The Curious Case of Annette
I wanted to do this, to write about Annette, very straight, like Carlos Casteneda wrote about Don Juan....There is something about the paradigms for Annette that are striking because they can be set out with all the straight pretentions of objective, factual, logical, scientific, clear-cut data, which we should remember from time to time is the best stuff from which the outrages of our dreams and speculations are put together.
...The only time anyone saw a letter from Annette was when it arrived, and if they happened to be there then. Oh maybe I did show the collection to some friends. I can't remember now--and it must have been before the assembled documents reached anywhere near their present, and presumably final proportions.
...I don't think I lost anything, but the notes, letters and things were never filed in any systematic way either. Now that I am approaching the job of sorting them out and providing what essential commentary I can, it seems to me ironic that l should have handled such obviously extraordinary documents in such a haphazard, non-scholarly manner. And this despite all my training and practice as an art historian. This once again validates Marshall McLuhan's observation that our own environment is invisible to us. Well, that does have to be qualified--not "invisible" because I did sense what Annette meant: I saved the stuff pretty carefully. But like the typical academic who has only semi-transcended his heritage and profession, I did not let these intuitions work too deeply into my consciousness.
...I think I did throw away some of the first letters, the love notes, the inconsequentia that began a remarkable torrent of hopeless efforts at communication. Annette was, to say the word, intimate from the start--that is, from the start of her messages. And this intimacy, like most intimacies, made me embarrassed, levering shame and responses of violent but cool-surfaced crumpling-ups of these envelopes, the handwriting and paper stained and stenched with Annette's own curious taste in cheap pungent perfume.
The bulk of the evidence has survived. It is far more than enough for her portrait, if that were ever the purpose of all this. Each item has been jacketed in sleek manilla and set into some estimated sequence. There are fifty-one items bearing dates, or that can be dated with precision--fifty-one at this writing. There are, in addition, some twenty-five items that cannot yet be assigned a precise date, although some of these I remember coming earlier, some later than others. Each of these items may be cataloged separately--but that may also be misleading. The simplest is a single piece of paper with Annette's writing on it; yet other items are complex multimedia assemblages of extraordinary and disarming--what is it--wit? inventiveness? madness?
I think we have to concede, at this point, that Annette was mad. Not insane--or insane, perhaps, but not in the way our presidents, generals and captains of industry manifest their insanity in the corruption of dignity, the pollution and defiling of the earth and the teetering with annihilation. There is a beautiful, free, creative madness that isn't at all necessarily what Plato had in mind in the Phaedrus, but which is as close to that perhaps as acid rock is to what we know from the fragments of a whole Greek poetry. And she also had three streaks of terror running through her: from herself, from the rest of the world, and that other one which for those who know it makes these first two terrors into the merest fears.
Annette doesn't stand out very very much in my memories of the class. It was a large lecture hall situation, with a couple of hundred students. This is when I got the first messages from her, but they were abstract and cryptic in senses that concealed their intimacy from me. Still that closeness worked on me, and I destroyed them.
After the semester was over I began to receive more messages from Annette, and it soon became clear to me instinctively that I should save them. The first dramatic, public confrontation between us that sticks in my mind must have come about this time, that is, toward the end of the Fall semester, sometime around the beginning of the new year. I gave a talk at one of the dormitories. A group of my students lived in one of the university's residence halls and invited me up to speak my mind on whatever it was--probably about the future of education--blah, blah, blah. Well, I did. And in the evening audience was Annette. You know the "question from the audience" syndrome. But this was vehement, rather slashing and personal, like, "Oh come on now, don't give us any of that high-class Princeton horseshit." Well now, What do you say? Especially when that is more or less what you have been doing, although saying a few things too-- I just played it a little hurt and offended (not too much, but like becoming more dignified in the circumstance). The rest of the audience huffed and grumbled her down.
She had apparently begun to follow me around, and was responsible for loud comments or questions from the audience on more than one occasion--although it's hard to identify or to remember those people.
