'Negative Capability'

Melissa Green wrote a comment last night about Keats’ ‘Negative Capability.’ Keats’ says it when man, ahem or woman (collectively) “is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” It’s an “emotional state characterized by indecision, restlessness, uncertainty and tension resulting from incompatible inner needs or drives of comparable intensity.”
He also says it means “being capable of eliminating one’s own personality, in order imaginatively to enter into that of another person, or, in extreme cases, an animal or an object.”
This may seem sort of strange to the non-poet, but to me, I feel like I’ve just discovered some mechanism to help me breathe under water. Maybe I should have paid attention is school, but who would have thought some day I may need to know about Keats’ ‘Negative Capability’?
It seems I am growing up on Television. Being put through some very awkward years in front of a mass audience. My mass audience, of course is about 10 people, but still that’s more than I’m used to.
I do, however, have a slight concern.
“Eliminating one’s own personality”
I suppose that might account for my feelings of being somewhat lost of late. Or my feeling that I wasn’t quite sure who I was or was becoming, feeling in a sense a loss of identity.
The feelings are real, raw, there on the surface. Yet without anything to pinpoint where they are coming from, it’s easy to get lost in your own life, look at your own life as the source of the confusion and pain and misery.
It’s hard when your work is in your body to leave it at work.
And then there’s the big part: I don’t want to lose my personality. Why does it have to be either or? Love or art. Ourselves or art. But perhaps now that I see, I’ll be more able to leave it in the notebook where it lay.
And sorry – this is more rambling than a cohesive thought.
But Dear, Melissa. Thanks.

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2 Responses to 'Negative Capability'

  1. I would not have known to call it “Negative Capability” but I know the condition. Uncertainty, when the next thing has not yet arrived and the previous one is too far down the track for us to feel the connection.

    Among my many theories – we are all thankful that the manifesto has never been written – is the one that says: we evolve. By evolving, I think, we get to hold on to our personalities in states of transition. We are becoming. As writers – and part-time contemplatives, necessary to a writing life – I believe we are in constant mutation, as new visions, ideas, awarenesses arrive and are incorporated into our beings. This may well be true for all humans, not limited to writers. I suppose it is possible, through sheer stubbornness, to maintain a fixed position, but all who are thinking, exploring, questioning have to be in continual transition. The more we allow in, the more complex we become, but complex doesn’t mean complicated. It means varied, of many parts, some of them unfamiliar, for now.

    • rachvb says:

      We do evolve. It’s one thing to say it and think it, but to be in it is always much more than we can ever anticipate. One thing I do know is that each poem that is hard or challenging offers so much more in the way of education. As much as they seem like curses on me at the time, they are certainly blessings.
      Thank you. You are right. Complex doesn’t mean complicated. It’s a diversity within ourselves. And now, how strange it feels to be calm in insecurity. Two ideas I never thought would share the same moment.

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