The Novel and the Multispecies Soundscape [1st ed.] 9783030301217, 9783030301224

The contemporary novel is not as silent as we tend to believe, nor does it only attend to human plots and characters. As

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Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-xiii
Introduction: Multispecies Fictions and Their Acoustic Contact Zones (Ben De Bruyn)....Pages 1-46
Biodiversity’s Bandwidth (Ben De Bruyn)....Pages 47-91
Polyphony Beyond the Human (Ben De Bruyn)....Pages 93-132
Multispecies Multilingualism (Ben De Bruyn)....Pages 133-182
Reading the Animal Pulse (Ben De Bruyn)....Pages 183-218
Whale Song in Submarine Fiction (Ben De Bruyn)....Pages 219-260
Conclusion: Sonic Curiosity at the End of the World (Ben De Bruyn)....Pages 261-289
Back Matter ....Pages 291-300
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The Novel and the Multispecies Soundscape Ben De Bruyn

Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature Series Editors Susan McHugh Department of English University of New England Biddeford, ME, USA Robert McKay School of English University of Sheffield Sheffield, UK John Miller School of English University of Sheffield Sheffield, UK

Various academic disciplines can now be found in the process of executing an ‘animal turn’, questioning the ethical and philosophical grounds of human exceptionalism by taking seriously the nonhuman animal presences that haunt the margins of history, anthropology, philosophy, sociology and literary studies. Such work is characterised by a series of broad, cross-­ disciplinary questions. How might we rethink and problematise the separation of the human from other animals? What are the ethical and political stakes of our relationships with other species? How might we locate and understand the agency of animals in human cultures? This series publishes work that looks, specifically, at the implications of the ‘animal turn’ for the field of English Studies. Language is often thought of as the key marker of humanity’s difference from other species; animals may have codes, calls or songs, but humans have a mode of communication of a wholly other order. The primary motivation is to muddy this assumption and to animalise the canons of English Literature by rethinking representations of animals and interspecies encounter. Whereas animals are conventionally read as objects of fable, allegory or metaphor (and as signs of specifically human concerns), this series significantly extends the new insights of interdisciplinary animal studies by tracing the engagement of such figuration with the material lives of animals. It examines textual cultures as variously embodying a debt to or an intimacy with animals and advances understanding of how the aesthetic engagements of literary arts have always done more than simply illustrate natural history. We publish studies of the representation of animals in literary texts from the Middle Ages to the present and with reference to the discipline’s key thematic concerns, genres and critical methods. The series focuses on literary prose and poetry, while also accommodating related discussion of the full range of materials and texts and contexts (from theatre and film to fine art, journalism, the law, popular writing and other cultural ephemera) with which English Studies now engages. Series Board Karl Steel (Brooklyn College) Erica Fudge (Strathclyde) Kevin Hutchings (UNBC) Philip Armstrong (Canterbury) Carrie Rohman (Lafayette) Wendy Woodward (Western Cape) More information about this series at

Ben De Bruyn

The Novel and the Multispecies Soundscape

Ben De Bruyn Institute for the Study of Civilisations, Arts, and Letters (INCAL) UCLouvain Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature ISBN 978-3-030-30121-7    ISBN 978-3-030-30122-4 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: © Sakonboon Sansri / EyeEm / Getty Images, Image ID: 917822526 This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland

For Roselien and Jasper, and their wonderful sounds, and for Liesbeth, who listens to it all with me


This book is the result of what was supposed to be a short, easy project. Why would there be much to say about the sounds of nonhuman animals in written texts, let alone in novels? Surely my attempt to fill this gap in the secondary literature could be squeezed into a quirky, easily contained argument, I imagined, with few loose ends. But I kept discovering materials and having experiences that were relevant to my developing narrative. As my wife Liesbeth gave birth to our second child in this period, we spent the last few years listening attentively to wonderful baby language and creaky baby monitors, for instance, while buying children’s books with embedded bird sounds and worrying about the sleep-disrupting noises of airplanes that pass above our home on the way to Brussels airport. Nor did I expect this project to involve many interlocutors when I first started it in 2014. Yet new publications about animals and their nonhuman acoustics continue to appear in a wide array of fields even as I am finishing these pages. What seemed to be a relatively simple argument about noisy animals and beastly humans hence kept changing and mutating while I read the work of contemporary novelists as well as contemplated that of academics in various disciplines. Complicating things further, I moved to a new university immediately after finishing the first outline of this project, forcing me to learn and perform numerous new tasks besides writing and thinking about animal voices and human listeners. Valuable time was lost, moreover, in writing grant proposals that went nowhere. For all of these reasons, this project ended up taking much longer and being more complicated than I first anticipated. Most importantly, I learned that there is actually quite a lot to say about the novel and what I will be calling the vii



multispecies soundscape. Indeed, I hope you will read and finish this book thinking that there is even more to say, and will pinpoint one or more loose ends that I failed to see—and listen to—along the way, so that we can continue the exciting interdisciplinary conversation profiled in the coming pages. If I managed to finish the book despite these challenges, that is largely due to my wonderful colleagues and to several groups of people who have shown that the academic world can be a remarkably stimulating and generous community. At the universities of Leuven and Ghent, I want to thank my main teachers and sources of inspiration, Dirk de Geest, Jürgen Pieters, and the inimitable, indefatigable Jan Baetens, for introducing me to the rabbit hole that is literary studies. Other colleagues have enriched my time at these institutions, most notably Pieter Verstraeten (whose premature departure from the field is nothing short of tragic), Pieter Vermeulen, Anneleen Masschelein, David Martens, Sascha Bru, Stef Craps, Lars Bernaerts, Marco Caracciolo, and last but not least, Hilde Moors. Michel Delville, Liesbeth Korthals-Altes, Maarten De Pourcq, and Tom Toremans were kind enough to invite me to the universities of Liège, Groningen, and Nijmegen, and to the Brussels campus of KULeuven for teaching activities that I fondly remember. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the students and PhD students I have had the pleasure of working with, especially the students of my contemporary literature course at University College Maastricht, and the talented Nicolas Vandeviver, for always responding graciously to my probing questions. But I should thank Robert Pogue Harrison, Isabel Hoving, and my friends at the Benelux Association for the Study of Art, Culture, and the Environment (BASCE) too, as their subtle encouragements at a crucial stage in my career helped to lead me astray and to discover the weird and wonderful world of ecocriticism and the environmental humanities. In addition, this project has benefited from the advice and inspiration provided by my former colleagues at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of Maastricht University, the research group Arts, Media, and Culture in particular. Several people offered direct help and encouragement, and made me feel at home there from the start, most notably Emilie Sitzia (and her inexhaustible supply of dark chocolate), Aagje Swinnen, Renée van de Vall, Lies Wesseling, Merle Achten, Sophie Vanhoonacker, and Rein de Wilde. It was also a happy coincidence that my time at Maastricht was spent on a research project that corresponded well with the expertise of my new colleagues, in



particular Karin Bijsterveld, Joeri Bruyninckx, Raf de Bont, Jan de Roder, and Louis van den Hengel. Additional advice and inspiration were supplied by other international experts, who generously helped to strengthen my argument via productive comments on presentations at conferences in Amsterdam, Sheffield, Glasgow, Ghent (twice!), and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. So I would also like to extend my gratitude to Jody Berland, Stephan Besser, Amitav Ghosh, Graham Huggan, Rosanne Kennedy, Robert McKay, Cary Wolfe, and Erica Fudge (who wisely urged me to stick with stethoscopes). But above all, I want to thank those colleagues who kindly agreed to read drafts of individual chapters. I hope the final version manages to address the incisive comments of Jan Baetens, Karin Bijsterveld, Pieter Verstraeten, Marco Caracciolo, Anna Harris, and Pieter Vermeulen. Finally, this book would not be what it is now without the practical help of Benjamin Doyle, Shaun Vigil, Camille Davies, and Ruby Panigrahi at Palgrave and the penetrating questions of the anonymous reader. You have all made me a better reader, writer, and listener. I started this project right before I joined the faculty at Maastricht and finished the first draft of this book in the summer of 2018, just before a new opportunity presented itself that meant I would be leaving this wonderful city. It will therefore always be the Maastricht book, in a way. But I should also thank my new colleagues at the University of Louvain-la-Neuve, where I started working in September 2019. I am looking forward to teaching fresh courses and writing new books in an environment where colleagues like Véronique Bragard, Stéphanie Vanasten, Geneviève Fabry, Hubert Roland, Marta Sábado Novau, Anne Reverseau, and many others are able to provide feedback and encouragement. Besides this academic help, I received indispensable practical and emotional support from close friends and family, including my brother, my parents, and my parents-in-law. So thanks are also due to Jens De Bruyn, Ben Van Humbeeck, Jan Heylen, Pieter Verstraeten, Alexander Mattelaer, Bart Campaert, Veronique Liekens, Tine Bogaerts, Ken Merckx, Jan De Bruyn, Diane Beeck, Mina Bal, Agnes Van den Eynde, and Miel Vander Weyden. I also want to underline my many debts to my grandparents, two of whom passed away while I was working on this project. Like Victor De Bruyn, Anna Vanherteryck and Désiré Beeck are sorely missed, not least by their great-grandchildren. But I will end this preface with apologies as well as words of thanks. Because it is not easy to live with someone who reads and worries about books all the time. So to Roselien and Jasper, and



my wonderful wife Liesbeth, who endured it all, I want to say sorry as well as thanks. If I have had to work on this long book occasionally, and was lost in thought when I should really have been paying attention to the sounds at hand, know that I was thinking about the other part of my life whenever I returned to reading and writing. And you can rest assured: I think this book is finished now. One section of Chap. 2 first appeared in a different form in: Ben De Bruyn. “Anthropocene Audio: The Animal Soundtrack of the Contemporary Novel”. Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 57.2 (2016): 151–65. An early version of Chap. 3 was published as: Ben De Bruyn. “Polyphony Beyond the Human: Animals, Music, and Community in Coetzee and Powers”. Studies in the Novel 48.3 (2016): 364–83. UCLouvain Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

Ben De Bruyn


1 Introduction: Multispecies Fictions and Their Acoustic Contact Zones  1 2 Biodiversity’s Bandwidth 47 3 Polyphony Beyond the Human 93 4 Multispecies Multilingualism133 5 Reading the Animal Pulse183 6 Whale Song in Submarine Fiction219 7 Conclusion: Sonic Curiosity at the End of the World261 Index 291


List of Figures

Fig. 3.1 Sonic dimensions of novel reading. (Source: Author)




Introduction: Multispecies Fictions and Their Acoustic Contact Zones

The basic argument of Charles Foster’s nonfiction book Being a Beast (2016) is simple: dominant modes of human living at the start of the twenty-first century have blunted our sensory capabilities and harmed nonhuman creatures, and that is why we should revitalize our senses and environments by actively trying to live and think like other animals. In one chapter, for example, Foster recounts how he attempted to get closer to the life world of otters. As you might expect, jumping into a river at night and trying to listen below the waterline turned out to be a rather uncomfortable exercise at first: When my head broke back up through the film of foam …, I had a … skin of seamless ears like the compound eyes of a bluebottle, each of them sucking in sound. This, to begin with, was far too much sensation for sense. My brain knew what to do with sound beamed into the sides of my head. It couldn’t cope with sounds from my little toe and my shoulder. It got dizzy with overload and with the unaccustomed angles … But then my brain … realised that it was up to the job of co-ordinating the broadcasts from each of its distant … outstations and swelled proprietorially, announcing that its body was … capable of doing new, strange stuff. ‘Have you never heard with your knee?’ it said. ‘Ha! Call yourself a human?’ Sound travels more than four times faster in water than in air. When you’re down in the water, relying mainly on sound …, distances are exhilaratingly shrunk. A crayfish clattering across gravel fifty yards away sounds as if it’s at the end of your arm. The water filling your ears is a megaphone. (94–5) © The Author(s) 2020 B. De Bruyn, The Novel and the Multispecies Soundscape, Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature,




Such scenes are taken to confirm that living like these nonhuman animals reawakens our senses and helps us ‘to thrive as a human being’ (68, emphasis in original), given that we have devolved into ‘unsensory, unmindful creatures’ (124). Foster remains acutely aware of the fact that human minds and bodies cannot actually become those of the otters, badgers, foxes, and other species he shadows and describes in this contemporary instance of nature writing. Human bodies are adapted to other environments and process sensory information differently, after all. Yet exercises in cross-species sensing remain possible, he insists, seeing that at least some creatures have comparable sense receptors and inhabit environments we too can explore. Though mindful of the project’s limitations, Foster hence rejects a classic skeptical argument about human-animal relations: ‘Wittgenstein said that if a lion could speak, we couldn’t understand a word it was saying, since the form of a lion’s world is so massively different from our own. He was wrong’ (21). More could be said about this project, which won the Ig Nobel Prize for biology in 2016, but the crucial point for my purposes here is that it touches upon some of the main themes of the present book. Across a broad range of twenty-first-century writing, readers encounter spirited critiques of contemporary human society and its treatment of other life forms, and this predicament as well as its solution is repeatedly cast in sensory terms, as a failure in cross-species communication rooted in the poor listening skills of absent-minded humans, necessitating a fundamental recalibration of our hearing apparatus, which tunes it to what I will call the multispecies soundscape. There are differences too. Most of the cases I analyze in the following chapters are instances of fiction rather than nonfiction, concentrate mostly if not exclusively on sound, ponder the role of acoustic media alongside seemingly immediate experiences like those narrated by Foster, and devote more attention to the experiences of humans listening to animal voices than to the life worlds of animals or humans acting like animals. Going forward, I will also reflect critically on attempts to expand the reach of human listening, which deserve praise for bringing into view different lives but also invite criticism when they boost our sensory confidence in ways that appear incompatible with a more-than-human outlook (‘Call yourself a human?’). But all of these examples share Foster’s interest in recent biological findings, promote a similar form of sensory revitalization, and raise questions about acoustic contact between various species. Examining similar scenes of listening, the present book charts how early  twenty-first-century writers represent the multispecies soundscape



and reflects on the relations between human and other animals as they are mediated by an array of competing sonic media, the novel especially. It is primarily aimed at three audiences: students and scholars of literature and culture who want to learn more about sound and the human-animal interface; students and scholars who work on animals and the environment more broadly, and would like to understand how nonhuman sounds acquire cultural meaning, in a literary context especially; and students and scholars investigating sound and listening who want to broaden the remit of their research beyond the scope of the human. But I hope the book also caters to the interests of a more diffuse group of readers, who may simply be fascinated by the noisy creatures who inhabit its pages, including echolocating Irrawaddy dolphins, loud Tasmanian devils and quiet Tasmanian tigers, musical crickets, birds, and frogs, rumbling African and Asian elephants, laughing and signing chimps, injured dogs and horses with racing hearts, threatening vampires with silent bodies, and several deafened marine mammals, including Cuvier’s beaked whales—not to mention numerous talking and roaring humans. Alternatively, general readers might be drawn to the book’s account of distinct communities of listeners, who experience the sounds of other creatures in ways inflected by their professional status as scientist, recordist, hunter, composer, linguist, vet, doctor, cowboy, submarine captain, or sonar technician—or by more personal, less specialized exchanges with nonhuman animals. As I explain below, this book is not an introduction to biosemiotics or bioacoustics, the two scientific disciplines that study animal communication systems, nor is it an ethnographic study of actual listeners, which summarizes observations of and interviews with anonymized real-life informants. But it tackles related topics in comparing divergent human responses to animal sounds, the changing cultural meanings ascribed to nonhuman vocalizations and other creaturely vibrations. Approaching these topics through the lens of contemporary novels appears strange at first, because literature is conventionally believed to be entirely silent, fictional, and anthropocentric. That is why this introduction clarifies the conception of literature, animals, sounds, and media that underpins my approach, and that explains why this traditional view of the novel is not the whole story, not today, and not in earlier times either. If we adjust our approach slightly and retune our ears, as listeners and readers, we will find that this flexible literary genre provides vital resources for social debates on human-animal relations and the urgent interdisciplinary conversations of the environmental humanities.



Why Animal Sounds Now? Before turning to more specific case studies, I will address a number of important preliminary questions. Why should we study animal sounds, and what can the humanities contribute to our understanding of these nonhuman sonorities? Is this not a topic that should be reserved for scientists specialized in fields like ethology and bioacoustics? How does my argument compare to research in biosemiotics, animal studies, and sound studies? How do cultural artifacts in various media represent nonhuman voices, and why do I approach these questions through the lens of literary texts? What does this book contribute to recent debates in literary studies, and what sort of methodological framework will I be applying to my case studies? All of these questions will be dealt with in the next paragraphs, which position my project vis-à-vis existing scholarship, frame the book’s subsequent chapters, and spell out the project’s social, literary, and academic rationale. To make these points more concrete, the introduction features a more extended second example too, which will again take us below the waterline. But let me begin by answering why we should study these acoustic phenomena and their cultural lives at the start of the twenty-first century. One reason for examining nonhuman voices in recent fiction is simply that the novels inspected in the coming pages are particularly attuned to what I have labeled the ‘multispecies soundscape’. Even if it is true that modern literature has always recorded this ambient audio in one way or another, as we shall see, this book still claims that its representation has recently diversified and intensified, a process that requires proper analysis and contextualization. But there are additional environmental and literary reasons for attending to these sounds at the start of the twenty-first century. First of all, we are living in a period of systemic biodiversity loss in which wild nonhuman species and their sounds are disappearing at an alarming rate because of human activities, in what scientists argue is a mass extinction event on the scale of the catastrophe that caused the disappearance of the dinosaurs and up to 75% of all plant and animal species roughly 66 million years ago (Kolbert 2015). While my account does not reiterate the apocalyptic rhetoric encountered in popular culture and underlines the complexity of the biodiversity debate in Chap. 2 and our sonic ties to domesticated creatures in Chap. 5, this ongoing extinction event remains an important context for this book, not just because of its ecological and moral ramifications, but because the resulting anxiety informs most



contemporary responses toward animal sounds. An instructive example is the What is Missing project of American artist Maya Lin (2009–), which repurposes audio clips from large-scale acoustic archives in art installations that function as a ‘global memorial to the planet’, as the accompanying website phrases it (see Dimock 2013). As such initiatives indicate, there is an overlooked acoustic dimension to cultural practices involving ‘multidirectional eco-memory’ (Kennedy 2017) or ‘planetary memory’ (Bond et  al. 2017). If human activities are causing animal voices to disappear, they are also adding increasing volumes of noise to the environment, outcompeting the signals of other species in a sonic contest that explains, scientists argue, why the vocalizations of animals like bats, whales, tamarins, and nightingales become louder in circumstances where the presence of human noises would otherwise mask their attempts at communication, resulting in the so-called Lombard effect (Brumm and Todt  2002). A similar effect obtains in the cultural realm, my book argues, as the omnipresence of human noise in contemporary society gives rise to a louder natural soundscape in the novels of environmentally sensitive writers too, who are amplifying these fragile voices at a time when the available bandwidth has narrowed considerably. Another reason for studying these nonhuman voices is that our heightened awareness of their vulnerability forces writers and critics to reexamine and reevaluate literary form and tradition. How have other periods and cultures responded to animal sounds, and what can twenty-first-century novelists contribute to the environmental imagination of their precursors? As Jacques Rancière asserts in The Politics of Literature (2011), ‘all political activity is a conflict aimed at deciding what is speech or mere growl’, a process that ‘reconfigures the distribution of the perceptible’ by ‘mak[ing] audible as speaking beings those who were previously heard only as noisy animals’ (4). If disenfranchised populations are often silenced by categorizing their voices as politically irrelevant ‘growls’, in other words, this process can be reversed by redrawing the map of the audible. Developing this argument in Literature and Animal Studies (2016), Mario Ortiz Robles redirects our attention to the many literal growls in literary history: In Rancière’s formulation, a ‘politics of literature’ implies that literature intervenes as literature in the political process, helping to determine what is visible and what is audible. … But animals of course are already audible in literature, if we would only care to listen. The copious catalogue of howls, barks, meows, growls, purrs, chirps, warbles, tweets, and the many other



audible voices of the ‘noisy animals’ that inhabit [the literary archive] suggest that in order to make animals count politically, we must first reconfigure the distribution of the perceptible within literature [which requires] a politics of reading since animals have been speaking in literature from its inception, even if they have not always been audible. (144, emphasis in original)

