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What is Negative Capability? Christopher Buckley On President Obama

May 6, 2009

At the Daily Beast, Christopher Buckley, who I find clever, witty and very often wrong about party politics, claims that there is a hint of cognitive dissonance in the way conservatives see our President:

“Negative capability,” the term coined by Keats, was interpreted by F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” In this sense, America is taking negative capability to a whole new level. We adore Obama but deep down aren’t sure about his policies.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. john permalink
    May 7, 2009 11:17 am

    Well I’ve never seen Fitzgerald’s paraphrase of Negative Capability. It doesn’t completely encapsulate what Keats was saying, but it is certainly part of it. Keats said: “I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” Keats is really formulating an aesthetic. The portion of his letter that never gets quoted, but is equally important to his idea is this: “with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.” Keats is talking about not letting reason ruin aesthetics. Keats would have hated people who go to movies just to find tiny little errors. I’m not sure Buckley’s formulation is Negative Capability, by either definition. Liking Obama and not being sure about his policies are not really opposing ideas. Liking Obama after he slapped you in the face would be Negative Capability. Anyway it is nice to see the idea even written about in a blog like the “Daily Beast”

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