Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Negative capability

Keats's 'negative capability' is an interesting phrase. Keats uses it to mean 'a capability for the negative' ... the emphasis, in other words, is on the negativity, and 'capability' means something like 'having the capacity for.' But because capability is the gerundive of 'capable', and because of the word-order, it looks the other way around; as if negative is adjectival and the emphasis is on the power or ability to generate an outcome (such that the phrase might mean, 'having only negative power or ability to generate an outcome': if God creates and the Devil only destroys, then we might say that God has positive capability and the Devil negative capability. But to say this would quite misrepresent what Keats meant ... unless the phrasing and order of the words is in part about generating this sort of ambiguity ...

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