The first crisis with Annette came in the early spring. Mimi, the undergraduate counsellor, told me that a girl named Annette been trying to see me, having stopped by my office (and indeed lain in wait for me) for days, all to non avail. Well, my office hours were a little loose and irregular. So would I please make an appointment with her if only to keep her from bugging the whole office? I think Mimi teased a little bit, too. Before that could be arranged however Mimi called when I happened to be in my office and said come down, there was a problem. Annette had voluntarily committed herself for care at the Neuropsychiatric clinic, but had escaped to come see me. They didn't know what she was going to do--which could be amusing, but wasn't. Mimi and I conferred. I didn't want to automatically send her back to the clinic. No telling what those bastards had been doing to her or how they intended more to bend her head. Still, maybe that was the best place for her--and she had wanted it, at least at first.
I was more scared than turned-on. Mimi tipped me off. Annette had a fiery reputation going for her, having apparently balled some of the fraternity boys--like going around knocking on the door of the house and taking on all of the fellows who weren't chickenshit. Which was probably not that many guys, and probably not all at once, what with male prudery having been popular around the same time as fraternities. Now that was OK, if dangerous. But I didn't really know what she wanted to do to or with me. And Annette was a pretty big, husky girl, with wild light blue eyes that almost popped. She was doubtless capable of violence. But the possibility could not be and was not excluded that she needed help--particularly help against the institution. For our own survival may be inextricably involved with going for individuals, backing them up whenever they need help or even ask for it, always giving them the benefit of the doubt against institutions. It is the fascists of all stripes and spots who go the other way.
I had visions of Annette stabbing herself outside my office--a desperate love knot between the dagger hilt and her now-still breast. Wow. How in the hell do I explain that one? Or suppose I did make it with her. My god, what could that lead to? I almost shit my pants thinking about it. The university would probably have liked nothing better--what a great opportunity for hanging my ass, or just quietly dropping me right then and there. Also I didn't want Judy to find out about anything, because we had a very fine thing going then. And Annette was not exactly the sort of girl one could depend upon to be discreet. So from early on I was scared out of pushing the sexual possibilities of a relationship with her. Not that it was totally unappealing. On the contrary, Annette was a walking organism of solidified sexual exudent, earthy and lusty, all of which her madness intensified. What a weird, intense and sensual trip that would have been.
I am sure that the closest we came to making it in Annette's mind was a circumstance she radically misunderstood. It was, I think, the last time I saw her, face to face. It came about this way. Sue had been one of my students and had become a friend. One day she was coming by the house and walked along Washington Street, either popping into Nick's on the corner or to the little Stop and Shop grocery, and bumped into Annette--maybe she was coming out of the bar, Te Hinao, between the other two stores. Annette engaged her in conversation, dropping the newsy little item that she was going to hide near my front door and kill me some night. Sue was freaked, and passed this on to me together with the obvious but useless good advice to be careful.
So when I did meet Annette again a couple of days later--almost at the same place Sue met her--I figured she had really been hanging around and may damn well be serious about maybe shoving a knife into my ribs some night when I am fumbling with the key in the door. Thus impelled by spectres of my own untimely demise. I thought it best to adopt a conciliatory than a stern attitude. I was sure there were no problems Annette and I couldn't talk over. No I didn't hate her at all--it was just that there were so many hang-ups at school about doing anything with students (which was, for the best part, a lie). Why she should have realized all along that I did dig her; but of course I did have a good girlfriend whom I really didn't want to hurt, etc. (a good part of which was the truth).
That was when Annette started dreaming of the specific day when I would come by her place on Pacific. But I didn't dare, hoping just to keep her at bay with intimations and sweet anticipation. This was far less cruel, I am still convinced, than were some of my other plots and notions; it was a manoeuvre banked on self-defense, fear and survival. And it marked the beginning of my resolve to put all the distance possible between Annette and myself--psychological, emotional, physical, geographical, any and all future distances whatsoever.
But I have not forgotten Annette. Nor have I burned her notes, never thinking that the distances of history and memory had to be obliterated. What follows is a description and transcription of the flotsam of Annette's mind as it concerned me, what remains of what she sent or gave to me. I began compiling this material, sorting it out and deciphering it--sometimes opening letters for the first seen time--only after having the last item in the catalog. This is the letter addressed to my mother, which she showed me just before Christmas when I drove up to Carmel with a new girl friend during the holidays. Mom didn't think it was important enough to write me about before that. The letter bears a postmark of September 13th, and it contains a clear indication that I will never again receive anything from Annette.