Robles rightly notes that literature has noticed animal sounds from the start, in line with the fact that no textual feature is ‘more visibly literary, nor more visibly discredited’ than ‘the giving of voice to animals’ (180). Indeed, while we can easily locate numerous examples of these sounds in literary texts, it cannot be denied that past reading protocols have largely ignored these ‘growls’, by reinterpreting texts about speaking animals as allegories or by quarantining them from other writings with the help of rigid distinctions between genres (fables versus novels), audiences (children versus adults), and uses (pedagogy versus science). This is all the more striking because reading itself involves listening to what appears to be inert matter. Interrogating the trope of silent nature, Christopher Manes has observed a fundamental paradox in modern humanist critiques of animism: ‘nature has grown silent in our discourse, shifting from an animistic to a symbolic presence’ (17), despite the fact that ‘our relationship with texts is “wholly animistic”, since the articulate subjectivity that was once experienced in nature shifted to the written word’ (19). When animals are taken seriously, moreover, writers and readers have privileged some sounds and species over others, as is illustrated by the famous trope of birdsong. Comparing classic nineteenth-century examples of the avian lyric, Daniel Karlin finds that this poetic genre paradoxically exhibits a strong tendency ‘to affirm the primacy of human language, with all its failures and defects, over the ineffable ideal of song to which it claims to aspire’ (60). Even when poets do justice to the real-life behaviors and vocalizations of a certain bird species, they end up assimilating it to their human purposes, figuratively ‘caging’ the animal in rhyme, convention, and allegory. Robles likewise finds fault with reductive, overly symbolical representations of nonhuman song in terms of love, melancholy, and poetry. But he also points out, more appreciatively, that the songbird of Romantic poetry is ‘at the root of our renewed impulse to think of nature differently, to think of it as the place of songbirds’ (88). The work of John Clare is often singled out in this respect. According to Matthew Rowney, Clare’s poetry anticipates ‘our contemporary ecological moment in which all sorts of sounds have become and are becoming extinct’ (23),



for it allows us to hear that ‘as the land became enclosed, so too did the soundscape’ (28). In responding to these developments, Rowney finds, Clare steers clear of literary clichés and transcribes birdsong in a way that attempts to be ‘as empirically accurate as possible, to capture, as nearly as language and context would allow, the actual sound’ (30). British Romantic poets are not the only writers who have revised conventional representations of birdsong. If we cast a wider net, Robles informs us, we learn that poems can also foreground the ‘sheer strangeness’ of animal sounds, via a shift from melodious birdsong to the elusive ‘croaks of corvids’ (110), as in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” (1845), and that literary texts may question the ‘universality’ of the nightingale as a poetic species by disclosing, as in Pablo Neruda’s Arte de pájaros (1966), that less famous songbirds like the tapaculo resonate more loudly in other cultures (106)—a point I return to below. In listening closely to bird species that are not consecrated by literary tradition, Robles concludes, creative poets have endeavored ‘to make nightingales of them all’ (107). This is another reason for analyzing the contemporary novel’s animal audio; now that we are newly aware of these voices and their vulnerability, we should study how literature enables us to access these sounds and redistributes the audible, by putting beautiful voices on a pedestal along reductive, conventional lines or by incorporating more creatures in the text’s soundscape, making nightingales—or tapaculos—of them all.

Biological Signs and Cultural Meanings While reading about the environmental and literary rationale behind my project, you may have been wondering how the actual animal sounds threatened in today’s world relate to the textual animal sounds collected in the literary archive. For it is clear that however writers choose to render these vibrations, the result yields no new evidence about actual animal behaviors but rather documents particular cultural understandings of certain sounds and animals. Though we should not sever all ties between text and world, as I explain in the conclusion, it is worth emphasizing that my case studies reveal limited information about bioacoustic realities. At the same time, subsequent chapters shall illustrate that these novels convey detailed information about the cultural meanings of animal sounds, which cannot be reduced to their biological functions in the lives of other animals, but play complex roles in human lives and cultures too. This point



can be clarified by reviewing existing research in literary studies and anthropology that has integrated insights from biosemiotics. In broad terms, my argument runs parallel to the publications of Wendy Wheeler and Louise Westling, who have tried to build bridges between biosemiotic research and literary history. Surely, Wheeler is right when she states in Expecting the Earth (2016) that ‘[i]n stressing the centrality of the communicative and the interpretive, i.e., semiosic elements of being, biosemiotics … allows us to put human culture back in evolutionary nature where it belongs [and to see that life] may “speak” in different modalities (chemicals, pigments, words, for instance), but its ontological “voice” is that of sign relations’ (18). I also agree with Westling’s claims in The Logos of the Living World (2014) that ‘shared developments and abilities in the animal community of our planet produced a proliferation of languages we are finally relearning to hear’ (99), and that in this newly audible heteroglot context, ‘literary works from any period or culture can offer insights of startling environmental relevance’ (39). These observations correspond with my account, and I will explicitly return to Westling in Chap. 4. Yet the present book also departs from these publications, for even though they helpfully summarize relevant findings of scientists and philosophers, they do not completely succeed in showing the relevance of biosemiotics to literature and vice versa, in my view, as they tend to reduce heterogeneous literary texts to illustrations of basic semiotic principles— Walt Whitman’s famous line about self-contradiction, for example, is read in light of the fact that ‘human and nonhuman organisms contain contradictions … because [the] incongruence [between their similarities and differences] is an essential aspect of semiosis’ (Wheeler 117)—and often collapse important distinctions into broad, sweeping conceptions of history, meaning, reading, and life. We should pay closer attention to how texts from distant periods and far-flung cultures offer distinct environmental insights, I believe. For the semiotic processes taking place between microscopic cells, croaking birds, and human interlocutors may be similar in abstract terms, but that lesson does not help us come to terms with the lives of animals in specific contexts or their representation in particular literary forms. The insights of anthropologist Eduardo Kohn are a more productive starting point for literary research on nonhuman sound. Breaking new ground, Kohn’s How Forests Think (2013) articulates what he calls an ‘anthropology beyond the human’ by reflecting on fieldwork among the Runa people, who live in the complex rainforest ecosystems of the Upper



Amazon, with the help of insights from semiotics, the writings of Charles Sanders Peirce in particular. Three aspects of Kohn’s book should be singled out here, as they illuminate my understanding of animal sounds. First, he points out that the Amazon’s vibrant ecosystem is composed of a wide array of signs and selves, not all of them human; like no other habitat, the rainforest is an ‘expanding multilayered cacophonous web of mutually constitutive, living, and growing thoughts’ (79), and this cacophony drives home the basic lesson of biosemiotics: ‘human language is nested within a broader representational field made up of semiotic processes that emerge in and circulate in the nonhuman living world’ (158). Second, he returns to Peirce’s distinction between iconic, indexical, and symbolic signs to clarify the relation between these embedded human and nonhuman forms of semiosis (50–4). According to Kohn, nonhuman animals grasp iconic signs (a walking stick physically resembles a stick) and more complex indexical signs (sudden loud noises point to dangerous events) but do not understand abstract, symbolic signs (as when a word designates a conventionally agreed-upon referent). But these three semiotic modalities remain interlinked, as symbols build on indices and indices on icons, and symbolic language still features iconic onomatopoeic expressions— observations that underline the strong continuity between human and nonhuman signs and selves. Third, Kohn employs the distinction between symbolic and pre-symbolic (iconic and indexical) semiosis to make sense of the scenes of ‘trans-species communication’ he witnessed in Ecuador (170). The most detailed example involves the interpretation of a squirrel cuckoo’s vocalization. This bird call is not meaningless in itself, but instantly functions as an index for humans and nonhumans alike (as a sign of imminent danger, say). But for the Runa community it acquires further meaning as an omen of future events, Kohn learns, and this human interpretation turns the indexical animal call into a further, symbolic sign for auditors familiar with this culturally specific practice of divination. Human listeners can layer such symbolic meanings on top of animal indices, but they can also explore the purely sonic properties of these calls via forms of ‘verbal play’ and creative listening that yield open-ended associations rather than definite symbolic meanings (176). This layered model and its application to situated acts of audition—some of which involve creative imagining—is a more generative starting point for the analysis of literary texts, in my view. To sum up: scholars interested in biosemiotics have correctly argued that semiotic behavior is present across the living world, but this general claim can and should be made more precise by studying the



ways in which symbolic as well as free-floating cultural meanings are mapped onto the indexical biological meanings of animal sounds by specific communities of human listeners. These insights help to delineate the definition of ‘animal sounds’ used in the present book. Like the scholars just mentioned, my argument builds on the research of scientists who have specified how various animal species utilize sound for biological functions related to mating, navigation, and territorial control. Radically expanding our conception of communication, this research has even begun to unearth the role of sound in plant behavior—a topic that resonates with Kohn’s argument and that I revisit in the conclusion. The biological meanings of this nonhuman acoustics figure prominently in the following chapters, particularly Chaps. 2 and 4, yet my argument calls attention to the fact that these sounds have additional human meanings on top of their biological functions, like Kohn has shown for the Runa. Because various communities of listeners integrate these other-than-human voices in their own human projects, interpreting them as soothing music or raucous noise, spiritual signs or calls of distress, tokens of harmony or indices of apocalypse, as the case may be—revealing a whole spectrum of connotations that varies across periods and cultures. Just like Ursula Heise has claimed with regard to biodiversity (see 5, 165), then, I contend that bioacoustics is not just a scientific topic, but a cultural issue too. In separating these two layers of meaning, I do not claim that the cultural connotations of these sonic signs override or take precedence over their biological functions. Indeed, they occasionally involve harmful fantasies rather than a desire for cross-species sociality. As Chap. 4 suggests, I am also less confident than Kohn that the realms of nonhuman biology and human culture—of animal indices and linguistic symbols— can be neatly disentangled, seeing that scientists continue to worry over the precise meanings of animal calls and their similarities and dissimilarities with human music, language, and culture. But whatever their actual relation, I will insist that the cultural and literary role of the animal voice is not exhausted by its biological function, and that its other meanings for human listeners deserve more attention, even in contexts that are less semiotically rich than the Upper Amazon. When writing about ‘animal sounds’, in short, I do not only refer to animal calls and their biological functions as studied by scientists but also and especially to the cultural meanings that various communities of humans have built on top of this nonhuman acoustics and that provide resonant resources for literary writers. Such sounds can be instrumentalized in different ways, we will learn, either to



shore up confident definitions of the human or to throw into disarray conventional species boundaries, in line with expansive, more-than-human ontologies like those Kohn encountered among the Runa. Though my account of these cultural meanings mentions differences between literary periods and divergent groups of auditors, I should immediately add that it focuses squarely on the present period and does not offer detailed cross-cultural analyses. Comparative accounts are an excellent idea, to be sure. Embarking on a related project, Thomas C. Gannon’s Skylark Meets Meadowlark (2009) juxtaposes two cultural traditions because he feels that ‘much avian imagery in contemporary Native American literature … has a far different feel than most comparable imagery from the British and American literary cannon, issuing, I claim, from a new poetic world in which the bird itself is more frequently given the right, as it were, to be an autonomous, integral being, and is able … to speak back, dialogically, to both human poet and audience’ (2). Like Karlin and Robles, Gannon holds that in writing about birds, ‘the Romantics generally ended up in ego alienation rather than veritable eco-­ empathy’ (200), and he adds that ‘a native New World post-Romanticism offers the best current, or rather, future worldview through which to fulfill [the] original Romantic promise’ (211). The contrast between egocentric and egalitarian imaginaries can be translated into formal terms too: ‘[i]f the dominant mode of personification in the British Romantics’ interaction with the avian was the usually quite anthropomorphic apostrophe, the characteristic Native way may well be that of proposopopoeia: that is, rather than “speaking to” the bird, the bird “speaks”’ (219). As Gannon emphasizes, moreover, these differing representations of the nonhuman voice fit into a well-known history of violence, as native birds, like indigenous peoples, were subjected to ‘an othering, or Orientalization’ (209), while colonists simultaneously introduced ‘Old World birds into North America’, changing the environment as well as its soundscape (203). Although my approach differs considerably from Gannon’s, given my strong emphasis on the contemporary novel and comparative lack of attention to psychology and psychoanalysis, his analysis of distinct literary traditions is an invaluable aid for more comparative research. This cross-­ cultural path is not pursued here, however, as my book approaches animal sounds and their cultural meanings from a specific angle: it aims to map how contemporary novels record such sounds in interaction with modern scientific practices and an array of mechanical media that compel writers to rethink their aural descriptions and to worry over the fates of literature



and the nonhuman in twenty-first-century societies. While their descriptions cannot be reduced to biosemiotic insights, in other words, these novels have to be read against the background of advances in fields like bioacoustics and ethology. Forced to carve out a new niche for themselves in an ever-more crowded media ecology, what do their storyworlds sound like, and what cultural meanings do they ascribe to the animal calls studied by modern scientists?

Acoustic Contact Zones and Their Ecohistorical Analysis In charting these cultural meanings, my account advances existing research in academic fields that study human-animal relations, sonic cultures, contemporary fiction, and the interaction between literature and other media. While I mention specific contributions from these fields in individual chapters, the following paragraphs provide more general coordinates to help readers triangulate the location of my overarching argument. As the phrase ‘multispecies soundscape’ implies, first of all, my book develops observations from the fields of animal studies and sound studies, even though I do not pretend to be a true specialist in either domain. These relatively new subfields in the humanities and social sciences have produced a number of instructive insights in the last decades by interrogating entrenched views regarding human and nonhuman animality and the social lives of sound and listening. Yet researchers from these two fields have only recently started comparing notes, and overturning earlier emphases on the visual representation of animals and the human histories of sound (see De Bruyn 2016). In addressing these omissions, many classic lessons remain indispensable, however. My account is indebted to existing research on animals, human-animal interactions, and their cultural representations, first of all. Like other scholars, I draw inspiration from Jacques Derrida’s field-defining remarks about the heterogeneity of the category of the ‘animal’, which conflates the most diverse forms of life in order to affirm the allegedly distinct character of human animals (415–16). Adding historical detail to these claims, Laurie Shannon reminds us that, in early modernity, ‘English speakers almost never grouped together all the creatures we call (nonhuman) animals under that name, preferring a more articulated list influenced by the cadences of Scripture and cognizant of plants and minerals as well’—which



explains why there are only eight instances of the word ‘animal’ in Shakespeare’s entire output (477). This modern distinction has proved enormously useful, both in uniting humans against other life forms and in distinguishing between humans who are considered to be more or less beastly according to a hierarchical view of race, class, gender, and ability. Interrogating these cultural categories and social exclusions, Cary Wolfe has thoughtfully mapped what he calls the discourse of species (2003) and distinguished between superficial as well as more thoughtful versions of posthumanism, which counteract the belief in human exceptionalism (2009). Indeed, Wolfe issues the following warning: Just because we direct our attention to the study of nonhuman animals, and even if we do so with the aim of exposing how they have been misunderstood and exploited, that does not mean that we are not continuing to be humanist [and] anthropocentric. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of humanism … is its penchant for that kind of pluralism, in which the sphere of attention and consideration … is broadened and extended to previously marginalized groups, but without in the least destabilizing or throwing into radical question the schema of the human who undertakes such pluralization. (2009, 99)

As my argument often refers to stereotypes, I should also mention Tom Tyler’s insight that, when animals function in texts as representative specimens of their species, the result can be either a conventionalized stereotype (the cunning fox) or a disruptive, unexpected counter-image (the playful hawk) (2007). Even more important are Donna Haraway’s remarks on the ‘becoming-with’ of ‘companion species’, in which ‘[t]he Great Divides of animal/human, nature/culture, organic/technical, and wild/ domestic flatten into mundane differences … rather than rising to sublime and final ends’ (15). Developing her reflections on ‘multispecies knots’ (35) and ‘naturalcultural contact zones’ (7), anthropologists have recently outlined an agenda for what they call ‘multispecies studies’: The term species in multispecies studies gestures to … any relevant gathering together of kin and/or kind (as Donna Haraway has argued, pointing to the historically much broader meanings of the term species). Species here is in no way intended to imply that kinds are fixed or homogeneous, nor should the term be taken to assume a specifically Western, scientific mode of taxonomy … To our ears, the notion of species holds open key questions [like:]



[h]ow are different kinds of being enacted and sensed in the ongoing ebb and flow of agency in multispecies worlds? (van Dooren et al. 5, emphasis in original)

This book adopts a similar perspective in mapping the novel’s ‘multispecies soundscape’, because even though I use terms like animal, posthuman, animality, and creature too, my account details how different species collide and resound in the novel—while prioritizing the animal ‘kingdom’. This relational, entangled perspective explains why the following chapters are not organized according to the logic of species (‘the horse’) or sound (‘birdsong’) alone, but zoom in on particular interspecies and intermedial encounters, tracing multispecies contact zones that are media ecologies too. My account parts ways with these philosophical and anthropological projects too, in that it concentrates on sound and nuances stereotypical views of nonhuman creatures not by querying scientists and others who work and live with actual animals, but by reexamining nonhuman traces in the literary archive. In doing so, I follow in the footsteps of scholars like Susan McHugh who have alerted us to this ‘dark matter of sorts’ (2) and intend, as Robert McKay puts it, to ‘reveal the omnipresence of human-­ animal encounters and ideas about the animal in cultural texts, interpret the manipulations of discourse that produce such representations, and put such textual events into tension with thinking about animals’ (and humans’) actual experience’ (638). In particular, I am indebted to the research of scholars who have begun to rethink literary history along more-than-human lines by studying discourses of human animality (Lundblad), the biopolitical management of subjects (Boggs), and the shared vulnerability of embodied creatures (Pick). This work occasionally mentions sound; as Boggs notes, for instance, ‘I want to suggest … that the animal voice—however anthropomorphized—remains an alien presence within language and unsettles the subject formations in which it participates’ (167). Yet such observations are rarely developed systematically. My attention to sound may seem suspicious in light of the preceding arguments, which precisely caution us not to privilege some species over others, by putting undue emphasis on creatures that communicate via sound, for instance, as opposed to touch, smell, or sight. A focus on animal sounds seems to attest to anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism, in other words, two charges that are often leveled at the novel’s exploration of nonhuman minds and creatures, and that receive explicit attention in Chaps. 3 and 4. While we should take this critique seriously, I agree with



Tom Tyler that such objections are themselves not immune to the charge of anthropocentrism, as they assume we know what humans are and ignore that traits can be shared across species via convergent evolution, making it ‘misleading to suppose that attributes or behaviors “belong” to the creatures who display them, even in those cases where these creatures seem to be the only ones who exhibit a particular quality’ (2003, 275). Yet it is true that the novel’s pronounced interest in sound follows from a human-­ oriented bias toward (as well as a self-reflexive preoccupation with) the topics of voice and language—which is why my book complicates orthodox understandings of sound via discussions of body language in Chap. 4 and bodily sounds in Chap. 5, pinpointing humanist as well as posthumanist features of the novels under discussion. As far as sound and listening are concerned, I have drawn on classic insights from sound studies, particularly the branch that studies ‘auditory culture, audile techniques, and the technological mediation of sound’ (Kane 3). This means that it relies heavily on Jonathan Sterne’s seminal analysis of the history of modern sound reproduction, which introduced a number of insights that I return to explicitly in Chaps. 2, 5, and 6. He has insisted on the fact that listening is a historically situated cultural practice, for instance, and rightly warns against claims that uncritically position hearing as the more intimate counterpart of vision. Yet my present focus compels me to note that Sterne pays little sustained attention to nonhuman sound and listening. In that sense, my book’s overarching argument is more closely aligned with Steven Feld’s reflections on ‘acoustemology’, a phrase that ‘conjoins “acoustics” and “epistemology” to theorize sound as a way of knowing’ (12). Feld originally coined this term to grasp the ‘sociality of sound’ in rainforest communities in Papua New Guinea (15), in which human and nonhuman voices co-shape each other’s worlds: Bosavi acoustemology … asks what’s to be learned from taking seriously the sonic relationality of human voices to the sounding otherness of presences and subjectivities like water, birds, and insects. It asks what it means to acoustically participate in a rainforest world understood as plural … It asks how Bosavi life is a being-in-the-world-with numerous ‘wild’ … others who may be sources of food, trouble, or danger, others whose soundings may … announce caution or nervous copresence, as well as something like Haraway’s ‘cross-species sociality’. (19)



