PRINT February 1984


Why should a change of paradigm be called a revolution? In the face of the vast and essential differences between political and scientific development, what parallelism can justify that metaphor that finds revolutions in both? . . . [Our models or paradigms enable us] not only to know nature [which] is too complex and varied to be explored at random . . . but also [give us] some of the directions essential for map-making. . . . What a man sees depends both upon what he looks at and also upon what his previous visual-conceptual experience has taught him to see.
—Thomas S. Kuhn1


For Women’s Wear Daily Helmut Newton photographed two women, their legs, against a grand ancient city street. The women, being fashion models, are desirable and untouchable. This is that time which is separate from the observer, that time which is enclosed: time gone.

The past’s over. It’s an image. You can’t make love to an image.


Now in color: In front of an orange yellow street, female long red stockinged legs in black pumps’re nudging female long blue stockinged legs in black stilt heels. Touching me. This is our time cause we’re making the world. This is a description of Honey, Tell Me . . . , 1983, a painting by Jenny Holzer and Lady Pink.


The Newtonian model of time, which dominated the Western world through the 19th century (and is still assumed by the general culture), is linear. “Absolute, true and mathematical time . . . flows equably without relation to anything external.”2 This model of temporal moments can be considered as mathematical points on a line, in which all moments or numbers have similar natures. Georg Cantor (1845–1918), born of Danish parents in St. Petersburg, spent most of his life in obscurity, teaching at the little-known University of Halle in Germany. Cantor showed that moments or numbers do not all have similar natures.

Cantor’s considerations:
Let √ 2 = a/b.
Then: 2 = a2/b2.
a2 = 2b2.
a2 must be an even number.
a must be an even number.
Let x be some other number.
Since a is even, a = 2x.
a2 = 4x2.
a2 = 2_b2 equals 4_x2 = 2_b2.
2_x2 = b2.
b must be an even number.
But if a and b are even numbers, √ 2 can’t be an irrational; √ 2 can’t be √ 2.

But suppose that an irrational number is of a different nature than a rational number, that √ 2 isn’t a point simply locatable between 1 and 2. That is, that √ 2 is discontinuous with 1 and 2.

Now: consider one long line and one shorter line. Every point on the longer line can be shown to correspond to a point on the shorter line. How can this be?

Now: consider an infinitely long line. According to Cantor, there are as many points on the shorter line as on the infinitely long one. Now: how short can a line be and still contain as many points as all of infinite space? Cantor’s answer: a line that has no space. Why is this? Because there’s no way we can jump from continuous infinity (the line) to anything noncontinuous (such as a point).3 According to Cantor, different arithmetical laws apply to continuous and to discontinuous infinite sets. Both sets, that is, both continuous and discontinuous time, are real or models. (A model is as near reality as we’re going to get.) We simply can’t know a discontinuous infinite set in the same way we can know a continuous infinite set. We know in different ways.

Further: Examine the relation of nothing or zero to everything or infinity. “1/2” means “one divided by two.” The larger the fraction’s bottom number becomes, the smaller the fraction. As the bottom number becomes infinitely large or infinite, the whole fraction’s value approaches zero. Zero is infinity’s opposite; simultaneously these opposites not only coexist, but also are mutually dependent. This new model of time is the coexistence of zero and totality. Today, the common complaint against “avant-garde” work is a complaint against discontinuity. Yet the model of time has progressed beyond simultaneous continuity and discontinuity to a picture of simultaneous presence and absence.

Cantor suffered several nervous breakdowns and in 1918 died in a mental hospital.

Relations between the model of time today and a possible new model of knowledge:
In his autobiography Einstein wrote, “. . . on one supposition we should, in my opinion, absolutely hold fast: the real factual situation of the system S₂ (the particle in area B) is independent of what is done with the system S₁ (the particle in area A), which is spatially separated from the former.”4 This, known as “the principle of local causes,” in effect states that what happens in one area isn’t dependent on variables subject to the control of an experimenter who’s in a spacelike separated area. But in 1964, J.S. Bell published a mathematical proof based on the following situation: A gas when it’s electrically excited emits light. That is, the excited gas atoms send off paired photons. The photons of each pair fly off in opposite directions. When one photon is vertically polarized, the other immediately becomes so. This event is observable.

Does this event prove the uselessness of the principle of local causes?

