Keats Foundation Annual Lecture 2019
at Keats House, Hampstead
Dr. Matthew Scott
(University of Reading)
How Much Did Keats Really Know?
5 PM, Saturday 9 February 2019, in the Nightingale Room at Keats House Hampstead.
In this lecture, I would like to revisit Keats’s important but vexing idea of Negative Capability and do so in light of some of the things that some recent philosophers and neuroscientists have thought about the notion of certainty. I want to ask what kind of claim to knowledge Keats is making in his famous statement, and how it relates to other similar ideas that are present in both his contemporaries and successors, in particular when they think about the truth-claims present in the experience of art. In Keats’s formulation, knowledge and certainty are in a curious and confusing tension but this is precisely why it is so fascinating and suggestive as a way of understanding the strange potency of aesthetic experience. Confusion and lack of certainty are often provoked by the experience of coming to know the world around us and works of art in particular, which can be at once strange and somehow intimate. Keats’s extraordinary suggestion is that this may be a hallmark of all knowledge; a scepticism which, he admits, puts him at odds with some of his contemporaries. In the lecture, I want to ask whether we should really see his idea as set apart from the thought of his time and also whether it is useful to our own time, where notions of cognitive dissonance and confusion, widely present as affects in Keats’s own poetry, find renewed interest. As we approach the 2019 bicentenary of Keats’s odes, much of the lecture will focus on how states of knowledge are presented in these poems, and I will also consider the criticism of his contemporaries who frequently imply that he knew either not enough, or too much of the wrong kind of thing.
Matthew Scott teaches English and American literature at the University of Reading. Widely published on literature, art and music (most especially relating to the Romantic Period), he is editor of Symbiosis and The London Magazine.