Negative Capability

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Negative capability was a concept posited by John Keats, that writers, thinkers, and creatives are

“capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

This idea lines up with a favorite and well-quoted line from Walt Whitman:

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes)” from Song of Myself, 51

So when is comfort with contradictions or willingness to accept things that are seemingly ‘illogical’ useful? Is it just for poets, or should all of us have some level of negative capability?


Definition page from Poetry Foundation and their selections from Keats’ letters

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