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About ten years ago, I realized that my career in publication was going backwards. I had imagined that, like most things, it would be difficult at first, but afterwards increasingly easy. C'est le premier pas qui coute, as the French say, the first step is the one that costs. But in fact, it had been just the opposite. My earliest essays, in 1972 and thereabouts, had been easy to publish. The later ones were more difficult, and the latest, impossible. I refer to "Oral Sex: A Theme in Donne and Some Cavalier Poets." In 1992 I sent this essay to a famous journal published in Canada. When they had kept it a year I asked them to send it back without further deliberation. The editor answered that the essay had apparently got lost in the campus mail, and he could not encourage me to send a second copy because it was too specialized for his journal. So now people were rejecting my essays without even reading them. I seemed to be writing against the grain, getting on peoples' nerves.

I admit that to some extent this was intentional. Consider the obscurity of the typical title of an essay in literary criticism: "Polyversity and Multivariance: Balance and Dichotomy in the Later Sonnets of G.M. Hopkins." Does the author really need all these uncouth words to express what he has to say about some sonnets? The fact is that those obscure essays do a kind of dance of the seven veils, gradually revealing their glimmer of meaning near the end, but not in the early paragraphs and certainly not in the title. In contrast, "Oral Sex: A Theme in Donne..." is like something in the National Enquirer. I had a meaning, I knew what it was, and I was putting it in the reader's face.

Doubtless you have noticed a section of the preface of a scholarly book, often printed as a separate page, called "Acknowledgements." Here are listed the names of anywhere from half-a-dozen to more than fifty professors who, the author says, helped him in his work. I used to wonder: how could you write anything, let alone a complete book, with all these people coming into your office, and looking over your shoulder and making suggestions? But in fact, these are the professors whose approval of the book the author sought in advance and who are now engaged to speak well of it once it is published. There is thus a tendency over time for scholarly books to be written as if by huge committees.

Though individuals are aided in furthering their careers by these means, and publishers are reassured that they are publishing only serious, responsible work--nothing wild--the danger remains obvious, that all academic publication will tend towards a gray uniformity and mediocrity. Literary criticism in particular has become so boring that many university presses no longer publish it.

I was walking down 19th Avenue, brooding on these matters one day in 2000, when on a hoarding I saw a small poster: "All you need to own your own website is something to say." From behind a black thundercloud a glittering sunburst emitted the sound of distant trumpets--no, I shall not degrade with bombastic metaphors a revelation so simple and so strong. I should get my message across on the Internet, my message being that the poetry and prose of 17th Century England were great in spite of, and not because of, the influence of Christianity.

A cybernetic illiterate, I was aided by Heidi Ward, Chris Clark, and the incomparable Elizabeth Sommers of the College of Humanities computer staff in creating The Atheist Seventeenth Century Website. In five months of this year it received 4,965 hits, which is beyond doubt a far greater number than that of all the people who ever glanced at my writing before. The website is still far short of my desire for I must create a forum so my readers can dialogue with me and each other, but at present it is a promising venture.

(The above was written four years ago; since, in 2004, I have finally made arrangements for the long desired forum.)

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Copyright 2002-2004 by David Renaker. All rights reserved.