Monday, August 12, 2013

Matthias Bauer & Angelika Zirker: “Connotations”

Matthias Bauer & Angelika Zirker

Scholarly Communication & Open Access:
Connotations—A Journal for Critical Debate

1> When it comes to the meaning of literary texts, openness is the desired—and inevitable—tenet. Without a multiplicity of meanings and without the discovery of individual, personal meanings by each and every reader, poems, plays and fiction would hardly be regarded as works of art. Paradoxically, however, this is also the reason why literary texts should be considered objects of scholarly analysis and, moreover, of a scholarly analysis which cannot be entirely left to philosophy, history, religion, psychology, sociology, or other fields of study. Literary texts have a mode of signification which includes but also goes beyond their functions in those fields. Their meaning is open but it is not haphazard; it is, in the first place, determined by the way in which language is used so as to enable the reader to develop a specific personal response.

2> This is the idea which, more than 20 years ago, in 1990, prompted the launch of Connotations: A Journal for Critical Debate. It was founded by Inge Leimberg (Münster) and Matthias Bauer (now Tübingen) with three basic principles in mind: (1) Literary language demands being explored and unfolded; it is a field where discoveries can be made. (2) Readings of literary texts may improve on each other (in terms of plausibility, in making us see features others have not noticed before, and showing their relevance). (3) Accordingly, literary scholars should take into account, and critique, the readings of others. Connotations as an international, refereed journal therefore focuses on the semantic and stylistic energy of the language of literature in a historical perspective and encourages scholarly communication in the field of English Literature (from the Middle English period to the present). In practical terms, this means that each issue consists of articles and a forum for discussion. In the forum, responses to articles (published in Connotations or elsewhere) as well as to recent books and answers by the authors of the original contributions are assembled.

3> This principle of encouraging academic discussion means that the work of the editors includes the search for experts in the respective fields who write responses to articles printed in Connotations. The search for responses is based either on publications mentioned in the original articles or on bibliographical research; a number of responses, however, are unsolicited, instigated by the wish to discuss an issue raised by the original article. All submissions—solicited and unsolicited—enter peer-review. When an article or response is accepted, all contributors to the debate are notified and invited to react to it in order to further critical debate on the topic, author, or text in question. This debate may sometimes go on for several years.

Critical Debate: An Example

4> An example of how the forum works in practice and how the interpretation of a text may be linked with critical debate over a longer period of time in order to establish a “better” reading of the text in question is the discussion about Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, initiated by Anthony Brian Taylor’s article on “Lucius, the Severely Flawed Redeemer of Titus Andronicus” in the second issue of volume 6 (1996/97). As a debate on literary character, it is a very good example of the idea informing the Connotations project: it shows in which way the language of the play influences our judgment of a character and the meaning he or she has for the work as a whole. Taylor questions the view of Lucius as the “man who emerges as the redeemer of Rome” at the end of the play and, in particular, the work of Frances Yates that, in his view, has decidedly “contributed […] to ensuring his favourable reception” (138) by Jonathan Bate, Maurice Hunt and others. Taylor takes the evaluation of Lucius back to the text of the play, pointing out, for example, that the “only textual evidence produced to link Lucius with Astraea, the Goddess of Justice, […] rests on an elementary misreading” (140), in fact a mixing up of characters by Yates. Taylor shows that, rather in contrast to any ideas of justice, Lucius’s language of “lopped” and “hewed” limbs from the first “sets a cycle of savagery in motion” (142).

5> A response to Taylor by Jonathan Bate was published in the following issue. Bate, the editor of the New Arden series, maintains that Taylor had misread his comments: Bate stresses that, in his introduction and notes, he comes to a quite similar conclusion as Taylor; he agrees with Taylor’s argument that Lucius is “severely flawed” (330). He actually goes on to develop the reading of the play’s ending as highly ambiguous, noting redeeming features in the Goths (that may suggest a reference to the religious reformation of Northern Europe) which correspond to the corruption of Roman virtues.

