In this article, Ong asserts that New Criticism is important to metaphysicians because it moves the study of literature (particularly poetry) away from the Cartesian approach of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in which literary critics limited the study of poetry to a study of abstract meaning only.  Unlike those earlier critics, who emphasized the notion of the abstract over the material, mind over matter, and logic over the senses, the New Critics, especially I.A. Richards, emphasize the relationship between abstract ideas and the sensory experience of the material world.

In what seems the most original section of the article, "Induction and the Ultimate Determination of Meaning," Ong argues that abstract meaning cannot be the only concern of critics, for abstract meaning occurs only in relationship to more material concerns; in fact, the very act of translating abstract meaning from one mind to another requires dipping into the material realm.  Ong supports this assertion by giving examples of how the meanings of particular words, such as "flimmer," shift as new words come into being and as certain contexts become associated with the word.  In other words, there is no such thing as a fixed "dictionary definition" of a word (something Ong associates with the Cartesian mind) but multiple meanings that come out of the material realm.

Poetry, Ong believes, cannot be analyzed unless critics adopt an approach that recognizes the material realm (here, Ong summarizes the work of Aquinas on logic in dialectic, rhetoric, and poetry, which is more fully discussed in "The Province of Rhetoric and Poetic").  According to Ong, New Criticism is an approach that does exactly this:  he cites, for example, the line from Archibald MacLeish's "Ars Poetica," "A poem should not mean/But be," and includes discussion of the various elements of poetry studied by the New Critics (meter, metaphor, ambiguity, and imagery).

To the late-twentieth century mind, this section of Ong's article is not particularly convincing, given the rejection of New Criticism in recent years, but what is interesting is how Ong anticipates many of the reservations about fixed meanings more widely acknowledged once deconstruction established itself as a prominent school of literary criticism.  Furthermore, Ong's article is interesting because he does not wholeheartedly accept New Criticism, noting in his conclusion some of the problems with a New Critical approach, particularly the idea of poetry as salvation.
 

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