Assuming yet another of his myriad manifestations, Kurt dons the costume of Chico Carboneri sitting before his IBM Selectric typewriter hammering on the keys to the universe. Jumping between discourse and self-reference, wending its way into the trajectory of Omasters, Kurt plays Buddhist notes interspersed with crossings into Laws of Form. "An eye to FORM--The page TOP COPY, and the carbon and the carbon page are inserted. Shakuhachi's mind wanders into the KRYPTOCOSMIC realm, blending with the spirits of Dr. Jose Que, Primo the Fool, Z-Number (first of the cardinal states, with all appropriate deference to the form of the face of the void, being given a name which may be called: VOID, ZERO, THE WHOLE, THE ALL, ALLAH, BUDDAH.
In this excerpt from his monumental and masterful work A Ball of Twine: Marcel Duchamp's 'With Hidden Noise' Kurt von Meier examines humanism, its transformation into "individualistic humanism" and as an art historian provides an honest account of humanity's often dismal history. He writes, "The history of catastrophes is not often taught. Nevertheless, an objective account of destruction ought to be contemplated by serious educators, busy extolling themselves for the imagined accomplishments of their self-titled humanistic research. It would serve as a darkly instructive reminder about the flip side of pride. Otherwise, there seems to be self-deception in writing about art and culture without, from time to time, stopping to take stock of humanity at large, in the conventional real world...If there is sometimes a Polyanna complex on the part of scholars who write as though they have just come from, say, the planet of lost art historians, as Howard Zinn reminds us the newspapers and many of the grimmer historians also ignore the history of creativity and kindness."
Here's another example of Kurt's poetic stream-of-consciousness, a meandering journey through the deep and connective tissues of his mind and feelings. It's difficult to tell over what period of time he wrote all this; the breaks and shifts of topic are sometimes sudden. As with his hand-written daily notebooks, Kurt worked in fits and starts. In a moment of self-reflection, he writes, "This is, in a way, an essay in imaginary statecraft/Stadtkraft powerrealestate. Aside, aside... This was before I knew Kafka, and the plot structure of a movie such as Fail Safe, in which each successive line is a freak-out such as to reverse the values of the previous line or plot event on the order of a periodic shifting of figure/ground, much as the values of the real and the imaginary interplay in certain mathematical equations (Eg. Newton in letter to Leibnitz, June 13, 1676)."
Sometimes reading von Meier can be overwhelming, other times humbling. The sheer scope and range of Kurt's knowledge can be daunting to those less well educated. Such is the nature of this rumination, so filled with references (now hyperlinked) that this essay alone contains enough material for an entire course of study. Like poet Robert Graves, Kurt held the Celtic tradition in high regard, and shared Graves' appreciation of the unique loss it's demise has been to western culture. "Within months of the Synod, plague struck," Kurt writes, "The Sword of Gnosis sunk once more into the obscurity of the soil, the map of its treasure guarded by the Abbess Hilda when the keys were usurped by a Papal control."
In this short paper from 1982, Kurt traces the heritage of human expression, and connects the topic to trees, paper and social manifestations of form. It's a typically round-about von Meieresque trip; with his copy of the American Heritage Dictionary at his side, he examines the roots of the tree of knowledge. One never knows where Kurt will take you, and as this paper concludes it's swimming within the current of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce.
Still living in Los Angeles, but no longer teaching at UCLA, Kurt remained active. This is a recording he made of a lecture on Navajo blankets in his collection. He begins by talking about the act of using his Nagra tape recorder, but quickly moves into an hour-long, extemporaneous presentation covering Pueblo culture, Carlos Castaneda, global civilization and the loss of indigenous cultures. He discusses his blankets in detail, and their use as sacred devices; peyote ritual, mystical visions, caring for the planet, genocide, politics, LSD, and--it being 1969--cultural revolution.
