the erudition cliche

in the recognitions are hidden booktitles & quotes from shakespeare.
many facts about early catholic church alchemy mythology      many
nonfictional references they add a lot to the novel as a novel:

(1) for "timegrowth"       changing of the book as its reread & new
references are recognized (see p50 above)

(2) defining the book's "world"      eg the harlem drag party gets
another dimension, more reality from the history material (the recogni-
311-2 315-6)       eg parallel of faust-poodle-mephistopheles to
wyatt-black poodle-recktall brown extends the meaning of forgery in
the novel (135 136-40)

(3) the characterization gets richer       eg the assault on how to win
friends & influence people
(497-593) is itself good nonfiction      but in
the recognitions its functions to show mr pivner from another angle.
his actions are so weak & restricted that hed seem unreal, thinly char-
acterized without some such background to interact with

not one of the critics saw it       that gaddis book isnt a novel plus      for
no good reason       lectures on flemish painting etc, but a novel that
uses nonfiction for fictional purposes       critics think nonfictions for its
own sake, result:      the erudition cliche

"awesome erudition"       astonishing astounding awe-inspiring fear-
some immense monstrous phenomenal prodigious tremendous un-
matched & vast1      why does gaddis "learning" "scholarship" "knowl-
edge" drive the critics adjectivemad      extended "erudition" for fic-
tional tones is rare, gaddis being different & must be penned in the
wildanimal cage, fiercely labeled

some critics tho, dont concede him any "astounding" erudition:

half-digested learning. (north)

What erudition the book contains—and it lays claim to much—
seems to be largely reducible to the Golden Bough and a college
course in comparative religion. (hill)

wrong complaint, a source bibliography of facts that are painted into
the recognitions would be very long      the "erudition"s extensive,
usually not intensive but anecdotal, odds & ends picked up from every-
where       encyclopaedia britannica or a primary source, it doesnt mat-
ter      a novels not a phd thesis
He works in a good deal of esoteric learning (quotations in Latin
and other weird languages,2 recondite historical allusions), al-
though unfortunately not without mistakes here and there (highet)
doesnt matter either       nonfiction references in ulysses arent "without
mistakes" & whats so unfortunate about that? theres been no rush to
trade ulysses in for a sound book of mathematical tables 3

rugoff says adding "ideas of the church fathers" "quotations, echoes
and parodies" results in a mixture not a fusion      but just as in
ulysses, adding references & crossreferences may be a mixture tech-
nique but results a fusion       because (1) characters are there,
genuinely created, for the nonfiction to fuse with      (2) the "erudi-
tion"s tied in specifically & flexibly, not like the mixture in war & peace.
fusion: when the wholes more than the sum of its parts

critics dont know what that book larnins doing in a novel so they
mostly disapprove:

an encyclopedia is not a work of art. (berger)

Unfortunately, into its 956 pages the author has apparently tried to
cram everything he knows.

the polysyllables, sentence fragments and foreign words give the
novel too "arty" a tone. (dixon)

works arty when formal devices are substituted for content the artist
cant supply       the recognitions isnt that kind of impoverished work.
dixon means highbrow or egghead not "arty"
one is forced to reflect that erudition is not necessarily wisdom.
& therefore...

or unnecessary erudition, overused:

excessive deployment of the author's phenomenal erudition (rolo)

too frequently obscured by unnecessary erudition. (mcalister)

repetitious parade of erudition (laycock)

or angrier (comparing recognitions riches with their own little bag of
cliches & stale tags):
  Somebody arrives in Paris, and we get the whole background of
Paris history before we go on with it. (wagenknecht)

Wyatt Gwyon and Wyatt's creator, whose combined erudition is as
annoying as Philo Vance's (o'hearn)

a hail of erudition poured like boiling oil on the defenseless heads
not of his enemies but of his readers (or does he intend an
  It is precisely this last question which makes us uneasy: is it just
the others whom he is assaulting, or is he after us too? (swados)

just the others!
The reader scampering to catch the ever-defaulting hero in his
many guises through bordellos and monasteries is exasperated by
Author Gaddis, as Ancient Mariner, waylaying him with lectures on
the Church Fathers, the Antichrist, Descartes or the "Book of the
Dead." (powell)
& then on to projecting their own sweet selves      gaddis must be
putting in that descartes stuff just to show off:
a writer of showy if spotty erudition and a determination to exploit it

a wealth of religious reference which, meaningful as it may be to
the expert, too often seems like so much theological name drop-
ping. (newsweek)

[A list of books] may let you know that old Gaddis is a whiz with the
reference cards in the library, but it adds very little to the novel in
information about characters or insight into events. (bass)

suggests forcibly the man who just can't bear not to have you, the
reader, know every minute how tremendously knowledgeable he is.

fullestscale attack on "erudition" was of course in a highbrow quar-
terly, the hudson review       harvey swados remarks on fun made of
"The phoney editor of a phoney literary magazine" & tourists "butcher-
ing Spanish and murdering French":
as we press on through Mr. Gaddis's heavy artillery fire (I counted
eight different languages en route, and there may well have been
more) we begin to suspect that his contempt may extend to all
those who know less than he.
(how much less?)       it isnt that otto doesnt know spanish well that
makes the satire, but that he thinks knowing a few words is good
enough because its he who knows them (vanity)      swados continues:
It is necessarily intensified when we meet the phoney distinguished
novelist holed up in a Spanish monastery, gathering material for a
quickie on religion and the simple life, with his "book of quotations,
which stood him in the stead of a classical education". This kind of
fun verges on the mean (who nowadays does have a classical
education?) and exposes the book's biggest weakness.
this time its not vanity but forgery       implied satirical point isnt that
ludy hasnt a classical education but that he pretends to have one by
sticking in greek-latin items from the book of quotations      swados
doesnt know the real function of "erudition" in a novel so he thinks its
the same as in the hudson review:
biggest weakness.
  Mr. Gaddis has fallen victim to his own erudition. Unable to resist
the temptation to prove that he is as familiar with ecclesiastical
history as a professor at a theological seminary, as at home in
many languages, including the Hungarian, as the dean of a Berlitz
School,4 as conversant with graphic art as a museum director, he
has strangely forgotten5 that erudition isn't even necessary for the
creation of good and true fiction
what a criterion!       murders not necessary for good & true fiction,
therefore the brothers karamazov shouldnt have included one

& heres to 1 reviewer feeling no pain:

The constant use of literary allusions and book titles in the narra-
tive fascinated this librarian. (herbert cahoon, curator of autograph
mss & later printed books, morgan library)

1key #s 15      36 67 13 36 21&39&52 16 62 41 40 69 59&67 (Back)

2joke—highet latin professor at columbia (Back)

3recognitions errata list conflicts with unusual value in novel (not necessarily to
be taken as advice to reader) that its good if characters speak several languages
faultlessly, quote exactly from anything theyve read & have no intellectual ac-
cidents      but its a minor conflict (Back)

4swados has the naive idea that gaddis "has apparently made an enormous
effort to assimilate" "all of western culture"      but at the moment youre still
allowed to write novels without the full professorship      actually the hungarian
phrases in the recognitions were picked up by asking a few questions in the bar
of a hungarian restaurant (Back)

5crooked! (Back)