Negative Capability

LitWeek 8 – 10

What did I do?

Looked at Negative Capability

Keat’s theory of negative capability can be defined as the ability of a poet (or other composer) to write about something without fully understanding it or having had experienced it.

“Without any momentous depth of speculations” – J. Keats (1817).

This theory is more evidence of the Romantics’ shift away from the Enlightenment. To not need to understand something in order to coherently develop ideas about it opposes the Enlightenment’s need to understand the inner workings of everything – an aversion to ignorance as opposed to an embracement of limited knowledge.

“Negative capability is seen as not just denying the need for correct answers, but denying humanity’s ability to fully understand any kind of phenomena.” (L. Bureman)

Negative capability has been adapted since Keats letter to his brothers in 1817. It has been developed for uses in psychoanalytic thinking, leadership, court, etc. It has also been used to describe the experience of the reader in of novels such as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, as the viewers do not question the conventions of the world that Rowling has put before them which is not fully explained.

Researched Literary Theory

Defined as a description of the underlying principles (tools) by which we understand literature, literary theory is harder for me to get a grip on.

It seems to be a method of analysing a text which deeply considers the significant influence of the gender, race and class of the author on the integrity of the text itself. For example, unconscious linguistic elements. A knowledge of the external elements of the text (the composer’s context) will improve interpretation of the text itself.

It sounds similar to how we are supposed to study Extension 1 English anyway; focusing on the context of the composer in order to understand their underlying message within the text. Also similar to Advanced English Module A.

I can say that I understand the idea of both of these concepts however I am not confident that I could write about them. I will need to research and discuss this further in order to understand it better and I’ll need to look at the prescribed texts once more, with these theories in mind.

L. Bureman. (2014). Negative Capability: Definition and Examples.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Literary Theory.



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