"To Fill Out With Sound"

I hope that you seniors are enjoying, or at least finding engaging, J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace. A controversial novel, it is the kind of work you can expect to engage with next year as you begin your college career. 

I find so many interesting questions packed into Coetzee's first chapter, but reading this novel immediately following Atwood's Oryx and Crake I dwelled for a few moments longer on the following passage. David Lurie, the protagonist, has left his encounter with Soraya and is contemplating his professional position. He is considering his appointment in the Communications department as opposed to his desired position in the now-closed department of Classic and Modern Languages. He opines:

Although he devotes hours of each day to his new discipline, he finds its first premise, as enunciated in the Communications 101 handbook, preposterous: ‘Human society has created language in order that we may communicate our thoughts, feelings and intentions to each other.’ His own opinion, which he does not air, is that the origins of speech lie in song, and the origins of song in the need to fill out with sound the overlarge and rather empty human soul. ~J M Coetzee. “Disgrace.”

The emphasis on the musical impetus and origin of speech should trigger a recollection from Atwood's dystopian work. Crake, it will be remembered, could not exorcise singing from his creations (the Crakers). Knowing how well Atwood researched for that novel, I looked into the matter. Apparently, as you can read here, there is a considerable link between bird-song and human speech. The genomic details are admittedly a bit beyond my area of specialty, but what I find most intriguing is more... literary.

David Lurie as a character and particularly the opinion he offers here, reek of a romanticism that is particularly Eurocentric. And yet, while the impetus Lurie proffers is highly debatable, the link between bird-song and human speech is apparently strongly supported by genetic research. I'm not sure why I find this so, dare I say troublesome? I suppose it's nothing more than that any scientific undergirding of cultural constructions is terrifying, no matter how tangential.