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Negative Capability as an Ethic of Empathy: Practicing Narrative Medicine with John Keats in Mind

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This thesis identifies and explicates the similarities between elements of narrative medicine theory and John Keats’s quality of negative capability and explores the ways in which an understanding of negative capability can inform narrative medicine practices and guide narrative medicine beyond its present theory. I argue that scholars and practitioners of narrative medicine ought to consider Keats and his works in their efforts to cultivate and encourage empathetic clinical practices. My thesis begins with an overview of narrative medicine and Rita Charon’s methods of incorporating narrative knowledge into clinical practice. I provide a biographical sketch of John Keats’s life and his medical training, and I discuss literary scholarship that has explored the ways in which Keats’s medical background influenced his poetry. I discuss Keats’s elusive concept of negative capability and incorporate scholarly analyses of the concept into my own analysis of negative capability as it appears in Keats’s letters and poetry. The final two chapters of my thesis move toward a consideration of negative capability in the context of medical practice and narrative medicine. I identify the similarities between the poetic quality of negative capability and the physician’s ideal state of attention described in Charon’s narrative medicine philosophy and the language used to describe both concepts. Finally I consider criticisms of narrative medicine methods and discuss the ways in which an invocation of negative capability in narrative medicine theory could help narrative medicine scholars and practitioners address and overcome the shortcomings of their methods.
Health Humanities
John Keats
Literature and Medicine
Narrative Medicine
Negative Capability
Mann, Mary Taylor (author)
King, Nancy MP (committee chair)
Bishop, Christine E (committee member)
2017-01-14T09:35:18Z (accessioned)
2017-01-14T09:35:18Z (available)
2016 (issued)
Bioethics (discipline)
http://hdl.handle.net/10339/64174 (uri)
en (iso)
Wake Forest University
Negative Capability as an Ethic of Empathy: Practicing Narrative Medicine with John Keats in Mind

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