In 1964 Bell’s experiment was still a hypothetical construct. In 1972, John Clauser and Stuart Freedman in Berkeley proved that the statistical predictions upon which Bell based his mathematics are correct.

Why does the second photon of the photon pair change in the same way as the first photon is changed? Is one photon signaling its pair photon?

If the photons aren’t signaling each other, then why does the second photon change? According to relativity (the Einsteinian universe), a signal, or any communication, can’t travel through space faster than the speed of light. According to the Einsteinian model, or the principle of local causes, photons can’t be communicating.

Restating this problem: How does the second photon change if there’s no possible communication or signaling between the two photons? What possible model of reality allows both a universe in which the speed of light is predominant and the results of the Clauser-Freedman experiment?

One model: In 1975, Jack Sarfatti, a physicist, theorized that “Each quantum jump is a space-like superluminal transfer of negentropy [order]. There’s no transport of energy. Nothing travels,” no signal. Nevertheless there’s an instantaneous change in the coherent structure of the energy between the two areas. The second photon changes, according to Sarfatti’s theory, because the two photons, even when separate, are connected: the wave function of the photon pair is at a “higher level of reality” than the wave functions of the separate photons. “Higher levels of reality, by virtue of the non-local EPR effect, are generally more coherent (ordered) than the lower levels.” Sarfatti calls this “the thermodynamic inequality of emergent order.”5

A reality level is a level of ordering. Separation (time) is one level of ordering; knowledge or totality, a higher order. These levels aren’t mutually exclusive.

Note how the model of time is beginning to be connected to that of knowledge.

Two more possible models:

The problem we have with accepting both the principle of local causes and the results of the Clauser-Freedman experiment is that we have acknowledged the logical model of the exclusive/or. What is our world, logically, if this model no longer holds? What possible experimental model doesn't have the form, "If I do x, then x₁ happens?

First possible model: The “branching-worlds” model: “If I do x, then x₁ and -x₁ and . . . happen.” This model is tied to a new model of knowledge because the experimenter is no longer apart from the experiment, as with the principle of local causes. The experiment involves human intentionality: according to the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, “whenever a choice is made in the universe between one possible event and another, the universe splits into different branches.”6

Second possible model: the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.
This model, which seems to be currently the most popular one among physicists, resembles Wittgenstein’s conclusion at the end of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921). The model is not the reality. That is, as according to Bohr rather than Einstein, any model’s utility depends on the experience of the experimenter. Again, the experimenter finds him- or herself in the middle of the experiment.

The Newtonian model of knowledge or identity has been turned upside down on its head. According to the English physicist David Bohm: “We must turn physics around. Instead of starting with parts and showing how they work together . . . we [must] start with the whole. . . . Description is totally incompatible with what we want to say.”7


What does any model of an abstraction, such as a model of time, have to do with me?

A personal beginning:
“ . . . with what we want to say.” What do I want to say? What’s this activity called “art”?

What’s this activity I want to do so badly, I’m willing to be poor (and make no mistake: despite the remnants of the myth that since great Abstract Expressionists could make it rich so could all other artists, and despite the small number of immensely successful young artists today— small given the actual number of artists in the Western world — most artists aren’t going to become financial successes), and for which I’m willing (not happily) to live without a lover (I’m briefly describing the current status of women in the art world)? Can I name the overwhelming want?

“Description is totally incompatible with what we want to say.” The act of describing assumes one event can be a different event: meaning dominates or controls existence. But desire—or art—is.

What this thing is is what it is. That is, understanding in terms of describing won’t work. For instance, the stronger sexual desire is, the stupider it makes the desirer.

If art’s to be more than craft, more than decorations for the people in power, it’s this want, this existence. I take for granted that this “is-ness” whose corollary has to be “uselessness” is the nature of Modern art.

Now how can art be useless if it’s a type of communication? Examine the two statements, “Help!” and “I need help.” The first language is a cry; the second, a description. Only the cry, art, rather than the description or criticism, is primary. The cry is stupid; it has no mirror; it communicates.

I want to cry.

Why should anyone listen?
Since whatever I cry out is stupid and meaningless, I’m, my cry is, asocial. I have no use in the world; the world has no use for me. I can barely earn money; 36 years old I live on a street between bums and hookers.

