...another jab over at Harriet...
" "Aestheticism" probably carries too much polemical & lit-historical baggage. "Art for art's sake" as a program tried to draw the magic circle around aesthetic experience - but the magic should be left to the art itself. The magic only happens, in any case, when the border between art & life is porous, ambiguous, etc.
I would think that criticism, also, has to reflect the same balancing act. Edmund Wilson in "Axel's Castle" has a lot to say about all this. You can't put art in a special box when the very terms of experience and its reflection are being resolved in a new way in the work itself.
However, I do think U.S. poetry could use a focus on some kind of General Criticism, some general principles which put the logic of aesthetic and critical response on a stronger, mutual footing. It seems to me that the "logic" which presently divides the so-called poetic schools and tendencies is only a kind of pretend-logic, tendentious and polemical.
Is it true that one of the distinctive characteristics of U.S. poetry & poetics USED TO BE, anyway, a suspicion of theory, in fact a suspicion of the whole classical-academic tradition inherited from Europe? Doesn't American literature display a striking UNEASINESS about writing per se? The poet stuck in a jam between native wilderness (and Native languages), and Puritan strictures on art, and overbearing Mother Country (England)? Isn't the subsequent keynote of American poetry this very colonial awkwardness, uneasiness, a DISLIKE for scribbling & inaction?
The Moderns & their late-20th cent. heirs would like us to believe that the key characteristic of American literature is invention and renovation; hence the high value accorded "experiment", avant-garde, etc. But the deeper character of US poetry is rooted in this wilderness unease and alienation, this native awkwardness.
Look again at Emerson, Poe, Whitman, Melville, Dickinson, Frost, Eliot, Pound, Stephen Crane, Hart Crane........... central to all of them is the whole issue of imitation, of how the US poet grows into or relates to the inheritance of the past, and thus grows as an artist - this is, I repeat, not the business of some simplified 20th-cent. "progress in the arts". It's a deeply anachronistic situation on many levels."