Mythopoesis on Lydia Lunch by Iona Miller
LUNCH: Beyond the Pale
“The dread and resistance which every natural human being experiences when it comes to delving too deeply into himself is, at bottom, the fear of the journey to Hades.”
- C. G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, CW 12: 439
“The Hades within Dionysus says that there is an invisible meaning in sexual acts, a significance for the soul in the phallic parade, that all of our life force, including the polymorphic and pornographic desires of the psyche, refer to the underworld of images.”
-James Hillman, The Dream and the Underworld, p. 45
Hades and Depth
The imagorrhea, or through-flow of images with a hint of unpalatability, in “ Memory and Madness ” evokes mythic impressions of a soul perpetually held in thrall unable to escape the Hell of sex, violence, madness, obsession, and addiction.
Myth doesn’t ground; it opens. Depth is a metaphor without a base. The depth of the simplest image is fathomless.
When we go deep, soul becomes involved. The same themes repeat endlessly rotating in a myriad of variations, in different octaves of outrage and screams. Plato said souls in Hades are incurable.
Yet, Lydia Lunch somehow embodies the ability to intentionally transgress the boundaries – to go beyond the pale of convention. For this among other reasons, she is referred to as the “queen of the underground.” In the soul’s labyrinth we can never go deep enough.
Like the Queen of the Underworld, Persephone, Lydia moves at will between the conscious and the unconscious depths – a foot in both the world of the living and world of the dead. The fundamental image of the underworld is of a contained space with shrouded limits. The underworld is a psychological cosmos. The underground is a lifestyle and subculture undergird with and sustained by psychic imagery.
Persephone’s mythic consort is Hades-Dionysus. She yearns for depth, mating with the fearsome cold intelligence of Hades. Hades and Dionysus are the same (Heraclitus), implying an indissoluble link with trances, altered states, madness, intoxication, even addiction, and yet vitality, passion, hedonism. He rules the amoral realm of non-process. Our very essence is contained in our circular states of repetitiveness. Time has nothing to do with the underworld.
Psyche Is Soul
For the ancient Greeks soul was an image, the psychical point of view. Soul is found in the reception of its suffering, attending to it with attentive devotion, waiting it through. The underworld is the chthonic psyche, a cold realm of souls and one of psychopathy, beyond human warmth and decency. It is a world without light that still has shades and shadows. We must smell our way along, sniffing out the essential.
Pathology is an essential component of the human soul. Underworld is psyche. The shadow play is the unconscious fantasy of the moment in daily living. Shadow is the very stuff of the soul that keeps us linked with the underworld. The shadow casts us.
Psyche is the only reality known through immediate experience. What we know about life seems irrelevant for what is below life. The underworld – not life – is the place of psyche, the unseen or invisible essence. The psyche needs to be fed and it lives on the imaginal. The body draws on the soul for its nourishment, needing the soul stuff of images.
Lydia feeds us this soulful Lunch. What was natural becomes metaphorical. As an underground icon, her reflective work echoes this shamanic spirit in feminine form, prioritizing the deeply personal, tangibly realizing its spiritual aspect. This latest work is deliberate public psychotherapy, coincidentally for herself and her listeners.
She speaks freely and openly about what others dare not even whisper. Narcissism helps connect to yet depotentiate underworld forces such as instincts, drives, and complexes. She has learned how to dance with the demands of the invisible spirit, making her personal story universal.
The rape of Persephone by Hades was the central theme in the mysticism of the Eleusinian Mysteries, and her verbal musings are a kykeon or magical draught that transports us into this underworld domain for our own initiation into those mysteries.
Her traumatic childhood (paternal incest) echoes the rape of tender Persephone, innocence seized and dragged into the underworld by the powerful emotional undercurrent, Hades. But the underworld is also part of nature, and our nature – divine images of the chthonic, hidden motives, human frailty, unseen connections, darkness, death and perversion.
Confrontation with Hades is experienced as a violence, an overwhelming violation. Life is turned upside down. Invaded by the repugnant dark power of the inevitable we recoil in anguish. Persephone ate “lunch” in Hades, characterized as pomegranate seeds, but we can consider that euphemistic, realizing it was simply “seed.”
The intervention releases characteristic types of fantasy and behavior: self-preservation, vulnerability, loss, humiliation, betrayal, resignation, uncertainty, revulsion, repetitious despair and desperation, surrender, meaning, suffering, death/rebirth. Hades is the crypt and the cryptic: a hidden (buried, shrouded, concealed, occult) presence, an invisible fullness (blocked, censored, forbidden, obscured).
The threat — rupture of the fabric of personality — is precisely the mode of initiation. Consciousness is separated from its life attachments. Psychic intensity and value are juxtaposed. Jung noted that myth is the subterranean root and content of defenses and resistances in both neurosis and psychosis. Mythical images have no beginning or end. It all goes on at once, forever. There is no changing the unchangeable.
What's New with My Subject?
However, Lydia has triumphed pulling herself up from the depths of pathology, depression and aggression, well-aware of the cycle of victim/victimizer. She has explored these themes in her music and films and perhaps through love, including her audience.