Up until the end of the 18th century, “all important works of art had been produced on request . . . the artist knew before he set hand to his work that there was a real need for what he was about to produce.” Art “had always been reactionary.” Suddenly, emerged in a revolutionary epoch, the artist “was cut off from financial support and from . . . response . . . ” He now “produced his work in the void and hoped that his painting or sculpture (now reduced to the level of merchandise) would find . . . a . . . buyer. He was no longer a man whose handiwork was needed by society.”8

Francisco Goya was one of the first modern or revolutionary or unwanted or salesman artists. Look at his “Black Paintings,” 1820–23. He had no desire to show these paintings to anyone. The louder the cry, the less it’s heard. A face and several limbs appear out of the blackness. The eyes’re so huge they are their own world. White flaccid hair floats out of the head’s left side. Black pit the mouth vomits out white cloud, some kind of gook, leading to huge monster hands clenched over buttocks. The killer is at least four times as big as his victim. The victim has no identity because the victim doesn’t matter. The killer enjoys killing because he’s eating the sap. All the bodies are distorted. No reason is given for anything.

Today in the art world, we find similar nausea and fluctuation: art has to sell to mean; artwork to sell should be a description, an image, rather than a cry. Cindy Sherman’s show at the end of last year at Metro Pictures clearly demonstrated this paradoxical situation.

Can Art Be Both My Cry and Image? Can I Exist? What’s this activity called “art”?

I write. I want to write I want my writing to be meaningless I want my writing to be stupid. But the language I use isn’t what I want and make, it’s what’s given to me. Language is always a community. Language is what I know and is my cry:


A large number of galleries have recently opened up in my neighborhood. More are planning to open. But the center of my neighborhood’s language is not this gallery art:

Language: Nonexistence in terms of the world
Standing in the knish joint in order to buy yogurt: a tall extremely skinny woman, probably about 14 years old though at first glance she looks 16, asks for a cup of sweetened coffee. Her angular body sways horizontally and disjointedly. About two feet away from her a less painfully thin good-looking curly-blond-haired man watches over her. He walks up and down the joint as if he’s casing it. Or: he’s casing it. The girl isn’t noticing him. Her body jerks more violently as she watches the coffeemaker. She would have those typically American good looks—straight fine blonde hair cut to the chin, clear white skin—except she’s become a ghost. The man leaves the joint. He- voice asks more violently to the coffeemaker, “What’re you doing now?” He’s pouring out my yogurt. “I’m making white gold.” Her body jerks more madly. “You want white gold?” “Where’s my coffee?” All she can think about is coffee.

The lack or scarcity of material possessions is humanly painful enough. When the mind is forced to focus, obsess, with no relief, is limited to the walls of what has to be a prison, when there is no world left: there is only non-existence. The girls who whore in New York on Houston Street between Allen and Chrystie Streets are between 14 and 18 years of age, extremely thin if not anorexic, tremble (partly because they wear as little clothing as the weather allows, and less); at least half of them have visible physical diseases: open sores cover face flesh, etc.

At a corner outside the huge glass windows of a nearby restaurant, two bums, men between the ages of 30 and 50 who’re wearing Issey Miyake clothing which doesn’t cost a fortune, eye a Con Edison vehicle. This vehicle is a small golf-cart-like car whose rear is linked by a bar to a small two-wheel closed wagon. The bums confer. They confer for a long time. They take their time because this is their home. They don’t see other humans. Their eyes are always on the Con Edison vehicle.They agree. One bum crosses the street, seats himself on that corner sidewalk on the raised concrete rectangle that separates the sidewalk and the gas station. A third bum who wears black Issey Miyake sits beside the second bum. They both watch the first bum who walks around the Con Edison vehicle. After meandering around the vehicle several times, he unhooks the bar that connects the car and the wagon. He’s satisfied because he’s worked so hard. He sits down on his curb. After several minutes, he stands up. He looks at the wagon. Across the street the other two bums are standing and conferring with each other. The bum walks over to the wagon, lifts up the connecting bar. The connecting bar is now lying on the street. Slowly, he lifts up the wagon’s front part which has been resting on the street. This demands effort. This doesn’t work. He lets the wagon fall down to its former position.

After due and weighty consideration, the first bum stands up. He walks over to the back of the wagon. He looks at the wagon’s back. He considers the wagon’s back. With all his strength, his hands placed beneath the wagon’s back ass, he lifts the metal up. The metal rises an inch. He puts the metal back down on the street. This effort is enough. He sits down in order to think.

