This introductory chapter first sets out the book's purpose, which is to present a collection with a breadth and depth of content that represents a critical intervention into how we might rethink the question of aesthetics and American literature. The chapter then delineates the place of aesthetics in literary criticism, more generally, and then analyzes the role aesthetics has played in American literary criticism in particular. It offers a partial survey of American literary criticism over the last several decades, focusing on representative texts that most directly take up the case against aesthetics. An overview of the subsequent chapters is also presented.
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