Discuss John Keats' concept of negative capability.

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Keats' concept of negative capability was one of the most philosophically profound elements of both his work and Romanticism, in general.  Essentially, the concept argued that there is something beautiful and acceptable in living with the unknown.  This idea flies in the face of the Neoclassical Enlightenment belief systems that preceded Romantic thought.  It suggests that there is a beauty about that which is unknown and that not everything in consciousness requires a direct and absolute answer.  Keats saw consciousness as something in which negative capability played a major role.  Consider how Keats felt about the poet's need to convey this to the audience, defining negative capability in terms that would make an empiricist stammer at its lack of totality:

capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason…

For Keats' and his poetry, exploring this domain was extremely important.  No better is this seen than in his closing couplet to "Ode on a Grecian Urn."  The idea of "all ye need to know" is something rooted in negative capability, learning to live within limits of one's state of being in the world.  Interestingly enough, this helps to set the stage for Modernist thought, which takes the idea of negative capability to its logical conclusion in its suggestion that everything is subject to negative capability.

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What did John Keats mean by "Negative Capability?"

Keats believed negative capability was a condition that enabled the individual to live with doubts and insecurities. Negative capability was one of the most distinctive elements of Keats's understanding of the world and the individual's place within it:

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.

In the above quote, Keats wrote about the magnitude of Shakespeare's genius. Keats recognized that Shakespeare's greatness resided in being able to illuminate complexity and intricacy in the human predicament.  There is little in the way of simplistic clarity in Shakespeare.  The human being resides in a world of "uncertainties" and "mysteries."

Keats understood negative capability as a definitive quality of the great poets.  Keats embraced negative capability in his own work.  He was able to strive towards a realm where simplicity was rejected in favor of complexity and intricacy in being.  In negative capability, Keats sought to bring out a life devoid of the certainty offered in "fact and reason."  When he writes, "beauty is truth, truth, beauty- that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know" in "Ode on a Grecian Urn," negative capability is understood.  Keats believed that negative capability contained the essence of human consciousness.

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