In Place of Erudite

Not a book review, but something noticed after Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Or, What Reading a Book Does, Chapter 35: The Tangential.

Taking too much from the blurbs, I found an obtuse take on what “relentlessly erudite” means (Vanity Fair). The novel’s characters are precocious Greek students at fictional Hampden College, and they are conversant in the classics. Literally – Greek, however sloppily inflected, allows them to wonder aloud to each other when in mixed company: “Always, previously, in an emergency we could throw out something in Greek, under the guise of an aphorism or quotation.” (501) Like this:

I did not understand what he meant. The form of “dishonor” (ατιμία) that he used also meant “loss of civil rights.” “Atimia?” I repeated.

“But rights are for living men, not for the dead.”
“Oιμoι,” he said, shaking his head. “Oh, dear. No. No.”

Erudite: Having or showing great knowledge or learning.

In fiction, I’m now looking for something else, something far more valuable, examples of emotional erudition:
How do characters validate, or invalidate, one another’s feelings?
Are the characters reading each other’s (fictional) expressions?
Are they self-aware, or mindful?
How important is it to an author to describe a character’s emotional kaleidoscope?
Et cetera.

Kinds of reading are given such short shrift. This one helps to avoid reading about Elaborate Architectures of Things That are Probably Beside the Point.

P.S. The Secret History of the Book Jacket of The Secret History.


One thought on “In Place of Erudite

  1. Pamela Horn

    Emotional erudition in a character is a depth of development I think we are fortunate to find. Erudition or truth can be approached through a few lenses. You might want to read a conversation between Janna Levin (cosmologist: studies the origins of the universe, the shape of space-time, chaos and black holes & writer, author of the novel A MADMAN DREAMS OF TURING MACHINES) and Jonathan Lethem (author of seven novels, two short-story collections, and essays: MOTHERLESS IN BROOKLYN and CHRONIC CITY)


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