Phrase of Promise

An honest phrase embarrasses because it reveals a ghost: the honest one at the time may not recognize himself in his own phrase afterwards, having had more time to go honest, and therefore to negate what last he’d said. Not because he means to take it back, but because the time between has urged him elsewhere, to a new enactment of the promise, to bring it to bear again where it can never find its bearings, can never bear itself. But then his prior promise–his prior thought–never ceases to haunt him with its wrongness, asks him ever after what it means. Add that there is no evidence of its enactment–not even yet–and the subject of the promise finds himself confounded, indirected: the promise is broken, and so must be broken, in order to be kept,  safe but broken.

As if only broken was the promise listened to, where the listening couldn’t hear a voice, and injury was the rule. What’s furthest inside that act then becomes less hidden, while the ability to phrase what is promised becomes minimal–not because the language becomes less accurate, but because it has to cast aside its shield of honesty. (To the point that the one who speaks the thing only will have spoken it, again is ghost; and if it speaks now, it does so only as a haunting of the present by a time outside it, absolutely so, to the point of being untouchable by anyone anymore, save in the slim access of the instant.)

Such is why discourse must be construed as the residue of an act, where the sum of spoken phrases is like a film of what the act promised. The latter of course cannot be more precise than that; there is no more unity to a body of phrases than there is to a real one. The phrase is the very location of its shattering, the promise the stretch of a skeleton–an image of death’s presence in the promise making clear: there is no image of it, no saying of the act, no more than the act has an end outside its promise(1). The phrase shows every inscription (every consequential act, every trace) to be at odds with the reality to be written, the reality to be acted upon. Time remains out of joint– the time of the act and the promise, and the time of its enactment in the “real.”

Because what is promised can’t be determined. It can never be said to have been phrased, to have been acted out. One can only make it again–making it a phrase to be shared, received, rephrased, made out.

Nothing of the shared sense craved or felt in this rift fits into any cognition without loss, since the craved sense is the very one that falls through. The phrase of promise is there to interrupt cognition’s course and strike across meaning’s banner–making meaning the shared act it always is, if it is. Non-knowledge does not sanction ignorance; it is simply an orientation to the fact of nothing revealed–that we cannot know or inscribe in any fashion: the relation to the world that we are and act as possible (indeed, right where we are not able to)–where we were nothing and yet did not go away, having never arrived at all yet.

The act that lives on as interruption, as the promise of interruption, being “of” interruption: a common Idea. It lives on, not because it took effect with words or without them, not because they affected reality this way or that, but because of how word and act were one in the promise, and because the promise promises more than past action: it promises us that it has not yet been.  What the words, flat and dead, promised, had to be interrupted by the promise itself, had to remain open there, interrupted, enacted outside whatever present, being present only when the promise was refreshed, when the act was re-enacted, that is, when the Idea was re-affirmed and the promise “kept.”

Promised, yes, in terms of an Idea (“common”), but an idea that is an action, a promise where remembrance and reenactment are one. The promise is fulfilled by promising itself again, by dwelling in the power to promise. One can only try to be faithful to this point of contact, for every phrase is potentially “unfaithful.” But the leap required to like the situation to the promise, at every moment, is so great, so fleeting, that it is impossible to say when the leap began or where it led to. And we have no power to make that leap; we can only promise. The burden rests on the judge who can only judge his own judgments, since there he judges his own relation to himself, to the blip that he is, as promised: to what extent am I what I am? to what extent am I the opened other?

The point of contact will have been there, where the point collapses in a night of promising words. The traces of the contact will not adequate what the act was in it, what its decision was made of or for. But reality doesn’t exhaust the decision, no more than the outcome validates the promise. Nothing can erase what’s promised. Existence makes it possible again that the promise will have been opened to, and it does so promising itself again and again, inheriting all the old promises and choosing among them, undoing some and saving others–undergoing the interruption it’s devoted to, in the real of an instant that escapes.

What is there in the phrase of a promise or in an honest act (whatever they may be) cannot ever be whittled away. Although the phrase captures the promised act in a state that comes out past, skeletal, irrelevant, for the very same reason the phrase–emptied of everything–retains the one thing it aimed to retain: not its meaning, but its meaning to mean, even in meaning to mean nothing at all, or even: its joy at meaning (nothing), its joy at sharing sense; its joy at keeping the promise to act in common, exposed; its joy at thinking “us.” Because the interruption of the “proper” lies at the heart of the act, it is fundamental to the commons that its Idea remain promise; and it is joy to the extent that the promise happen, in the absence of anything common but the swirl of acts and phrases.

That such joy is not anyone’s possession (this is an Idea of the commons), that it does not lie on the side of language, reality, identity, or meaning, cannot in fact be established, is exactly what the phrase of promise is destined to prove.


(1)  Or rather, the only image of the promise is at the same time an image of “death”: of a sudden halt, where cognition tips over into what can only be called an impossible feeling of the commons (in the same way that, for the subject of psychoanalysis, jouissance is the impossible); an image wherein the intellectual operation, in a sense, completes itself, while returning to an origin point that lies outside it, that comes later in its very completion and coming-to-a-close. A dialectical image, wherein both the movement and the stilling of thought are “filmed,” that is, “crystallized” into a monad (a surface reflecting the “origin”). In the structure of such an image, one recognizes a sign of a messianic halting of happening [das Zeichen einer messianischen Stillstellung des Geschehens]. This “sign” could, perhaps, be understood along the lines of Kant’s Geschichtszeichen, as Lyotard describes it, an “interfaculty point of passage,”

…that does not take place, that is in the course of coming to pass, and its course, its motion, is a kind of agitation in place, within the impasse of incommensurability, over the abyss, a ‘vibration’ as Kant writes, that is, “a rapidly alternating repulsion from and attraction to one and the same object.” (Enthusiasm, p 32)

Such an image–sign, form, phrase–would be part of a series of passages that never became any more possible, remained impossible; they would give an illusion of diachrony to what could properly only be felt “synchronous,” namely, this halting of happening: the Raum of another time, a paused time, a “dead time”: time without work proper, a time to undo works, a time to rethink the promise.

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