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."

Wood, Paper, Pope


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.

Coincidence? You Decide


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."

The Big Two Hundred


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.

The Notion of Reincarnation


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." 

2wallymail - June 15, 1996


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. 

On Audio: Lecture on Magic Mushrooms and Shamanism - 1969


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.