Dialogism

I’m writing this in here for interesting (well, interesting to me) reasons. This post is in part a response to a discussion on WPA-L concerning personal writing, Bakhtin, and dialogism. If I were to post a response on the list, I would be moving into the polylogue, but by writing here, I’m moving out of a polylogue and into a monologue–Moffett called it soloing out, a concept I have internalized into my own way of understanding how we learn to speak and write.

J.L., whom I know and respect, took me somewhat to task for my casual reference to Bakhtin (and Burke) in my monologue about dialogism and its use in writing instruction. Now I know I’m not a Bakhtinian scholar, although many years ago, I did read The Dialogic Imagination and “Speech Genres” quite carefully and imagined that I understood some of what he was writing/saying. On the other hand, I admit that mine was a casual reference, kind of a throw-away phrase that would impress readers with my knowledge, an offshoot of how we as academics have learned to more or less express ourselves by embedding our knowledge within previous utterances of people more respected than we are.

I think Marcia had a point: when you merely reproduce in painting the painting you are painting, you have a kind of flat discourse. But when you talk back in your painting of the painting, you have moved from ventriloquizing (Bakhtin–sorry) into speaking.

Maybe in a later post, I will pick up on this conversation, but at the moment, I want to simply refer to Moffett’s notion (Teaching the Universe of Discourse) of how we learn to use language by engaging in dialogue, incorporating others’ words into our internalized conversations with ourselves and others (the way we imagine discussions), and replaying the internalized dialogue out as a monologue when we speak within a different conversation–what Moffett refers to as soloing out.

I understand writing (as Moffett did) as something of the same. I actually think that’s what Bakhtin was after, although he was talking about literature within this frame of incorporating others’ discourses into our own.

Here’s my point–and I realize that as an academic, I need one: I think that we should pay more attention in writing instruction to writing as dialogue, I mean serious dialogue, students writing to each other, than as monologue, forcing students to solo out, as I am doing here–rather than dialoguing with my friends on WPA-L.

Already long enough.  But here is a video of learning to speak–if you haven’t already seen this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JmA2ClUvUY

I can’t help but post a monologue from one of my students. She’s a triplet. I always ask my students to introduce themselves to their classmates with a brief autobiography.  Here’s what she wrote:

I just put on my favorite blistex chapstick. Microsoft Word recognizes neither “blistex” nor “chapstick”.  I love my chapstick.  I always have it with me.  In the unfortunate event that I misplace or forget my chapstick, a routine anxiety attack ensues and all hell breaks lose. Most people need chapstick during the dry winter months and occasionally in the summer to protect their lips from the sun. I, on the other hand, need it every day. Every. Single. Day.  I cannot remember the last day I went without my chapstick. I can, however, remember my first day.  Yes, I do mean my first day in the womb.
            I was nuzzling under my mothers ribcage (I don’t know which side) and of course I didn’t know I was “nuzzling” or under a “ribcage”, but what I did know was that it was crowded in there and there was a bright light that I was trying to get away from.  One moment it was real dark and then all of a sudden my world was shiny and pink. It looked like the inside of a mouth with a flashlight shining through the cheek. My mother was having a C-section so there was a hand searching around for me. I knew I needed to hide because my sister and brother were snatched just minutes before. Oh, I am a triplet by the way.  Annie ended up being first to get out and good riddance, I say! She was taking up all the room.  I was shoved under ribs and Michael was curled up against my mother’s spine.  All the while, Annie was sprawled out like a cat in a sunbeam, as comfortable as could be. Anyway, first goes Annie and I am eager to take the good spot, so I shift over.  Of course Michael wants the spot too, so Michael and I do a little tango, trying to get comfortable for the first time in seven months (we were premature). Soon enough, the big hand swooped Michael out and I was alone at last.  This minute and a half was extremely significant in my life. This was the first and last time I was ever alone.  I must’ve been a really clever baby because, according to my memory, the hand that took away Annie and Michael was having a whole lot of trouble finding me so I got an extra thirty seconds of solitude.  Inevitably, I was found.
            They let my older sister name me. Whoever lets a seven-year-old name a baby is clearly not in their right mind.  My name ended up being Johannah Cunningham Pizzini (what a mouthful, right?), but everyone has always called me Hannah. 
            Growing up as a triplet is all I’ve ever known, so I can’t really say it was better or worse than not being a triplet. I have lived a really happy life and I have never once felt alone. Actually, I’ve literally never been  “alone”.  Annie, Michael and I all have vibrant personalities and don’t shut up, yet I am probably considered the shy one.  I am very similar to my siblings, yet our differences are significant and help showcase how unique we are from each other. However, I enjoy my similarities with them the most because having someone to share your interests and passions with is all you could ever ask out of a friend and Annie and Michael have been the best friends I could ever ask for.  Like them, I love musicals, singing (mostly in the shower), Harry Potter, food, adventures, and talking. 
I love happy people and think there’s always a reason to smile, but I understand it’s easier to frown sometimes. Well, my alarm clock is now blasting One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” signaling the end of my forty-five minutes. I think I will stop it now…
—- 
I told my students to spend no more than 45 minutes when writing their self-introductions.
Enough said, I think.

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