She’s learned to carry her pain with grace. Perhaps she has even managed to bring other trapped spirits along with her. Her consciousness shines in the dark, drawing them like moths to the flame.
Like cures like. Her character, grounded in the chthonic depths, is her guardian and fate. She accompanies us into and through a new dimension — the emptiness, the Void, — with a reassuring Presence. We feel she backs us up, urges us on, understands us more deeply than we understand ourselves.
There is no way out of a myth, only deeper into it past the fear and pain. We cannot escape the psychic significance of what we are doing. Lydia attempts to resurface through deeper entry into her contents, ecologically recycling her consciousness.
Memory implies remembering and forgetting. The route to the underworld is marked by the twin springs Mnemosyne, that of memory and Lethe, the waters of forgetfulness. Forgetfulness is akin to sleep, dreams, and death. She dreams out loud.
Mnemosyne was also the mother of the Muses. The spring belongs to her, being a comfort and balm for the afflicted. Giving illumination and letting disappear make up the entire being of the Goddess. This is the union of opposites where the luminosity of remembrance stands in sharp relief with forgetfulness.
Light breaks forth from the depths. Memories spring up; they well up. Their archetypal depiction as water means somehow they slake the psychic thirst of parched souls. Water that springs forth is a primary image of the origins of life as well as memory.
Lydia brings us that water in the small broken jug that is her body; she is the leaky cask, an amphora of the water of life. Outflowing life is genuine life, but perhaps unfulfilled. Flowing through is incessantly desired by those with unquenchable thirst.
Desert and thirst require an outpouring. An utter flowing-through that cannot be held fast becomes unbearable when the flowing-through ceases. So the void becomes a compulsion to seek out new inflowing and outflowing. We drink greedily from her incessant stream.
“ Memory and Madness ” is such a passionately-sought, soul-teaching outflowing. Perhaps it assures Lydia she is not and will not be forgotten. Life ultimately runs out like water through a sieve. Its narcotizing relish is we forget the big and little pains of life. The ‘thirst’ for the liquid of unconcern of the dead is the ‘will’ of the living.
Sometimes there is healing in forgetting to remember, or remember exactly, or remembering archetypally. Memory is mutable, non-retainable. We remember imaginally, metaphorically. Every time we access a memory, it changes. Personal recollections are a distortion, events we freeze as snapshots and narratives.
In this spoken word confessional, “ Memory and Madness ,” she dances through the labyrinths of her psyche, substituting one word for another, one name for another, one meaning for another, one memory wraith for another, without loss of immediacy.
The agony of “Johnny” and the agony of enduring “Johnny” is always happen- ing . We worry that his madness is our madness, too – that his dark descent mirrors our own. Her electrifying performances raise the purely personal to the paradigmatic – the individual to the universal.
This punk diva wields the twin scepters of art and artifice. A fierce energy drives the siren’s work, speaking to our own suffering through her waking dreams. We suffer and also resist the endless cycle for that is the irresolvable mythic pattern. Suffering feeds on itself for sustenance.
Lydia’s aggressive verbal Kung Fu evokes our own memories, our own exposure to misery, madness and chaos, even our own defenses. She tears open our blindspots, our self-defeating behaviors, rooting out deeper pain.
Only in the depth dimension can we penetrate to what is hidden, the true nature of all things. This deepening leads the soul to true insight. We abandon both hope and despair, coping and failing.
Revealing her core she transmutes suffering into rapport and empathy. We suffer along with her; then, she suffers magnificently for us. She tends to our souls, transforming the ceaseless self-indulgence of suffering through catharsis and rejuvenation. Perhaps together we can learn to distinguish a compulsion from a call, an instinct from an image, a demanding desire from a movement of imagination.
We find ourselves through her story while we are riveted, maybe even elevated. Is it not a form of transcendence to rise above our existential experience, transforming it through the creative act as Lunch does repeatedly in her latest volume? She promotes awareness of soul through its own expressions, through the language of metaphor, through metamorphosis.
I myself have known, dated, even married “Johnny, Jimmie, Tony,” and in some ways am still doing it. Haven’t you? I know the agony of trying to adore and even “save” lost souls to redeem or release myself, then being emotionally rent for my vain attempt. The boredom and numbness follow with the ache that starts the whole bloody Dionysian cycle again.
Wounded healer is the archetype of shamanism. The urge to cure the incurable keeps us from recognizing the essence of our limitations, the limits of the psychopathic essence of personality. We can be literally torn apart by memories, by madness, by violation. But the scars declare we can heal and survive. The body remembers the horror and wonder of being through its scars.
We can only “know” the Other through our common understanding of pain as the great leveler. We are all equal in the brotherhood of suffering souls. Pain may be easier to deal with than joy because it is so much more familiar. Pain hurts because it is uniquely ours.
As a clinical hypnotherapist, my specialty was sexual molest so I’ve seen plenty of fallout. I can testify with Lydia, that they all – the Johnnies, and Jimmies, and Tonys – (and their female counterparts) bleed profusely. They don’t need to taste the self-inflicted blade of the knife to do so all over you. Psychophysical wounds never fully heal. We pick compulsively at the virtual scabs nursing the open sore.