So it is ended and we have historical distance, perspective. But that doesn't do much to water down the mad intensity of her notes. Whatever might be necessary for understanding Annette's statements, references, allusions and illusions, I have tried to add in (discreet) footnotes. Avoiding surnames has to be weighed against avoiding lawsuits and some acute jostling of sensitivities. For the rest, I have decided that I should put it down as straight as possible.
#21. To Man Ray (Best Wishes on Your Bar Mitzvah)...
Letter addressed, in part, "To Man Ray c/o Kurt von Meier," enclosed in a Bar Mitzvah card. The envelope was addressed to me as:
Professor Kurt von Meier
c/o U.C.L.A. Art Dept.
Dickson Art Building
W. Los Angeles (Westwood), Calif.
The return address is the new (?) Pacific Ave. one, 2324, Apt 4, in Venice. Very probably then the return address given on item 19, as 2222 Sawtelle #38 1/2 was anachronistic. The letter is postmarked unclearly--the twenty-somethingth of March, possibly the 29th, PM, 1967, at Los Angeles.
Inside is a Bar Mitzvah card (7 3/4 x 3 3/4") with a long fold. To the left is an embossed and gold metallic printed heraldic emblem with two lions, the Tablets above a floreate base and surmounted by a crown (or however it may be described in the private language of heraldry). To the right of this is the greeting: Best Wishes on Your BAR MITZVAH
in pseudo-Hebraic script, with the "BAR MITZVAH" also in gold. Opening the flap, the inside of the card is a pouch-like affair, conveniently shaped and sized for containing US money notes. There is printed a Mogen David and this verse:
To wish you all the gladness
Your Bar Mitzvah Day can bring
And then throughout the future
All the best of everything
Without grinding it in, we should note the printing on the back of the card as well--I mean, it was set in type and run off on the presses just as well as the sentiments on the front and on the inside of the card. If it is only convention of very selective reading that keeps us from remarking on what is printed on the backs of cards, then what is that other set of conventions which perpetuates the back‑printing tradition? For example, in the middle of the card back is a corporate image or insignia: a dark rectangle within which is a single lower case "a": and along the vertical portion of this letter (left as white, negative space) is another symbol, difficult to describe and to me not immediately meaningful. Beneath this small imprint are the words "American Greetings" in a sort of bond script, with the little registered mark superscript (an "R" in a circle).
What does happen if we read this straight--is "Best Wishes on Your BAR MITZVAH" in pseudo-Hebraic script really some kind of "American Greeting," and does the doggerel inside have certain features amenable to astute and precise literary analysis, for example, that could place it in time and nation as an "American Greeting?" Even if this is not at all what is meant--what does our use of "meaning" mean here, when we so confidently assume that this or that is "not at all what is meant"?--what if it does, nevertheless have a kind a kind of meaning that we conventionally respect when we look for it?
Of course the obvious relevance of "American Greetings" is spelled out in the lower righthand corner"
AMERICAN GREETINGS CORP
But right beneath this is one of these apparently mystical series of numbers, presumably conveying meaning to some group of initiates, although that meaning is in no way available to ordinary citizens without becoming privy to an order of arcana. It is:
25 R 942-4L
And it is also reminiscent of the kind of "private languages" Wittgenstein investigated in his mature years. Or perhaps, in this case, it may be related to the ancient tradition of the Kabbalah. Now what kind of cabalist would cavalierly discount the possibility that in these very letters and numbers might, indeed, be written the secret and unspeakable Name of God. The price our intellectual love affair with the principle of consistency exacts is the insecurity we suffer when we must leave open all such potentialities of meaning--at least unless we are prepared to start from the plateau erected for us by Antonin Artaud in his brillig essay/tirade, "Letter Against the Kabbala," dated at Ivry, June 4, 1947, on page 113 of the Antonin Artaud Anthology edited by Jack Hirschman and published by City Lights Books in San Francisco (1965).