I will show that the novel form encodes certain acoustemologies, ways of knowing and not knowing other life forms, which we should both describe and interrogate. Whereas I stress the ‘multispecies soundscape’, though, Feld rejects R. Murray Schafer’s ‘acoustic ecology’ and the affiliated concept of ‘soundscape’, as the former judges that this framework is overly abstract and normative and overlooks ‘agency and positionalities’ in the listening process (15). J. Martin Daughtry concurs, for he feels that ‘[a]ll too often, the “ear” that constitutes the soundscape remains an abstraction, … the enabling fiction of an idealized sonic environment’ (122). In articulating how novels evoke particular soundscapes for implied reader-­ listeners, my book recognizes that soundscapes construct listeners and vice versa in diverse ways, however. The concept remains useful for my purposes too; as this book attempts to map how novels conjure up the sounds of nonhuman creatures, it requires a term that presupposes little in terms of intention and subjectivity, hints at the fact that sounds are interwoven with specific environments, and implies that they can be deliberately sculpted in ways that match the ecological imagination of particular writers and genres. In using the term ‘soundscape’ rather than ‘voice’, I am also able to stress the aural dimensions of human-animal interactions, which are often elided in discussions of the animal voice in favor of the admittedly important question of how we can extend legal rights and political membership to nonhuman creatures. I therefore side with those who feel that sensitive uses of the term soundscape remain productive, as when film scholars employ the notion to reorient attention from a movie’s soundtrack alone to the ‘complex layering of dialogue, music, and sound effects that together helps to anchor the viewer’s experience of the film’ (Samuels et al. 334). In merging strands of animal studies and sound studies with the help of the phrase ‘multispecies soundscape’, I should underline that the phrase’s meaning remains mobile and can refer both to actual aural experiences and to their textual counterparts, to an all-encompassing ideal as well as to its inevitably partial actualization in specific novels and circumstances. The book also contributes to the field of ecocriticism, even if its attempt to build bridges between research on animals and sounds expands the occasionally narrow parameters of this subfield in literary studies in the interdisciplinary direction of the environmental humanities. I imagine that most readers of this book know that ‘ecocriticism’ refers to the study of how literary texts in various genres and periods represent the nonhuman environment (see Garrard and Clark for good introductions). Practitioners



of this field share an interest in setting and description, in literal rather than symbolical interpretations of the nonhuman, in debunking clichés about the environment (remember Tyler’s animal stereotypes), and in the thorny issues of anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism I mentioned earlier. These scholars also disagree among each other, debating whether they should concentrate mainly on activism or academic research; should resist the epistemological hubris of science or embrace its counterintuitive findings; concentrate on traditional nature writing or expand the ecocritical corpus to include urban imaginaries; study the signature features of individual places or trace the transnational networks that traverse even isolated regions; privilege mimesis and an idealized outlook on nature or rather adopt a constructivist and disenchanted view of our postnatural condition—and in each case, I side with the latter option. Indeed, I take to heart Dana Phillips’s remark that ‘[b]oiled down to its essentials, ecocriticism’s hardest problem is this: at whatever scale you take them, natural phenomena and environments do not lend themselves very well to the kinds of representation of which literary texts are capable’ (463). Yet the problem of representation cannot be avoided for anyone, given that our personal experience of ecologies, like that of national communities in Benedict Anderson’s famous analysis, is inevitably partial and incomplete, turning all of us into inhabitants of imagined ecologies as well as imagined communities. My account of novels that portray nonhuman lives and sound waves is also indebted to research on the vibrant lives of matter (Bennett) and to projects that rethink white, masculine, and middle-class views of the environment by including female, lower-class, and postcolonial perspectives, as in the analysis of ‘slow violence’—though I say too little, admittedly, about the ‘environmentalism of the poor’ (Nixon). The book also responds to calls to expand our study of pastoral and green ecologies by taking into account ‘toxic discourse’ (Buell) and ‘prismatic’ ecologies (Cohen), and it reveals the influence of Timothy Morton’s foundational early work on ‘dark ecology’, despite concluding that we should now nourish environmental hope rather than melancholia. What is more, my account proceeds on the assumption that instead of the expansive philosophical reflections of Morton’s recent work on hyperobjects and ‘[g]lobal weirding’ (2016, 5), we should train our sights on concrete, historical debates involving biodiversity management, mobile listening, wildlife sanctuaries, changing medical technologies, and military uses of sonar, for example. Consequently, my book leans toward what Gillen D’Arcy Wood has labeled ‘eco-historicism’, ‘the study of climate



and environment as objects of knowledge and desire, analyzed through “thick” description of specific episodes of ecological micro-contact’ (3). Bearing in mind the argument by Donna Haraway sketched earlier, this book accordingly investigates episodes of ecohistorical micro-contact that are multispecies contact zones too—what you might call ‘ecohistorical contact zones’. These contact zones can be understood more broadly as well as more narrowly, for I will apply the term both to wideranging topics like the animal/music question and to more specific situations such as the clash between beaked whales and military sonar. If these points explain why the book draws on environmental history, I also follow scholars like Ursula Heise and David Herman in mentioning insights from multispecies ethnography, a field that traces more-thanhuman ties in real-life settings, in ways that approximate environmental fiction. Indeed, the narratives discussed in this book look and sound very similar to the ‘lively’ stories told and called for by anthropologist Thom van Dooren (8). As this overview suggests, my book concentrates on a circumscribed set of cultural artifacts—contemporary novels—but it does so with the help of an expansive methodology that draws on the full resources of the environmental humanities to map real-life sociohistorical debates related to the cultural meanings of animals in an age of aural anxiety. Reading Animal Sounds #1 To make these points more concrete, I will now offer a first extended example, which reveals the importance of animal sounds to the contemporary novel. Rewarding on multiple levels, Amitav Ghosh’s postcolonial classic The Hungry Tide (2004) conjoins the stories of two visitors to the Sundarbans, the so-called tide country along the Indian Ocean that straddles the border between India and Bangladesh: a female scientist who is surveying a threatened population of river dolphins and a male translator who is piecing together a family history that intersects with the 1979 Marichjhapi incident, in which impoverished refugees were violently removed from the region to protect, supposedly, a nature reserve home to Bengal tigers, killing large numbers of disenfranchised people in the name of biodiversity (see Mukherjee)—a clear example of a contact zone that invites ecohistorical analysis.



As several readers including Ursula Heise have remarked, this novel raises intractable questions about migration and extinction, and about the competing demands of social and environmental justice—a clash that promises to become ever-more pressing as the planet warms up. Scrutinizing the story’s environmental imagination, Heise notes that it treats its two main nonhuman species very differently: [T]he two endangered species in the novel, the Bengal tiger and the Irrawaddy dolphin, set up two divergent poles of ecological, social, and political meanings. The tiger scenes tend to be associated with violence between humans and nonhuman species and … conflicts between conservation and social justice. The … events surrounding the dolphins, by contrast, start out in serial … misunderstandings but eventually lead to real or projected scenarios of commitment [and] community-building. (193–4)

Formulated more strongly, Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin argue that the novel displaces ‘the much more intractable problem of tiger sanctuary … by the relatively easy “dolphin solution”’ (205). In line with my overarching argument, I would add that sound and listening are essential ingredients in the novel’s divergent representation of these two species, and of another life form that receives scant attention from these scholars. Almost all scenes involving tigers in The Hungry Tide highlight the violent impact of their nerve-wrecking ‘roar’ (109, 328), viscerally rendered in the following passage: ‘She was still absorbing this when the tiger gave voice, for the first time. Instantly, the people … scattered, shielding their faces as if from the force of a detonation; the sound was so powerful that Piya could feel it through the soles of her bare feet, as it echoed through the ground’ (293). The novel’s representation of Orcaella brevirostris, the species of river dolphin studied by Piya, could not be more different and more nuanced. As the initial disappointment of the male translator suggests, the story encourages readers to rethink their clichéd, disneyfied view of dolphins: ‘In his imagination, dolphins were the sleek steel-grey creatures he had seen in films and aquariums. The appeal of those animals he could readily understand, but he could see nothing interesting in the … beady-eyed creatures circling the boat’ (304). One way in which the narrative invites us to reconsider the appeal or charisma of these atypical dolphins is by returning again and again to their vocalizations, illustrating the gravitational pull such sounds exert on the novelistic imagination, and on distinct communities of interpreters. What is more, the rich human meanings ascribed to the sounds of these



humanized animals is contrasted with the unequivocal fear inspired by the roar of the animalized animal that is the tiger. There is hence an unmistakable acoustic dimension to the proliferating contact zones of the tide country and their novelistic representation. As I mentioned, individual characters respond differently to the storyworld’s dolphin sounds, in line with what you might call their distinct acoustemologies. Piya approaches them from a scientific angle, using these vocalizations to confirm a hypothesis (153) and to identify the rare species: ‘Cupping her hands around her ears, she listened hard … She had spent great lengths of time listening to these muffled grunts and knew exactly what they were: only … Orcaella brevirostris produced this particular kind of sound’ (112). Local guide Fokir, by contrast, finds them largely unsurprising, even if he also interprets the presence of these animals in the religious terms characteristic of his community (234). As far as their emotional impact is concerned, Kanai the translator considers these sounds to be dreadfully boring: ‘All they do is bob up and down while making little grunting sounds … couldn’t you have picked something with a little more sex appeal?’ (304). They have a markedly different effect on Piya’s emotions, in an example of the serenity I discuss in Chap. 2: ‘she felt a sense of perfect contentment as she sat there listening to [Fokir’s] voice, against the percussive counterpoint of the dolphin’s breathing. What greater happiness could there be than this …?’ (157–8). A similarly sonorous if more practical form of multispecies teamwork takes place when local fishermen use noise and a ‘strange, gobbling call’ to catch fish with the help of a related species of dolphin (168). These other dolphins even alert Piya to the approaching storm that functions as the narrative’s climax: ‘she saw that they were surfacing with unusual frequency … [a]nd more than once, along with the breathing, she heard a sound not unlike a squeal’ (366). As such passages indicate, these local dolphins and their unique vocalizations acquire divergent meanings depending on the background and interests of these human characters, sharply contrasting the sonic charisma of these benign creatures with the blood-curdling roar of man-eating tigers. These endangered river dolphins play a pivotal role throughout The Hungry Tide, moreover, which ends by outlining a future conservation project that combines local and foreign expertise, as Heise has observed, while ignoring the plight of this other threatened species, the Bengal tiger. The divergent treatment of these two species is sonically reinforced, I have argued, as the story implicitly contrasts the cultural meanings and emotional impact of dolphin and tiger sounds for human listeners. Differently put, the novel makes room for



these two types of vocalizations, but it allows the Irrawaddy dolphin to participate in the local multispecies conversation while excluding the tiger’s roar from the hopeful vision for the region projected at the end, in response, perhaps, to the political misuse of this creature in the Marichjhapi incident. The dolphins acquire a voice in the political sense, in other words, whereas tiger vocalizations remain irrelevant ‘growls’. The Hungry Tide accordingly fleshes out its story about competing perceptions of the tide country with the help of an expansive if also oppositional multispecies soundscape. We can enrich existing accounts of the novel further by attending to its representation of other creatures and sounds, bearing in mind the lesson from animal studies that we should not focus exclusively on striking, charismatic species. For at two pivotal points in the story, readers are asked to listen to yet another species: local crabs. Piya and Fokir meet because he is fishing for crabs, an activity that prompts an ‘angry outburst of clicking and clattering’, a sound with an ‘unlikely eloquence’ that persuades Piya to reflect on the fact that these less charismatic and less easily individualized creatures are critical to the survival of the mangroves, a partnership between animal and plant species that implies ‘it was they—certainly not the crocodile or the tiger or the dolphin—who were the keystone species of the entire ecosystem’ (141–2). But these creatures also stand for the ways in which this ever-changing tidal region resists human control and oversight, seeing that their sounds are interpreted as the voice, almost, of the titular tide that eats away at the fragile dikes protecting a local island village—one of many scenes of concentrated listening in contemporary literature: I went right up the embankment and put my left ear against the clay. ‘Now put your head on the bãdh and listen carefully. Tell me what you hear and let’s see if you can guess what it is’. ‘I hear a scratching sound … It’s very soft’. ‘But what is making this sound?’ He listened a while longer … ‘Are they crabs …?’ ‘Yes, Fokir. Not everyone can hear them but you did. Even as we stand here, untold multitudes of crabs are burrowing into our bãdh. Now ask yourself: how long can this frail fence last against these monstrous appetites—the crabs and the tides, the winds and the storms?’ (205–6)

Though the tiger’s roars and the dolphin’s grunts may stand out more to human listeners drawn to charismatic megafauna, we should learn to hear this other species too and appreciate its contribution to both the local



ecology and the novel’s polyphonic soundscape. In such passages, the reader is asked to listen to a novel’s backgrounded as well as foregrounded noises and to perform a ‘binaural reading’, as I call it in Chap. 2. The importance of these crabs and their sounds is underlined in Ghosh’s most recent work Gun Island (2019), incidentally, which not only features characters from his earlier novel, but again brings up these small creatures. Apart from the fact that Piya has started finding evidence of declining crab populations, which is ‘seriously bad news’ for the Sundarbans (119), one passage refers back to the earlier scene of careful audition to highlight, once again, the major impact of minor creatures; in Venice, another location threatened by rising water, shipworms are destroying the city’s wooden piers and foundations: ‘I’ve heard them. … The worms. It’s just like the Sundarbans. There, if you put your ear to the embankments you can hear the crabs burrowing inside. My grandfather showed me how to listen to them. Sometimes, if you listen carefully, you can tell if an embankment is going to collapse. It’s the same over here’ (256). Returning to The Hungry Tide, my central example here, this novel accentuates the difference between tigers and dolphins as well as hints at the dangerous agency of multitudes of crabs. In doing so, Ghosh draws our attention time and again to human-animal relations and to a soundscape that is more than human, illustrating the importance of nonhuman acoustics to the contemporary novel and vice versa. Such acoustic contact zones are the subject of this book. * * *

Sterilized Listening and Eco-Sonic Media In claiming that twenty-first-century fiction regularly depicts anxious human listeners as well as a newly diverse soundscape that even includes rare river dolphins, my book also develops the emerging body of research on the cultural life of animal sounds. This topic remains unexplored in several respects, and it has received little sustained attention in the past from scholars in animal studies and sound studies alike. Nevertheless, certain aspects of this subject have recently been addressed in book-length studies originating in fields as diverse as history (Radick, Bruyninckx), literary history (Menely, GoGwilt), media studies (Smith, Pettman), musicology (Mundy), and even art history (Eisenman) and rhetorical theory (Hawhee)—studies that in



most cases have only appeared in the last few years and that regularly fail to reference each other. Though this book is unable to do justice to all relevant publications, let alone their distinct disciplinary agendas, one of its aims is to build bridges between these arguments and trace the contours of an emerging interdisciplinary conversation about ‘eco-sonic media’, as Jacob Smith calls them. The existing literature contains many valuable clues, and I explicitly draw on some of these publications in my individual chapters. The main point here is that these publications help to contextualize my project, as they summarize the violent history of scientific listening, and show that previous work on animal audio often relegates writing to the sidelines, disregarding its role as a contemporary eco-sonic medium. If sound is underexplored by older environmental historians, as noted by Peter Coates, two recent publications have traced the history of biological listening and allow me to position my literary case studies vis-à-vis scientific knowledge and media. In his Listening in the Field (2018), Joeri Bruyninckx recounts how the twentieth century marked the rise of a particular type of scientific listening, in which German and Anglo-American ornithologists used various recording devices to lay the foundations for the modern science of birdsong. Their ground-breaking research produced more objective descriptions of animal voices, and this development ushered in a new ‘standardized aural discourse’ (67, 170). But this result was bought at a price: a prior ‘sterilization’ of the outdoor environment, in which unwelcome noises were systematically filtered out (19). Nor did the rise of mechanical media like phonographs, parabolic microphones, and spectrographs end debates over the proper mode of sound recording, interpretation, and use, Bruyninckx documents. Indeed, this sonic data migrated beyond the realm of science from the start, via social networks that connected scientists to birders and filmmakers, and this created a recurring tension between scientific accuracy and amateur recognizability. This history helps to contextualize literary descriptions of animal acoustics. Yet it also offers an unambiguously positive take on scientists like William Thorpe and largely passes over the question of interspecies violence, both inside and outside the laboratory, a handful of references to bird protection movements notwithstanding. Modern ethological research is evaluated very differently in H is for Hawk (2014), by contrast, the famous prize-winning memoir written by Helen Macdonald, another historian of science:



In the 1950s, in a small research station … a scientist called Thorpe experimented on chaffinches to try to understand how they learned to sing. He reared young finches in total isolation in soundproofed cages, and listened, fascinated, to the rudimentary songs his broken birds produced. There was a short window of time, he found, in which the isolated chicks needed to hear … adult song, and if that window was missed, they could never quite manage to produce it themselves. … It was a groundbreaking piece of research into developmental learning, but it was also a science soaked deep in Cold War anxieties. The questions Thorpe were asking were those of a post-war West obsessed with identity and frightened of brainwashing. (64)

This short passage illustrates how contemporary texts about animals and their sounds mention scientific insights garnered from experiments with mechanical recording devices. In that sense, these literary descriptions too have become more standardized. Indeed, we might call the examples I analyze in this book forms of ‘post-spectrographic’ or ‘headphone’ writing, not because all of them feature these particular devices, but because such technologies can function as a stand-in for all of the mechanical media novelists are now self-consciously competing with in representing the vibrant soundscapes of their fictional worlds. The Macdonald passage further suggests that one crucial message of these literary descriptions is that we should not reduce animal sounds to biological signals and scientific data alone, and should resist the modern sterilization of more-than-­ human listening, a resistance that explains the sentences this passage, in which the writer offers a personally felt and historically informed description of the chaffinch rain call that clearly departs from its reductive scientific analysis. While acknowledging recent scientific findings about animal sounds, many contemporary writers similarly celebrate the messy human meanings that have accrued to the nonhuman messages extracted by modern biology, as if to reverse the latter’s concerted efforts at acoustic sterilization. Repurposing a passage from Vinciane Despret, we might say that these novels and their soundscapes resist scientific attempts to ‘remov[e] the animal from common knowledge’ (40, emphasis in original). The topic of violence occupies center stage in another history, Rachel Mundy’s Animal Musicalities (2018). In a short article, Mundy has advocated ‘not just that we listen to animals, but that we hear the way we listen’, because ‘[l]istening is a practice that has been built with, against, and through cultural beliefs about interiority and human identity that rely on animals’ (“Why Listen”, np). Her book lays out that argument in detail, by



narrating the decline of ‘musical evolutionism’ (18) and bringing to light ‘an overlooked history of bodily evaluations, in which the classification of different types of music was interwoven with the exclusionary culture in which knowledge was built upon a privileged relationship between European scientists, animals, and other “others”’—all of these taxonomies and comparisons ultimately fitting into a barely disguised form of racism (6). Three aspects of her argument are pertinent here. Not unlike Bruyninckx, first of all, Mundy relates how scientists hunted for ‘sonic specimens’ that captured an ideal version of a certain animal sound (44)— and here too, it could be argued that the most intriguing literary descriptions are designed to resist such aural stereotyping and make us more attentive listeners. Consider another excerpt from H is for Hawk: I pull a sheet of paper towards me, tear a long strip from one side, scrunch it into a ball, and offer it to the hawk in my fingers. She grabs it with her beak. It crunches. She likes the sound. … I pick it up and offer it to her again: gnam gnam gnam. … Her eyes are narrowed in bird-laughter. I am laughing too. … ‘Hello Mabel’. … She shakes her tail rapidly from side to side and shivers with happiness. … No one had ever told me goshawks played. (113)

