Readers encountering A Ball of Twine for the first time may be pardoned for wondering whatever led Kurt von Meier to write some 350,000 words about a single piece of sculpture, and a ready-made sculpture at that, not even a piece of "fine art"; and further, how they can ever be expected to read the damn thing, given the pressures of the onrushing millenium.
As to the first question, it must be admitted, even forthrightly proclaimed, that Prof. von Meier is a man of many words; in mitigation, let it be said that even a cursory glance will reveal that they are quite interesting words, well-chosen and deftly combined.
Further, the words in A Ball of Twine are not all the author's; the pages linked in the Table of Contents at the left are overflowing with generous quotes and meticulous citations. Here you will find great gobs of Joseph Campbell, James Joyce, Robert Graves, Ezra Pound, Helen Caldicott and G Spencer Brown, as well as material from the Tarot, the I Ching, Hopi elders, art historians, politicians, Monty Python, the daily press, the comic pages, and anywhere else that von Meier finds ornaments for the thread of his argument.
That argument itself purports to be an investigation into the identity of the object that Walter Arensberg slipped inside a ball of twine on Easter Sunday, 1916, and that Marcel Duchamp then sealed away by bolting two plaques of brass around the hole.
Duchamp never knew what the object was (or so he said), and the secret died with Arensberg until curator Walter Hopps was granted permission to take a peek, thus reviving it. Now Prof.von Meier claims to have guessed the secret on his own.
Good for him, one might say, but 350,000 words? Surely that is a bit much. However while A Ball of Twine is structured around this process of divination, guessing the object is not the real burden of the book. Rather it is to provide a structure by which art and art history can be shown as not only relevant, but essential, to preserving a globe that is currently being poisoned by manmade pollutants. Readers of this book will eventually come to a realization of what it is that Prof.von Meier thinks is inside the ball of twine. They will also learn a lot about secrecy, about civilization, about number and mathematics, and yes about art history, including specifically about Marcel Duchamp and his extraordinary emergence as an important influence on the 20th Century art world. Most important, they will be shown a new vision of art and human existence.
Not bad for something that starts with a simple ball of twine. This is a rich, informative, thought-provoking book. You don't have to read it all; dip in anywhere (by clicking on the TOC entries), and you will find something of interest.
A Ball of Twine is a publication in progress. The text was written in 1989-91 and prepared for Internet publication in the summer of 1997. In this initial electronic version, the material appears as text only. Illustrated pages and lists of weblinks will be uploaded as they are prepared.
-- Cliff Barney