Elizabeth Zvonar on How Much Joy Can I Stand?

The following speech was presented at the CCA Glasgow, How We Go On Now, a one day symposium coinciding with the exhibition by Kate Davis and Faith Wilding The Long Loch: How Do We Go On From Here? Symposium details here.

Thank you CCA Glasgow for hosting this event and particularly, thank you Francis McKee & Louise Shelley. I am very honored and super thrilled to be so warmly embraced and given the opportunity to speak at this symposium today.

I met Faith Wilding through Kate Davis last fall when we crashed her reunion for the Fresno Feminist Experiment in California last fall. And since this time, I feel very privileged to be friends with someone whom I view as a mentor, a co-inspirator and whose practice I so deeply admire. The reason I am here at all really stems from an important friendship fostered in the fall of 2008 in Banff with Kate Davis.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the geography, Banff is located in the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by limestone and it’s a magical place. Important connections can happen if you’re open to it. It’s a place of clarity perhaps. Once in a while we share a common bond of substance with someone or a group of people and this kind of thing happens regularly in Banff.

I’ve come over from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Also known as terminal city, the Gateway to the Pacific and the birthplace of photo conceptualism. Vancouver shares a similar anomalous recognition with Glasgow as a periphery centre that is productive for artists. I’ve long admired and considered our two cities to be analogous in some ways. I’ve come to speak to the statement, how we go on now, intended to build on an examination of contemporary feminism and I’ve prepared a talk titled:


I was reading my friend’s tarot a few months back and because I am just learning, I refer to a couple of websites that unpack the meaning of the cards. One of these websites preferences questions to reinforce the card meaning. One of the questions that came up for Candice’s reading when she pulled the three of chalices was how much joy can I stand? And we both laughed at how awesome that question truly is. And I’ve been thinking about that ever since. How much joy can I stand? Knowing myself, I could stand quite a lot. And I have no problems wanting that. I don’t feel guilt and I won’t feel shame. I think we all could stand for a lot more joy in our lives. In fact, I think humans all across the board should stand for a lot more joy in their lives. I figure the potential is open to anybody interested in imagining a future not mapped out by a particular structure.

For the READ IN READ OUT! FEMINIST LINES OF FLIGHT portion of Faith and Kate’s exhibition, I contributed an interview between two philosophers, Mary Zournazi and Isabelle Stengers, the title of which is: "A Cosmo Politics - Risk, Hope, Change".  This interview comes from the book Hope, New Philosophies for Change and is a compliation of interviews between Zournazi and a variety of contemporary thinkers. What inspired this particular contribution to the feminist library that was being assembled was this overarching philosophy that I took from it - that life happens everyday. No amount of planning can provide guarantees and if we are present throughout our lives and aware of the collectivity of our situation, we will begin to see things through a wider lens. This reinforces some fundamental beliefs I have about life and feminism; two things I actively believe in and hope to embody philosophically everyday. 

You’ve posed a statement which isn’t really a question but which I initially mistook as a question. How we go on now as a way to examine contemporary feminism. In these strange times of trouble and confused priorities you make a declaration. It’s fearless and it’s strong. When you asked me to speak and mine the possibilities of such a statement, I was both flattered and terrified at the daunting task ahead. I spent time reading and thinking and talking to all kinds of people, men and women alike of all ages. Bringing up feminism in conversation is a buzzkill. A spoilsport. A handicap. It is potent and it packs a punch. I started asking people simply if they identified as feminist. The responses ranged from, well, is that even still relevant, we’re equal now aren’t we?,  or you’re equal now aren’t you?, to,but I don’t hate men, to, I am not a woman. These are all stock answers from a history of framing feminism – a device strategically employed to fracture thinking around the subject as a way to make multiple exclusive arguments that work more to force it into a failed, disjunctive ‘revolutionary moment’ than to give it the confidence of a philosophy or ideology with potential to gain momentum to create productive new spaces for being and thinking.

And then time was spent unpacking why it is in fact still relevant and why I care. I read a website regularly called feministing.com and recently someone posted an article titled What’s the big deal, why language still matters on and off the field. The article in a nutshell takes to task the use of the word girl by the media when describing women in athletic competition during the recent Olympics held in Vancouver. And what I took from that article and feel is important to bring into this discussion is the use of language and how it is dangerous to chalk up a lazy use of address to semantics or an overeager PC trigger finger. The following comes from that article and are wise words, definitely not new concepts yet always a fine reminder:

  • Language of any culture not only reflects the ideological biases that characterize it; it replicates and reinforces them.
  • Addressing semiotics equates to an ‘old wave concern’.
  • How we speak is inextricable from how we act.
  • The last 10 years equals an unprecedented bitter backlash against PC polemics.
  • We infantilize for fantasy.
  • Words matter. They really do.

So, language is important. How we speak to one another. That’s something I care about and something that I think is relevant. Language reinforces hierarchies that exist in the capitalist framework that we live within. Language is fundamental in order to control a system and capitalism is a system; a framework; a structure. Although it is said it is easier to imagine the end of the world over the end of capitalism, at the end of the day, it’s just a system and a relatively new one at that. Isabelle Stengers talks about our human potential within a capitalist framework as misunderstood and largely untapped. When framed this way, we don’t know what our 

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