In the second section of the article, Ong describes what he means when he discusses words. While words are primarily thought of as written forms (never spoken or read aloud), the written words of literature do originate in speech, and each written word points to the act of speaking between two people, what Ong refers to as an example of the religion-based "I-Thou" relationship. Still, Ong asserts, the kind of communication suggested in literary words is complex, for the author stands apart from the words themselves. And in drama, a specific form of literary words, the act of communication is further complicated by the fact that the author is separated not only from his/her words but also the presence of actors speaking the author's words, which creates another layer to the process. There is, in fact, a mask that the author wears in most literary communication (either through the actors in dramas or simply through fictional characters in other forms of literature), a concept Ong discusses further at a later point in the article.
In the third section of the article, Ong explains that when role-playing occurs in literature, the author creates the opportunity for people to enter into the interior lives of others, and this entry occurs primarily through voice. More specifically, this entry occurs through voice that is imbued with the context of belief. To explain what he means by belief, Ong distinguishes two types of belief: "belief as opinion" and "belief as faith." Belief as opinion can also be referred to as "belief that," as in "I believe that tomorrow will be rainy," a statement of opinion about an object. Belief as faith, on the other hand, typically refers to people rather than objects and can be thought of as "belief in," as in "I believe in Matthew" or "I believe in God." While these two categories sometimes overlap (one can believe that something is true about a person or believe in an object), belief as faith usually overrides belief as opinion. Certainly, belief as faith and belief as opinion have different relationships to words: belief as faith "feeds on them" while belief as opinion tends to "do away with [them]."
In the fourth section of the article, Ong discusses how these two kinds of belief function in literary criticism. While Ong believes that most discussion of literature centers around belief as opinion, he thinks that this approach overlooks the personal context of literature; therefore, he wishes to set up different criteria by which we discuss literature. First, Ong believes that discussions of literature must acknowledge the difficulty of "grasping" literature; we cannot understand it as we do a tangible object or even an abstract idea, such as the formula E=mc2. He also believes that looking at the concept of the mask, as it is worn by the author, helps people understand the relationship between belief and voice in literature. "If voice is an invitation to response," Ong writes, "in what sense can the invitation become more insistent when the speaker wears a mask?" (54). In other words, why does literature become more and more compelling as the distance between author and the audience increases? The answer, Ong says, is that because the visual (i.e., the mask) separates and the vocal (i.e, the voice) unites, the tension between the visual and the vocal makes the audience more drawn to the vocal.
In the fifth section of the article, Ong ties this evocative nature of literature to the evocative nature of the personal relationship between an individual and God in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and in the sixth section of the article, he returns to the kind of reaction an audience has to literature. The audience comes to have faith in the author and characters, especially if the work is effective in using voice to transmit belief. While literature can be seen as an object (concerned with belief that), it really is more of an expression of belief in, evoking a feeling of communicating with other people rather than about abjects.
This article can be linked to several of Ong's earlier articles, particularly
"Imitation and the Object of Art,"
"The Meaning of the 'New Criticism,'"
"The Jinnee in the Well-Wrought Urn,"
and "A Dialectic of Aural and Objective
Correlatives." While in the first three articles, Ong seemed
to accept, for the most part, the separation between artist and art advocated
by the New Critics, in "A Dialectic of
Aural and Objective Correlatives" and in this article, he seems to
take issue with some of the specifics of their theories. While he
still accepts the separation between artist and art, he does seem to question
the worthiness of encouraging this separation; he also seems more interested
in why this separation occurs than in keeping the separation intact.