Second, Mundy’s account of sonic knowledge unearths the dark history of sound recording devices. As ‘the early phonograph is an extension of the kymograph’s technology’, she explains, there is a direct, physical ‘connection between sound’s inscription in the grooves of the phonograph record and the ethics of knowledge that inscribed motion from the body of a living animal’, seeing that kymographs were utilized in gruesome animal experiments by nineteenth-century physiologists (95). What we find in modern acoustic research, in other words, is a technological inheritance with roots in vivisection practices, ‘the common point of origin for these techniques [being] the disposability of animal life’ (103). A final important point is that both Bruyninckx and Mundy foreground avian acoustics at the expense of other animal voices. This focus is understandable, given the fact that birdsong has played a pivotal role in ethological and bioacoustics research. We should remain suspicious of this limitation, however, especially when the goal is to push beyond the confines of human history and sound. For we may be imperfect listeners when encountering birdsong, but this is even more true when we hear the rumbles of elephants, the calls of bats, the disorienting buzz of insects. What happens to our understanding



of sound and listening when the individual animal or voice is much harder to isolate, as with groups of insects, or when there is simply no personal auditory experience to correlate those spectrograms with, as with elephants and bats? As these histories of scientific listening indicate, the study of animal sounds is interwoven with the use of technological devices that allow human listeners to record these calls in fine acoustic detail. Other publications on animal sounds develop that angle further. The aim of Jacob Smith’s Eco-Sonic Media (2015), for instance, is to ‘amplify the ecological component of sound studies and turn up the audio in discussions of greening the media’ (4) by analyzing ‘the sonic representation of animals in the media’ (155). To that end, he coins the phrase ‘eco-sonic media’ and pinpoints four promising strategies for cultivating a more environmentally sensitive media studies: ‘sound media become eco-sonic media when they manifest a low-impact, sustainable infrastructure; when they foster an appreciation of, or facilitate communication with, nonhuman nature; when they provide both a sense of place and a sense of planet, and when they represent environmental crisis’ (6). The third strategy mentioned by Smith corresponds well with my approach: ‘sound media could become eco-sonic through participating in a multispecies knot among humans, [animals], and media technologies and in the process providing a platform for a polyphonic chorus of human and nonhuman communication’ (9). While attempts to think about sustainable futures should be applauded, I am reluctant to restrict the discussion and the phrase ‘eco-sonic media’ to platforms and practices that are pro-environment, however. In thinking critically about the ecological dimensions of auditory media, I feel, we should consider their positive as well as negative features, and ask how they both foster and hinder resilient futures. Reserving the category to ‘sound media’ that are ‘ecologically sound’, as Smith proposes, therefore strikes me as unnecessarily restrictive (1, emphasis in original), not to mention that most cultural artifacts and practices, in terms of both environmental imagination and material infrastructure, probably occupy a middle position between what is ecologically sound and unsound. That is certainly the case for literature, even proenvironment literature, as is revealed by Stephanie LeMenager’s astute observations on the amounts of water, paper, and greenhouses gases involved in the production and transportation of ‘any printed book’ (49)— including the one you are holding in your hands right now. Another book that centers on sonic media and their environmental dimension, while paying more attention to animals, is Dominic Pettman’s



Sonic Intimacy (2017). Less interested in the content and infrastructure of particular media than Smith, Pettman aims to ascertain how the cultural fantasy of a voice controlled by its male human owner is subverted by the sounds of machines, of women, and of animals. A case in point is the nonhuman voice in all its plurality, ‘which is not merely an evolutionary expedience to find mates, scare enemies, or communicate food sources but is also … a way of testing the world and one’s location, role, and value in it’ (54). We should attend to these nonhuman sounds, he argues, especially when living through ‘an extinction event of enormous magnitude’ (6). Doing so will enable us to hear their interplay in the ‘vox mundi’, an ‘ecological voice’ that can only be truly appreciated now that we inhabit a world awash in acoustic traces and copies (66, emphasis in original): My closing gambit … is that our mediamatic or technical condition has patently reached so satured a state that we can now finally appreciate the fact that voice can exist sans soul [meaning that] it is less interesting to find and fix voices to bodies and entities, thereby reinscribing stubborn ontological myths, than to follow their promiscuous circulation from lung to tongue to instrument to wax to vinyl to magnetic tape or alloy, and back to speakers, mimics, and new voices joining the fray. We can point to a multitude of sources of natural sounds, but it is a leap to then claim these as voices, since this is to cross the mysterious threshold between the physical and the metaphysical. That, however, is precisely the point. (71–2)

Returning frequently to such disembodied, ‘acousmatic’ voices, Pettman evokes a world in which listening is not left to the self-delusions of Narcissus but is reconceptualized in terms of the loving Echo instead, who alerts us to ‘all living things—and even non-living things—that have left a sonic trace for others to discover’ (90). Like Pettman, I believe that voices are always plural, are never ours, and are never simply there. But there is also a difference. For he wagers that an extension of the notion of voice is helpful at present and will ‘oblige us to listen to the sound of the surround … more sympathetically’ (72). As I mentioned earlier, however, and explain further in Chap. 5, I prefer the term ‘soundscape’ over ‘voice’, as the latter remains closely aligned with the plight of disenfranchised populations and with individual forms of expression, meaning that the use of this notion entices us to reduce expressive animals to speaking quasihumans awaiting citizenship status—and while that is an admirable project, it can lead us to ignore the acoustic properties of these voices and to



fit nonhuman creatures into a recognizable human mold, along the lines of the humanist posthumanism identified by Cary Wolfe. Perhaps even more important is that neither Smith nor Pettman stops to consider writing as an eco-sonic medium. The latter mentions Thoreau and Proust, admittedly, and the former refers to a ‘radiogenic book, with many vivid descriptions of sound’ and to the weird sounds evoked by writers like Lovecraft and Poe (115). But these tantalizing suggestions are not developed, as both scholars are more preoccupied with other aural media.

Multispecies and Multimodal Fictions As I have explained, my book on the multispecies soundscape contributes to ongoing research in animal studies, sound studies, ecocriticism, and media studies. Yet it also advances the conversation in literary studies, especially those branches that describe contemporary literature, multispecies narratives, and the interaction between literature and other media. There is now an extensive body of research that attempts to discern the peculiar features of literature as it is written today and that uses recent literary texts to map the history of the present (see Hyde and Wasserman for an instructive overview). A diagnosis of the current moment is inevitably fraught with difficulties, and commentators disagree over the temporal and spatial parameters of ‘contemporary literature’, locating its start variously in 1945, in the 1980s, in the post-9/11 period, or even later, and they likewise debate the priority of national or transnational frames of reference in an age of global English. Yet even though its borders are contested, many scholars concur that we inhabit a ‘post-postmodern’ culture of sorts (Kelly, Nealon), and that today’s novels respond to ‘a new kind of being in the world in the third millennium’, as Peter Boxall summarizes it (8). Tracing the contours of this new period and its poetics, critics spotlight political developments like 9/11 and the war on terror, economic shifts like the spread of ‘creativity’, financialization and neoliberalism, and cultural trends involving memory, translation, and digitization, not to mention the resurgence of realism, modernism, and popular genres. More pertinent here is that these accounts of recent fiction consistently stress the role of the animal and the nonhuman, framing its signature contribution in terms of debates on posthumanism, new materialism, and the Anthropocene (Boxall, Huehls)—which suggests that every contemporary novel is an environmental novel of sorts. Their ecological preoccupations root such works in the twenty-first century, but the attendant exploration



of long-term ecological processes implies that they also inscribe themselves in a longer timeframe that radically expands the category of the contemporary and throws a fresh light on literary history. That is why a discussion of environmental themes in recent novels should involve older works too, located at a variable remove from the present, even if the literary archive’s size makes full genealogies and extended comparisons impossible. In grappling with the many moving parts of the literary field, I have benefited from the publications of Mark McGurl especially, which explain how academic literature and creative writing programs perpetuate a modernist aesthetics that humanizes readers by experimenting with unfamiliar points of view (2011); how this literary anthropocentrism can be derailed by ‘the posthuman comedy’ of lowbrow genres like horror, ‘in which scientific knowledge of the spatiotemporal vastness and numerousness of the nonhuman world becomes visible as a formal, representational, and finally existential problem’ (2012, 537); and how in the age of Amazon, literary production and reception are being reconfigured around the apparently opposed ideals of instant gratification and slowed-down quality time (2016). Like these publications, the present book makes a case for the nonhuman dimension of twenty-first-century literature, as its chapters specify how recent novels not only represent human minds but also lend a voice to nonhuman devices that fit into broader media infrastructures and to disparate animal species that make themselves heard even as they are being silenced across the world in a process of geological scope. This more-than-human soundscape complicates human storytelling and self-­ definition, though I will also reflect critically on the fact that recent novels populate the quality time of their readers with creatures and sounds we habitually ignore in everyday life. My argument is also affiliated with recent work on environmental narratology and what scholars like Ursula Heise and David Herman have called ‘multispecies narratives’. In a recent publication, Erin James promotes ‘econarratology’, a subfield that pairs ‘ecocriticism’s interest in the relationship between literature and the physical environment with narratology’s focus on the literary structures and devices by which writers compose narratives’ (xv), and that details how ‘narrative comprehension … is an inherently environmental process, in which readers come to know what it is like to experience a space and time different from that of their immediate reading environment’ (xi, emphasis in original). If James is primarily interested in how narratives can facilitate ‘cross-cultural conversations about the environment’, in postcolonial contexts especially (87), David



Herman prioritizes stories about human-animal entanglements. He explains the agenda of his ‘narratology beyond the human’ as follows: ‘Focusing on techniques employed in [post-Darwinian] media, including the use of animal narrators, alternation between human and nonhuman perspectives on events, shifts backward and forward in narrative time, the embedding of stories within stories, and others, I explore how specific strategies for portraying nonhuman agents both emerge from and contribute to broader attitudes toward animal life’ (2). Although his book only appeared after my manuscript was largely complete, Herman’s research is doubly relevant here, as he covers similar literary and theoretical ground, and introduces a series of distinctions and typologies that chart a broad range of writings and strategies for depicting anthropocentric as well as biocentric ontologies. Occasionally, his work also tackles similar topics as my own, as in the analysis of a graphic novel that features ‘empty speech balloons … in contexts where an animal’s communicative signals do not seem to be translatable or understandable, whether for humans or for other animals (or both)’ (148). There are two differences between our approaches, however. First, narratologists like James and Herman accentuate psychology and mind representation. That is certainly warranted, as there is no stepping outside of human psychology, and mental processes figure prominently in literary texts and the reading process. While Herman confronts the question of nonhuman minds with great ingenuity, however, I am not convinced that this psychological perspective is the only or best approach for dealing with animals in fiction and thus draw attention, in Chap. 4 especially, to a different, exterior perspective on their lives. Second, Herman’s narratology beyond the human locates intermedial relations in the tension between physically different media, whereas I am more interested in how the single medium of writing absorbs properties and effects of other representational technologies, sonic and aural devices in particular. In that sense, I am reluctant to think of the novel in terms of a ‘single-track design’ (17) and of ‘monomodal or “single channel” print texts’ (135), as he puts it. Indeed, my gambit is that novels too, however implicitly, tell ‘multimodal narratives, or stories that exploit more than one semiotic channel to evoke a narrative world’ (119). In sum, Herman foregrounds the ‘mindscape’ of multispecies stories in distinct media (160), whereas I prioritize the soundscape of multimodal novels processed by reader-listeners. This implies that my observations about the novel’s nonhuman audio also extend existing research on the relation between literature and other



media. We live in an age in which our access to nonhuman creatures is enabled and amplified if also blocked and distorted by distinct media devices, and this implies that novels about animals often engage with media ecologies too, variously criticizing the limitations of competitor media and/or internalizing their unique affordances vis-à-vis animal audio. In mapping distinct literary renderings of the multispecies soundscape, this book therefore explores instances of media competition and of intermedial writing too. A first important lesson here is that literature and reading are not as silent as common sense dictates. Writers can augment the sonic dimensions of writing by referring to particular musical works, for example. Analyzing modernist texts, T. Austin Graham has found that early  twentieth-century American writers responded to an increasingly noisy ‘soundscape’ (12) by adopting ‘music as a formal model for literature, attempting something like singing, record-playing, and soundtracking in their pages’ (2). These experiments ushered in the use of what he calls the ‘literary soundtrack’, ‘a series of identifiable, well-known pieces of music that punctuate plots and are intended to be listened to in conjunction with the reading act’ (6)—and this development has, according to him, become even more prominent in the ‘soundtracked novel[s]’ of contemporary literature (209). There are more reasons for thinking that literature is louder than we imagine. As Matthew Rubery has noted, orthodox views of silent reading overlook not only the long history of audiobooks but also the multimodal character of reading for blind readers, for readers in other periods, and for sighted readers too: Even silent reading isn’t entirely silent. Many readers imagine a speaker’s voice … pronouncing the words on a page. ‘Inner voice’ is the term used to describe the reader’s covert pronunciation of written text during an otherwise silent transaction. But our heads are filled with more than just imaginary voices. We talk to ourselves while we read, using … the same parts of the body used for speech. In a process called ‘subvocalization’, tiny movements in the larynx, tongue, lips, and other muscles involved in speech accompany the mental activity of reading. In a sense, we’re reading aloud to ourselves even when reading silently. (15–16)

These arguments make a compelling case for the sonic qualities of reading and novels (which today also have to define themselves vis-à-vis audiobooks, in a development that potentially augments the acoustic expectations of readers when confronted with any new text). We should bear



these observations in mind in the coming pages, though we also need to realize that even if literary works had no special acoustic qualities, they would still provide valuable insights into the cultural imagination of nonhuman life and sound, just like they enable us to reconstruct changing views of other issues and social debates. This book also picks up on suggestions by scholars working on literature’s contested place in the modern media ecology. Literary critics interested in sound technologies initially stressed the gramophone’s impact on literary practice at the turn of the twentieth century, drawing on the pioneering insights of Friedrich Kittler and Jacques Derrida. Ivan Kreilkamp demonstrated, for instance, how fears and desires surrounding the ‘disembodied voice’ shaped even literary texts that do not mention the invention (215), like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), as they too show traces of what he calls ‘a phonographic logic’ (211). Taking issue with the ‘gramophonocentrism’ of such arguments, Paul Saint-Amour holds that this research, however valuable, ‘in amplifying one technology of sound reproduction, … has effectively muted the rival and neighboring regimes in relation to which phonography emerged’ (16, emphasis in original), obscuring from view other media competing with ‘the recording, storage, and playback technology we call the novel’ (17). Other scholars have added to the array of competitor media, by tracing literature’s complex response to the telephone, the radio, and the TV, and even to modern materials like early plastics (Trotter). More relevant here is that we can now add the ‘smartphone with … birdcall apps’ to that list (127), as is suggested by Nell Zink’s novel The Wallcreeper (2014). Building on these classic and recent publications, my book rethinks the novel along intermedial lines by comparing its cultural work to media like microphones, iPods, sonographs, stethoscopes, and sonar technologies. In line with recent observations by Richard Grusin, some of my case studies even force us to think of animal and human bodies as media too, living sonic devices that clash and rub violently against each other in multiscalar sonorities. Reading Animal Sounds #2 That a closer examination of literature yields compelling results in this multimodal context can be shown by returning to Ghosh’s The Hungry



Tide. For this novel illustrates not only that nonhuman sound plays a pivotal role in certain contemporary novels but also that its literary treatment poses intriguing representational challenges. As my previous remarks indicated, the novel’s plot and soundscape imply that some species may enter into a utopian symbiosis with humans, notably the river dolphin, while others fail to establish cross-species sympathy or even undermine the human presence in the tide country, like local tigers and crabs. Yet upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the overlap between the life worlds of these dolphins and their human observers occasionally contracts as well as expands, and that the narrative reflects on other media as well as other creatures. Despite functioning as an interface between these two species, the river becomes threatening as soon as humans follow the dolphins below the waterline. When Piya falls overboard, the reader quickly realizes that this is no world for humans used to navigate well-lit landscapes with their eyes, even without thoughts of nearby crocodiles: In [the] occluded waters [of rivers like the Ganga] light loses its directionality within a few centimetres of the surface. … With no [light] to point the way, top and bottom and up and down become very quickly confused. As if to address this, the Gangetic dolphin habitually swims on its side … with one of its lateral fins trailing the bottom … [After falling into the water] [i]t was the disorientation caused by the peculiar conditions of light in the silted water that made [Piya] panic. With her breath running out, she felt herself to be enveloped inside a cocoon of eerily glowing murk and could not tell whether she was looking up or down. … she tried to look over her shoulder, but could see nothing except that impenetrable sepia glow. (54–5)

Analyzing the first written records of underwater observation by pioneering divers, Margaret Cohen has found that some of these descriptions stress the practical problem-solving typical of nautical literature, but that others introduce poetic images to capture this alien setting, resulting in ‘fantasy description’, a move akin to the rhetorical figure of the ‘je ne sais quoi’ (108). Though these fantastic flourishes received their share of criticism, Cohen believes that they enabled divers and writers to register aspects of this submarine environment that could not yet be rendered by other technologies at the time: ‘in the 1920s through 1940s, the photographic medium, both still and moving, black and white or color, could not show anything like the range of environments that written narratives



could describe’ (121). While Piya’s fall does not inspire great flights of fancy, Ghosh’s references to eerie cocoons and sepia glows participate in this tradition, using textual technicolor to capture a setting that may be inhabited by remarkable creatures but remains partly inaccessible to human eyes, ordinary words, and visual media. Indeed, and tellingly, there is no subsequent reassertion of human self-confidence here, unlike the scene I mentioned at the start from Foster’s Being a Beast. The conditions of the underwater environment also expose impenetrable barriers between these river dolphins on the one hand and human minds and narratives on the other. As I noted earlier, some scenes in The Hungry Tide integrate these creatures into a more-than-human assemblage of fishermen, and their sounds soothe some human listeners when they are encountered from a safe position above the waterline. Yet these animals and their sonic worlds become much harder to identify with when we join them in the river, even if they lose none of their nonhuman charisma—a term I explain further in Chap. 2: She imagined the animals circling drowsily, listening to echoes pinging through the water, painting pictures in three dimensions—images that only they could decode. The thought of experiencing your surroundings in that way never failed to fascinate her: the idea that to ‘see’ was also to ‘speak’ to others of your kind, where simply to exist was to communicate. In contrast, there was the immeasurable distance that separated her from Fokir. What was he thinking about as he stared at the moonlit river? … that was how it was with human beings, who came equipped, as a species, with the means of shutting each other out. … if you compared it to the ways in which dolphins’ echoes mirrored the world, speech was only a bag of tricks that fooled you into believing that you could see through the eyes of another being. (159)

In the nonhuman setting of the murky river, you require a form of echolocation that paints an accurate picture of reality and is audible by others, a seemingly ‘truthful’ mode of perception that is attuned to this underwater environment and widens the gap between river-dwelling dolphins and earthbound humans, as it must produce a radically different social experience. For one of the presuppositions of human social intercourse and the novel as a cultural technology is that we are unable to read each other’s minds, as scholars working on cognitive narratology and so-called theory of mind have stressed. One of the reasons why we enjoy reading is that we



like to reflect on scenes like the following: ‘it was as if Fokir had noticed the wordless exchange between his wife and Kanai [and] was trying to guess its meaning’ (265). We fantasize about understanding each other without words, as when Fokir seems to know ‘at a glance’ what Piya is thinking (352). Yet Piya’s fall in the river and her knowledge of echolocation attest to the difficulty of imagining the dolphin’s perspective, with its weirdly telepathic form of social communication and exclusively sonic mode of spatial experience. Although The Hungry Tide describes moments of cross-species sympathy between humans and river dolphins and reveals the cultural resonance of their sounds above the waterline, it consequently implies that cetacean life below the waterline remains hard to read for human beings and their characteristic cognitive instrument, the novel. As is suggested by The Great Derangement (2016), in fact, Ghosh himself seems to harbor few hopes that what he calls ‘serious’ novels can tackle environmental problems properly, as they have been complicit in severing ties between science and literature, characters and settings, modern humans and vulnerable animals. Using a metaphor that resonates with my argument here, he asserts that the novel’s embrace of the ‘regularity of bourgeois life’ (25) implies that some topics are simply ‘too wild to be navigated in the accustomed barques of narration’ (8). Like Piya, the novel is built to explore the world above, not below the waves. Yet the previous excerpts already indicated that Ghosh’s novel occasionally does imagine what it must be like to inhabit murky rivers and exclusively sonic minds. In doing so, it provides an illustration of what David Herman calls ‘the paradox of narrative prosthesis’ (204), in which a story ‘stat[es] the impossibility of presenting sea [here: river] creatures’ experiences with any degree of precision and yet provid[es] specifics about what the world might be like for beings of that sort’ (206). We  might also  interpret these brief underwater passages from The Hungry Tide in light of Macarena Gómez-Barris’s argument about global capitalism’s degradation of vibrant social ecologies to mere extractive zones, seeing that she argues for the importance of ‘submerged perspectives’ in imagining lives, environments, and futures otherwise (11). Writing about indigenous activism in South America, an admittedly different context, she makes a compelling case for the critical potential of what she calls ‘a fish-­ eye episteme’ (91), a form of countervisuality articulated in video art, for example, that aims to salvage more-than-human river communities from the ‘extractive view’ (6) by taking us, like Foster and Ghosh, below the waterline:



