Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Negative Capability (Two Toys for the War on Terror)

So, John Keats famously coined the term Negative Capability, by which he meant the ability to observe and contemplate the world without succumbing to the impulse to cram that experience into a rational framework. To Keats, this ability to live with mystery, with doubt, with uncertainty, was key to the appreciation and creation of beauty.

In modern usage (in my experience), people often use the term negative capability to refer to the universal human capacity to hold two contradictory perceptions or beliefs at the same time.

That's sort of how I feel about these items, which invoke their contradictory feelings in very different ways. I want to say that each is simultaneously compelling and disturbing, but somehow that undersells the complexity of the response. In one case, the complex response is clearly deliberate. In the other case, maybe not so much.  See what you think.

The first is this art project called Casualties of War (link), which really conveys all of its own complex resonances without explanation.

Second is this figurine, issued on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and immortalizing the death of Osama bin Laden. In this case, I think the figurine would elicit your negative capability on its own, but the video really heightens the effect.

The green army figures are not for sale, but the Obama figure is.

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