Across the street, one of two cops who have been watching the first bum is dialing numbers on one of the plastic street phones. They stand in front of the two bums who watch them. Now and then the second and third bum slightly confer.

The first bum stands up. He walks over to the wagon’s ass. With a Herculean effort he lifts it up and, this time, with a more Herculean effort he lifts or rolls one of the wagon’s wheels onto the sidewalk. He has placed the wagon in his territory. The cops are unable to touch it. His Herculean efforts have succeeded. The other two bums approvingly nod. The two policemen are bored.

The first bum looks: his house isn’t the way he wants it. As he walks around the wagon several times, he becomes more and more upset. A house must be in order, Strolling over to the wagon’s front he, bending, holds the connecting bar. Slowly painfully, after lifting the front to a position horizontally equal to its rear, with the other bums’ approval, he drags the solitary wagon to the street corner on which the other two bums are sitting. His world is perfect. None of the bums talk to each other.

Three cop cars roll up to the street corner next to which the Con Edison car’s lying in the, street. Across the street the three bums without moving are watching the cops. After several circumambulations of the car, three men walk over to the bum. They talk to the bum. The bum doesn’t talk. The second and third bum watch the bum and the cops. They don’t talk. The three cops place handcuffs around the bum’s wrists. They, surrounding him, lead him back across the street. Seven cops surround him as he disappears in one of the cop cars. Alone on one side of the street, the Con Edison wagon.

What is it possible to know?

Language: The presence of all possibilities
“When at Last Man’s Folly seals his Fate . . . The First Lambs of God Shall be Last J.B.J.”: scrawled half on bright red, half on bright pink. A big blue-eyed Siamese pussycat, bigger than all the orange goldfish (orange goldfish swim over curling green plants through a blue ocean) stares out as he perches on the back of the train car he is as big as the train car’s door. Below the cat, a few flowers manage to grow out of the New York streets. Another pussycat, no, a chipmunk, not a monk, who has an even bigger face than the pussycat, slurps smirks grins and giggles at an even-wider-grinning frog. The frog has a head like a snake and is both light green and dark green. When his claws splay outward, they are foliage, for he has to climb up the sheer aluminum of the subway car’s wall. He’s showing CHICO in flames. Now there is a lot of green foliage in our city.

Big sad-eyed bad rabbit whose l’s are the color of his fur, all brown like the city, except his ears’ insides’re flamingo, rolls no goes is sad because he’s looking the wrong way, the other way at a slightly less melancholy macaw. All the colors of the rainbow and of paradise are the macaw’s feathers, the growing foliage, a smaller flying? beast whose blues reds and yellows are more distinct than its form. The dog, the rabbit, the unknowable beast, and the parrot all have the same size. Except for dog, they look at the rabbit. In this land there is sadness. The snake comes out of the furthermost bottom-most hole. Huge snake, orange sun, curls and snuggles upward, through foliage creeping more and more over the abandoned subway car; the snake can be mean and no animal is scared. Birds are hiding in every window. A big frog lives on the subway car’s roof. A big yellow sweet parakeet is God. Parrots and dogs and buildings and insects and unknown flyers and fish and snakes and plants and subway cars and frogs and reds and oranges and yellows and greens and blacks and browns and whites and blues: all the animals know. The wall’s mural outside my building’s door: by Chico and Score.

Kathy Acker’s novel Great Expectations has recently been published by Grove Press. A volume including three novels—Blood and Guts in High School, Great Expectations, and My Death, My Life by Pier Paolo Pasolini, will be published in February by Pan Books, London.



1. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago University of Chicago Press, 1970, pp. 92, 109, 113.

2. Isaac Newton, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), quoted in Paul Davies, The Edge of Infinity, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982, p. 45.

3. Davies, pp. 35 ff.

4. Albert Einstein, “Autobiographical Notes,” in Albert Einstein, Philosopher-Scientist, ed. Paul Schilpp, New York:Harper & Row, 1949, p. 85.

5. Gary Zukay, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, New York: Bantam Books, 1980, pp. 295, 298.

6. Zukav, p. 304.

7. Zukav, pp. 308–9, 311.

8. Fred Licht, Goya: The Origins of the Modern Temper in Art, London: John Murray, Ltd., 1980. p. 15.