The camera cuts to midlevel views of the river before holding for a full minute on a thick … waterfall … Then we are taken under the falls, into the beige then blue-gray space of moving water. … We move with the ribbons of currents and the circling movements of oxygen below the water. We accept the fact that our sight is obstructed by the cloudy water, with pieces of leaves blocking the view … The effect is remarkable: I felt as if I were seeing what a fish sees, perhaps itself an anthropocentric viewpoint. By dipping into the muck, Caycedo[’s video] produced a fish-eye epistemology that changes how we might relate to [the river] as a sentient being, rather than as an extractible commodity. Coincidentally, the term ‘fish-eye’ also refers to an extreme wide-angle lens shot in which the edges of the frame are distorted to a near circle … Both meanings work for the kind of material and philosophical shift in perspective or ‘fish-eye episteme’: an underwater perspective that sees into the muck of what has usually been rendered in … transparent visualities. … Submerged, from below, seeing out from underwater, how do we think about the complexity of ecology, humanity, and the conditions of other beings from the fish-eye point of view? (102–3)

Extrapolating these observations to the context sketched in Ghosh’s novel, we might conclude that it raises similar questions about how we can do justice to nonhuman life and the cetacean point of view in today’s humanized environments. But of course, I am arguing that The Hungry Tide redirects our attention to sound instead and forces us to bear in mind the technical affordances and limitations of novels rather than visuals—so as to reconfigure the genre’s acoustemology, you might say. But the novel is not the only relevant medium here. If we desire to grasp the full representational reach of Ghosh’s novel, it is crucial to recognize that it often refers to another medium that enables humans to find their way and perform their own type of echolocation in challenging circumstances: a GPS device—a first example of the many media devices that make an appearance in this book. As a scene at the start of the novel spells out, Piya has a whole range of tools at her disposal to map the river, even below the waterline: ‘[a]long with the GPS monitor was a rangefinder and a depth-sounder, which could provide an exact reading of the water’s depth when its sensor was dipped beneath the surface’ (73). Some of these devices also make sounds, the narrator notes, mentioning the ‘exclamatory beep’ that resounds whenever the rangefinder establishes the precise distance between user and target (42). These high-tech tones and instruments may seem like an alien presence in the landscape of the tide country, which is more typically inhabited by nonhuman creatures and low-tech



humans, yet Piya’s collaboration with Fokir implies that their use harmonizes with local practices. The following scene hence anticipates the larger exchange between international expertise and local knowledge—what Erin James calls the book’s ‘storyworld accord’ (see 2–3)—projected at the novel’s end: At the start, she had thought they might end up disrupting each other’s work—that her soundings would get in the way of his fishing or the other way around. But, to her surprise, no such difficulties arose: the stops required for the laying of the line seemed to be ideally timed for the taking of soundings. … In other circumstances, Piya would have had to use the Global Positioning System to be sure … but here the line served the same purpose. … It was surprising … that their jobs had not proved to be utterly incompatible—especially considering that one of the tasks required the input of geostationary satellites while the other depended on bits of shark-­ bone and broken tile. (141)

This juxtaposition of low-tech and high-tech tools naturalizes the use of the GPS device, and the conclusion of the novel puts even greater emphasis on this cutting-edge medium that tracks the river dolphin’s invisible routes below the river’s surface. After the climactic storm that concludes the narrative, all of Piya’s hard-won data seem to be lost forever. But this loss is only apparent, as the GPS device, the only piece of equipment that survives, has stored ‘[a]ll the routes that Fokir showed me’, yielding a map that ‘represents decades of work and volumes of knowledge’ and will be ‘the foundation’ of Piya’s future work on the Irrawaddy dolphin (398). Given its positive role, I find it hard to accept Pablo Mukherjee’s claim that Piya and her ‘GPS monitor, range finder, depth sounder’ simply embody ‘the panoptic knowledge’—remember the extractive view— prized by ‘capitalist colonialism’ (120). For the novel suggests that media like depth-sounders and GPS devices enable humans to navigate murky rivers and fatal storms, and archive data that help save threatened species like the river dolphin. Indeed, I would argue that the novel siphons off some of the representational powers of these media in tackling the inhospitable nonhuman realm of the river. At least in certain sections, this narrative sketches not so much a fish-eye or a dolphin-ear episteme but a GPS-based way of understanding riverine reality. Yet it is true that this procedure is less innocent than it appears. For we should bear in mind that the ‘discourse of precision’ associated with GPS



technology is linked to military history and recent ‘“smart bomb” footage’ (704), as Caren Kaplan reminds us, meaning that these passages from Ghosh’s novel participate ‘in the energetic “forgetting” of the military sources of technologies that many people enjoy or feel required to use in everyday life’ (707). Or should we interpret the novel’s use of the GPS as a critical repurposing of this technology, not unlike the strategy discussed by Gómez-Barris (91–2)? In any case, it cannot be denied that this implicit military presence has disquieting overtones, especially seeing that modern armies and their technologies have participated in the blind slaughter of the same nonhuman creatures treasured by Piya, as the narrator notes—a topic I revisit in Chap. 6: ‘The Mekong Orcaella had shared Cambodia’s misfortunes: in the 1970s they had suffered the ravages of indiscriminate American carpet bombing [and were later] massacred by Khmer Rouge cadres, who had hit upon the idea of using dolphin oil to supplement their dwindling supplies of petroleum’ (305). In light of my argument in this later chapter, it is also worth noting that Ghosh briefly alludes to another form of military violence in Gun Island: ‘[t]here’s a theory that man-made sounds—from submarines and sonar equipment and stuff like that—could be behind [increased whale and dolphin] beachings’ (108). In thinking about the multispecies soundscape, these passages imply, we should examine the histories and forms of prosthetic devices like GPS too and ask how contemporary fiction positions itself vis-à-vis the technologies it describes and imitates in its intermedial narratives about human-animal entanglements and acoustic contact zones. * * * After sketching the rationale, background, and framework of this book, and discussing a brief preliminary example, I will now summarize the following five chapters, each of which offers more detailed analyses of particular case studies and can be read separately too. The second chapter, ‘Biodiversity’s Bandwidth’, investigates the experience and representation of wild animal sounds in an age of extinction, pinpointing acoustic contact zones involving undomesticated species like reindeer, wolves, Tasmanian tigers, wallabies, and crickets. Mentioning large-scale listening projects alongside technological devices like earphones and radio collars, the chapter scrutinizes a historical novel about a female artist who doubles as a bioacoustics researcher by Heidi Sopinka, a psychological adventure novel about a professional hunter and an animal believed to be extinct by Julia



Leigh, and an urban novel about a female photographer who is suffering from a noise neurosis by Marie Kessels. Confronting these novels with discourses about anxious listening, endangered wildlife, and therapeutic literature in ecohistorical fashion, I explain how these multispecies narratives reflect on a variety of animal sounds as well as on their cultural connotations of anxiety and serenity. The chapter also expounds how these novels privilege certain species and sounds over others, revealing the broad but limited bandwidth of the novelistic imagination. The third chapter, ‘Polyphony Beyond the Human’, ponders the ties between animal cries, musical images, and the cultural work of sympathy. It begins by reviewing recent as well as classic insights about the novel to recalibrate Mikhail Bakhtin’s famous account of the genre’s polyphonic discourse in a way that does justice to its animal component. Apart from nuancing anthropocentric views of polyphony, I revisit the eighteenth-­ century discourse of sensibility to consider the emotional appeal of the animal cry, which has traditionally functioned as a moral plea for more just and inclusive communities of similarly suffering creatures, and has occasionally been linked to music too. These insights are subsequently applied to relevant novels by two canonical writers, J.M.  Coetzee and Richard Powers, both of whom have redeployed the motif of animal music in ways that stretch orthodox views of community while steering clear of the overt sentimentalism often associated with the nonhuman cry. In the case of Disgrace, a soon-to-be-euthanized dog is tentatively included in a hypothetical opera, and in the case of Orfeo, the recurring image of animal music points in the direction of an unusually inclusive multispecies democracy, even if the novel’s human composer finally receives more attention than this nonhuman audio, and the introduction of topics like extinction and media like iPods and telephones complicates the situation considerably. The fourth chapter, ‘Multispecies Multilingualism’, tackles language rather than music, and reminds us of select episodes from nineteenth-­ century literature and the history of science to contextualize the ways in which contemporary multispecies narratives render nonhuman communication systems. In a first step, I compare two novels by Tania James and Barbara Gowdy alongside research on the infrasonic calls of elephants to articulate how these literary works broaden the scope of the reader’s hearing. Questioning anthropocentric definitions of sound and language further, I subsequently contrast two novels about chimpanzees by Karen Joy Fowler and Yann Martel to examine how these narratives record gestures,



facial expressions, and other types of nonverbal communication. If the first set of examples explores elephant language by adopting the point of view of these creatures, moreover, the second set documents how chimps communicate without accessing their minds in the process, approaching their behavior from an external perspective that avoids obvious anthropomorphism. These examples respond to concrete historical debates involving ivory poaching and chimp cross-fostering, furthermore, and illustrate that novels sensitive to animal behavior do not stage a vague, generalized ‘animal language’ so much as a wildly divergent set of communication systems, a ‘multispecies multilingualism’. The fifth chapter, ‘Reading the Animal Pulse’, shifts gears and turns from music and language to one of many media that function as an interface between humans and other animals: the stethoscope. I first recapitulate existing work about this medical monitoring device in sound studies and literary studies and about creaturely vulnerability in animal studies. I also explain how bodily sounds disclose a form of cross-species fragility left unexplored by other accounts of nonhuman audio, which often restrict themselves to vocalizations and explicit if elusive processes of communication. The chapter subsequently shows how two novels featuring specialized knowledge of veterinary procedures hint at the common vulnerability of embodied creatures while leaving the conventional species boundary largely in place. A brief look at the historical archive indicates that Bram Stoker’s Dracula monitors this boundary even more anxiously, and encourages its readers to experience its sensational narrative in quasi-­ physical ways, as if trying to animalize their bodies in ways that nevertheless reassure the audience. By contrast, Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing and Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis offer less reassuring interpretations of our weird bodies, their creaturely sounds, and a largely indifferent material universe. The sixth chapter, ‘Whale Song in Submarine Fiction’, centers on another medium that establishes acoustic ties between species, even if it has less beneficial effects than the stethoscope, namely sonar technology. Returning to the inhospitable worlds below the waterline, this chapter juxtaposes existing research on sonar discourse and the devastating impact of military technology on marine mammals with submarine thrillers as well as literary examples that are more experimental in terms of form and less dubious in terms of ideology. This confrontation contributes to the interdisciplinary project of the so-called ‘blue humanities’ by charting how the novel empowers us to access the deep and participates in reimagining



marine life and the ocean environment in more and less militarized terms. The chapter further reveals how a closer consideration of the threats faced by certain cetaceans urges us to abandon reductive views of underwater habitats as well as one-dimensional apocalyptic narratives about the anticipated demise of the human species. Once again, then, these novels do not just present their readers with a more-than-human narrative but with a multispecies soundscape, via intermedial forms of writing that explore a particular ecohistorical contact zone. As the preceding summary indicates, the topic of this book requires a highly interdisciplinary framework and potentially appeals to quite diverse audiences. In catering to these divergent interests, I have had to make certain choices, which implies that scholars in sound studies, environmental history, animal studies, or comparative literature—not to mention media studies and anthropology—will undoubtedly feel that the book does too little of this and too much of that. This means that my account has certain limitations, as I explain in my conclusion. But I believe its attempt at an interdisciplinary dialogue has considerable value too. As far as literature is concerned, this book examines both famous and little-­ known contemporary novels from multiple subgenres, including the historical novel, the novel of ideas, ‘vet fiction’, magical realism, and the submarine thriller, alongside a selection of relevant cases from earlier periods. These examples provide an indicative rather than an exhaustive or even representative sample of the novel’s animal sounds; quite obviously, other cases and genres could be discussed, not to mention additional historical examples, and more novels in languages other than English. Yet in my view, these works have proven ‘good to think with’ in pondering certain acoustic contact zones and have allowed me to construct a more robust model of the novel’s acoustic and animal dimensions. The result may exhibit flaws and oversights, but I hope my attempt will nevertheless inspire research that further refines our picture of the novel, its multispecies soundscape, and the broader cultural imagination of animal lives. Before I turn to the five contact zones explored in this volume, let me conclude by clarifying the meaning of its cover, which features an image of a mosquito on a microphone. This image illustrates three important aspects of this book. First, we are now recording and listening to nonhuman creatures in ways that are more systematic than ever before thanks to new recording technologies like microphones, which are omnipresent in recent multispecies narratives. Second, our attention to the multispecies soundscape remains highly partial and privileges the charismatic



vocalizations of birds and wild predators over less attractive sounds like the annoying buzz of mosquitoes, even as all creatures, including ecologically crucial insects, are being silenced because of human activities. As this type of microphone is not the one most recordists would use for capturing animal vocalizations, finally, it hints at the fact that the novel, like this microphone, might pick up sounds it was not designed to capture originally. At first sight,  this image might  seem to point toward a mismatch between the two components of my title, the novel and the multispecies soundscape. But the book will argue that, in an age where we record evermore nonhuman voices while continuing to prefer some sounds over others, the friction between novels and other media and between novels and nonhuman lives—as in the example of Ghosh’s narrative about river dolphins and depth-sounders—sheds a productive, much-needed light on our environmental imagination, on our competitive media ecology, and on animal sounds and their rich cultural meanings.

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Biodiversity’s Bandwidth

How do human listeners and readers of fiction experience sounds of ‘wild’ animals at the turn of the twenty-first century? To address that question in all of its complexity, the current chapter analyzes four examples of contemporary fiction and nonfiction. I begin with a summary of Bernie Krause’s The Great Animal Orchestra (2012), which first explains how his recording projects salvage sounds of wild and endangered species from across the globe and subsequently shows that Krause’s acoustic archival work not only amplifies the voices of certain creatures but also silences others. The relevance of such real-life projects for contemporary fiction is illustrated by Heidi Sopinka’s The Dictionary of Animal Languages (2018), a novel that recounts the life of a female recordist who similarly tries to stave off species extinction via acoustic means. Bearing in mind this elegiac response to wild voices, the chapter subsequently reviews research by Ursula Heise and Jamie Lorimer on the cultural meanings of biodiversity, research that critically interrogates concepts like elegy and extinction and promotes a more self-reflexive stance toward wild acoustics. This critical perspective enriches our understanding of Julia Leigh’s The Hunter (1999), I show afterward, which deals with the cultural afterlife of the extinct Tasmanian tiger in a way that accentuates sound and listening. By way of conclusion, this chapter considers a novel that does not attempt to record the soundscape of the untouched wilderness, but ponders our experience of noisy cities and deafening airports, and calls attention to unexpected animal voices amid increasing levels of urban sound pollution, Marie Kessels’s Roaring © The Author(s) 2020 B. De Bruyn, The Novel and the Multispecies Soundscape, Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature,




(Brullen, 2015). Expanding as well as contracting their bandwidth, these four texts indicate how wild animal sounds are ‘made’ in the twenty-first century, how audio technologies shape recent writing, how biodiversity is framed by scientists and writers alike, and how stories about the wilderness and the stress-inducing soundscape of the city incite what I will call ‘sonic curiosity’. When read closely, it becomes clear that these novels contribute to broader debates on biodiversity, sound pollution, and therapeutic culture, and illuminate the contemporary experience of wild animal sounds, which carry connotations of anxiety, variety, and serenity. Yet these novels also repeat anthropocentric preferences for charismatic species and arguably discourage criticism by utilizing the ambient soundscape for private therapeutic purposes.

Saving Endangered Sounds Several anthropologists have described how contemporary communities of listeners perceive animal vocalizations, but no publication captures their current popularity more clearly than Bernie Krause’s nonfiction book about sonic biodiversity, The Great Animal Orchestra (see Dimock 2013; Whitehouse 2015). Examining the specialized practices of scientists in bioacoustics, anthropologist Mickey Vallee has found that they no longer employ sound as ‘a method for species identification’ but as a tool for ‘crisis-driven data collection and environmental monitoring’ (6), shifting sound’s implicit message from the nature of an individual species to the health of its broader habitat. Another feature of this expert interpretation of animal sounds is that the use of autonomous recording devices in the field generates such large quantities of data that scientists have to resort to computer algorithms to process the material; instead of listening attentively or aesthetically to animals, these analysts use pattern recognition software to monitor the fluctuating sounds of the area in question and its resident animal populations. This approach has considerable advantages, including ‘early detection of biodiversity loss’, Vallee notes, even if the result goes ‘against the grain of cultural theories of sound … which themselves tend to privilege the experiential [and] aesthetic configurations of sonic immersion’ (13). Turning from this macro-perspective to the individual experiences of the general public, Andrew Whitehouse has studied crowd-sourced reports by people from various walks of life to answer the following question: ‘What is it like to listen to birds in the Anthropocene?’ (53). These



user-submitted descriptions of human listening in Anglophone countries are typically ‘not stories of distant soundscapes in remote and wild places but of companion species that make their own places through sound in the places that people make’ (63). Hearing local, familiar bird species makes it possible for human listeners to ground their day-to-day life in a seemingly stable time and place, satisfies their desire for ‘resonance’ with the environment, and prompts fantasies ‘of how a place should be experienced’ (65). Yet this localizing, idealizing response is often undercut nowadays, Whitehouse remarks, by the awareness of our destructive impact on wildlife and its sounds. He experiences this ambivalence himself, in fact, when he hears a plane in the Australian bush, a technology that disrupts local birdsong but also enables him to visit this remote location (67). Coining the phrase ‘anxious semiotics’, he claims that this apprehensive response is typical of our current experience of birdsong, ‘not only directly in the face of loss but in the tensions of daily experiences that might seem … to be positive’ (55), as when people hear birds but at the wrong time of year or notice the sounds of unusual invasive species. Even when listeners encounter animal sounds, their present awareness of species extinction and noise pollution stimulates them to listen for ‘discordance, disruption and absence’ (69), and to articulate ‘perceptions that draw together local and global, human and non-human, present and future, into anxiety-laden narratives’ (55). But Whitehouse finds reasons for hope too, as attentive listening to birds also fosters ‘relations of companionship’ across species boundaries and stories of ‘enskillment’ that detail how people learn to listen to birds (70). As these publications show, today’s experts and amateurs respond differently to nonhuman voices, but their responses share a concern with loss and place, and are filtered through specific technologies and cultural narratives. Occupying a position between distanced monitoring and experiential listening, Bernie Krause’s The Great Animal Orchestra offers an exceptionally detailed response to nonhuman audio, which further illuminates the current imagination of wild acoustics. This nonfiction book is a passionate account of Krause’s life’s work as a nature recordist who captures threatened soundscapes across the world, and it regularly discards narrative momentum to catalogue the voices of creatures like birds, wolves, and whales but also giraffes, elephants, anemones, and even viruses, which ‘create a detectable sonic spike … measurable by only the most sensitive instruments’ when they ‘let go from a surface they’ve been attached to’ (57). The Great Animal Orchestra fits into a tradition that includes Rachel



Carson’s famous Silent Spring (1962), as Whitehouse observes, but there are even stronger analogies with Memoirs of a Birdman (1955), the autobiographical story of Ludwig Koch’s pioneering field recordings, and The Tuning of the World (1977), R. Murray Schafer’s outline of acoustic ecology and concomitant critique of sound pollution. For there are three narrative strands in The Great Animal Orchestra: the biographical story of Krause’s travels across the world in search of remarkable ‘biophonic’ sounds in remote jungles and wildlife parks (60), the environmental tale of how complex biological soundscapes are being disrupted by human noise and habitat destruction, and the scientific narrative of his so-called ‘niche hypothesis’ (99), which states that [i]n biomes rich with density and diversity of creature voices, organisms evolve to acoustically structure their signals in special relationships to one another—cooperative or competitive—much like an orchestral ensemble. … The combined biological sounds in many habitats do not happen arbitrarily: each resident species acquires its own preferred sonic bandwidth … much in the way that [musical instruments] stake out acoustic territory in an orchestral arrangement. (97)

