Much has been made of John Keats’s perhaps offhand comment in some letter regarding the idea of “negative capability”: “when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” I often think of this phrase irritatedly, as I Google after fact, and search my intelligence for the reason behind any number of seemingly unreasonable things. The situation of modern humanity is to be both in uncertainty and doubt AND reach after fact and reason, and bully for us. To seek fact and reason is a noble process without which we make no progress as a species (well, to the extent that we DO make any progress as a species).
He seems to challenge the “Man of Achievement” to rest in confusion and consideration of the sublime. This is crap. Beauty, yes. I’m all for it. Can’t get enough of it. The contemplation of it is one of my favorite pastimes. But to make art, I believe we go a step beyond the consideration of the sublime.
The process of making art is the process of asking questions, of seeking perspective. Even the seemingly simple act of painting a purely representational landscape is an inquiry into the human act of seeing, and into how nature forms and casts color, light, and shadow. The act of writing a poem IS an act of reaching after fact and reason, goddammit. It’s the reaching that is the art. So, fuck you, Keats. Fuck off.