherman” (photo above, to the right of Kurt in overalls in 1938). He sees the reflection of his father in his own photo with his own fish, a Mahi Mahi (Dolphin fish) caught in Mexico in the Sea of Cortez.
Here is another chunk of Kurt’s daily thoughts and reflections. Created in January of 1976, it contains references to a CBS news report, etymology of various words, a slew of mental and linguistic associations, snippets of poetry, classical references, allusions to pop culture, and the tears of Maine Senator Edmund Muskie. “Noah must count the species named by Adam by twos if they have become sexually distinguished. The algae, in the form of one-celled being, may presumably enter upon acknowledgment of single booking.”
This recording of Kurt von Meier being interviewed by a woman named Kris Koch sometime around 1967 was made while Kurt was still teaching at UCLA and had become a wildly-popular professor. Ninety-nine percent of the interview is Kurt rapidly talking a blue-streak, delivering a wide-ranging discourse about his interests in the wisdom of “primitive” people and cultures, and the ways “western civilization doesn’t work for people well at all.” His comments range among art history and world ecology; presciently for 1967, he raises the prospect of the greenhouse effect, climate change, rising oceans and the possible death of planet Earth. His comments convey why Kurt was so popular and controversial. A poor microphone produces some clicks and sustained “hum” as the interview progresses, but his comments remain easily heard. At some point, a phone rings, he checks the mike, and sadly, the interview comes to an abrupt end after 38 minutes.
Here is another swift dip into the running current of Kurt's mind, a bundle of free associations united in ways most of us will not fully understand. Kurt's mind moved seamlessly between varying frames of reference; in this way he creatively represents the unity he expounds. To wit, he writes, "the one Cosmic, Divine, on-going act (Karma) of creative Sakti energy, known by one convention as Allah, by another as God or the Buddha..."