Explaining the book’s title, Krause’s scientific hypothesis builds on years of fieldwork at sites that exhibit unique versions of this sonic partitioning, signature soundscapes that can be monitored and compared across time and thus function as ‘biohistorical markers’ that may uncover invisible environmental damage (74). This argument also clarifies why Krause is no fan of early field recordings collected in archives like the Macaulay Library, as their ‘reductionist single-species method’ (86) obscures ‘a more holistic sense of the biophonic world’ by fragmenting the collaborative multispecies symphony into disjointed performances by isolated soloists (112)—by ‘sterilizing’ the soundscape, to use the words of Joeri Bruyninckx. The niche hypothesis also underpins Krause’s comparison between the impoverished soundscape of the urbanized present and an Edenic state of aural plenitude that is only available in the primordial past or in scattered pockets of nonhuman wilderness,  the soundscapes of which serve as ‘sonic monuments’ (236). If we now live in a world in which ‘the communication channels necessary for creature survival are being completely overloaded’ (206–7), because human noises colonize all acoustic niches, the world before us must have sounded vastly different, as the book’s remarkably literary opening scene aims to show:



It is sixteen thousand years ago, and the [North American] plains teem with life. … The visual spectacle is impressive, but the sound is absolutely glorious. … Animals are hooting, bleating, growling, chirping, warbling, cooing. They are tweeting, clucking, humming, clicking, moaning, howling, screaming, peeping, sighing, whistling, mewing, croaking, gurgling, panting, barking, purring, squawking, buzzing, shrieking, stridulating, cawing, hissing, scratching, belching, cackling, singing melodies, stomping feet, leaning in and through the air, and beating wings—and doing it in a way that each voice can be heard distinctly…. (3–4)

Krause’s book features many such paratactic inventories (often adopting viewpoints that are equally, impossibly mobile in time and space), and they function like verbal equivalents of his audio collections. Their message of sonic plenitude aims to drive home two lessons. The first is that we should listen more closely to the natural world; the book’s ideal reader is willing to learn ‘how to become a careful listener’ (223, emphasis in original) and to use her ears as active ‘portals’ rather than unthinking ‘filters’ (16). The second lesson is that we should rethink music along the soothing lines of the acoustic partitioning model, as in eco-acoustic compositions that integrate human and environmental sounds (150–2). For in Krause’s view, natural soundscapes combat noise-induced stress (162) and reestablish a sense of ‘tranquillity’, defined as ‘a point of serenity … between measurable soundscape and dead quiet [that] guides us to a sense of sheer peacefulness’, as when sounds like ‘a heartbeat, birdsong, crickets, lapping waves’ trigger ‘the release of endorphins and a feeling of serenity’ (216). Consequently, Krause combines the distanced view of the scientific expert with an experiential passion for close listening, and his book ends up stressing the variety of animal sounds, their silencing by human activities, and the need for a soothing sonic regime—and if none of these features are truly new, this mix of variety, anxiety, and serenity nevertheless helps to characterize the current cultural moment. All of the chapters in my book explore the diversity of nonhuman sound further, and I return to musical images and reassuring heartbeats in Chaps. 3 and 5, respectively. In the rest of this chapter, I will concentrate on biodiversity, noise pollution, and the search for healing soundscapes. But we should first ask ourselves how the work of recordists like Krause informs our experience of animal audio and related forms of writing, briefly revisiting seminal insights from sound studies and animal studies in the process. In terms of sound, multiple passages from The Great Animal Orchestra



recall Jonathan Sterne’s influential observations on auditory culture, including the modern separation of sound from the other senses, the development of expert listening protocols, the cultural faith in sonic fidelity, the elegiac dimensions of sonic archiving, and the embrace of what Sterne calls the ‘audiovisual litany’—conventional claims about the senses that promote intimate hearing over distanced vision despite the fact that attentive listening is a learned cultural practice too (15). As Krause’s numerous references to audio equipment indicate, his book’s fine-grained, high-definition account of animal acoustics relies on cutting-edge technology and envelope-pushing sound engineering. To capture the sound of an ocean shore, for example, you need to record ‘a variety of samples from different distances’ that you stitch together afterward with ‘sound-editing software’ (18). Underlining expert labor further, Krause remembers developing a sound for a dinosaur from scratch, creating ‘a representative hadrosaur vocalization that sounded somewhat like a slowed-up recording of a great hornbill’ (124–5). Recording existing creatures poses its own challenges: I … carefully lowered the hydrophone into the pool, put on my earphones, and switched on the tape recorder—a well-established ritual sequence. Caught … off guard, I heard my headset explode with a variety of small crunching sounds, high-pitched squeaks, pops, and scrapes … With the hydrophone under the surface and the mic above water, I tried to see if [these] spadefoot toads transmitted their vocalizations simultaneously in and out of the marine habitat … It was an exhilarating experience … to be one of the first to actually hear it. (177)

Apparently, human listeners require a lot of high-tech equipment, in this case microphones, hydrophones, earphones, and tape recorders (not to mention the ideas and social networks that sustain these machines) to access the underexplored world of nonhuman sound—even if the reference to ritual suggests that these devices become quasi-invisible to expert practitioners. Furthermore, Krause’s niche hypothesis could only be confirmed after hard-won recordings were transformed into spectrograms that display the typical visual shape of the animal orchestra, with the voices of distinct creatures occupying separate frequency ranges, the result looking ‘not unlike modern forms of musical notation’ (85). To audit the present state of biophonic sound, moreover, we need attentive human individuals but also the technical assemblage alluded to earlier, involving ‘automated monitoring stations’ (184), a ‘network of stand-alone,



data-­rich, synchronized monitoring devices spread out at regular intervals throughout the habitat as well as … detailed spectrogram software’ (102). The role of the machine is particularly conspicuous when a young Krause first dons earphones in the wild: Like a pair of binoculars, my mics and earphones brought the sound within [an] intimate range, exposing a range of vivid detail that was entirely new to me. A few birds flew overhead through the stereo space—right to left—the slow cadenced edge-tones of their undulating wings a diaphanous mix of whirr and shush. With my portable recording system, I didn’t feel like I was listening as a distant observer … Many of the subtle acoustic textures around me were made larger than life through my stereo headphones, on which I cranked the monitor levels so that I wouldn’t miss anything. (15)

Despite isolating him from the soundscape as it is usually experienced, these earphones facilitate new forms of more-than-human intimacy by amplifying animal sounds. Such scenes imply that Krause’s book and its detailed, wide-ranging inventory of nonhuman noises would simply be impossible without modern audio devices. Even more important here is that this technology-enabled mode of listening pushes writing in new directions too, occasionally straining Krause’s language in the attempt to render this immersive soundscape, as in the quasi-poetic, melodious sentence from the previous excerpt, where ‘the slow cadenced edge-tones of … undulating wings’ produces ‘a diaphanous mix of whirr and shush’. Recordists like Krause may expose previously unheard melodies, but they create new opportunities for writers too. He ends his book with the hopeful note that ‘[t]he numbers of people sitting quietly in the forests around the globe with earphones on seem to be surging with each passing month’ (226). And I believe that the writers discussed in the present book are engaged in similar projects, as they produce novels with soundscapes that are often simply unimaginable without headphones. Writing and reading such headphone-enabled texts is not that different from sitting quietly in a forest—a hopeful but also problematic situation, as I argue below. If Krause’s descriptions of animal audio are informed by the use of manmade devices, they are also inflected by a specific view of nature, and of nonhuman life. As we have learned, certain passages in The Great Animal Orchestra imply that if animal silences are an effect of the ‘global age of the machine’, the same is true of animal sounds, as they are heard through headphones, mapped by software, and tracked by monitoring



stations (175). But Krause remains ambivalent about machines and downplays the high-tech quality of his undertaking; he asserts that ‘a recorder is a tool for learning to listen without a recorder’ (16), warns us that we should not confuse ‘[w]hat you hear in your media performance center’ with ‘what you would experience … in the natural world’ (224), and further naturalizes his activities when he invites readers to listen, not with headphones, but with leopard-like ears, asking them to cup their hands behind their ears and turn around, amplifying and focusing ambient sounds (60). Krause may scrutinize spectrograms afterward, furthermore, but the real origin of the niche hypothesis is an experience of ‘the transparent weave of creature voices’ while listening, half-asleep, to peaceful pre-­ dawn sounds (84). Such passages minimize mediation and emphasize immersion—a strategy that returns in his writing, as is shown by two examples of what Timothy Morton has called ‘ecomimesis’ (31), in which Krause refers to a walk ‘on the morning of the day I wrote this paragraph’ (221) and to exciting sounds like the ‘rapid hammering of a pair of pileated woodpeckers nesting just up the hill from my writing desk’ (225). It goes without saying that such passages reinforce the illusion of presence, of an immediate, literal transcription of the outside world. Playing down the role of technology, Krause promotes a traditional view in which nature and society occupy distinct realms. A nostalgic memory lends credence to the idea that some human sounds may merge harmoniously with the animal orchestra (107), but Krause nevertheless remains almost exclusively preoccupied with wild sounds, wild creatures, and wild habitats. He is not unaware of the limitations of this perspective, writing at one point that the desire to discover exotic sounds should not lead us to overlook the voices of our own backyard. But even then, he quickly adds that ‘you’re going to have to take a bit of a hike’ ‘[t]o get to überexotic places to hear the remaining intact … animal orchestras’, reassuring the reader that ‘[i]t’ll be worth it’ (234). These claims advance the stereotypical, reductive view of nature as a realm that is physically and culturally disconnected from urban society, a ‘wild natural world … comprised of vast areas not managed by humans’ (213). This environmental imagination clearly  prioritizes certain habitats and species. Consider yet another inventory, which lists heterogeneous types of desert life: Populated with complex blends of cactus and rock wrens, common and Chihuahua ravens, western meadowlarks, … crickets, coyotes, gray foxes, mountain lions, jackrabbits, squirrels, bats, mice, beetles, ants, … geckos,



tortoises, and snakes—each with an expressive voice of its own—[the desert] whispers to us now without cattle, sheep, dogs, planes, cars, trains, or trucks within hearing range. (230)

This passage justifiably criticizes narrow conceptions of the ‘empty’ desert, but it displays its own conventional distortions by positioning the expressive voices of wild species against the noises of human traffic and, more strikingly, against the apparently uninteresting non-voices of domesticated animals like cattle, sheep, and dogs. At one point, Krause targets the work of traditional composers who draw inspiration from poorly understood animal sounds: ‘[b]y featuring signature creatures selected from outside their rightful acoustic settings—animals whose voices just happen to fit the musical paradigms that composers are comfortable with—[these] compositions demonstrate a creative myopia: they present “nature” in terms of what the artist thinks it ought to sound like’ (146). But his fetishization of wild sites and wild sounds constitutes its own form of myopia in Krause’s work, which remains deaf to the sound of farm and companion animals, not to mention the more mundane wildlife noticed by the respondents of the Listening to Birds project—and this myopia ignores the main lesson of animal studies, which is that ‘animals’ are not one, and that we should therefore try to do justice to the diversity of nonhuman life. In the great animal orchestra recorded by Krause, by contrast, some animals are more equal than others. This means that his work is useful, not just because it illuminates how animal sounds are being recorded now, and how modern acoustic technology molds literary writing, but also because it illustrates how cultural stereotypes inform those recordings and technologies, and the forms of writing they engender.

Writing with Headphones Contemporary novelists are engaged in projects similar to Krause’s work, as I will explain in the next sections and chapters, but Heidi Sopinka’s The Dictionary of Animal Languages (2018) may well be the most explicit example of a novel written with headphones, a literary equivalent of The Great Animal Orchestra. For the protagonist of Sopinka’s debut novel is someone ‘who has studied extinction for a long time’ in ways that overlap with Krause’s work (306). ‘[W]riting a dictionary of animal languages, of species on the brink of extinction’, Ivory Frame is ‘listening to wildlife [to] gain understanding of animal communication, and the health of wildlife



populations’, with the resulting sonic patterns supposedly revealing that ‘[t]here are innumerable little extinctions occurring all the time’ in what she bluntly calls our ‘age of slaughter’ (118). At one point, for instance, this character received funds to research the impact of industrial activity on wild reindeer behavior by monitoring their sounds—the soft grunts of female reindeer, the loud roars of their male counterparts, and the clicking of the special bones in their feet that allow them to ‘hear one another in the dark’ (101). As if describing Krause’s analyses of sound spectrograms recorded at damaged sites, Ivory explains that these sounds illuminate the condition of this changing habitat: ‘I’ve been recording reindeer near the easternmost part of the park. At the sound lab, we’ve created baseline data so that changes to sites can be compared. Forests can look unchanged, but recordings of soundscapes, over time, can reveal things that aren’t obvious to the eye’ (93–4). Seeing that this dictionary project is a central plotline in Sopinka’s novel, the narrative features several scenes explicitly ‘written with headphones’: ‘I will hand [a friend] the earphones. She says she wants to listen to what noise pollution destroying bat populations in southern France sounds like. Little clicks and a low hum like a vacuum cleaner running, it turns out’ (160). Yet the narrative implies that a headphone sensibility equally affects scenes of listening that do not mention this device—affects, that is, the full aural experience of this professional listener and the entire soundscape of Sopinka’s novel. Remembering past episodes of fieldwork at the end of her life, Ivory notes how she and her assistant would be ‘[p]acking up recorders, microphones, and walking back to the truck, senses quickened, ears pricked to every sound, for days after’ (254, emphasis added). This fictional research project is a good first example, not just because it provides a remarkably explicit fictionalization of Krause-­ like activities, but also because it reimagines the relation between art and science, as I will show, and offers hopeful records of the nonhuman world that counterbalance the anxious semiotics of twenty-first-century listeners. We should also recognize, though, that the protagonist’s desire to map animal acoustics again reveals a bias toward certain creatures, further preparing us for the next section, which summarizes more self-reflexive accounts of extinction and wildlife. But I should first contextualize this novel further by sketching the history of scientific recording projects as well as a nostalgic trend in contemporary fiction. The history of animal language experiments is explained in more detail in Chap. 4, but we should note here how the modern study of animal sounds abandoned writing for mechanical media, as this tug of war



between recording technologies crops up repeatedly in The Dictionary of Animal Languages. As Rachel Mundy has documented, technologies like the spectrograph enabled scientists to sidestep the subjective process of hearing and the aesthetic interpretation of birdsong by translating these calls into properly scientific images called spectrograms, ‘transforming sounds whose speed and register fall outside human sensory norms into images that fall well within them [while] eliminat[ing] the confusion that often accompanies the old naturalists’ tradition of sharing birdsongs through onomatopoeic English phrases’ (2009, 209–10)—meaning that the modern ornithologist would no longer use his ears but ‘hear with his eyes’ instead (220). This move from verbal and aural confusion toward visual objectivity was complicated, Mundy remarks, by the technical limitations of early machines, which forced scientists to concentrate on particular sounds and species; whereas earlier studies preferred birds with elaborate, variable songs, research now shifted toward ‘short, repetitive songs whose strophes fit the limitations of the spectrograph’ (209). While these limitations have all but disappeared with recent technology, early uses of the spectrograph attest that mechanical media can impose certain filters too, encouraging scientists to scrutinize short songs or formerly inaudible sounds, for instance, just like musical notation and verbal description invite bird lovers to linger over songs that are unusually melodious or symbolically evocative. If this historical narrative elucidates how music and language were gradually filtered out of scientific studies of birdsong (and animal sounds more generally), Mundy points out that the ‘aesthetic sensibility … has not entirely disappeared from contemporary representations’ but has migrated to the programming of spectrogram software (211). This story is yet another episode in the history of mechanical objectivity as famously outlined by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, in which scientists and illustrators from the middle of the nineteenth century onward no longer selected images and specimens based on their skillful judgment, but increasingly employed mechanical recording devices like the camera to relegate language, art, and their anthropomorphisms to the sidelines and let nature speak for itself, allegedly, in ‘a universal pictorial language’ no longer distorted by personal concerns, disciplinary differences, or idiomatic idiosyncrasies (115). The spectrograph fits into that story, as it replaces onomatopoeia and other crude human approximations of the nonhuman voice with an objective visual transcript. We needed to refresh our knowledge of this episode from the history of science because Sopinka’s novel raises related questions about the affordances of different



media and disciplines as far as animal recordings are concerned. This story reconnects art and science, we will see, but also reveals a clear bias toward human stories and wild species. Although The Dictionary of Animal Languages revolves around the protagonist’s obsessive attempt to inventorize nonhuman sounds, this plotline is interwoven with a more recognizable human narrative. Ivory Frame may work as a bioacoustics researcher in the second part of her life, but the first part of her story especially is modeled on the life of Leonora Carrington, the female Surrealist painter who had a life-changing affair with the German artist Max Ernst in the Paris of World War II before they broke off the relationship and she escaped to Mexico. There are strong parallels between this real-life story and Sopinka’s narrative about the artist Ivory Frame, her stormy affair with the Russian painter Lev Volkov, and her turn from art to science as the proper medium for the archiving of nonhuman voices. As this summary indicates, the novel is a good example of the trend that David James and Urmila Seshagiri call ‘metamodernism’, in which twenty-first-century writers return to the early twentieth century to draw inspiration from the formal experiments and historical contexts of modernist art. Writers like Cynthia Ozick and Colm Tóibín reactivate the aesthetic strategies of modernism, James and Seshagiri claim, by telling nonchronological stories that plumb psychological depths, by reconnecting with the inspiring biographies of individual artists from the period, and by adjusting old ethicopolitical imperatives in light of new social concerns, so that in these recent novels ‘the convergence of modernist forms and modernist histories enables artistic innovation’ (97). The Dictionary of Animal Languages is a textbook case of metamodernism, for its plot creatively reuses the biographies of Leonora Carrington as well as Max Ernst, not to mention the history of Parisian avant-garde circles, and its form exhibits the tell-tale features of modernist prose, seeing that the plot is presented in a fragmented, nonchronological fashion and readers are allowed access to the most private recesses of the protagonist’s mind. This artistic legacy is revived, moreover, in ways that reconfigure the modernist ethicopolitical interest in human-animal relations—as detailed by Carrie Rohman (2009) and others—in light of new social concerns related to biodiversity loss and sonic extinction. So The Dictionary of Animal Languages embeds the narrative of a scientific sound collection project into the history of modernist art and the story of a tumultuous love relationship between artists, and these other storylines explain the novel’s sustained exploration of motherhood and the conflicted position of the



female artist as well as Ivory’s shift from art to science. Concentrating on the dictionary project, I will first describe the two phases of her career before reflecting critically on the novel’s representation of the nonhuman world. As Sopinka’s fragmentary narrative demonstrates, Ivory’s animal project involves various media and shifts shape a number of times, leading from art to science and back again. As a child she is already drawn to the outdoors, inviting her brother to ‘[l]isten to the sound of [butterfly] wings’ (77) and ‘the sounds issued from insects, animals, and birds at the roots and tops of trees’ (21). Ivory later offers a mythical retelling of these early encounters with forest animals. Escaping from her overbearing mother, a ‘woodland child’ meets a wild buck that mimics her ‘gasp’ (141), and this produces a sharp awareness of sound as well as initiates an interspecies pact: ‘The woodland child would protect the deer from the bows and bullets, and the deer would teach the woodland child its language’ (142). When she later begins to frequent the Paris zoo, Ivory fills notebooks with descriptions of its more-than-human sounds, though her teachers at the art academy dismiss this interest in ‘animal voices’ (81). Yet it seeps into her avant-garde paintings, which conjure up a dream-like world ‘where humans, animals, plants, and inanimate objects are on an equal footing’ (83), and it enlivens the ‘biological illustrations’ she draws for a professor to make ends meet (134, 173). A logical conclusion for this plotline would be the ‘exhibition … on the disappearing animals’ she imagines organizing with her friend Tacita (275): What are you suggesting? Your animal portraits, and my sound transcriptions. We can put image and text together. Hang images beside writings. I could construct the animal sounds into languages [and] [w]e could break down all the … inherited conventions that don’t speak to us. … Tas, don’t you sometimes wonder why for centuries all art, paintings, music, has been produced for the indoors? … I would like to go to a gallery where they make you leave. Take the south door, walk six steps … If you haven’t been in a forest for a long time, stop. Listen. You’d pick up … the occasional drunken shout [but also] some poor bird struggling to have its voice heard … It could be like an undersong to the paintings and alphabets, [Tacita] says. We could take something, like a Stravinsky rhythm, and use that structure to fill it with your pitches … But there should be an element of disturbing rather than completely comforting people. (185–6, emphasis in original)



