Entertainment & The Inverted Trivium

in #writing3 years ago

Some of you may be familiar with the Trivium Method. This is a technique of learning derived from Classical Education that is broken down into three stages - Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.

The first stage of Grammar comprises an intake phase, receiving of information in a straightforward manner - the impression of facts.

The second stage of Logic comprises a testing phase, by combining, comparing and questioning the information received thus far - the compression of variable data.

The third stage of Rhetoric comprises the ability to articulate a fully formed viewpoint, based upon the results of the first two phases - the expression of knowledge.

As a framework for learning this is very useful. However in studying this concept, one may come across the phrase “The Inverted Trivium”. I found myself somewhat curious as to what this meant, and in my inquiry began to form a concept that I'd like to share here.

The value of attention is coming into increasing scarcity in this modern world of ours, and if one desires to reach an audience in a competitive environment they need to be able to capture people's attention and hold it. This leads to any relevant message being forced to take a secondary role by the more primary need to reach people's minds - the need to entertain. But then, perhaps this has always been the case throughout History, the art of beguiling audiences being refined throughout the ages, so as to soften their minds to the inculcation being offered as a final claim.

Now in recent years it’s become fashionable to provide etymological breakdowns of words, and by and large this is for the good. Root meaning provides a solid bedrock upon which to base one’s understanding of language. One word that I’ve seen deciphered in this way is entertainment, interpreted as a hold over one’s mind - the root meaning of “tain” meaning “to hold” and “ment” meaning “mind”. (also meaning “state or condition” and the case of entertainment, I think the state or condition is in fact mental. This could hold true for all words ending in “ment” with a possible exception of inclement weather. Inclement for whom? And so on goes that debate.)

The first part of the word always remains unexamined for some reason. “Enter” is composed of two terms - “en” meaning “in”, and “ter” meaning “thrice”. To enter is to be “in three” so to speak, which alludes to procreation - one in one makes three.

And so a more complete breakdown shows entertainment to be “in a thrice hold over the mind”. What, then, are the three parts of entertainment that hold over the mind? Well, there’s the three elements of Song, Dance, and Stage, commonly referred to as the “Triple Threat”. And it seems that more often than not these elements are presented in that order.

What is Song? Is it not, in it’s purest form, simply a direct appeal to the heart, as in the singing of birds? And if you will argue that a song contains much more information than just emotion - communication between birds - that still reinforces the idea that a song is a fully formed expression of Rhetoric.

What is Dance? Is it not a combination of song and movement, of idea and form? Whether witnessing or performing dance, one can sense a compression between these elements, coming together into it’s own Logic.

And so the Stage is set in the mind of the Entertained, in that they now understand without comprehending the Grammar of the creative act being displayed before them - not an expression but rather an impression.

Of course one could easily argue that Stage comes first because you have to set the stage in order for any entertainment to be possible at all; set up props, clear the dance floor, dim the lights. This is looking at things as a material value. What I’m trying to get at is how these elements work in respect to their creative value, within the mind of the audience. When this process is implemented successfully, the Audience Mind comes into it’s own identity within the performance. That is the final stage.

I should also address potentially reductive interpretations of this argument. A dancer who is reading this may take exception to my words, because for them dance is more than just some secondary compression, but is also an expression unto itself. This is true, from the perspective of the dancer, and can of course also be appreciated by the audience. Please remember that I am referring to the role of dance within an overall process over the audience’s perception. Dance brings Song to the Stage.

It is also true that each of these three elements contains sub elements of all three within itself. Anyone involved in the Creative Arts can take the opportunity to reflect on this in respect to their own discipline, and in time they may find the insights gained to be quite fruitful.

Another consideration is the difference between the noun “entertainment” and the verb “entertain”.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without believing it.” -Lowell L. Bennion



By referencing this quote, I hope to draw a distinction between what it means to entertain and what it means to be entertained. With the former you are the active player, and the thought is the subject of your examination - you are the actor upon the thought. With the latter you are the subject being acted upon - you, along with the rest of the audience, are the thought being examined by the performance. Art is indeed quite dangerous, and within that danger there are great pitfalls and great rewards. It is through this distinction that one may protect one's self from the pitfalls and reap the rewards.

Sometimes people do this automatically. There’s been a lot of talk about the problem solving capacity of gamers, for example, heightened by recent events in the financial sector. It’s important not to be too complacent, by assuming that interactivity will always afford you freedom from this thrice hold. Consider Bennion's quote as it relates to suspension of disbelief. It may be that gamers have the capacity to entertain the game, and in so doing apply those skills to the larger world. Be in the game but not of the game, so the saying goes… Does your perception of the game you’re in always correspond with the larger reality? Positive examples can be misleading.

I’d like to conclude this piece on a final note in regards to the phenomena of inversion. A breakdown of this word implies negation of communication itself. The misuse of the term inversion can lead to some very harmful ideas. To be inverse is not necessarily to be entirely reverse, rather that the latter can be an element within the former. And so entertainment need not be the “Inverted Trivium” but rather the Reverted Trivium, and it’s in the application of reversion when both creating and consuming entertainment, to entertain a thought without believing it, that determines the good or lack thereof. Identifying the misapplication of reversal, and how it confuses the stage for the larger reality (or the medium for the message), may be key in determining the what is indeed this mysterious Inverted Trivium.


Writing and images by Greg McCann, the author of this post and owner of this Steemit Channel. To view more of my work, please visit www.fireawaymarmot.com.

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