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negative capability


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A phrase coined by Keats to describe his conception of the receptivity necessary to the process of poetic creativity, which draws on Coleridge's formulation of ‘Negative Belief’ or ‘willling suspension of disbelief’. He defined his new concept in a letter (22 Dec. 1817); ‘Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason—.’ Keats regarded Shakespeare as the prime example of negative capability, attributing to him the ability to identify completely with his characters, and to write about them with empathy and understanding; he contrasts this with the partisan approach of Milton and the ‘wordsworthian or egotistical sublime’ (Letter to Woodhouse, 27 Oct. 1818) of Wordsworth.

Subjects: Literature.


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