Yet Ivory begins to fear that even an unsettling multimedia exhibition is not up to the task of capturing these sounds, let alone of staving off their extinction (222–3), and the traumas of war, the disappearance of her lover Lev, and the death of Tacita conspire to push Ivory away from art and toward science. Tellingly, she gives away all her ‘brushes’ at one point (240) and replaces them with ‘enormous headphones’ (150). Escaping across the Atlantic, Ivory starts to think that ‘[r]ecording animal sounds at the art academy was like trying to figure out an answer without knowing the question’ (62). She accordingly decides to embark on a biology degree and inscribe herself in a tradition of outdoor recordists that includes ‘[Ludwig] Koch’ (63). The dictionary mutates into a scientific project, in short, in which ‘anthropomorphiz[ing]’ descriptions (60) are traded in for ‘clean, unfettered observations of sound’ (33). Instead of lyrical notes and dreamlike paintings, this second phase of her life’s work involves scientific listening, ‘spectrographs’ and ‘recording equipment from various eras’ (256), generating not beautiful descriptions but machinic data about wolves and other animals, gathered with monitoring devices: I find one of my field recordings, a labelled gold disc, and press play. Howl and howl in that white silence, a high world of grey skies, hunched and shivering in the wind. Jaws clashing and paws creaking in the snow, whimpering, barking, freezing in the forest … I play the track again, numbered, dated, and hear … the vocalizations that rip and cut and clatter and become graceful, full of focus. It amazes me that after all this time I can hear it as both joy and agony. … It is impossible to get near wolves without distorting the data. These sounds were collected with howl boxes. Devices that record and emit digital calls, broadcast from an eighty-gigabyte computer duct-­ taped to a tree. (33–4)

This second phase of Ivory’s dictionary work seems to mark a decisive break with art and language, though she soon realizes that ‘empirical science’ cannot answer all her questions (149), and she continues to worry over the appropriate medium for her descriptions: ‘How should the listening be translated? As a kind of diary entry? An emotive expression? A reaction? Or is it an act of discovery?’ (150). She worries at the end that she has taken the scientific angle ‘too far’ (306), moreover, and asserts that her dictionary has become ‘almost an art project again’, adding that the aesthetic route may be more appropriate ‘if you have a point to make’ (301)



or want to document ‘the continuous present’ (255). One way to resolve this tension is to conclude that whichever form Ivory’s project takes, the ultimate aim remains unaltered: ‘I didn’t want to paint, or interpret nature, I wanted to record it so that it could be itself’ (302). The highly literary description of the wolf recording already hinted at this parallel between art and science, seeing that it features multiple alliterations (howl and howl, high, hunched, clashing, creaking, cut and clatter) and spends its verbal energy not on categorizing these sounds but on aestheticizing them (they become graceful, full of focus) and stressing their description-resistant quality (hearing them as both joy and agony). These are clearly not, to return to another phrase from the introduction, ‘sonic specimens’. In line with this integrative interpretation, the nonchronological narrative mixes scenes from the project’s two phases throughout the novel, as if to say that both artistic and scientific forms of data equally illuminate animal audio. The tension between lyrical responses and objective data also returns in the mottoes that preface individual chapters and seem to be entries from the dictionary project. The motto for the ‘Whale’ chapter mixes both registers explicitly: ‘Megaptera novaeangliae. Only males sing. Cut out musical lines from a spectrograph, analyze, overlap them over and over again. Identify individual voices in a quartet and write out the score’ (228, emphasis in original). Spanning the entire twentieth century, Sopinka’s novel relates how aesthetic criteria were gradually filtered out of descriptions of animal sounds. But it also implies that such criteria continue to shape our view of the nonhuman world, and that a re-aestheticization of scientific listening establishes urgently needed alliances for a more convivial future. In other words, The Dictionary of Animal Languages opens up a project like Krause’s by taking the metaphor of the ‘orchestra’ seriously and by re-­ aestheticizing expert listening. Its ties with the history of animal sound recordings become even clearer after reading Rachel Mundy’s reconstruction of the career of Laura Boulton, an actual female birdsong collector from the 1930s who found herself on the margins of established science because of gender prejudices (2018, 73–83). For the parallels between these fiction and nonfiction stories are striking indeed. If we examine Sopinka’s novel closely, however, a number of complications emerge. Although the narrative hints at a final reconciliation between art and science, the plot’s end validates complete commitment to art (and, I fear, the male genius of Byronic hero Lev), for the evil administrator planning to shut down Ivory’s sound lab attempts to steal a newly discovered, highly valuable painting of her former lover. This twist suggests that



modern art is ultimately worth more than scientific data, at least in brute financial terms. The suspicion lingers, furthermore, that Ivory’s turn toward science is an attempt to flee from past traumas if not an indirect tribute to the memories of Lev and Tacita, seeing that Ivory’s transcriptions at one point look to her like ‘You you you’ (62), for example, and that Lev’s cries are characterized as ‘[t]he one sound the recorder of sounds refuses to recognize’ (258). Apparently, recording beloved humans is even harder than registering wild voices, however much the latter elude our media. Confusing things further, Ivory explains the aim of her recordings rather ambiguously, and Sopinka follows Krause in privileging the wild acoustics of nonhuman habitats. As far as the dictionary’s purpose is concerned, Ivory fears the recordings of the sound lab will be shamelessly commercialized: ‘Please. Don’t let them use the dictionary to make ring tones for European mobile phone networks, or for relaxation, like that station, bird radio’ (66). However, her own explanation of the project’s rationale sounds quite similar to this supposed worst-case scenario: There is a movement in Japan, I tell her, where people nominate the most beautiful soundscapes. Thousands and thousands of people responded. The way the waves hit a particular shell from a sea creature on a particular beach, they said. The queenly creak from roots to sky that a particular forest of pinewood makes swaying in the wind, they said. And so the association went to listen to each sound, and if they agreed, it would become one of the most beautiful soundscapes in Japan. These places are now protected. They are like heritage sites. If you wanted to build a factory next to one, you would probably have a hard time. They are protecting the environment by using sound democratically. It’s exactly what I want the dictionary to do for animals. (94–5)

Indeed, the rest of the story implies that, for Ivory, the experience of listening to such other-than-human sounds (briefly made present here via the alliteration of ‘queenly creak’) in specific places (the word ‘particular’ returning three times, no less) yields a special form of attunement that engenders a lasting ‘happiness’ (63) or ‘great calm’ (151), ‘incomprehensible moments of well-being … with nothing between you and the moment’ (304)—as in the novel’s final page, which features a remarkable sonic climax (308). In this work, animal sounds and their multimedia descriptions therefore generate something like the serenity mentioned by



Krause, a form of hope that counterbalances the anxious semiotics identified by Whitehouse. I will return to this quasi-therapeutic use of animal sounds (and the associated stereotype of Japanese culture) in the final section, but we should already recognize that it is allied in this novel, as in Krause’s writing, with a bias toward wild creatures and soundscapes. Admittedly, Ivory insists that our view of animal life should be expansive, remarking that ‘people notice the bees and the monarchs because they are iconic insects’ while ignoring equally fragile species (131), that bats are ‘essential to the balance of nature’ despite being ‘one of the most reviled groups of animals on earth’ (160), and that there are also ‘silent languages’ involving pheromones or visual messages—a point I return to in Chap. 4 and the conclusion (144). Yet Sopinka’s novel and its chapter mottoes undeniably foreground birds and mammals, charismatic creatures that inhabit wild forests, Ivory’s favorite habitat. She loves the ‘wilderness’, ‘the larger-than-life forests’ (280), as Tacita says, and Ivory favorably contrasts these wild sites with the city, the novel’s conventional fetishization of modernist Paris notwithstanding: ‘In the forest, sounds last for a long time. In most places there is so much other noise that sounds all end up dying young. Cities are obituaries of sound’ (301). The novel accordingly repeats the traditional motif of the forest as the shadow of civilization, as mapped by Robert Pogue Harrison (1992). In line with this spatial bias, Ivory likes animals but not ‘the petted things’ (26), and the same is true of domesticated sounds. To return to the reindeer project, she recalls listening to animals that sound ordinary but are actually, consolingly wild: ‘Eyes closed, it is the guttural voice of a farm animal, but here, it sounds like comfort to sorrow’ (104). In its preference for wild voices too, Sopinka’s novel reads like a fictional account of Krause’s project. Not to mention that, once again, these wild sites and sounds provide verbal resources to describe the untamed nature of Ivory, Lev, and their life-changing affair. Although the novel emphasizes the value of artistic responses to animal audio, the instrumentalization of these sounds for the symbolical purposes of the novel’s human plot is cause for caution, as it implies that its recording project manifests a reductive, all-too-­comfortable form of ‘humanist posthumanism’ (124), to use Cary Wolfe’s phrase, limiting the bandwidth of its more-than-human soundscape. Unlike the exhibition planned by Ivory and Tacita, this novel and its acoustics turn out to be far from disturbing.



Extinction, Wildlife, Multispecies Fictions As we have seen, recent fiction and nonfiction  texts ‘written with headphones’ offer detailed insights into the contemporary human experience of animal sound, even if the writings of Krause and Sopinka articulate a rather conventional ecological imagination. That is why I will now review recent research on biodiversity culture and extinction discourse before analyzing two additional case studies by Julia Leigh and Marie Kessels, which develop my observations on animal audio and its connotations of variety, anxiety, and serenity in interesting ways. If the first sections of this chapter disclosed how animal noises are recorded in today’s society, paying special attention to wild animals at risk, the insights of literary scholar Ursula Heise and geographer Jamie Lorimer help us to think more critically about wildlife in the twenty-first century by recounting how endangered species are defined, valued, and integrated into stories about our past and future—stories like The Great Animal Orchestra and The Dictionary of Animal Languages. Taking into account classic insights from the environmental humanities— on actor-networks, risk societies, toxic discourse, and the trouble with wilderness—Heise and Lorimer maintain that conservation initiatives designed to safeguard the existence of wild animals should move from the nostalgic defense of purified parks to a future-oriented perspective that is better aligned with the nontraditional ecologies of the Anthropocene. Clarifying the biases we encountered earlier, their research explains how concepts like species, charisma, and biodiversity carve up and manage nonhuman life, and how cultural artifacts representing wild creatures employ distinct narrative templates and affective logics—occasionally mentioning sound and the city, topics that are important for my argument here. What is more, Heise and Lorimer sketch a promising agenda for future research on the cultural meanings of biodiversity by introducing the concepts of ‘multispecies justice’ and ‘wildlife’, respectively, concepts that complicate the conventional imaginaries of writers like Krause and Sopinka, and shine a productive light on the arguably more complex examples I turn to next. Together, these arguments imply that the attempt to memorialize endangered species and salvage precarious soundscapes has value, provided that it goes hand in hand with candid attempts to reimagine biodiversity and the available templates for narrating wildlife now. Both Heise and Lorimer scrutinize current practices and discourses involving wild animals, spotlighting extinction and conservation, respectively. Mapping the cultural meanings of endangered species, Heise’s



Imagining Extinction (2016) summarizes biodiversity science; asks how it is refracted in cultural artifacts from various countries, ranging from novels and toys to songs, photographs, and graphic novels; and alerts us to the fact that even seemingly objective biodiversity databases and related legal frameworks contain traces of cultural biases. The main message of Heise’s book is therefore that even though present-day threats to the environment are real and serious, we should not forget that the science of biodiversity is far from clear-cut, and that topics like extinction are ‘primarily cultural issues, questions of what we value and what stories we tell, and only secondarily issues of science’ (5). As Heise elucidates, the science is complex for several reasons: concepts like ‘species’ and ‘biodiversity’ prove hard to define; the number of species is hard to determine and monitor; tracking species sidelines the importance of populations, habitats, and genes, let alone individual animals; biodiversity debates routinely stress so-called charismatic megafauna, especially mammals and birds (as opposed to fish, insects, and plants), and discount invasive and hybrid species, not to mention the new (sub)species made deliberately or inadvertently by people; and if these last examples prove that the emergence of new species is occasionally seen as bad news, the extinction of some species, conversely, would be cause for celebration rather than concern (just think of Ebola). In short, the tough choices required by the biodiversity crisis are compounded by the fact that even scientists disagree over ‘what a species is, which species are counted, which ones are considered important [and] how local and global species numbers should be compared’ (29). Complicating matters further, people who live in close proximity to dangerous animals like tigers and polar bears experience their presence radically differently from environmental scientists (remember the novel by Ghosh I discussed in the introduction). That is why we should heed the lessons of the environmental justice movement and of multispecies ethnography in studying extinction, Heise concludes: ‘[a]ny approach to what I would like to call multispecies justice, the claims of both human and nonhuman well-being on conservationists’ consideration, … will need to consider not just biological but cultural species—that is, the distinctions that matter for science but also those that matter in cultural taxonomies’ (167, emphasis in original). Turning to the related argument of Jamie Lorimer, his Wildlife in the Anthropocene (2015) rejects nostalgic views of conservation, which endeavor ‘to preserve a fixed Nature from modern, urban, and industrial Society by enclosing it in National Parks’ (5), and outlines an alternative ontology of ‘wildlife’ to open our eyes (and ears) to the fact that a



discordant and mundane wildlife ‘lives among us’ in ways that expose the active entanglement of nonhuman creatures with human history (7) and discredit the dominant, static view of biodiversity, in which nonhuman difference seems frozen in time, reduced to the composition of life at one point in history. In terms that resonate with Timothy Morton’s wellknown argument from Ecology without Nature (2007), Lorimer’s basic point is consequently that ‘[i]t is no good thinking of wildlife out there. We must start living well with wildlife in here’ (180). This should not be taken to mean that wildlife does not need conservation, or administration, or technology, he clarifies, but that its biopolitical management should be framed as a rich ‘cosmopolitics’, which is ‘premised on the flourishing of multispecies difference’ (14) and relinquishes the backward-looking impulse of so-called rewilding projects with the future-oriented strategy of what he names ‘wilding’ instead (190). Although his alternative model productively rethinks conservation, Lorimer warns us about its potential misuse, admitting that there are unsettling parallels between attempts to rethink Nature along more fluid lines and the ongoing commodification of the environment, as in ecotourism and ‘bioprospecting’ (192): ‘[i]f a fixed Nature is required for authoritarian modes of conservation premised on centralized state power, so a fluid, individualistic, and fungible nature is necessary for neoliberalism’ (191). While urging us to reimagine biodiversity in terms of multispecies justice and ‘wilding’ projects, Heise and Lorimer also highlight urban spaces and hybrid environments, and draw attention to the fact that some forms of wildlife thrive amid densely populated cities, as is illustrated by the dynamic, unaesthetic ecologies of abandoned urban sites (Lorimer 166) and Los Angeles’s feral cat population (Heise 128). Wildlife is all around us, in sum, and the management of animal species should take into account their cultural meanings, which can differ markedly among human communities. Apart from explaining how nonhuman lives are framed by biodiversity science and conservation practices, Lorimer and Heise pinpoint related framing mechanisms in literary texts and other media. As the former notes, humans usually overlook the ‘multiplicity’ of wildlife by privileging certain species over others (185). To explain this bias, he disentangles distinct components of the ‘charisma’ mentioned by Heise as well as different representational strategies in wildlife media. We tend to focus on certain species because of their ‘ecological charisma’, Lorimer says, seeing that some creatures can be perceived easily by humans equipped with eyes and ears—and with prosthetic devices like ‘radio tracker[s]’ and ‘tagging



technologies’ (44). They are easy to spot because of ‘aural characteristics such as the presence or absence of a noise, call, or song, and the frequency and magnitude of this sound’, for example (42). Another reason why humans are drawn to particular species is their ‘aesthetic charisma’, a phrase for the fact that animals of certain species can be anthropomorphized effortlessly because they have ‘faces and a bifocal gaze’, for instance, or ‘display a form of reciprocity to human action’ (47)—features that are less apparent in creatures low on aesthetic charisma, such as insects, who have alien anatomies, are hard to individualize, and rarely react to human presence. Species that possess sufficient ecological and aesthetic charisma are prominent in wildlife media, Lorimer continues, which often mobilize sound and one of four ‘affective logics’ (124). The first two logics are sentimentality and sympathy. The logic of sentimentality, as found in cartoons, is apparent in clichéd images of individualized animals, in close-ups that foreground their quasi-human anatomies, and in ‘familiar sonic landscape[s]’ that aim for a ‘tear-jerking, heartwarming, and teeth-grinding’ effect (126). The logic of sympathy is typical of wildlife and animal rights documentaries, which acknowledge nonhuman alterity but also stress emotions common to humans and animals—though Lorimer notes how one documentary hints at true alterity via the inclusion of elephant calls that resist description: ‘supposed shrieks of pleasure sound like pain, while distant seismic rumbles interfere, making the hair stand up on the back of your neck’ (129). I will return to sentiment and sympathy in the next chapter. More important here are the logics of awe and curiosity. Animal representations evoke awe, Lorimer asserts, not by anthropomorphizing charismatic animals but by stressing ‘the overwhelming size, power, and alterity of nature to provoke admiration, reverence, and fear’ (131). Cultural artifacts of this type abandon close-ups of individuals and families for a panoramic perspective on large-scale ecological processes that is frequently reinforced with impressive orchestral soundtracks. Obviously, these rhetorical techniques consecrate the sublime exotic wilderness at the expense of more mundane wildlife. By contrast, the final logic of curiosity does not involve human-like bodies or sublime habitats, but the lives of less charismatic creatures and playful ‘cross-species encounters with mundane nonhumans in unromantic, quotidian places’ (135). Like Lorimer, I believe that this is the most promising strategy, seeing that it takes animal alterity seriously without transforming other creatures into spectacular enigmas disconnected from everyday life. Summarizing: humans are drawn to creatures that are



perceived and anthropomorphized easily, and our cultural artifacts represent such charismatic species to incite emotion, sympathy, and awe, or call attention to less obvious creatures to evoke curiosity. Lorimer’s argument alerts us to the fact that our habitual response to nonhuman animals is shaped by the parameters of ecological charisma. An in-depth analysis of animal sound should therefore widen its reach beyond creatures that humans can hear easily. This explains why my book adopts an expansive view of sound, and even moves beyond the aural on occasion, as in Chaps. 4 and 5. Returning to the writings of Krause and Sopinka, the recordings they mention and mimic are designed to inspire awe, you might say, by privileging exotic wildlife, its inhospitable habitats, and its sublime, description-resistant vocalizations. Like Lorimer, Heise interprets cultural artifacts in light of her broader claims on behalf of multispecies justice. And not unlike Lorimer’s analysis of charisma, she begins by noting that people are more concerned about some animals than others, privileging endangered frogs over an unknown fungus, for instance (36). As she puts it, stories and images about extinction typically employ the rhetorical figure of ‘synecdoche’—in which parts stand in for a larger whole—as when biodiversity is reduced to the fate of a single species like the polar bear (32). Heise also insists that many of these cultural responses are less concerned with nonhuman life than with human culture, as ‘biological crisis typically becomes a proxy for cultural concerns: worries about the future of nature [alongside] hopes that a part of one’s national identity and culture might be … changed for the better if an endangered species could be allowed to survive or an extinct one could be rediscovered’ (49). What is more, she agrees with Lorimer that some cultural responses exacerbate rather than alleviate the problem. Reflecting critically on ‘the almost compulsive urge to keep writing, filming, photographing, and painting the species we have lost’ (229), an urge which became prominent after the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, Heise concludes that most of these artifacts follow the same dubious script: Many of the books, essays, and films tell personal and moving stories about … how encounters with this or that majestic … or pitiful animal triggered an emotion and a concern that turned into the vocation to fight on its behalf; how journeys around the globe revealed the magnitude of the crisis and what difficulties emerged in the attempt to mitigate it. … Such stories are both galvanizing and problematic: the nostalgia they generate has often successfully mobilized support for conservation and for critiques



of modernization, even as it has made the understanding of ecosystem functioning more difficult and forward-looking perspectives more inaccessible. (4, 14)

