Negative capability

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Portrait of John Keats by William Hilton, circa 1822

Negative capability is a theory of the poet John Keats.

Keats' theory of "negative capability" was expressed in his letter to George and Thomas Keats dated Sunday, 22 November 1817.[1]

I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.

Keats believed that great people (especially poets) have the ability to accept that not everything can be resolved. Keats was a Romantic and believed that the truths found in the imagination access holy authority. Such authority cannot otherwise be understood, and thus he writes of "uncertainties." This "being in uncertaint[y]" is a place between the mundane, ready reality and the multiple potentials of a more fully understood existence.

Keats expressed this idea in several of his poems

Negative capability is a state of intentional open-mindedness paralleled in the literary and philosophic stances of other writers. Much has been written about this. Walter Jackson Bate, Keats's authoritative biographer, wrote an entire book on the topic. The footnote to the negative capability letter in the 1958 Harvard UP edition of the Letters of John Keats references the work of Woodhouse, Bate, C. L. Finney, Barbara Hardy, G. B. Harrison, and George Watson, all prior to the edition’s printing in 1958. In the 1930s, the American philosopher John Dewey cited Keatsian negative capability as having influenced his own philosophical pragmatism, and said of Keats' letter that it "contains more of the psychology of productive thought than many treatises." [2] [3] Additionally, Nathan Scott (author of a book titled Negative Capability), notes that negative capability has been compared to philosopher Martin Heidegger’s concept of Gelassenheit, “the spirit of disponibilité before What-Is which permits us simply to let things be in whatever may be their uncertainty and their mystery." Author Philip Pullman excerpts from Keats's letter and prominently incorporates the concept in his fantasy novel The Subtle Knife.


[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Romanticism: an anthology, By Duncan Wu, Duncan Wu Edition: 3, illustrated Published by Blackwell, 2005 p.1351
  2. ^ Dewey, John. Art as Experience. New York: Penguin Perigree (2005):33-4.
  3. ^ Kestenbaum, Victor. The Grace and the Severity of the Ideal: John Dewey and the Transcendent. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (2002): 225.

[edit] References

  • Jacob D. Wigod, "Negative Capability and Wise Passiveness," PMLA, vol. 67, no. 4. (June 1952), pp. 383–90.

[edit] External links

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