I went upstairs to check this reference, and pulled down the Anthology from the French shelf. Then it occurred to me that I had to take a shit, so I took the book into the bathroom. I found the reference, Artaud's "Letter," and then flipped pages to "The New Revelations of Being" (page 84) and sat down with my ass bared. There was a revelatory contact with a white ring of cold, moist porcelain, and flash associations of curly stray pubic hairs (from someone else's pubes), and spatterings of watered-down brown or the stains of other secretions that somehow get under the seat cover and around the rim. And then cold: I shot up affixing blame, figuring Bob had left the seat up to piss--Bob who is staying here for a week while working it out with his wife, Bob who does not put the lid back down when he finishes pissing--worse in some subtle ways than pissing on the seat itself. New revelations of being. Artaud would have dug it.
And the phone rung before I had finished my shit and before I had finished Artaud's "New Revelations" (right up to page 94 and "...these double Rods of Fire"). It was Bob on the phone--just as he had been somewhat earlier that same morning; by chance he called twice (which is not usual), and the first time I was also trying to shit, in the downstairs toilet, and was just in about the same state of near-completion, when the phone rang then too. Chance--or a prefiguration of the anal apocalypse? For as Artaud at one point reveals and concludes (he is ever revealing and concluding):
After all this, it should be obvious to anyone that the Kabbala was a simple book, simple in the sense of simpleton, but written by those who were simple not in spirit or of spirit, but in and of virtues, and who never had any other virtue that that of being simple, i.e., in the plainest and most simple concrete sense: assholes.
The letter (Annette's inside the Bar Mitzvah card's pouch instead of money, not Artaud's Against the Kabbala) is written on blue lined paper (5 x 8") in blue ballpoint pen. The first page starts with a Roman numeral I at the top, enclosed in a heart. Then the next several lines have a line drawn through them, but read:
SPORTS and MUSIC
juke-box (the mediums the
R2 Spellbinder S Szabo
Aragon Olympic International-e
"Nite School" refers to the bar mentioned earlier in item No. 4. Gabor Szabo is the well-known jazz guitarist and Sandor Szabo, now deceased I believe, used to be a wrestler I would listen to at night on my little red plastic radio over the sports station broadcast from Sacramento, the nights they did not broadcast the baseball forays of the Sacramento Solons in the old Pacific Coast League. Off hand, I don't know which one of these gentlemen is responsible for the tunes "Witchcraft" and "Spellbinder," but I guess it is Gabor. The "Aragon" might well refer to the boxer Art (Golden Boy) Aragon, who went a few rounds in his time at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles (and probably also danced a few numbers at the old Aragon Ballroom--L.A., not the newer establishment of the same name in San Francisco). What the large number means is mystic indeed.
The rest of the first page is not lined-through. It reads:
To Man Ray c/o Kurt von Meier or/ I'm
waiting for my Twin Ray or/ It's all a
case of Anima -- 1A7 spade, club ----
"There is no progress in art, any more
than there is in making love. There are
simply different ways of doing it."
This last quotation is from me--from one of my inspired moments in lecture, and therefore a statement (in the long tradition of radical Protestantism, for example) for which I take no credit at all. I was talking about the habits of thinking in terms of "historical" concepts, of change, evolution, developments, sources and influences, and all of the relational structures utilized by the historical mentality. Of course they are also structures which imprison weaker minds.
I had not yet heard a tape of Gary Snyder talking before an audience at the University of California at Berkeley in which he most aptly criticized the unnecessarily limiting habit of thinking in terms of history (which, after all, means only the last five thousand or so years--in contrast to the fifty thousand years, at least, that we have been in this same mind and in this same body, capable of the same feelings and feats of intellect, but without a written "history" as the basis for our "civilization"). Nor had I heard Ralph Ortiz speak in similar ways about what could perhaps be called a "post-historical" mentality--although I have no idea if that is what the author of a book I have not read, on Post-Historical Man, had in mind. But, I mentioned in class the brief book by D. B. Wyndham Lewis called the Demon of Progress in the Arts. I own it but have never read it, the title alone being good enough for me. (I'm sure it's a very nice little book. And don't we usually say "I'm sure," 'certainly," "of course," "naturally" and such precisely when we are not sure--as if to make deliberately vulnerable, transparent, hyperbolic affirmations so that if caught out, if for any reason it should appear otherwise to another, we may be corrected without blame to ourselves, or better yet even intimidate that potential correction by our aggressive and authoritarian blitheness?