6> Maurice Hunt, whose article on Titus Andronicus from 1988 Taylor had referred to, reacted with a response in volume 7. Hunt actually comes to the defence of Lucius, arguing against Taylor that Lucius has to be read “as enlightened redeemer” (87), especially when one keeps in mind the “[p]ositive features of Lucius’ piety” that “prepare for his apotheosis from pagan to Christian and make it believable” (87). His main textual argument is Lucius’s offer to Titus to give his blood for him (“My youth can better spare my blood than you / And therefore mine shall save my brothers’ lives”; 3.1.165-66), which, according to Hunt, “reflects a significant sensitivity never admitted by Taylor” (88). To him, the play presents us with a “transition from pagan to Christian religious values” (89). In particular, “Lucius’ preservation of [Aaron’s] child providentially breaks a pattern of retributive son-killing that began with Lucius’ and Titus’ determination to sacrifice Tamora’s son Alarbus to appease the shades of the dead Andronici” (91).

7> In another response in the same volume, Philip C. Kolin argues that Taylor’s analysis “is retrograde to the contemporary, and welcome, criticism that privileges ambiguity, indeterminacy, and complexity in the script” and that his “reading of the political events in Shakespeare minimizes the subterfuges and pacts that are central to Titus” (95) and thus questions the point made in the article, stressing the unorthodoxy of Shakespearean “savior⁄order figures” (96) who may be quite different from Richmond or Malcolm in that they are “savvy saviors” (96); they are neither to be sanctified nor condemned but “shrewd student[s] of the realpolitik” (95).

8> In the same volume appears Taylor’s answer to the three responses, taking up the various strands of arguments provided by them. With regard to Bate’s response, Taylor acknowledges the views they share but also points toward a remaining difference related to his own “focus on the disastrous effect of Lucius’ flaws for his family and Rome in the play” (97). His disagreement with Hunt is mostly based on the “sudden Christianising of Lucius (and indeed, the Roman world)” that, in his view, “involves all kinds of difficulties,” including his assumption that “references to ‘god’ in the text are upper case” (98), which however is not true for most editions and provokes a wide range of historical difficulties (cf. 98-99). In his reply to Kolin he agrees with the latter’s objection to his “limiting discussion of redeemers in Shakespeare to Malcolm and Richmond” (99) and takes up this point in order to qualify and widen his earlier argument. Against the views that regard the outcome of the play as representative of some kind of change for the better (and thus enabling its reading as a religious and historical allegory), Taylor sees Lucius as an example of the “flawed Romanitas” (101): “Regrettably, all the signs are that Lucius will be as powerless to help Rome at the end of the play as his aged father was at the beginning” (99). But with Taylor’s answer the debate had not yet come to an end.

9> A few years later, in the 2000/2001 volume, a further response followed by Daniel Kane on “The Virtue of Spectacle in Titus Andronicus” (volume 10), who regarded the whole debate as symptomatic of the problems with interpretation in this drama. To come to terms with these difficulties, Kane suggested to approach the work with regard to its stage effects. In volume 15 (2005/2006) another reaction followed by Andreas K. Müller on “Shakespeare’s Country Opposition: Titus Andronicus in the Early Eighteenth Century,” which shows the play could be used for different political purposes because of its interpretative difficulties in the history of its performance.

10> This example not only shows how needful and productive critical debate may be but also the validity of the journal’s focus on close reading and specific literary texts. In order to elucidate the meaning and cultural impact of literary texts, it is crucial to instigate critical debate and the exchange of ideas. Connotations thus makes the interpretative openness of literary works fruitful for concrete textual analysis, without, however, misunderstanding this openness as arbitrariness.

11> The example furthermore illustrates how debate is an ongoing process that may stretch over several years—sometimes more than a decade, as a response in Connotations 22.2 (2013) shows: here, Emma Cole responds to an article by Kenneth Muir, published in volume 6. But this continuity of debate also poses a further challenge to the editors that is intricately linked to the whole agenda of discussion: how can this continuity be represented, i.e. how can readers access the original article that was published 16 years ago and follow up on the debate that was promoted by it?

