ESSAY: Lydia Lunch and Rage Personified by Georgia Van Gunten


Performance art is a way to make your words take on a power, a body, a way to make your words become flesh; giving that flesh power to disturb its own signification, to challenge rules handed down and to disable the previous systems that controlled it. Spoken word artist, Lydia Lunch was a 16 year old runaway in New York city when she founded the short-lived but influential band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks in 1976. Lunch was a confrontationalist; a sort of modern day Robin Hood, she was given the name Lunch because she often stole lunches for her bandmates and friends also living on the streets. She states in an interview with Kathy McCabe of the telegraph Mirror in 2007: “People just don’t like to be uncomfortable, It is my job…what I do is a calling, it’s a duty…When I was in my 20s, I said I will be the oldest living woman of rage.” One of Lunch’s works that performs rage somatics (where she personifies and embodies rage as an art form) is a group of stories she first performed and then later published under the name The Gun is Loaded. Following is a discussion on the film posted to YouTube, a preview of the full-length film, in which Lunch performs a small excerpt of that work.

The video begins with Lydia Lunch sitting in a dark room as the camera starts to focus in on her. She is only halfway exposed as she speaks, stating: “It’s all about getting fucked…fucked up, fucked over, fucked around with, or just plain, good old-fashioned fucked” (Lunch web) and she moves forward to deliver a searing diatribe about power, those who have it and those who don’t and how power is used to keep the rich richer and the poor poorer. She explicitly states that for white men; “Nothing is ever enough” (Lunch web) Lunch’s body is juxtaposed between images of people happily sliding down water slides in amusement parks coupled with men wrestling steers to the ground while she stands (in mostly darkness) with her hands on her hips and speaks in a voice with a seething tone. In the essay “Writing Bodies: Somatic Mind in Composition Studies” by Kristie S. Fleckenstein, the writer explores the idea of somatic mind which she defines as: “mind and body as permeable, intertextual territory that is continually made and remade” and also says that this somatic mind : “offers one means of embodying our discourse and our knowledge without totalizing it” (281). By presenting some more of Fleckenstein’s ideas about somatic mind, the concept of rage somatics presented earlier, and Lydia Lunch’s use of them, becomes more fleshed out.

In the video The Gun is Loaded, we never see a fully complete or undistorted image of Lydia Lunch. She is never revealed or exposed by the camera and never becomes vulnerable to it; in fact it is her voice which is always clear, discernible and achingly fierce. “It’s because they always let the liars do the talking” says Lunch as the camera pulls so close to her face that all her features blur out. Lunch challenges cultural truths and material conditions through a discourse that fully encompasses rage while also not reducing her identity; instead she creates an emergent identity. The woman in the video is not just Lydia Lunch, she is the loaded gun, and she is a threat to the very forces that threaten her and all women, by being unpredictable yet highly calculating, and loudly intelligent. Fleckenstein says “We must recognize our bodies as places of and participants in the violence of choosing—of resisting or submitting to, of negotiating or challenging cultural and moral ideologies—or we negate our power to (re)create our realities”(286). Lunch chooses and creates an identity that utilizes rage in order to not be consumed by it, thereby creating a new reality where suddenly all women are also welcome to do so.

Towards the middle of the video we are faced with Lunch in what appears to be a New York alleyway. The camera is positioned just underneath her as she walks and delivers the text. She asserts that they want her dead, by now the viewer has been shown that “they” refers to the hegemonic western patriarchy she is railing against. She explains all the ways “they” might want to see her killed: “struck by lightning, hit by a truck, engulfed in flames, hung from a tree…maybe even stabbed repeatedly in a lover’s quarrel by the hands of man,” and as she continues through the alleyway the camera falls even further beneath her, until eventually she steps onto a crate, elevating her even more and leaving the camera at her feet. “Wishful thinking” Lunch sneers as the shot blacks out and the next scene begins. Rewording a powerful quote by writer Adrienne Rich, Fleckenstein writes: “embodying writing includes “putting up there [across the chalkboard] in public words [we] have dredged, sieved up from dreams, from behind screen memories, out of silence—words [we] have dreaded and needed in order to know [we] exist” (qtd. in Fleckenstein 297). The Gun is Loaded by Lydia Lunch shows us a somatic level of rage that needs to be exhibited, absorbed, and performed and one that steps out of silence and into flesh.

Works Cited

Chua, Lawrence. “Bomb.” BOMB Magazine — Bell Hooks by Lawrence Chua. Bomb Magazine, June-July 1994. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

Fleckenstein, Kristie S. “Writing Bodies: Somatic Mind in Composition Studies.” College English 61.3 (Jan, 1999): n. pag. JSTOR. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

Hanna, Kathleen. “Kathleen Hanna “The Middle Of The Night In My House””YouTube. YouTube, 10 July 2008. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

Marcus, Sara. Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution. New York: HarperPerennial, 2010. Print.

McCabe, Kathy. “Lydia Lunch Official : Biography, Videos, Books, Shows and More.” Lydia Lunch Official : Biography, Videos, Books, Shows and More. Telegraph Mirror, 2007. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

The Punk Singer: A Film about Kathleen Hanna. Dir. Sini Anderson. Perf. Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, Kathleen Hanna. Tamra Davis, 2013. DVD.

The Gun Is Loaded. Dir. Merrrill Aldighieri and Joe Tripician. Perf. Lydia Lunch., 2012. YOUTUBE.

Reposted with permission from author. Original post here.

Georgia Van Gunten lives and writes in Lafayette, Colorado. She has two dogs, a small library and likes to ride her bike into the wind while screaming at the top of her lungs. Find her at