Negative Capability

(Why am I naming days?)

2/6/14, Day 13,791: Negative Capability

This day is so named for Keats’ immortal coining of the phrase:

“…and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason – Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.”

One of the glories of this quote is that it does what it says: reading it, you must resist the very irritable reaching to translate it into clarity that it diagnoses as antithetical to beauty, and close the door behind you when you step into those uncertain mysteries. But if you can do that, more things become possible, and not just in the arts, narrowly-defined.

This idea returned to me yesterday in two different ways: The first was in a late afternoon conversation about the Diversity & Inclusion Initiative with my extraordinary colleague Dafina McMillan. Both of us were feeling the fatigue that comes with this work, especially as we reach for a new language to talk about identity, equity and diversity; a language that is not embedded with the privileges and cruelties that so many of our inherited words and phrases possess; we are reaching for the new words, the new stories, the tools to dismantle the master’s house (for the master’s tools will never dismantle the masters house.)

We need to allow ourselves to live in these “uncertainties, mysteries, doubts,” or we will reach too soon for the facts and reasons and so not find a beauty great enough to dismantle that house, and it isn’t easy, especially when those rare few who could see the view from the mountaintop and turn that beauty into a trail of words for us to follow were taken from us.

And so, too, do we find ourselves in the devised process of the Adaptive Arts Faust project. We find ourselves creating a story about creating a story, without the years of training and mutual trust that sustains most devised processes; and yet I think we are discovering a new way of working that could make something truly beautiful, if we can keep from reaching too quickly away from uncertainty, and to take each  fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery as they come.

Technique never stands still: it only advances or retreats…

Writing: 35 out of 40 days (Faust, The Sea Concerto)
Spanish: 36 out of 40 days

What small things did I do yesterday to help build the Honeycomb?
(And what does it mean to “Help build the honeycomb?)

  • Wrote and rehearsed Faust for Adaptive Arts
  • Signed another petition to EP Administrator Gina McCarthy to create strong protections against coal ash
  • For TCG, posted/shared/facilitated Su Teatro’s awesome project to engage Latin@ youth in Denver; and Juliet Hart’s take on Common Core for theatre education;
  • Signed a petition to TV networks to diversify their anchor pool, in which white men are over-represented at twice their actual demographic percentage;
  • Cooked all my meals vegetarian (mostly vegan and , some local) and added no additional waste (plastic bags, etc.)
  • Asked President Obama and Senator Vilsack to abandon their “Filthy Chicken Rule” that would allow poultry factory farms to police themselves

Published by CorinnaSchulenburg

Artist and Activist

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