Going Online—Open Access

12> From the first, Connotations has seen its domain in electronic publishing. Back in 1990, this meant making the journal available on diskette as well as in print. From 1996, a selection of articles and debates was made available online free of charge: The journal then became fully open access in 2010 after a three-year period of public funding by the German National Research Foundation (DFG). It is still available as a printed journal, but open access and online-based publication have proven to generate various advantages.[i]

13> The first and major benefit of electronic publishing is related to the format of the journal as a medium of critical debate and helps solve the problem mentioned above: all articles and responses can be linked to one another and appear online as debates, even if there is a gap of sixteen or even more years between the original article and its response. This could never be achieved in a printed version.

14> This linking of articles not only applies to the forum but it also allows for pointers towards related topics. The debate on Titus Andronicus therefore contains the link to a further article by Joan Fitzpatrick related to the play and published in 2001, but not part of the discussion as such. The same applies for linking topics: the journal hosts international symposia every other year. The 2011 topic, for example, was “Poetic Economy: Ellipsis and Redundancy in Literature.” Articles related to the conference have been published since volume 21, and there are still contributions to be expected in forthcoming issues, let alone responses to the original articles, It is thus possible to create virtual anthologies of criticism that unite contributions connected to a particular topic and do not suffer from the usual disadvantages of volumes coming out of conferences, e.g. that articles sometimes gather dust for years on the editors’ desks.

15> Ever since going online Connotations has experienced an increase in submissions by about 20-25% and, consequently, in rejections: four out of five are currently rejected (with responses having a slightly lower rejection rate), compared to three out of four earlier. While Renaissance Literature and Early Modern studies are still a major focus of the journal, the number of submissions on works by living authors has recently also increased. Connotations has also become more global in the wake of going fully online: earlier in the history of the journal, articles would be submitted mainly by academics from Germany, the UK and the USA. For three years now, the journal has experienced an increase in submissions from all over the world, including Asia and Africa; this reflects the number of accesses on the website from these continents.

16> Furthermore, Connotations has become more internationally recognized within the academia. This is particularly true for contributions to authors and topics that have long been a focus of the journal, e.g. Shakespeare. The Globe Education Online lists Connotations among its “recommended internet resources,”­cation/library-research/library-archive/recommended-online-resources.[ii]

Future Perspectives for Editing an Open Access Journal for Critical Debate

17> Open Access apparently has many virtues, but it has one decisive flaw that may make things a bit difficult, especially for small journals. Many libraries only include non-open access journals, i.e. journals that they have subscribed to, in their catalogues and bibliographies. Their subscriptions usually entail huge packages of journals that are administrated by large providers of digital humanities—and that deliberately exclude open access journals from their databases, even when they claim to be non-profit, because they cannot ask fees for them.[iii] Open access journals remain invisible on the sites and, accordingly, unused.

18> This development makes it necessary for journals that would like to stay independent to build on their unique features. In the case of Connotations this is the appreciation of close reading and subsequent scholarly discussion of analyses and interpretations of literary works. Open access and the electronic format cater to this agenda in that they allow the introduction to a larger and more global readership—and thus to potentially more contributors; but they also make the linking of debates over several years and beyond the limitations of the printed issue possible.

19> Connotations faces a number of challenges: they concern, for one, the technical side of the journal and especially of its website. The journal will need to install a database in order to create a dynamic website and to improve its searchability. It will furthermore, as an open access journal, contribute to making up-to-date, high quality literary criticism available to generally accessible websites such as Wikipedia. As far as the content of the journal is concerned, our aim is to steer the attention of scholarly debate towards literary texts and to show the use of interpretation and close reading. The “cultural turn” of literary studies with its fruitful widening of texts, contexts and perspectives has, in our view, shown all the more clearly the need for an understanding of the texts on which larger arguments are based. Thus we would like to promote the individual text as the basis of literary studies and as a source of innovation. In our view, the language of literary texts is a key to the culture in which they were produced, even, or especially when, the field of literary studies is to be understood in terms of cultural studies.