This single sheet, shingle-line-spaced typed paper was found floating among other documents in an unnamed file folder. It's typical of the way Kurt would sit down and set forth connecting all the dots on his mind that day. In this case, he moves from place to place but his interest in following the thread of ancient geographical reckoning is consistent. "With four points of the compass and two axes, Egypt used the net of coordinates for mapping the surface of the earth. This is an abstract, algebraic system for indexing precise locations on a spheroidal surface."
Here are a couple of short papers which may or may not have been written in sequence; they were found together in Kurt's archives. They are good examples of the way Kurt made entries in his daily notebooks, though in this case, typewritten. He would capture and reflect upon thoughts and events of the day--the title was derived from the wattage of the bulb in his lamp, for example--using a combination of outline headings, lists and discursive passages. There are literally thousands of such pages filling his daily notebooks.
Kurt lived many lives--simultaneously and in succession. Using his rich imagination and vast multi-cultural knowledge, he moved seamlessly between various states of being. Accordingly, his view of Buddhism's Six Realms of Samsara was contemporary: "There are two approaches to the Six Realms, so we receive the teaching. One is that we are reincarnated in each and every moment of awakening, as an ongoing process of continuous rebirth. That we are reborn instantly in Hell when agitated by our wrath; that we die and are tortured when we sleep, when we twist our realities about us noose-like; that we arrive, here and now, in the Celestial Lands with each wave of bliss, vibration of accord, harmony, resonance without and within."
Here's an email Kurt composed to Cliff (Walter) Barney in 1996, in response to an email Cliff sent Kurt in May (delivered in printed form to Kurt in June). The original email noted (and the package contained) the cover of TIME magazine, featuring an article - "Can Machines Think?" Both Kurt and Cliff had steeped themselves in the cybernetic theories of Heinz von Foerster, and the writings of Warren McCulloch. Kurt's reply is typically wide-ranging, well-informed and entertaining, and reveals his frustrations with the emerging use of email and "spellcheck." Accordingly, he notes inaccuracies and inconsistencies in spelling in several sources of information. "Jene LaRue used to say that while spelling rules--the rightness of orthography--were conventional, it was most important (deepest, oldest, most prior) to spell correctly the names of the gods and presumably, in hierarchical order, those of the demi-gods, heroes, daimons, distinguished colleagues, scientists, artists, authors because they are the notational forms that enjoin (or sustain) being invoked, so one had best get it right, or at least as right as possible." He also carefully examines the magazine cover, noting the number of cogs on the gear wheels.
In this recording of a lecture at Sacramento State University from 1971, Kurt holds the attention of his class with an engaging, impromptu presentation about time. Moving seamlessly through topics ranging from language, dogs, The Great Beast, Pan, Shiva, music and dancing, Kurt constructs an inventive and entertaining presentation. The lecture runs just under a half hour in length.
Herewith another installment of the story of Norman Akaya and his uncle Jose Que (Kurt's alter ego). Drawing upon Kurt's commute to Sacramento State to lecture on Tuesdays and Thursdays in his blue BMW (license plate RDORJE) in 1982, this segment slides seamlessly between fiction and fact, like tires slipping on a rain-slicked road. "But it was on the road that Jose Que worked for his money. There, emeritus or not, his actions and those of all the other travelers entailed consequences in the immediate. Jose rode what was once the Ultimate Driving Machine, lightweight, responsive, amply powered, well-braked, the classic 2002; with some internal modifications, because a logical sixty miles an hour meant a nice harmonic of 3600 r.p.m."
"All culture is whole, it’s all one. It gets fucked up and misunderstood, but you can usually spot that because you have a paradigm. You can see how it relates." So states Kurt in this extraordinary lecture (circa 1973) in which he demonstrates rather than explains this premise, adopting styles of teaching from shock-jock to stand-up to hold the attention of his students. A tour de force, this lecture is also a glimpse into the wholeness of Kurt's mind, a rich, cross-cultural web of references and associations reflecting the actuality of how Kurt experienced each and every moment. Kurt's close friend and collaborator Clifford Barney, who generously transcribed the lecture, provides a prologue.
Kurt rarely wrote out his presentations in advance, preferring to prepare notes from which he could speak extemporaneously. He would either outline a topic or simply prepare a precis upon which he would then elaborate. Such is this brief set of "notes" Kurt prepared for a joint presentation with Claudio Naranjo (pictured at right) for a talk at the Institute of Asian Studies in April, 1977. Claudio Naranjo, a Chilean-born mystic, scholar, psychiatrist and psychonaut shared many qualities in common with Kurt; he too was a student of Oscar Ichazo, the founder of the Arica School.
Kurt's close friend and fellow Princetonian Jene La Rue went on to become an Assistant Professor of Classics at State University College at Buffalo, New York at the same time Kurt was an Assistant Professor of Art History at UCLA in the mid-sixties. While at Buffalo, Jene wrote a lengthy paper entitled "The Meanings of Mythology" (to read it, CLICK HERE) which both reiterated many of Kurt's interests, and also prompted Kurt's own reflections on the subject, which he shared with Jene later on in the early seventies in this commentary. Kurt and Jene, together with Jene's childhood friend Tom Genelli, together went on to create and operate The Diamond Sutra Restaurant in San Francisco in 1970. Jene and Kurt remained close friends until Jene's untimely death from cancer.
As if he were warming up for writing his 350,000 word opus A Ball of Twine, Kurt wrote reams in 1982, including this segment from an unnamed manuscript. In it we find many of the topics which dominated Kurt's thoughts, including mathematics, word etymology, Segre's figure, Finnegans Wake, Tibetan Buddhism and late-night television. "For whatever it's worth, at 11:32 p.m. (which of course is 23:32, a palindromic number) Johnny would finally quiet down the applause in Burbank while Jackie would be making his appearance on the set in "The Honeymooners" in the East (Carson and Gleason, respectively)."
This single page of text--unnumbered--was floating amid Kurt's archived papers, like an abandoned ship. Undoubtedly struck by inspiration, Kurt characteristically connects otherwise disparate topics, deftly weaving between Melville, twine, salt and Marcel Duchamp. "...and isn't Queegueg's character understood by some critics as a token of ambivalent sexuality, the shaman as androgyne?" he writes. "So too Marcel Duchamp/Rrose Selavy, under the guise of kryptofemininity, as in Man Rays' famous portrait of the Drag Quean."
After his contract at UCLA was not renewed, Kurt remained teaching in Los Angeles for a while at California State University. Despite the controversy surrounding his teaching methods at UCLA, Kurt continued to teach in unconventional ways. This lecture includes his reading from Gordon Wasson's seminal text on mushrooms, recordings of a woman singing shamanistic chants, a couple of cuts from a Beatles' album and Kurt's own reflections on the topic. All this was, in Kurt's words, to help create a simulated "psychedelic trip" for his students. The recording runs just under 1.5 hours, and takes a minute to load.
This page of notes appear to be from the early 1970s, and makes reference to a number of recurrent themes in Kurt's work and writing. Typically, he uses a diagrammatic approach of analysis, defining and then re-defining the "4 elements." Hopis, freeways, fragmentation (McLuhan), psychedelics, mushrooms, Lenny Bruce, Dionysos, food (Tantric), mythology, John Cage and shit all make an appearance.
Tim Leary, the ex-Harvard professor who chucked that career to advocate for the benefits of LSD--the man who coined the phrase "Tune in, Turn on, Drop out"--wrote a novel in 1976, and Kurt reviewed it. "In the Celtic tradition, which Leary is now invoking, he appears as the boy Gwion (pronounced "Finn"), become all-wise by accidentally sipping the witch Cerridwen's brew, as Leary sipped Albert Hoffman's, who is pursued by her and changes into hare, fish, bird before she finally swallows him as a grain of wheat and then bears him as a son, the half-divine riddling poet Taliesin." Kurt and Tim were both magicians, brothers in the esoteric arts. It's unclear if this review was ever published, but you can read it here.