One of my few close friends, Carl Belz, wrote a doctoral dissertation on Man Ray. Upon occasion we have talked about his art, and Carl also about him. I met Man Ray only very incidentally at the opening of his retrospective exhibition presented at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art during 1966. I do not know what "My Twin Ray" may be; the first letter of the third word may not be an "R" at all--it could read "Say" or "Pay" with perhaps almost as much apparent meaning. The "Anima" might be a clue to look for solutions to this enigma in the writings of Carl Georg Jung, just as the reference to the suits might relate to the tradition of the Tarots.
Commercial: Buy wheat
Revolution, Leary, provos, who
goes, why go, if there's no go-go
Progress is for nouveau pilgrims
drinking Beefeater's over
Pinching, sipping, tipping and
losing, for here there are only
different ways of doing it
The crash can come and go
and they-we will still measure
out progress in spoons of, tea-
spoons of, Galliano or wine
Panhandle me but be be be red
white blue true
Keep the code even when cold on
Hipperies come and go talking
of love, a beautiful white
love all insulated, all rock,
all Carnaby, cut-out-mini-knits,
all rock, all free
Press can be sold next to the
rectangular line of people
waiting for the L.A. Time (s)
The code, the luv-makers; it's
all a big shuck You can progress
if you have a good love-tick
for there is evolution psycho-
sexually don't you think
A mentality from orality to
Live to give that's an internal
revolution and if you know
about it You don't even have
to write too much about it
But I live without it because
I am so lonely and blue when
I am without you so I write
Am I ever transient
Give a position so anatomical
Do it in the trees, sideways
and maybe the breeze
will find where it's at
Give altruistically and follow
a good Christian rule
That's not it, you fool
In fact they're all words, fool,
Concepts, bah, blah
Dangling conversations w/the
But Man Ray, did you eat
the olives, there is progress
in love=life=art but where's
it at - back to back and
belly to belly -man to man-
trio trip ... in France, at
the seam of your pants or
brain I don't give a damn
'cause I've done that already
No positions, no thoughts------
Low, lower, low
Unconscious, soul-o, GROW
14. Red and Yellow Letter.
Letter mailed in a fancifully decorated envelope, postmarked February 25, 1967 at Los Angeles, California, Terminal Annex. The envelope measures 6 3/4"x 4 1/8". It is addressed:
Kurt von Meier P.H.D.
c/o Art Dept. Dickson Center
And the return address is:
2222 * 381/2
So far straight enough. But along the left-hand side of the envelope front she has drawn a series of Xs and stars. At the upper right, around the 8c airmail stamp's lower and right‑hand edges and over the top of "P.H.D." is an elaborate scroll pattern, actually made up of 21 gidouilles. At the bottom, under "Westwood Calif." is a scribbled scroll. Over the "eie" in "Meier" is a circle filled in with yellow ink apparently from a felt tip pen. Similarly filled in are several letters, such as the "A" of "Art," the "A" of "U.C.L.A." and the "e" of "Westwood." Other letters, including both the "P" and the "D" of "P.H.D." are filled in with red felt tip pen. There are many other dots and markings with these two colors. Also, along the top of the address is an undulating blue felt tip line which ends in a blob over the "H: of "P.H.D." There are two postmarks. Under the lefthand one (like the bottom two rings of the Ballantine's Beer/Ale trademark) is a laterally distended heart in which is written "Air Mail."
The envelope flap is sealed on the back with two strips of yellow tape; and at the "V" where they meet, there is a third strip of yellow tape that runs parallel to the top and bottom of the envelope. On this tape are written the words: REINSTATE (down the left side of the "V") DR. von MEIER (up the right side), at u. c. l. a. (on the right side of the horizontal strip). To the right of the right-side of the "V" is pasted a single Blue Chip stamp. On the envelope flap is written the following quotation, only partly visible as it continues under the yellow tape strips:
"What was before the beginning?"
