Postmodern Queer Subjectivity: Domestic Ethnography and Anti-authorial Authoriality in Su Friedrich's "Sink or Swim"
Kolberg, Sarah JM
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The emergence of the American postmodern at the height of the Cold War, principally led by queer artists, marked a turn away from the authorial gesture toward one that situated meaning making with the viewer. Sink or Swim , an experimental documentary in the mode of domestic ethnography by lesbian filmmaker Su Friedrich, simultaneously authenticates and frustrates authorial expression: the film is deeply autobiographical yet this authoriality is shrouded behind a variety of distancing strategies. For gay artists of the Cold War era, the red and lavender scares necessitated the sublimation of the authorial in their work. The anti-authorial was a crucial mode of survival: a posture that provided them the necessary cover with which to obscure their unorthodox desire. Friedrich has no such concerns about survival: she openly acknowledges her orientation, directly engaging lesbian subjectivity in such films as Damned if you Don't, First Comes Love, and Hide and Seek. Sink or Swim , however, represents a radical departure from her other overtly queer-focused works in its decentering of the authorial voice and with it, its lesbian subjectivity. Emerging in the twilight of the AIDS epidemic, Sink or Swim 's anti-authorial stance serves not a self-protective function, but rather an important pedagogical purpose in the context of the failure of identity politics. In making what Ross Chambers calls the enunciatory situation her focus, Friedrich makes visible the powerful norms mediating the social construction of sexuality and gender identity which dominant ideology seeks to disguise and naturalize. In this analysis I will show how the film simultaneously adopts and subverts this most central aspect of the postmodern gesture. In so doing, I show how the anti-authorial is itself an authorial strategy, and how Friedrich mobilizes the film's aesthetic in service of its politic.