Negative Capability and the Creativity of Angst

We are often confronted by images of bleached teeth and tanned faces plugging books on the power of positive thinking. The hook is generally centred on the premise that anything is possible if only you’d cogitate, day and night, on your own personal awesomeness.

If I was to make a value judgement as a cultural critic, I’d say it’s a narcisstic proposition based on delusion; from a literary perspective, I’d say it’s just plain boring.

In literature (and life), the most complex, memorable and intriguing characters are those who face situations where they are wracked by indecision and uncertainty, terrorised by the prospect of making a wrong choice, frustrated by the sheer unpredictability of life’s outcomes… I would argue, that when a character is forced to make an emotive decision wrapped in self-doubt, this creates the best kind of dramatic tension – because inside this tension lies a space where all possibilities exist – and that is damn interesting!

Poet John Keats understood this state, by coining this quality as ‘Negative Capability’ and as a writer, I give Keats a double thumbs up in this regard.

Keats argued that when a man is capable of being in a state of uncertainty and self-doubt and doesn’t give two cahoots about trying to reason himself out it, something beautiful happens – the character is released and is not subject to ordinary standards of evidence or truth – he overcomes all considerations. Hence, he arrives at a state where anything is possible.

So next time you are tempted to blow six hundred bucks on hearing some dude on a sponsored podium wax conceited about being a better you, remember that plenty can be achieved if you just embraced you in all your uncertain glory… and it won’t cost you a dime. Surely, it’s the lessons learnt from our frailities and failings that fuel human fascination and creativity.

Till next time, crack a whid!

WordSmith Jo

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