This child has sensed that
there is no end to questioning
that there is no stopping
place for the mind that
(Hashed up Karl Jaspers
Over the top of all this is spattered black india ink. The "Jaspers" is the only part of the last line not under the tape; and the last clause was lined through by Annette herself. To the left of the tape "V" she has written two statements in black ballpoint pen:
(I'm Lady X)
(It was my
with the candy)
These are written at an angle parallel to the right-hand tape of the "V". The "Lady X" refers to a note from her signed thus, and now, I suppose, lost or thrown away. The raincoat and candy I seem to remember in my office, or outside my office door as some weird ex-voto. It hung around for a long time--at least the plastic raincoat did; but the candy must have disappeared fast--it may have been a box of Whitman's chocolates, a Sampler (which would have fit into Annette's aesthetic).
Under the horizontal tape is the message:
I sent the Psychedelic
Review w/the article by
She has drawn an irregular oval around this, also in black ballpoint pen. To the left of this are six more gidouilles: and to the right are the three signs (circular-gidouille, triangular and rectangular) that appear also on item 6. Further to the right, under "Jaspers" is the acknowledgment, written at the same angle as the other admissions:
I sent, also, "Cats, Kicks, & Colors"
At the bottom of the envelope back there is a final revealing statement:
(My things are in the bottom right hand drawer of your desk
The rectangular "gidouille" falls between "desk" and the closing parenthesis. I usually left my office open. Either I had put some of Annette's gifts in the desk drawer (such as the Pink Box, item 1) or she had. I remember that on several occasions they began to clutter up the office.
Inside is a receipe, torn out of some slick women's magazine presumably, page 176, for "chocolate scotcheroos," copyrighted 1965 by the Kellogg Company ("You make 'em crunchy with Kellogg's Rice Krispies and frost 'em smooth with Nestle's Morsels.") Annette has added the comment at the bottom"
It's not Alice T or Gertrude S but it's very Americaine.
She has also added, gratuitously, a large acute accent over the "i" of "Americaine," but none over the "e". The recipe was folded in quadrants and then some--in fact it appears to have been much folded, so that the paper has broken down. Another detail: the "1 cup peanut butter" called for in the receipe has been crossed out. Annette's references are, of course, to Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein. Dear Alice's Cookbook has already been mentioned as appearing on the reading list for the class in art history which I taught and in which Annette was enrolled.
A letter on a single page of paper (5 3/4 x 8") is headed "1965 On Being Sick or, to my Psychiatrist." Both the date and the dedication are in black felttip pen, but the title and text are in blue ballpoint pen.
I would like to find the
median of oh so many things
But to be at one with the
mean would not be appropriate
either it seems
Who is to judge that amorphous
line of what is sickness and
what is health
Some say the can but shirk
the cry to find out why
The why of multitudinous things
Why you ... is allright
Why themselves ...another question
But then it seems for them as
well as me there is an evil
also in too much introspection .
So what is the answer ... please
Where ends the simple fantasy
Where begins the delusion
Tell me please of other things
too like the difference between
withdrawal and self-containment
Or do I speak through my own
Am I racking with self-doubt
or am I humble
You and me:
Do you struggle to be free
of value judgement
Or do you wallow in Autocracy
Why can I not see
The third item inside the envelope is a curious collage on the back of a certificate from the University of California School of Criminology for their Counselor Advisor University Summer Education Program (July 15th-September 2nd, 1964, Berkeley, California), in cooperation with the United States Department of Labor and the California State Employment Service. The collage is in a long format (5 1/2 x 8 3/8") in contrast to the wide format of the certificate. There are several pieces of tape and cloth colored yellow, one triangular light red piece of cardboard taped on, a triangular blue plastic piece, a.22 caliber bullet, a dime, and the clipped out title of Artforum magazine with the date October 1966. The collage is headed in Annette's black ballpoint pen, Feb 25, '67, and she has added this note:
is Fascism, there
may be something
in the minds of the
artists of the