Tuesday, September 20, 2011

John Keats and "Negative Capability"



It’s a great feeling to get things all sorted out. Right now I feel like I’ve been on hyper-drive to get everything done. Maybe it is the fact that summer is nearly over and I haven’t had a single grill out at the lake, or maybe the fact that I work at the market 2 days a week in addition to getting up Mon- Fri @ 4:30 to cook breakfast for 300 people, or that I work 2 markets on Wednesday which means I’m on my feet for over 18 hours, on top of that I’m gone all day Thursday taking a class in Winnetka with Fred Shafer here http://www.ocww.bizland.com/. Time to write is getting squeezed, so that I have no more creative juice left.

But, on the other hand, getting organized can have a soul-deadening effect. Once we no longer have to juggle contending thoughts or activities, once we have finally eliminated mounting tensions then . . . What?

Keats coined a phrase called negative capability. In short negative capability is the ability to hold onto reality when it doesn’t fit any categories. I can think of a number of artists who don’t fit any categories, who were misunderstood in their time and later rose to posthumous stardom. It is the ability to dream when the world tells you something else. I think in the Gospels this was called a paradox. Sarah in the book of Genesis certainly experienced this when as a post-menopausal geriatric she was told to get ready for the birth of her first child. She laughed, and then got very very afraid.

I’d freak out too.

Now Keats might have had a tenuous hold on reality anyway. He certainly never let it bother him. So his negative capability was in fact a gift. And, perhaps, it was the exact right thing that allowed him to ignore naysayers, his unmanageable debts, the indefatigable Fanny Brawne who pursued him, and, of course, his impending early death. He was a poet who was able to hold in one hand the world as it was and at the same time to see beyond to the beyond.

No comments: