A sociopath grows weary.
“[I] had to learn to replace Them, It, Want, Hurt, Anger, Sorrow, Loss, with Power, Healing, Wisdom, Fulfillment, Satisfaction.” That’s Lydia Lunch’s epiphany that concludes Paradoxia. For the preceding 150 pages, her story is for those who thrill to the exploits of sociopaths and revel in sex as both the ultimate means and metaphor for power itself. This means that its tedium is hard for any adult to sit through without skimming and groaning. Rather, young male virgins completing their freshman year of college or the proverbial 14-year-old Goth girl from Kansas might find Lydia Lunch’s Confessions of a Sex Addict a compelling ride. For Lunch herself, it must feel cathartic to pour out all these memories of sex beyond its limits out onto the page.
But if sex does not titillate the reader, or he or she does not crave the vicarious thrill of sex with strangers in ‘80s New York’s flea-bitten but lionized flophouses, then Paradoxia is as riveting as reading about someone who travels from buffet to buffet. If Lunch wrote about food instead of sex, no one would pick this up. “The trays were steaming hot and Johnny grabbed the back of our friend’s neck and pushed her face into some spicy sag paneer. The next day, I met a strange Greek man at Chinese Buffet II and we each consumed four plates of dumplings. When he went to the bathroom, I took thirty dollars from his wallet and skated on the check.” Perhaps lamentably, this is not a tell all buffet diary, and her somewhere between fiction and memoir book comes off like Henry Rollins re-writing Xaviera Hollander’s autobiography. After pages of Penthouse Forum style encounters, Lunch realizes that she “[has] to find the center wound and cauterize, undo the original sin, the origin of my sickness.” It’s not sex that is her actual illness but rather an abusive father and family structure that pushed her into a Sisyphusian cycle of excess.
Lunch is not her hero, Hubert Selby, Jr., because she lacks his beating heart. She hammers away like him in noir-ish and forceful sentence fragments but whereas Selby at points expressed empathy and hope for his characters, particularly in the Willow Tree, Lunch sticks with sociopathic vignettes on a victims’ playground. She, as her main character, and everyone she encounters, are victims who victimize victims and get victimized by victims and then victimize those victims back, whether symbolically or in actuality through sexual and violent acts. It is a brutal but boring and predictable circus, about which Lunch shows no emotions including glee or satisfaction. When the rush of extreme sex grows bland, her taboo thrill seeking and sophomoric fascination with serial killers such as Richard Ramirez reaches its logical Satanic conclusion on the roads of Southern California.
Here, her and a male companion take to abducting would-be johns and bringing them to the point of near murder. It is shocking that Lunch has ever washed off the mutual pathetic stench of everyone involved’s lust and desire. But perhaps like most sociopaths, she doesn’t care, and thinks too much of herself to commit suicide. Toward the end of Paradoxia, she says, “I was addicted to fuck.” Only fatigue from non-stop eating—rather, fucking—seems to have given her pause. How many recipe cards can one try and execute before she gets tired and needs to contemplate something more sustainable?
Lunch does have occasional moments of insight into her larger environment, citing her New York as a unique place where the wants and sickness of millions of people often stood right next to you. New York could not be more different in 2007. Open-air drug deals and cheap single room occupancy sex are now literally impossible in Lunch’s old stomping grounds. The book might make a case that nostalgia for the ‘70s and ‘80s Gotham is just that. However, right alongside next door’s open desire and danger are many of the incredible artistic scenes with which Lunch is associated. From the Blank Generation to no wave and underground spoken word, film, painting, and music as whole, possibility infused the streets in the once affordable and enormous New York City. The romance for the creative is merited but often, Paradoxia challenges one to romanticize what Lunch portrays as a backdrop of people slumped over on Seconal, their urine, blood, and vomit running down the sewers.
Perhaps it is a strength of her prose that she does not usually comment on events, and that it is her choice to leave out any emotional or sentimental viewpoints, meaning that they are not actually absent. However, it is also that Lunch’s mission in her young life was to obliterate emotion as a way of allowing her male side to manifest as her dominating character. “So twisted by men, a man, my father, that I became one,” she says. “Oblivious to the brutality and selfishness with which I would lacerate others.” As a way to possess male power, power that held her in the hands of her father, she sought to destroy the slightest feminine inclinations she might have and exploit any feminine characteristics in men she meets.
This plays out literally and symbolically through sex and many forms of violence. Alcohol and other assorted pills provide a necessary sedative and the only buffer from the raging insanity endemic to such a lifestyle and continually exacerbated by it. Lunch’s ideas about male power and its possession are not new. But at the end of Paradoxia, it appears that their practice leads to nothing other than the want for more or the rejection of more based on exhaustion rather than principle. In the most extreme cases, all that’s left is either a martyr or a monster. Before this can happen, Lunch says at book’s end, “I began to realize exactly how much of my energy I had been squandering on other people. On men. Men who would never understand that I would always want more than they were ever capable of giving. Because I didn’t need them. I needed myself.” Her obsession concludes and she leaves the reader to imagine what her new outlook wrought the next day and in the ensuing years, if the interest remains in such a tragic but known character.