I found the Britton outburst delightful. Others, of course, will not.
Underpinning the humor is a notion I've come more and more to share
recently. I'll risk annoying many of you by trying to state it:
In the old days, the literary scholar tacitly viewed him or her self as
a curator, in the sense that a curator deems himself less important than
the masterpieces he displays and passes on.
But in recent decades (perhaps starting with the New Criticism on which
I doted in undergraduate days), I see the critic increasingly thrusting
himself into the foreground. Now he seems less a curator than, say, an
expert on fossils--tacitly assuming himself to be an infintely more
enthralling creature than whatever remnants he analyzes.
I'm cynical and (yes) antique enough to find it all both amusing and
pitiful. I do NOT believe that the typical product of graduate school
is as bright or perceptive as Charles Dickens or Mark Twain. As for
creativity and imagination, the contrast is ludicrous. Whatever sparks
she or he may have been born with were rigorously doused by years of
proseminars and seminars.
Amid all the jargon, ponderousness and elaborate "cleverness" of recent
criticism I see far too much of the kind of posturing that leads
children to say of each other, "She thinks she's SO smart!"
I believe I also see plain old envy--an envy so buried that it no longer
even recognizes itself. It's the envy of the tenure-and-promotion-
driven plodder who needs desperately, desperately! to prove that men and
women of genius--Dickens, Austen, Twain, Cather, Faulkner, even
Shakespeare--were creatures of lesser intellect and more limited
consciousness than his dreary self.