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To Tolerate Ambiguity.

June 6, 2012 \pm\30 5:34 pm

The following is from Eric Sellen’s essay “The Esthetics of Ambiguity: Reverdy’s Use of Syntactical Simultaneity” collected in About French Poetry from Dada to “Tel Quel”: Text and Theory (1974), edited by Mary Ann Caws. It seems to me a pretty succinct redefinition of Negative Capability, or at least an extension of Keats’ own somewhat ambiguous definition of the term. Dig it. Wear it around on your animal face. Video courtesy of Dave Carulli.

“In a paper entitled “Creativity and Culture,” Morris I. Stein describes the motivational stage of the creative process as follows:

The creative person has a lower threshold, or greater sensitivity, for the gaps or lack of closure that exists in the environment. The sensitivity to these gaps in any one case may stem largely from forces in the environment or from forces in the individual.Associated with this sensitivity is the creative individual’s capacity to tolerate ambiguity…. I mean that the individual is capable of existing amidst a state of affairs in which he does not comprehend all that is going on, but he continues to effect resolution despite the lack of homeostasis.

The assertions of creative artists themselves – even those who are not trained psychologists or philosophers and whose testimony is based solely on a direct intuitive understanding of the creative experience – tend to support the validity of Professor Stein’s description of the contradictory situation in which the creative artist is motivated by a need to synthesize or achieve closure while his basic creativity is measurable in terms of his ability to tolerate or to seek the ambiguous, a tolerance and a search essentially antagonistic to the need for closure; and, as a result, the creative experience is at once a self-realizing and a self-destroying process. In the moment of creative production, the artist has achieved the closed in that he has filled a gap or a certain “want,” although the ambiguous will never be annihilated altogether, as the product would then be so scientifically explicit as to be devoid of artistic interest.”


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