Keats and negative capability

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“When we look into Keats’s expressions of conflict between
imagination and reality we can see the roots of this conflict in the
problem of identity. Keats wrote about the sunset, the sparrow, the
mythological figure as if he had lost his identity in the object. He
experienced these identifications sometimes with a sense of discovery
and sometimes with fear or irritability. Eventually, Keats began to see
that his identity would not be maddened by his imagination and could
be strengthened by it. He realized, in other words, “that a not inconsiderable increase in psychical efficiency” can result “from a disposition
which in itself is perilous.” In-the four years we know Keats as a letter
writer and a poet, we can see the development of his capacity for
retaining a sense of identity even when seized by powerful or seductive
visions. This is the development–the turning of a weakness into a
strength, both as artist and as man-that accounts for many apparent
contradictions in Keats’s thought. The language of negative capability
has been difficult because it suggests a puzzling oxymoron- a negative
and a positive. The figure presents two aspects of a dual process, the
first part of which, in its partial renunciation of control, can be felt as a
negative, while the second, or alternating, state recreates and is felt as a
capability. The c reative process in some of its operations posed
dangers for Keats’!; identity. But by the spring of 1819, the period of the
great odes, there appears a new strength in the second aspect of
negative capabilily imagination”

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