As your own quotation shows, what Keats said is about the ability to let
characters speak from very different perspectives without forcing unity.
To be precise, what he said in his letter of December 1817 was the
following: "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. . . . "
That is not about everyone spelling individually--or ignoring linguistic
conventions that both allow meaning and make possible the meanings in
deviation. Keats. like Eliot, followed spelling conventions.
That is not what Eliot said either. He said "But, of course, only those
who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape
from these things." Escape is quite different from transcend.
And, I'm sorry, but in fact "man" is not at all generic in modern
English. It was in Anglo-Saxon, but its modern meaning is the adult
male exclusive of the female (with the "generic" as a secondary
meaning--exactly the opposite.) So the assumption is that it means two
totally opposing things: males AND females---and males BUT NOT females.
That is why "all men are created equal" never was construed to mean
women could vote or hold property or have rights to their own children
or the money they earned or credit. It meant what was convenient.
That is also why it is no longer accepted by most grammars. (See
McGraw-Hill Guide to Equal Treatment of the Sexes.) Moreover, the
notion that it is "generic" in some grammatical sense was thought up by
17th and 18th Century grammarians (all men who, oddly, did not see
irony) who claimed that the male was the "more inclusive."
Keats and Eliot would have been taught that "man" was a grammatical
choice, but we now know it was a political and gender choice having
nothing at all to do with grammar. So I do not consider it excusable
because it is just bloody rude (I don't at all mean you intended to be
rude, but the claim just is--I am not in it, and I find that insulting.)
Even though it meant all humans in the Anglo-Saxon period, they also
had words for men and women: werman and wifman or male man and female
man. So there was then a "generic" as a third choice. Now there is only
a choice of a male or a female term, and the male is not inclusive. See
the OED. (One might--on the absurdist theory of "inclusive"--insist
that we use only the generic "woman" because we do now know that all
embryos are female initially. But I have never known of any woman silly
enough to reverse 17thC gender bias.)
OED Man II:
An adult male person
a. with special reference to sex.
Lear: "Let not women's weapons, water drops staine my mans cheekes."
-----now why cannot those terms be transposed?
b. generically (without article: cf II) the male human being
You praise him elaborately for his continuing claims to that effect--you
don't name them; you respond to the posts in which he says them with
>>> [log in to unmask] 04/08/06 3:06 PM >>>
Negative Capability -- a dramatic virtue discerned by Keats in
he (Shakespeare) had the capability to impersonate (identify with) an
Iago as well an Imogen, a Shylock as well as a Portia, an Edgar as well
as an Edmund. This capability did not obliterate his own individual
self/identity or his capability to be himself. But, as TSE observed,
only a man who has a personality knows how to transcend it and be
Except for the point, the
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
Likewise, only a man (I may be excused for using the generic term) who
knows his language (has control over his linguistic skills) is competent
enough to take liberties with his language. My admiration of Peter's
elucidation was limited to this aspect only. Maybe both of you converge
on this point.
Now where have I praised 'his commitment to not "knowing" any
particular "language" that is consistent' ?
Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]> wrote: As it happens, that is not what
"negative capability is about." Nor is
Eliot's theory of impersonality, though I fail to see how it is combined
with "control." But as you seem to be completely in agreement with
Tabitha and me and contradicting Peter since you focus on the "liberty"
with language of "a man" who "knows" it, why are you praising his
commitment to not "knowing" any particular "language" that is
consistent? "Taking liberties" with something already there is, of
course, the point, minus the assumption of language being a male
>>> [log in to unmask] 04/08/06 9:18 AM >>>
I'm also reminded of Keats' "Negative Capability"
in the context of Shakespeare. It's not a case of
one's being a turncoat, a scarecrow that turns with
every wind. Only a man who knows his language
can take liberties with the language.
cr mittal wrote:
Thanks, Peter, for your superb elucidation of
"mind-forged manacles" vis-a-vis spellings.
Your closing observation
Is there a fear of loss of power through loss of control here?
Dare we let ordinary people take back the language for themselves?
Guess what? It doesn't matter. They're doing it anyway.
reminds me of TSE's concept of Impersonality/Control.
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