20> A second aim, immediately connected to this, is to go on with furthering scholarly debate, especially in the field of early modern studies. In issue 22.1, two articles were published that are based on the close reading of Renaissance texts and that promise an ongoing debate: Arthur F. Kinney’s contribution on “John Lyly’s Poetic Economy” and Inge Leimberg’s thoughts on “If and It and the Human Condition: Considerations Arising from a Reading of The Merchant of Venice.” Issue 22.2—published in August 2013—contains further pieces on the Renaissance and early modern texts: David Urban’s response to Margaret Thickstun on Milton, which is an example of how a response may be instigated by an article published elsewhere; and Maurice Hunt’s analysis of “Naming and Unnaming in Spenser’s Colin Clouts Come Home Againe,” which serves as an excellent example of how the close reading of a literary text may be connected with its cultural context. We are quite convinced that the approach chosen by Connotations will make literary studies continue to thrive in the electronic age.


[i]. On the “success story” of going online see, e.g.,

[ii]. See also the leading Shakespeare portal “Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet,”

[iii]. Gould in his article also addresses these issues.

Works Cited:

Bate, Jonathan. “‘Lucius, the Severely Flawed Redeemer of Titus Andronicus’: A Reply.” Connotations 6.3 (1996/97): 330-33,

Bauer, Matthias. “Profiled Discussion: Connotations—A Journal for Critical Debate. Workshop “Best Practices in Journal Transition” 13 May 2009 Bonn, Germany,

Cole, Emma. “A Letter in Response to Kenneth Muir.” Connotations 22.2 (2012/2013): 298-300,

Fitzpatrick, Joan. “Foreign Appetites and Alterity: Is There an Irish Context for Titus Andronicus?” Connotations 11.2-3 (2001/2002): 127-45,

Gould, Thomas H. P. “Scholar as E-Publisher: The Future Role of [Anonymous] Peer Review within Online Publishing.” Journal of Scholarly Publishing 41.4 (July 2010): 428-48.

Hunt, Maurice. “Compelling Art in Titus Andronicus.” SEL 28 (1988): 197-218.

---. “Exonerating Lucius in Titus Andronicus: A Response to Anthony Brian Taylor.” Connotations 7.1 (1997/98): 87-93,

---. “Naming and Unnaming in Spenser’s Colin Clouts Come Home Againe.” Connotations 22.2 (2012/2013): 235-59,

Kane, Daniel. “The Vertue of Spectacle in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.” Connotations 10.1 (2000/2001): 1-17,

Kinney, Arthur F. “John Lyly's Poetic Economy.” Connotations 22.1 (2012/2013): 1-12,

Kolin, Philip C. "'Lucius, the Severely Flawed Redeemer of Titus Andronicus’: A Reply.” Connotations 7.1 (1997/98): 94-96,

Leimberg, Inge. “If and It and the Human Condition: Considerations Arising from a Reading of The Merchant of Venice.” Connotations 22.1 (2012/13): 57-84,

Muir, Kenneth. “Edwin Muir’s Chorus of the Newly Dead and its Analogues.” Connotations 6.2 (1996/97): 203-06,

Müller, Andreas K. “Shakespeare’s Country Opposition: Titus Andronicus in the Early Eighteenth Century.” Connotations 15.1-3 (2005/2006): 97-126,

Taylor, Anthony Brian. “Lucius, the Severely Flawed Redeemer of Titus Andronicus.” Connotations 6.2 (1996/97): 138-57,

Taylor, Anthony Brian. “Lucius, Still Severely Flawed: A Response to Jonathan Bate, Maurice Hunt, and Philip Kolin.” Connotations 7.1 (1997/98): 97-103,

Thickstun, Margaret. “Resisting Patience in Milton’s Sonnet 19.” Milton Quarterly 44 (2010): 168-80.

Urban, David. “Milton’s Identification with the Unworthy Servant in Sonnet 19: A Response to Margaret Thickstun.” Connotations 22.2 (2012/2013): 260-63,

Matthias Bauer is professor of English Literature at Tübingen University, Germany. He is one of the co-founders and editors of Connotations. His research interests are the language/literature interface, ambiguity, Early Modern English literature (Metaphysical Poetry) and Victorian literature (Dickens).

Angelika Zirker is an assistant professor of English Literature at Tübingen University, Germany. She is one of the co-editors of Connotations. Her research interests are Early Modern literature, especially John Donne and William Shakespeare, and the 19th century, with a focus on Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens.

APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature and Culture, ISSN: 1946-1992, Volume Six (2013): Editions & Editing

No comments: