ARTICLE n. 13 / 2021

Make me, Break me

  1. The world is full of promise, of promises.
    1. 1.0 (empty)
    2. 1.1 The world is the totality of promises made, kept or broken through time
      1. 1.11 The stuff of pop songs, the substance of art, the foundation of society.
    3. 1.2 Promise can also be taken – violently, surreptitiously – deliberately, unwittingly.
      1. 1.21 Potential, resources, capacity – of an individual, a people, a planet – seized, used, abused.
      2. 1.22 a.k.a. colonialism: the promise of some siphoned for the profit of others
        1. 1.221 Progenitor of another promise: capitalism.
          1. 1.2211 A system that swears to equalize by emptying there to fill here.
          2. 1.2212 The balance sheet of oppression.
    4. 1.3 Where in the world are you – literally, metaphorically, historically
      1. 1.31 (I am in Europe, and elsewhere. In mid-­‐life. In love. Indecision. In between.)
    5. 1.4 Does it feel like options are limited, like the horizon has shrunk, hope shattered? Like everything is suddenly limitless, the impossible possible? Or, like things could shiver either way – and back – in an instant?
    6. 1.5 The world divides into promising and unpromising.
      1. 1.51 Beware such distinctions.
    7. 1.6 The world divides.
      1. 1.61 Beware.
    8. 1.7 I give you my word.
      1. 1.71 Sometimes, to give a word is to give a world.
  2. A promise is everything that is not (yet) the case.
    1. 2.1 This moment too, was once mere promise, waiting to become something better or worse than it turned out to be.
      1. 2.11 Your better may be my worse. Or, vice versa. What does that make of promise?
        1. 2.111 A breach?
    2. 2.2. Promises exhaust reality.
  3. What is the case – a fact – is the existence of states of affairs (as Wittgenstein put it).
    1. 3.1 A promise is never the actual thing, it is finally only a kind of larva, from which, possibly, a butterfly emerges. In any case, a promise is, at best, an intermediate state, at worst an empty husk, mere verbiage.
    2. 3.2 Wait and see, says the promise that knows a reckoning is imminent. Wait and see is a time-honoured strategy on which promises have long depended, a way of deferring without refusing and thus maintaining a semblance of integrity. This pose persuades those who don’t know better, as well as those who have been let down often and are desperate for any scrap of hope, and sometimes also those who have rarely known disappointment and are unable to imagine it might be headed their way.
      1. 3.21 Wait and see. When I hear that I want to tap the promise with a little hammer, hold a stethoscope to its chest and check how many worm holes it has.
        1. 3.211 Except, with some promises (those made to myself?), I am more patient. In truth, I prefer not to examine them too closely.
  4. Affairs include private or public interests.
    1. 4.1 And (brief) intense love relationships.
      1. 4.11 Literature is my love affair with the world.
        1. 4.111 To read is to feel the breath of worlds on my neck, in my ear, the heat of other lives on my skin.
          1. 4.1112 To write is to extend my arms, embrace the world, hold it close, closer, until its heart beats next to mine.
            1. 4.1113 To know the voluptuous ache of a gap between us that can never be fully closed; a space of infinite promise.
    2. 4.2 Business and financial interests.
      1. 4.21 Capital: endless accumulation, growth at any cost.
        1. 4.212 A promise in numbers.
        2. 4.213 Made with contracts, signatures, handshakes, winks, nudges.
          1. 4.2131 With multiple sub-clauses designed to protect best interests. (Whose?)
        3. 4.214 A zero-sum game.
    3. 4.3 There are also affairs of state.
      1. 4.31 Collective (inter-)national promises made in law, constitutions, conventions, treaties. Made in oaths of office, citizenship tests, anthems.
        1. 4.311 Be embraced, Millions!
          1. This kiss to all the world!
        2. 4.312 Ideals sworn in song, while promise sinks under the waves, washes up dead on shore.
      2. 4.32 The seduction of promise, the way it can make you feel chosen, special, honoured.
        1. 4.321 No matter who else is included, or excluded.
          1. 4.3211 Millions? Billions.
    4. 4.4 Legal handcuffs may be put on promises to keep them accountable.
      1. 4.41 No article of law alone can guarantee a pledge. It requires us. You. Me.
        1. 4.411 The only witness a promise needs is a conscience.
    5. 4.5 People (and states) need promises like street signs, like banisters, like goal posts – to give direction, to hold on, to score with.
      1. 4.51 Or blame, rebel against, overpower.
      2. 4.52 Laws of nature have been bent to human will (gravity defied!), and still it can be a feat to honour your own words or slip another’s expectations.
  5. All interests and relations intersect with promise(s).
    1. 5.1 A tangle of connections called the world; a messy state of affairs.
      1. 5.11 Promises like borders whose coordinates keep shifting. For better, for worse.
    2. 5.2 A promise is a proof. It shows what you (claim to) value.
      1. 5.21 Does it follow that what you are promised (or not) shows your worth?
      2. 5.22 Is a promise also a falsification?
        1. 5.221 Where do proof and falsification meet to linger over cold coffee and argue? Take me there.
    3. 5.3 All promises are not of equal value.
      1. 5.31 How is value determined?
    4. 5.4 If something is easily achieved, with minimal effort, does committing to it qualify as a promise?
      1. 5.41 Is there a promise-hierarchy? The more challenging a pledge the more cherished?
        1. 5.412 What does it mean that I find it easy to love you?
        2. 5.413 It means, every day, I still have to activate this emotion. Decide for you. For love.
        3. 5.414 Actually, it’s not easy. Love never is. But at times it feels so, and that is its grace.
        4. 5.415 Love is a promise I break again and again, and still keep honouring.
          1. 5.4151 What does this prove?
  6. Most promises have an unstable relationship with reality.   
    1. 6.0 (empty)
    2. 6.1 Is it possible that promises take themselves less seriously than some of us do? Even the most serious seem to have a mischievous streak, a taunting quality, as if they are always silently chanting make me, break me; as if they know you’re making a wager that’s as easily won as lost. 
    3. 6.2 Few broken promises seem to have any sense of guilt. They retreat briefly into the crowd of disappointments that shadow every life; eventually they re-emerge, freshly coiffed, and set off, once more, in search of the gullible.
      1. 6.22 Political promises are especially talented at this.  
      2. 6.23 Everyone chooses to be gullible, now and then.
    4. 6.3 Promises are how we try to tame the future.
    5. 6.4 The limits of our promises are not the limits of the world.
    6. 6.5 The limit of a promise is not the limit of the word.
  7. What is not promised may nevertheless be desired, demanded, offered, realized.
    1. 7.0 (            )

© Priya Basil

ARTICOLO n. 23 / 2021