5390: Article Commentary 2: Dreaming of Academic Voice

Tougaw, J. (2009). Dream Bloggers Invent the University. Computers and Composition 26, 251-268.

Perhaps the strongest element of this piece was stylistic—in terms of tone and sentence style, this is among one of the more enjoyably readable articles I’ve read of late. This begins with the title, which is smart and referential: “Dream Bloggers Invent the University” resists the standard colonized title format, refers to Bartholomae’s well-known article, and has a creative note in the opening noun phrase. I hesitate to say that the tone is simply informal, but the style is certainly voiced (as Lanham would call it), with plenty of oscillations between direct metadiscursive I-statements (“While I’m already out on a limb, I’ll make one more speculative claim…”), short sentences (“But first things first.”) and more traditionally academic—that is long and syntactically complex—statements (“Some of the writing about new technologies focuses on the energy and quantity of writing in electronic media but under-emphasizes, without demonstrating, how these might serve intellectual or academic goals—championing the common spaces created by such technologies without thinking enough about moving students beyond commonplace thinking.”). The author uses an active style overall, even when he’s not writing about himself or his students. (“A pedagogy that engages this tension productively requires a nuanced understanding of it.”) Most of all, this style was purposive. The subject of the article was how students unite voice and inquiry in their blogs; the author’s style reflects this unification.

Also of note are the circular first and last paragraphs. That is, these are great examples of the connected, “end where you began,” model of paragraphing. Tougaw uses many of the same words in both paragraphs (experiment, Freud, boredom, disgust, shame, blog, dream). While the first paragraph ends leading the reader into a place of uncertainty (potential shame and embarrassment), the final paragraph ends on a more playful note (reference to a poet, a play on the blogs/news debate, a final reference to the title). I did feel like the poet reference (along with all the Freud-talk) was a bit out of place for a C&C article; I initially interpreted this as evidence that this journal may not have been the author’s first choice for publication, but this could also simply reflect the author’s content. (There were zero C&C references in the bibliography and many to CCC; this article also seemed to read more like a CCC piece, in some small ways.)

Briefly, the author’s claim was sweeping, but modestly stated. It’s not too little (he claims to go out on a limb a few times, after all), but since he’s drawing expressivism and cognitivism together rather than taking one or the other apart, his claim doesn’t feel too big for its britches. In some ways, this drawing-together claim can safely be too big without much danger or backlash. Lots of appeals to authority tied tightly to a lot of examples from his student’s writing. The author asks many good questions and offers some good insights on the blogging-as-invention/construction question. As well, Tougaw revisits a popular topic (student blogging) and does so in an original (dream diaries!), interesting (new cognitive theories), and highly readable way.

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