Thursday, August 05, 2010

negative capability

When one looks over the development of scientific thought, how one thing drives us and then another after the first is proved false, one begins to understand that there are more important things than what we know to be true. Where and from what does the confidence arrive that enables us to act with certainty and wisdom? John Keats asked the following of his brother in a letter, thus creating the concept of "negative capability":
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 - Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge. This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates every other consideration.
The idea of certainty is destructive. We seek to control schools toward ends conflicting with desire, using mechanisms to force results contrary to our hopes, and yet refuse to relinquish control, as in attempting to control, a sense of control is put in place, that is actually false but satisfying. Inherent in the notion of negative capability is the potential of release, a confidence that man will act toward beauty, not ugliness. That man will be wrong, but that things will turn out right. That we will be mistaken and yet come to grasp. In particular, I liked Keat's use of the dovetail.

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