One of the socially unexplainable books I’m reading these days is The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric. The sub-subtitle is “Understanding the Nature and Function of Language,” which should probably be the title since it’s the only part that makes sense to someone who doesn’t already know what is meant by “trivium” or “logic, grammar, and rhetoric.” Those are just a few of the very specific, technical terms that abound in this book. Even term is a term. Familiar words like form, matter, nature, passion, class, and accident all have different (sometimes very different) meanings in the world of logic, grammar, and rhetoric. One can easily run by one of these terms thinking “Oh ya, I know what that means” and end up in confusion when it turns out to mean something surprising.
It doesn’t help that the book wasn’t originally written as a book, but is a scantily prosified version of a teaching outline left behind by Sister Miriam Joseph. As such it gets straight to the point without much lead-in. I personally don’t like a lot of hand-holding when I read, but this is more like being pushed unceremoniously off the diving board. Terms are often used before they are fully explained (if they are fully explained at all). It also assumes a familiarity with English grammar that I don’t possess since I was in French Immersion during the years English grammar is usually taught.
This is sink-or-swim reading, and the way forward is often interrupted by treading of water as I re-(re-re-)read sections to make sure I understand them. It’s such intensive brain exercise that it is actually physically exhausting (did you know the brain uses 60% of your blood sugar?). I haven’t managed to get through one chapter in a single sitting yet. But, what can I say, I like a challenge. The reward is to finally get some of this stuff, to start taking at least some of the terms in stride, to be slowly building up a body of knowledge. I just had a great moment while writing a note in my moleskine. As I wrote, “compound declarative sentence: may symbolize two or more simple propositions or a disjunctive proposition,” I realized: Hey! That’s a disjunctive proposition!! And a contingent one at that! It’s good to get it.