Kurt's Semiotexts

Kurt von Meier read and absorbed many hundreds of books on a wide range of subjects, but a handful stand out as seminal texts which deeply influenced his thinking, teaching and overall approach to life. 


Irwin Panofsky was a professor at Princeton University where Kurt received his Ph.D. in Art History. Panofsky, a German-Jewish emigre to the United States, is widely credited with establishing Art History as a widely-accepted academic discipline. He wrote many books, but in his book lists and references in his writing, Kurt makes his appreciation for Panofsky entirely clear. A collection of Panofsky's writing made its way into almost every book list Kurt provided his students over his 40 years of teaching.
           Panofsky not only cemented Kurt's interest in Art History, however; Panofsky's commitment to anti-authoritarian humanism touched a deep vein of the same in Kurt, and those humanistic values became lifelong.


Another university professor, R. B Onians, had a profound effect on Kurt's development as a teacher. Onians' 1951 book Origins of European Thought predated the work of Joseph Campbell, but explored similar territory, namely the roots of human belief and the ways in which these roots inform and permeate every aspect of human culture, both modern and ancient.
          A Classicist by training, Onians uses Greek and Latin as freely as English and providing no translation, assuming this poses no challenge to his readers. In Kurt's case this was true, the by-product of his own classical education.


In 1962, Canadian professor Marshall McLuhan's book Gutenberg Galaxy was published, and immediately established McLuhan as one of the first and foremost media critics in the West. His now famous slogan "the medium is the message" pointed to itself, just the sort of semiotic, self-referential approach guaranteed to grab and hold Kurt's attention.
          Being a devoted reader and highly literate man, Kurt immediately grasped McLuhan's understanding of the effects of media on culture, and McLuhan's work deeply influenced Kurt's approach to Art Criticism.


The 1967 Wilhelm/Baynes edition of the I Ching, or Book of Changes, was often by Kurt's side. As an oracle, mode of contemplation, and overall guide to properly discerning the flow of events, Kurt relied regularly on this book of ancient Chinese wisdom.
          That chance--the throwing of yarrow stalks or coins--is an essential part of using the I Ching enhanced its attraction for Kurt; he believed chance was a major factor in both the twists and turns of history and the present-day experience of living.


Poet, author and novelist Robert Graves' The White Goddess, published in 1948, reinforced Kurt's appreciation of poesis and intuition in the interpretation and understanding of Art History. In addition to Graves' working example of using poetic intuition to connect and understand mythology and history, this book also extended Kurt's awareness of the "triple goddess" and the working of the feminine principle. That awareness helped mold his support for feminism and gender equity, fitting nicely into his left-wing political views and basic humanist inclinations.


Kurt took Buddhist precepts in 1970, and shortly thereafter became involved in the Kagyu-pa School of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. Of great importance was the work of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, a lama who escaped from Tibet during the Chinese takeover and who founded Shambhala. Kurt traveled to Trungpa's retreat center in Colorado, and went on to become deeply immersed in Vajrayana, the most esoteric of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Informing both his personal life and his teaching, Kurt regularly recommended Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism to his students.


Kurt found Laws of Form by G. Spencer Brown so compelling it preoccupied him for nearly a decade. As a mathematical representation of emergence from the void, a model for working with imaginary and paradoxical states as well as the underlying basis of machine logic, Laws of Form provided a link for Kurt between the indescribable nature of mystical experience and the ordinary world. His interest would lead to a conference at Esalen, building a personal relationship with Brown, many hundred pages of writing, and a course taught at Sacramento State University.