Thursday, March 25, 2010

Negative Capability

John Keats crammed a lot of insight into a short span of time. Tuberculosis took him at 26. He left us with a pocket full of fantastic poems that have endured to this day. And, maybe lesser known, he left us to ponder Negative Capability.  He coined Negative Capability to convey what he felt was the essence of a good poet, and in a broader sense, he drew up a blueprint for embracing life's unpredictability. In a letter to his brother he wrote "at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and 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 and reason".  This concept served to open up the world around Keats by closing off the restricting concerns for fact and reason. Restrictions which he felt inhibited one's ability to truly experience the intangible elements of life.  In his eyes fact and reason had no place in sorting out the chaotic mess which is life. 

I would be remiss if I did not extend Keats' concept to humanitarian work. In a line of work where months, even years, of positive progress can be undone in a single day one has little reason not to embrace Keats' approach to life.  Those who are working to solve the epic problems in the far corners of the world are those who feel most comfortable "being in uncertainties". Without a doubt fact and reason still enjoy center stage in our society but Negative Capability has me appreciating life's unpredictability in a new light.

1 comment:

Jennie said...

I am excited for you, for this opportunity and for Kyrgyzstan, a nation from which you are sure to learn much. Looking forward to hearing more about your upcoming adventures...

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