In this article, Ong explores the role of criticism, arguing that while criticism can help people understand art more thoroughly, it cannot give people the experience of art itself.  The experience of seeing a painting or hearing a piece of music, according to Ong, cannot be explained as other experiences are; more specifically, the form which art expresses cannot be named as other forms are.  Sometimes people try to say that the form expressed by art is a "better" version than the form itself, but this argument does not work when applied to certain artistic media, such as music.

In explaining the process of "poetic experience" (as Thomas Gilby, author of Poetic Experience, New York:  Sheed and Ward, 1934, calls the experience of seeing a painting or hearing a piece of music), Ong discusses the relationship between abstract ideas and the material world, a discussion that plays a prominent role in his early writings (and is fleshed out more completely in articles such as "The Province of Rhetoric and Poetic" and "The Meaning of the 'New Criticism'").  Here, Ong discusses the relationship between the material and the abstract in only the most basic terms and with more emphasis on the importance of the abstract in the process of knowing than he does in later articles, where he gives more weight to the fact that abstract ideas come out of the material realm.

The happiness people feel during the poetic experience, Ong explains in this article, originates from the intellect's understanding of something that feels whole (rather than "piecemeal," which is how the intellect normally processes information); because the intellect understands many truths at once when having the poetic experience, the form expressed by art cannot be named.  Ong also addresses briefly the accidental nature of the poetic experience and poses a number of questions related to this accidental nature for future exploration.

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