English professor releases new book

By Sophia Heilman Nov 8, 2019

Professor of English Michael Theune hosted a release party and discussion to celebrate the publishing of his most recent book Keats’s Negative Capability: New Origins and Afterlives on Nov. 5. 

The book was edited by Theune and ISU professor Brian Rejack, Associate Professor and Associate Department Chair of English at Illinois State University. 

The collection of essays centers around romantic poet John Keats and his coined term, “negative capability”, mentioned only once in a letter. 

Keats defines negative capability as “being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

On top of editing, Theune and Rejack wrote an introduction for the book. Nicholas Roe, author of John Keats: A New Life, wrote the foreword. 

Theune and Rejack hope the book allows for the definition of negative capability to be reworked and looked at from new angles. 

“For over 50 years, there has been a relatively fixed, standard story about the meaning of negative capability,” Theune said. 

Theune noted that the inspiration for the book came from several years ago when Theune recalled hearing more use of the term. 

“I was seeing [it] everywhere in discussions about recent and contemporary American poetry. 

I wanted to explore the term and see if I could detect trends in its many uses.” Theune said. 

He then shared these interests with his colleague Rejack.

Rejack and Theune had previously worked together on The Keats Letters Project, which focuses on analyzing the poet’s letters. 

“Our conversations turned into conference panels that we organized, and then turned into the idea for the book,” said Theune. 

Theune also contributed to this collection with an essay called, “Keats’s ‘Negative Capability’ and Hazlitt’s ‘Natural Capacity’” in which he compares Hazlitt’s similar term to Keats’s. 

According to Theune, there has been a fixed viewpoint of what negative capability means- a viewpoint based on Walter Jackson Bate and Li Ou’s work. However, Theune hopes that his and Rejack’s book might change that. 

“[The book] might help, just a little after the term’s 200th anniversary, to create some very new conversations about negative capability, and maybe even about Keats,” said Theune. 

Keats’s Negative Capability: New Origins and Afterlives can be purchased on Amazon. 

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