Romanticism and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics
Darkness Audible: Negative Capability and Mark Dotyís "Nocturne in Black and Gold"
Ellen Keck Stauder, Reed College
1 The manuscripts are
by Anne Brontë, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Burns, Byron, Heine, Keats,
Poe, Pope, Swinburne and Tennyson. The commentators, besides Doty, are
McHugh, Hudgins, Kizer, Longenbach, Simic, C. K. Williams, Corn, Graham,
Howard, Hollander, and Hecht.
2 In a 1998 essay replying
to Harold Bloom, Doty argues against a notion of aesthetic autonomy: "The
idea of aesthetic autonomy is a fantasy. Itís like going into a flower
shop and believing that the flowers you buy have no qualities but color
and shape, that they exist only to be arranged. The flowers have a local
habitation and a name; they grew in specific places; they have characteristics,
relations, histories. In their fields and their foliage, in their particular
situations, the flowers are elements of a world. Who named them, hybridized
them, grew them, sold them? Who owned the land? Who decided which were
desirable? The flower arrangement is pretty, but the poetry resides in
the whole complicated story, the web of relations.
The aesthetic is not now and never
has been autonomous. If it were, no poetry would be possible but language
poetry, which denies the validity of representation and questions the
very notion of subjectivity. To represent is to enter into a pact with
the devil, with the powers of this world: it is to let the world help
write the poem." ("Here in Hell")
3 Severnís deathbed
portrait of Keats can be seen on at least two web sites:
4 The Whistler painting
can be viewed on the internet at several sites but two particularly good
5 In a 1994 interview,
conducted close in time to the finishing of the Atlantis manuscript,
Doty talked about Negative Capability in relation to AIDS and writing.
"The real shift happened when it became not a subject for me, but
a part of my subjectivity, a part of my daily life. To the point that
I began to see AIDS almost not as a thing in itself. Is AIDS a thing?
It means so much to me that itís not even a word, that itís an acronym
and therefore has a larger negative capability, as Keats put it"
6 For a far-reaching
discussion of the ghostly leave takings in Keatsís odes, especially their
connection to Hamlet, see Kaufman, pp. 372-377. I am also indebted
to this article for Kaufmanís very persuasive demonstration of the ways
that "constructivism exists in dialectical tension with negative
capability" (371), a notion I have tried to pursue here using a somewhat
different vocabulary, and for his demonstration of the ways this claim
has broader critical resonances with respect to the relationship between
formalist and Frankfurt school criticism.