December 2007

Elizabeth Bachner


Paradoxia: A Predator's Diary by Lydia Lunch

Paradoxia: A Predator’s Diary follows a teenage girl -- a hustler, junkie, nymphomaniac and sadomasochist -- as she flees her abusive father in Upstate New York and lies, fucks and steals her way though the teeming cesspools that are early-'80s Manhattan and L.A. A “classic nihilist’s philosophy” is her only dogma. “I’m the bloodsucking murder junkie,” she writes, “who loves to watch big strong men beg for their lives like tiny baby girls.”

As a writer, Lydia Lunch often is compared to Hubert Selby, Jr. and Jean Genet. Reading Paradoxia, I see some Dostoevsky in her shattered protagonist and her unforgettable, murderous opening line: “So twisted by men, a man, my father, that I became like one.” Her revolting (in every sense of the word) sex scenes read like Bukowski, or sometimes de Sade. She can be, and has been, compared to so many different iconoclast writers, or rockers, or even killers. But what’s fascinating is that she’s almost never compared to other women.

The protagonist in Paradoxia wants to fuck like a man, or tries to, or thinks she does. She wants to be a sexual predator, a lover of filth and puke and exploitation, a perpetrator more than a victim. Men (“usually after misguided three-ways”) often accuse her of latent misogyny. One friend is even worried that she’ll literally murder a woman. “He reasoned that I was merely trying to kill the woman inside myself… That through sexual abuse and humiliation, I was merely reliving again and again my own torture. I insisted he drop his faulty Krafft-Ebing prognosis…”

In Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, one of the four categories of deviance is paradoxia, sexual desire at the wrong time of life, such as childhood or old age. Lunch’s title, for the story of a once-raped girl turned predator, is audacious and badass and heartbreaking. Krafft-Ebing believed that women were sexually passive and had no capacity to be sadists, or even fetishists. On one level, every scene in Paradoxia undermines the narrator’s defiance, showing again and again the ugly little roles that girls are corralled into for being girls. Lydia Lunch, or her protagonist, can’t fuck like a man, because there’s a brutalizing difference -- not from the variety of body parts, which seem to merge with blood and death and the stink of bile and grease into one undifferentiated human stew -- but because of how things are set up. “No names have been changed to protect the innocent,” reads the dedication, “they’re all fucking guilty.” As the story moves into the 1990s, when Lunch teaches at art school and sleeps with her students, it’s clearer and clearer that it’s not exactly fiction, not exactly memoir, but something different.

Lunch’s protagonist can’t fuck like a man, but she can write like one. She’s as much the spawn of Blanchot, Bataille and Foucault -- whose passages are used to seduce her by a creepy European who poisons her and gets off on her nausea -- as of Selby or Genet. Because she is a woman, writing like this, writing from a place of brutal, relentless truth, writing about the power of disgust and of desire turned against itself, is a defiant act. Or is it? It is not only a document of the No Wave psychosexual landscape, but a document that raises important and unforgettable questions about gender, sex and abuse. It’s true that Lunch doesn’t bother changing any names. She probably doesn’t change any details, either, but it’s less a confessional than a philosophical treatise. For readers of Blanchot, Bataille and Foucault, there’s a certain sameness in shocking material, a strangely fixed quality to the taboos we do, or do not, transgress. Paradoxia has a place in the literature of depravity, and like the good work in that genre, it’s intentionally funny. It’s to the reader to determine whether Lunch’s study goes deeper than that, or if instead, it’s a kind of literary and philosophical repetition compulsion, a reprisal of greatest hits from male nihilists, sexual adventurers and chroniclers of deviance.

Paradoxia: A Predator's Diary by Lydia Lunch
Akashic Books
ISBN: 1933354356
162 Pages