Negative Capability: Glimpses Beyond the Brutalities of Power

When you write regularly of politics and empire, you necessarily spend much time steeped in the very worst aspects of human nature. The reality of power is overwhelmingly brutal, ugly and negative; and if as a writer you wish to engage with reality, then the negative will be prominent in your work. I make no apologies for that — except perhaps to apologize that my skills are not sufficient to convey the full “negativity” of our reality. So when I hear the charge that my work is “negative,” I shrug my shoulders. I’m writing about politics and power; how could it not be negative?

But of course, anyone who spends time raging against the depredations of power, against the negativity of our reality, possesses somewhere within them a more positive vision of what life is, or what it could be, both on public level and in the deeper, murkier depths of the individual personality. It is the violation and degradation of this vision by the brutishness of our reality that evokes the outrage in the first place. If these more positive intimations did not exist, then there would be no cause for anger or resistance; there would be nothing but a nihilistic acceptance of the unchangeable ugliness of reality.

To me, such positive intimations are always elusive (and allusive), on the margins of perception, seen in the glimpse and the glance. They can’t be captured or hammered into dogma, but are part of a ceaseless process; a process of change and churning, of “breakage and mutation,” of new coalescences of fact, fate, circumstance and will, of loss and possibility — all shifting and mixing, back and forth, like colored sands.

It’s easy to let such intimations slip away. Especially if they come early, to a mind unready, a personality unformed, a psyche too fragile to embrace the annihilating fire of connection and flow. (An annihilation that paradoxically gives back the psyche in a more refined, distinctive form.) But certain names, places, snatches of thought and expression can attach themselves to these intimations, sending faint echoes to the future that a person might one day hear again.

Anyway, these are some of the thoughts and feelings behind the piece below. I’m working on some other posts about politics and empire — and you can bet they will be plenty “negative.”  But meanwhile, here’s a little train ride “back into that old élan vital.”