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His milieu was one of great social and cultural privilege. Wassily Kandinsky was his uncle, and the entire family circulated at the fringes of the haute intelligentsia.

This passage is supposed to show that the man came from the high society. But in my opinion the phrase "the entire family circulated at the fringes of the haute intelligentsia" doubts this assertions. The phrase has for me a negative connotation. To be at the fringes means after all not to belong to the center, to be somewhat out. How do you interpret the passage? Does it contradict the first part of the clause or confirm it?

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The haute intelligentsia is a relatively rare term more likely to occur in French than English texts. But since it means the very upper echelons of the intelligentsia, who are already defined as the artistic, social, or political vanguard or elite, the implication is that this family are not only part of that elite - they're close to being part of the much smaller "super-elite". It's like the difference between being a member of the nobility (pretty high up), or being right at the top - royalty. – FumbleFingers Feb 14 at 17:49
    
His family was itself not directly a part of the core of intellectuals but they did find themselves in the company of those intellectuals because of the intellectual status of their relatives. – TRomano Feb 14 at 17:57
    
    
@FumbleFingers: Obviously, the author must've felt that mixing three languages instead of just two made the phrase sound that much more pretentious, um, I mean, prestigious. :) – Ilmari Karonen Feb 14 at 19:26

FumbleFingers' comment is correct, but it's also important to note that the intelligentsia are specifically intellectuals, it is not a general term for the social elite. It's possible to be part of high society without being part of the intelligentsia.

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+1. and vice versa. – TRomano Feb 14 at 17:53
    
+1. And not merely possible but probable. – StoneyB Feb 14 at 23:52

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