Like a sequel to her mentor Burroughs’s “ Naked Lunch ,” Lydia’s laments shamelessly disclose her emotional landscape. She knows instinctively what poetic themes and words “want” to live together, to play together – to jam. She doesn’t need to “cut-up” or ‘fold in” her lyrics – her whole life is cut up and enfolded. In response she “cuts up” with outrageous antics and enfolds and enmeshes us.
She catches the image of the event while it occurs. Each of her works holographically encapsulates an emotionally-charged issue in a single view that contains the whole picture as a microcosm. Every particle of a hologram contains the whole, just in less detail. Some of Lydia’s pieces are blurry and impressionistic, while others are crystal clear.
Resonating with this imagery, our own emotional ghosts rise from the dead as she blithely rototills the graveyards of our unconscious with her powerful voice. Perhaps this resurrection even subtly reframes our personal histories by superimposing her retrocognitive vision over our experience. The depth potential is a seed she plants in each moment of life.
Not content to suffer merely for herself and her art, she suffers for all of us, for mankind, even for the planet. Lately, she decries the environmentally rapacious Bush-league political regime with another offering, “ In Our Time of Dying ”. Having suffered her own rape, she is loath to see the planet suffer the same fate, again and again.
Like Demeter depressively yearning through the winter of her discontent she craves just one more renascent Spring. She offers a fertile space for the existentially alienated and politically disenfranchised to grow warily and dream of flowering.
We discover the open-ended meaning of existence by expressing rather than betraying emotion. Her effortless delivery makes her unfolding drama seem like improvisational accident, created anew with each performance. She camouflages herself in a succession of images. What remains unconcealed is her self-referential certainty, as she plumbs levels of signification.
Her pathos is expressed in imaginative fertility, coherent clusters of perceptions and articulated feelings punctuated by dramatic voids, following no forms or formulas of emotional style. No mere compensation could cure the trauma, imbalance of passions and psychological distress. Healing as a restructuring process can only emerge organically from within.
In “ Memory and Madness ,” anger, rage, pain, ennui are transformed into a cohesive paean – a bittersweet yet joyous song celebrating the triumph of life, of desire, of love, of healing. Perhaps the content of her utterance is not as important as its plane of expression in visual, auditory and visceral form. She glides inexorably toward the end that satisfies the story, melding the simultaneous coexistence of multiple elements in dynamic autonomous organization.
But there is certainly no moral, no closure, and no conclusions. Is it a complaint or a celebration? What remains is the indeterminacy of the infinite range of meanings, inexhaustible meaning, the fruitful promise of mystery. Thus, we can listen, and listen, and listen again anew.
The thrust remains the same. She is always saying something fresh yet recognizable about the human condition, even if based around meaning residing in the circumstances of her artist’s life. She models how to bear the unbearable yet sustain voluptuous passion for life. She helps us observe our own catastrophes with a dark wisdom.
Lydia’s stylistic fusion ranges through critique, irony and mockery, full of ahistorical loopholes without the burden of proof. She intuitively employs the shamanic willingness to creatively make do with what is at hand. Just a nuance or inflection can imply different facets. Expression of an emotion implies coming to self-awareness.
We get the impression she is erotically embedded in psychic images, sensuously wallowing in them, though they ultimately escape her intention or control. This is her fantasy, her freedom.
Libido is married to psychosexual imagination. The soul is imagining before the context appears. Hers is the erotics of engagement, libidinally driven immersion in the imaginal where psychic attraction is palpable, electromagnetic.
The delectable Lunch inflects, deflects, and infects us with her vision, her voice, and her “ear-otica.” Her love for us is based wholly on a relationship with images and shown through images, through an imaginative response. When we love, we want to explore, to extend the intricacy that intensifies intimacy.
Form and context are as important as content in her ultrathematic works of art. These newest works are informed by her whole herstory. She weaves interpretive webs of significance. Diverse meanings overlap in her word mosaics and interrelate in unforeseen ways, carrying on and informing past works.
Words gather meanings over time. Like images they are accumulators of meaning, accumulating intentionality. Closing the gap, the aesthetic distance between art and reality, her intentionally shocking subject matter remains herself, her life, her pain, her transmutation, and her transcendence.
Of course, she is in no way limited by the images as metaphors presented here. Still, perhaps the dark-adapted eye of Archetypal Psychology is not antagonistic to her spirit. It is amplified, non-analytical and also embraces pathology, wildness, the unheroic, the descent, the unredeemable.
All artists are driven, but this dark angel has an appetitive drive matched by few. Her consummatory field is as immense as her experiential base. She both savors and devours. Then she digests, critiquing both the raw and the cooked in herself and in society.
Lydia Lunch is a sensuous feast, truly beyond the common boundaries or limits of the social pale. Her desires ripen into nourishing fruits of love. She feeds us sumptuously on her fresh words. There is no “freer” Lunch to be found.