Keats and negative capability.

The life of John Keats the man: his family, his friends, and his contemporaries.

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Keats and negative capability.

Postby jfk » Wed Jan 12, 2005 12:41 pm

Hi,

I amreading Andrew Motions book on Keats and he speaks of Negative Capability on several occasions without ever having explained it. I think it is explained at some point in the book, but I am not there yet. Can anyone shed light on this for me.
A beacon in the starry sky, this man so dazzling
did not fly from here in a chariot of gold,
but left our world on a melancholic wing
and fled the sorrow that makes men old.
jfk
 
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Postby Despondence » Wed Jan 12, 2005 2:27 pm

You're about to enter an intriguing realm of speculation and interpretation... First off, you should make use of the search engine on this site and browse through the previous discussions on this topic (it has been discussed). You'll find several definitions or explanations of the term "negative capability". Second, you'll notice not everybody agrees. There seems to be two kinds of negative capability: that of Keats himself, and that of his biographers. This stems from that fact that Keats himself mentioned it only in passing, in his traditionally vague and ethereal style of writing, which leaves a lot of room for speculation and interpretation.

So you'll notice I didn't actually tell you what it is - my advice would be to read the original letter first, where Keats mentions this (I forget which letter it was, but I'm sure you can look it up). Then you can form your own opinion from Keats own writing - and thereafter read what the biographers like Motion say about it. You'll notice that most biographers have a lot more to say about this than Keats himself did, and you sort of wonder where they get all this from...
Despondence
 

Postby Despondence » Wed Jan 12, 2005 3:03 pm

Sorry, that was perhaps not very helpful. The letter was to Tom and Gerorge Keats on 21 December 1817. Check the old thread "Keat's Philosophy".
Despondence
 

Postby Saturn » Thu Jan 13, 2005 11:35 am

"…Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason…"
To George & Tom Keats, 21,? 27 Dec 1817.
"Oh what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints".
Saturn
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Postby jfk » Thu Jan 13, 2005 12:14 pm

Hi,

I have a copy of the letter. I think it means exactly what is says on the tin. It is a striving for anonymity of expression...leading into his ideas of the chameleon poet. If we can throw off the burdens of not knowing, then we release ourselves to a state of equilibrium between mystery and fact etc. What do you guys think? I don't know what biographers have to say about it.
A beacon in the starry sky, this man so dazzling
did not fly from here in a chariot of gold,
but left our world on a melancholic wing
and fled the sorrow that makes men old.
jfk
 
Posts: 19
Joined: Tue Apr 06, 2004 7:22 pm

Postby Endymion » Tue May 17, 2005 11:17 pm

Dan Simmons wrote about this in an online letter in December, and for the first time ever I actually was able to grasp the concept of negative capability.

In part, he wrote:Hazlitt once said of Shakespeare – “He was nothing in himself, but he was all that others were, or that they could become.” Keats developed this idea of artistic self-annulling into his theory of Negative Capability, a poetic-creative attempt to empathize and understand others – other human beings, the sparrow pecking at gravel outside his window, a nightingale, Nature, the living and the dead – through the cool lens of what Keats and other Shakespeare-admirers of his era called disinterestedness, (which means, of course, a passionate interest in the behavior and character of these others, but analysis without judgment, observation without opinion, and perception without preaching.)


http://www.dansimmons.com/news/message/2004_12.htm
"He Stood in His Shoes and he Wondered
He Wondered
He Stood in his Shoes and He Wondered."
Endymion
 
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Postby Despondence » Sun May 22, 2005 5:15 am

Hey thanks for posting that, what a delightful and insightful letter by Simmons. I was actually reading Greenblatt at the same time as Simmons must have been writing this letter (great book btw). Can't say that I made the same connections between strategic opacity and negative capability while reading it....but now that Simmons spells it out for you, it seems embarrassingly obvious. Love his description of Dilke as an "opinionated so-and-so". Sometimes I just get the feeling that Simmons, being the highly talented writer and researcher that he is, has in some ways come a lot closer to really understanding Keats the Poet than many of the self-appointed authorities and biographers out there.
Despondence
 

Postby Becky » Wed May 25, 2005 12:03 pm

I had this portrait pointed out to me as a representation of negative capability, a picture of someone who had the capability to feel everything for everyone when confronted with emotion, but blank when the moment had passed. But if that really is negative capability, or if thats what Keats meant by it, who can say?

http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/p/palmer/1selfpor.html
Becky
 
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Postby Becky » Mon Feb 06, 2006 1:19 pm

Clearly everyone got too excited by other things to look at it.

Its a self-portrait of Samuel Palmer. He was hailed as a young genius in the style of Keats, but tragically died too late. He married, and the boring influence of his father-in-law is supposed to have ruined his later work...at least Keats didn't suffer the indignity of having his work edited by Fanny Brawne. (or did he?) It led to his art being forgotten until the 1920s, even if it was some of the most innovative the Romantic era produced outwith Blake.
Becky
 
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Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2005 6:11 pm

Postby Despondence » Wed Feb 08, 2006 9:25 am

Becky wrote:Clearly everyone got too excited by other things to look at it.

Now now. :)

It is an interesting, and very gripping, self-portrait, though personally, I'm not sure I see a direct connection to negative capability. That's the kind of thing, I guess, which is mostly in the eye of the beholder.

If you ask me, I think he (in the portrait) is looking at her.
(makes me wish I could spend $6800 on a painting..)
Despondence
 


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