Your Ambiguities are Impeccable, Young Man
“Several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.”
John Keats, from a letter to his brothers, George and Thomas, dated Sunday, 21 December 1817.
Negative Capability is the capacity to live with ambiguity and paradox, and to ‘remain content with half knowledge’. It describes an ability to accept anxiety and fear, to remain in a place of uncertainty and so encourage new thoughts or perceptions. Ultimately it implies the ability to tolerate a suspension of self, a loss of self so as to enable a recreation of self in another character or environment.
A writer who cannot tolerate the companionship of ambiguity, failure, and self-doubt is unlikely to emerge from the prison of conditioned and traditional thought:
One perverse pleasure of art is the pleasure of being lost, in the sense of being confused or in the dark. Kathryn Schulz
“Teach me how to write, give me the theory, the underlying secrets of the craft; if I can get them absolutely rigid, or nearly so, then I can concentrate on working and shall be able to avoid more thinking. Isn’t that so: I can make a conscious and deliberate attempt to further my development by becoming mentally fossilized? It is true, isn’t it?”
There is that sort of feeling that people don’t know what to do with gaps in their lives. It’s a scary notion, but actually, if you can stand in space just for a little while, a new door will open, or you’ll be able to see in the dark after a while. You’ll adjust. Jane Campion
In Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon await the arrival of a mysterious visitor, Godot. Throughout the play Godot’s arrival is anticipated, wished for, and repeatedly heralded, but it never happens. It makes no difference how many times you see the play, Godot never appears.
If you can begin to bring yourself to acknowledge the non-arrival of Godot you step closer to a deeper understanding. He will never arrive. Acknowledging and understanding the ambiguities will not remove them, but it will make them more acute and palpable.
Our world and experience is filled with contradiction and paradox, but through a toleration and understanding of ambiguity we can grow and deepen our inner life, that place where the spark of creation is originated.