Receptivity & Resistance

Almost all efforts to foster receptivity in general run into the problem of exclusionary thinking, of dichotomizing, of policing the boundary between what we should be receptive to and what we shouldn't.  For example, I want to say, "be open to everything," but then why does my blood boil when the Humanities lecture is announced and it's Mary Oliver?  I really believe that Billy Collins should be strangled by Kenneth Koch's strangler ("Fresh Air").  

It used to be that people would simply make this boundary coincide with the difference between high culture and its various opposites.  That doesn't work so well.  It's true that almost everything traditionally classified as high culture is, to my mind at least, valuable, but the converse is not true.  Simply dismissing popular culture is the laziest possible way of enforcing that boundary.  You can't confuse a sociological category with an aesthetic one.   

An openness to the music of jackhammers in the street does not entail an interest in everything.  Even John Cage's effort to overcome likes and dislikes did not lead him to be interested in everything under the sun.  He had his own pantheon of heroes like anyone else.  

So the category of resistance is just as fundamental as receptivity.  Resistance come in many forms, is situated on many boundaries.  For example, something not to my taste but which I feel is worthy of attention forces me to read beyond my taste.  Suppose I don't Mahler so much; I listen to Mahler regardless.  Something that is to my taste but which I don't wholly understand forces me to read beyond my understanding.  Someone who is receptive to Mary Oliver and seems to get from it the same thing I get from something else forces me to admit a kind of radical relativism--the idea that no one person can define these boundaries in more than a provisional way.  

Some of the best literary criticism can arise out of resistance--seemingly the opposite of receptivity, but really the line of demarcation between that which can be received and that which seems to threaten our ability to listen. That's where the real interest lies, it seems to me, on the razor's edge of receptivity.      

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