The dominant narrative about biodiversity is a nostalgic story of nature’s inevitable decline, which appeals to readers ‘through the lament, melancholy, and mourning that are characteristic of elegy [and] tragedy’ (34). Usually devoted to a single species like the dodo or passenger pigeon, this narrative template extends human sympathy across the species boundary, and it enables critical reflection on ‘turning points of cultural history’ that are related to ‘histories of modernization and colonization’ (48). But this pessimistic mode remains oriented toward the past and favors species that can easily be individualized and function as noble heroes because of their perceived beauty or majesty—that exhibit ecological and aesthetic charisma, in Lorimer’s terminology. This elegiac format is exemplified by Lee Hyla’s 2000 composition about the ivory-billed woodpecker, which integrates human music and existing recordings of the animal’s calls from the 1930s in order, as Heise puts it, ‘at least acoustically to reach beyond extinction’ (41). This argument sheds further light on The Great Animal Orchestra and The Dictionary of Animal Languages, for the recordings of Krause and Ivory do not just inspire acoustic awe, but their anxious listening and tragic narratives illustrate the backward-looking template of elegy too. Trying to demystify this dominant formula, Heise identifies four alternative narrative templates, which are less frequent but promise to break out of this conventional, pessimistic mold. One alternative is the genre of comedy, which she considers helpful, not because it makes light of real problems, but because it promotes a future-oriented imagination, which stresses ‘regeneration, the passage from one generation to the next, and … playful behavior’ (50) and displays ‘an essentially comic awareness of the contingent events, habits, and bodies it took to produce both humans and nonhumans in their present forms’ (53). Here, nonhuman creatures appear not as tragic and beautiful heroes but as quirky experimenters. Another alternative to the elegy is the epic, Heise argues, for as official biodiversity databases and the ‘database aesthetic’ of novels by Margaret Atwood and Lydia Millet indicate (59), enumerative forms helpfully reorient our focus from local stories about individual species to global ‘travelogue[s]’ (55) and ‘collage[s]’ (80) that function like ‘a contemporary form of ecological epic’ (15). Heise also draws attention to



postcolonial stories, as they negotiate ‘conflicting perspectives’ and articulate ‘how nonhuman nature reaches human perception through filters that vary according to culture, community, and individual’ (178), as in stories about endangered gorillas, tigers, and dolphins, like The Hungry Tide. Even more explicitly, she praises science fiction or ‘speculative fiction’ (215), as it explores the future rather than the past via ‘broader scenarios of terraforming’ (212). These are useful thought experiments for a time when environmentalism is no longer preoccupied with the wilderness but with ‘a view of nature as globally domesticated in the framework of the Anthropocene’ (133), seeing that we now live in a world of truly frightening responsibility, ‘in which the survival of all species is directly or indirectly dependent on human action’ (160, emphasis in original). These non-elegiac templates are also connected, Heise’s account suggests, seeing that science fiction ‘complements the database as another form of contemporary epic storytelling’ (215), and that its experiments with nonhuman scale fit into what Mark McGurl calls ‘the posthuman comedy’, a view of human life in the cosmos that is, in Heise’s summary, ‘comedic … in the sense of not taking humans’ grandeur or exceptionality very seriously’ (227). Accordingly, the best ‘multispecies fictions’ seem to integrate features of comedy, database, speculative fiction, and postcolonial writing to counteract the prevalent mood of elegy and tragedy (202). Many creative combinations are possible here; the writings of Krause and Sopinka can be described as a mixture of elegy and database, for instance, given their global inventories of endangered sounds. But it is also clear that their work does not display the playful curiosity embraced by Lorimer or the multispecies comedy delineated by Heise. If we want to grasp the nonhuman soundscapes of recent novels written with headphones, this research suggests, we should ask ourselves how they are shaped by cultural filters like awe and elegy, curiosity and comedy. How do contemporary novels leverage sonic charisma for their narrative and affective ends? To answer that question, let us now consider two more complex examples and their multispecies soundscapes.

Sonic Awe and Sonic Curiosity If the previous sections inspected recent fictional and nonfictional recording projects as well as cultural research on biodiversity and conservation, I will now apply the resulting insights about anxious semiotics, headphone writing, mundane wildlife, and extinction fiction to two novels that further refine our understanding of twenty-first-century animal acoustics. As



we have learned, elegy and awe are omnipresent in contemporary culture but dubious for the reasons explained by Heise and Lorimer. One way to develop these claims would be to examine the role of animal sounds in comic novels. A good example would be Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper (2014), a celebrated debut novel about a young American woman living abroad in Europe, her amorous and environmental exploits, and her deadpan observations about love, work, birding, and hydroelectric dams. Crucial for my purposes is that this novel chooses not to fetishize endangered species and their elusive cries, but offers a tragicomic account of the weird ways in which some species survive against the odds. Such an ironic perspective is necessary, a character ponders, because ‘if you’re into wild birds and their lives in the wild, you can’t think of the danger they’re always facing as a threat. As darkness. You just can’t’ (141). Which is why the novel directs us to species and sounds whose quirky character resists elegiac, aestheticizing templates: ‘Breeding and feeding’, Stephen called [the] lifestyle [of wallcreepers], making them sound like sex-obsessed gluttons (that is, human beings) instead of the light-as-air seasonal orgiasts they were in reality—ludicrously tragic animals, always fleeing the slightest hint of bad weather in a panic, yelling for months on end to defend territories the size of a handball court, having brief, nerdy sex and laying clutch after clutch of eggs for predators … You know how Rudi  [a wallcreeper the characters nurse back to health] was always flicking his wings? That’s because it’s so loud next to these alpine streams nobody can hear him yelling. He was using his wings to say ‘Get off my property’. But if he says it too much, his whole camouflage is out the window. It’s a fine line. (13, 54, emphasis added)

While this tragicomic novel merits further attention, I examine two other examples in what follows, as their complex soundscapes allow us to reflect more critically on the anxious semiotics that is such a prominent feature of our current experience of wild sounds, be that in the wild or in the city. The first case demonstrates that stories of extinction and the nonhuman wild can be considerably more complex than they initially appear, and the second offers a remarkably hopeful and hybrid account of sound pollution in the city. In both cases, I will argue, the sonic awe we encountered at the start of this chapter is ultimately traded in for sonic curiosity. This section focuses on the first example, The Hunter, which is the debut novel of Australian writer and film director Julia Leigh, a work that



was nominated for various literary prizes and has been adapted to a film starring Willem Dafoe as well. The novel narrates the tragic story of a professional hunter who is tasked by his employer, an international biotech company, to locate a Tasmanian tiger sighted in the wild, a highly rare and therefore valuable creature seeing that the last known specimen died in a zoo in 1936 and  the species was officially declared extinct in the 1980s. Masquerading as an environmental researcher, the protagonist is gradually drawn to his elusive quarry as well as to the family of a missing zoologist who live close to the tiger’s habitat, but these emerging human and nonhuman ties are brusquely severed at the end, when the family violently disintegrates and relocates, and the desensitized hunter finds and shoots the thylacine before harvesting her blood, hair, and organs. Interesting for my purposes is that this story closes with a description of the tiger’s enigmatic vocalization, which was never captured on tape and therefore has to be speculatively reconstructed in Leigh’s writing, not unlike Krause’s work with the hadrosaur, in an attempt to acoustically reach beyond extinction, as Heise puts it in a related context. Because of its climactic use of the tiger’s sonic charisma, this novel offers a striking version of the anxiety-laden narratives Whitehouse and Heise deem typical of the current moment. But if we listen closely to its elegiac soundscape, as attentive reader-listeners, a picture emerges that is considerably more nuanced than the secondary literature about Leigh and extinction elegies implies. This multi-layered novel rewards attention on various levels and has been analyzed by other critics since I discussed it last (De Bruyn 2016). As is pointed out in the existing literature, the novel complicates the human-­ animal boundary, most explicitly by establishing strong parallels between the human hunter and the elusive tiger. In a recent in-depth analysis, David Herman has compared the novel and film versions. He concludes that both stories reframe ‘the idea of family itself … as more than human in nature’ (12), but also notes how ‘in tracing through the moment-to-­moment modulations in M’s attitude toward the creature that emerges as his interlocutor more than his target … Leigh’s text, as compared with Nettheim’s adaptation, arguably engages in a more critical and reflexive way with the ontological assumptions that support dichotomizing and hierarchical understandings of human-animal relationships’ (21). Highlighting narratological questions about ‘thought presentation’ (19), Herman details how the story weaves in and out of the hunter’s memories and fantasies, which include projections of the tiger’s nonhuman mind. This analysis can be



enriched, we will see, if we map the novel’s use of sound and its representation of ecology instead of psychology. In her turn, Ursula Heise reads the book as an example of the extinction elegy. History repeats itself in the novel, she observes, for Leigh’s story recounts how surviving thylacines would likely be killed off, much like their ancestors, which were considered a threat to sheep and deliberately exterminated. Like similar narratives, this ‘elegy’ for the thylacine (Heise 46) hence invites us to rethink ‘[q]uestions of historical transition, of modernization, and of national and ethnic identity’ (45)—including the history of colonialism and human expansion, as is shown by a passage from the novel that juxtaposes the fates of the thylacine and the ‘local Aboriginal people’ (Leigh 57). There are additional reasons why The Hunter is a typical extinction story, Heise’s book suggests, including the fact that it involves so-called ghost species sightings (38), features a typical ‘charismatic mammalian predato[r]’ (240), and imagines this ‘last of the species’ to be female, leading to ‘well-worn elegiac tropes of the bereaved mother and wife, as well as that of the elderly lady with health problems’ (38). Though this is not my main focus here, we can refine this argument by noting that Leigh’s novel is not just concerned with the past, and with the national identity of Australia and Tasmania. For the story implies that the history of this region is but one episode in a much larger narrative, in which the global commons that is wildlife is secretly privatized for the ends of multinational capitalism, seeing that the hunter works for a ‘biotech multinational’ (25) that may direct him to ‘Indonesia, Hawaii, Galapagos’ next (94). The Hunter’s reflections on extinction and national identity are hence overlaid on a plot about global bioprospecting and what Cori Hayden calls ‘extractive colonialism’ (185). Apart from superimposing regional and global perspectives, the novel adds future-oriented moments to its nostalgic vision—though this hardly inspires optimism. In a brief science-fiction-like passage, the hunter imagines how his employers may use the material harvested from the animal to resurrect the species in a future de-extinction project (166). This animal is coveted in the fictional world because, by studying a museum specimen, ‘developers of biological weapons were able to model a genetic picture of the thylacine, a picture so beautiful, so heavenly, that it was capable of winning a thousand wars’ (40). Via this projected weaponization of the creature, the narrative reiterates the conventional view of the tiger as a fierce predator and strengthens the tie between the creature and the hunter, who is an ‘ex-soldier’ (25). It also places Leigh’s story in the context of the so-called Thanatocene—a topic I discuss at length in Chap. 6.



But my main focus here is the novel’s handling of sound, a topic that has not received much attention in the existing literature, which concentrates mainly on the hunter, the plagued family he is drawn to, and the all-but-extinct thylacine. And it cannot be denied that the stories of the tiger and the hunter are decisive, and crucial to the novel’s soundscape. As I have mentioned, The Hunter intermittently refers to the mythical thylacine, gradually preparing us for the climactic scene at the end where we finally see and hear the actual animal, and this scene can be linked to three central human characters too. From the novel’s beginning, when we enter ‘Tiger Town’, as a highway sign puts it (3), the reader is fed snippets of historical information and popular mythology related to the thylacine, slowly creating the aura of tragedy and cultural transformation characteristic of extinction narratives. Many of these passages involving second-­ hand information stress the remarkable anatomy of ‘the “tyger”, that monster whose fabulous jaw gaped open at 120 degrees’ (16), and can kill other creatures ‘with one snap of her awful gaping jaw’ (38)—‘a wide-­ open jaw’ that is featured prominently on a drawing (77) and proves central to a legendary story about the tiger’s courage in confronting ‘a giant kangaroo’ (78). The novel reinforces this mythical picture by portraying the hunted creature as the most elusive prey the protagonist has ever pursued and as a prized military asset because of its unique biological makeup. Adding to the suspense, the hunter at one point manages to identify a print of the last remaining specimen (92) and seems to perceive or at least hallucinate the animal, which remains a vague presence, when he is recovering from a fall (96). When we finally hear and see the tiger—‘A little later he hears something, but can’t distinguish what it is’ (119) and afterwards ‘a luminous shape cuts in front of him’ (120)—it quickly escapes, moreover, cutting short the hunt and leaving both hunter and reader frustrated about their brief encounter with this charismatic creature and its fascinating audiovisual spectacle. These scenes prepare us for the novel’s climax, when the hunter locates the animal a second time and the text enables us to gaze at and listen to the resurrected thylacine one last time: Crossing the threshold into consciousness he realises that he is hearing something—a rustling outside, movement. … The thylacine is sunning ­herself on a slab of rock … M watches, fascinated. … His heart thumps inside his chest and he makes an effort to take slow measured breaths. Then snap, suddenly she is staring straight at him, eyes wide, and he watches as her



cavernous jaw cleaves open and he listens to an unholy strangled hissing roar. He shoots as soon she starts to leap … And that is it. … Drawing close he can hear her wheezing, see her shudder intermittently. … Ancient words which might once have helped him … are long lost … so he says, whispers, the best he can think of, which is—simply—you won’t die alone. (161–4)

Though it accentuates the animal’s visual appearance too, this passage foregrounds the creature’s lost vocalization, describing it in rich, alliterative prose (snap, suddenly, she, staring, straight, strangled, cavernous, cleaves) and paradoxical detail, as if to suggest that this sublime sound finally resists human words altogether—and should therefore evoke sonic awe in the reader. Having heard about this jaw time and again in the preceding pages, the reader now finally sees it open and hears the tiger’s ‘unholy strangled hissing roar’, a high-definition sound effect that touches the hunter—and, potentially, the reader—who momentarily appears like Bernie Krause or Ivory Frame, even though M wears no headphones. In line with its mythical reputation, this wild animal possesses considerable sonic charisma in Leigh’s portrayal. As other scenes in the novel indicate, this enigmatic vocalization is used to strengthen the symbolical ties between the novel’s humans and nonhumans, and their tragic fates. When the wife of the deceased zoologist fears that her children have disappeared, she begins to cry and ‘makes the same ungodly noises he imagines she would make if she were being strangled’ (88). When the hunter discovers that the family he has grown fond of has abruptly disappeared, similarly, he feels that ‘[h]e can dislocate his jaw and fill the universe with a stone-grey roar’ (135). That the elegiac narrative of the hunt can be linked to the tragic story of this family is further underlined, finally, by a scene where the hunter thinks he hears a wallaby or park ranger before realizing that he is being followed by the young boy, whom he first tries to scare off but then begins to console after the child starts crying. He reflects: ‘How tiny he is, and how warm. “Shhh, it’s OK … it’s OK now” … He holds the boy to his chest and feels the little shoulder blades rise and fall, until finally … the breath modulates, settles down’ (110). Coming right after a scene where the hunter’s ‘hearing is vivified’ (108), the reader is primed to pay attention to this description of the boy’s breathing, which settles down after M has startled him—making it similar to the second part of the climactic scene with the tiger, where the hunter tries to reassure the frightened creature with her ragged breath, whom he likewise surprised violently. The novel’s multiple references to attentive



listening seem to confirm its existing interpretations: The Hunter tells an elegiac story about species extinction, the violent pasts and futures of human empire, and the disintegration of affection in an emerging family that seemed to encompass nonhuman ties too, while stressing the mythical ferocity and sonic charisma of the elusive Tasmanian tiger. Yet even this richer account disregards the other humans and animals who roam the thylacine’s habitat. If it is true that the novel utilizes the tiger’s nonhuman charisma for the story’s elegiac purposes, it also nuances this conventional picture by indicating that its wild setting is both more domesticated and more diverse in terms of wildlife than is implied by the hunter’s mission and the novel’s existing analyses, which only have eyes (and ears) for the tiger. At first blush, the scenes set on the Tasmanian plateau evoke a picture of the nonhuman wild in all its sensory glory. Searching for the tiger, the hunter ‘squeezes … onto the springy orange-­tinted coral fern, side-stepping … moss pincushions so green they are almost phosphorescent’ (46). This is a wild, prehistoric terrain that prompts fantasies akin to the beginning of The Great Animal Orchestra, transporting us back ‘some 20,000 years ago’: ‘What must the plateau have been like before? Ragged and jagged, teeming with animals, giant fauna now extinct’ (30). Yet the hunter relies on high-tech equipment to complete his mission, handling ‘beautiful traps’ (56), a rifle ‘laid out like jewellery in a titanium box’ (25), and ‘satellite-generated … physiographic maps (how beautiful they are)’ (29)—in contrast to the thylacine, who, through a ‘fabulous combination of the senses’, can ‘navigate without a map’ (156). These beautiful prostheses imply that we should not accept at face value M’s fantasies about his all-seeing ‘god-eye’ (38)—which recall the ‘extractive view’  I mentioned in the introduction—and about being ‘the natural man, the man who can see and hear and smell what other men cannot’ (58). Just like his attunement to the wild is made possible by technology, the environment the hunter finds himself in is not the wilderness devoid of human life he likes to imagine. During his walks, he stumbles across a ‘collapsed trapper’s hut’ (102), recognizes one of the ‘plastic strips’ he left behind to mark the location of a trap (119), locates what appear to be the ‘bones’ of the lost zoologist (114), and discovers several sets of boot prints made by bushwalkers who have disabled one of his snares and added a short note saying ‘FUCK YOU’ (70). Even in this inhospitable landscape, the hunter is not ‘alone’ (71, 146) but finds himself in what Matt Cohen calls the ‘networked wilderness’, a place that turns out to be filled with signs and media like traps, which tell their setters ‘about local populations



or movements otherwise unknown or invisible’ (4). M even encounters a high-tech device: Up ahead lies a black wooden box … which is capped with an overhanging … black PVC shield. [The hunter] tosses … rocks at [the bait and]— Flash! Click-cliccck whirrrr. … He avoids the infra-red trip-beam and inspects the box. Inside nestles a camera equipped with a motor-drive attachment and a bulk film magazine [and] on the underside of the box is a small plastic plaque identifying it as the property of National Parks, serial number 303A. These batteries, he knows, need to be recharged every twelve days, and he calculates that … he need not expect immediate company. He looks for signs of his new rivals and finds plenty. (149)

Pointing toward large-scale monitoring rather than individual encounters, this is just one of many scenes which imply that this supposedly untouched prehistorical plateau is visited frequently and managed systematically by humans, especially the National Parks rangers who had been searching the tiger before, were now the first to find the animal’s print (36), desire to tag this rare creature (140), and might be converging on the area the hunter is exploring at the end (158). This means that the hunter has to stay alert and worry about drawing the attention of these other humans (47, 109, 143, 161), who appear out of nowhere in the novel’s final scene (167). Nor is this camera trap the only loud machine used by these managers of the wild, as is indicated by a scene involving yet another enigmatic sound: [While M sleeps a] noise, … barely audible, floats by and because it is an unfamiliar sound his guard rallies, tries to decipher and, having failed to crack the code, reaches deep inside to shake his charge awake. What’s that? … A noise made by a machine: high-pitched, insistent. … he tries to pinpoint the source of the mystery sound. If I were a thylacine, he thinks, it would read like a neon billboard. In the end it is not his aural sensitivity which guides him, but his reasoning: … the [rangers] are camped in the east, ergo the sound came from the boys’ camp. Ah! A satellite communications system! (154)

If the hunter navigates this landscape with the help of technological artifacts like satellite photos, these rangers likewise wield all sorts of devices for communication and monitoring purposes, revealing a wilderness that is ‘wired’, to use Etienne Benson’s term (2010), rather than pristine and nonhuman. Granted, the novel implies that the rangers are not committed



to the search and might even refuse to ‘tag’ the tiger if they found it, as they would prefer to help it escape instead (155)—which suggests that they agree with those who feel that procedures like radio-tagging diminish by definition ‘the dignity of the wild creature’ (Heise 151). On top of that, the story underscores the superior abilities and commitment of the hunter, who finds the thylacine first. Yet the technological infrastructure of the rangers remains decisive, as their sighting prompts the company to send the hunter in the first place and he only manages to find the animal after the search of the rangers points him in the right direction (154–5). If the plateau appears like a truly nonhuman wilderness, in short, a closer look at the novel reveals that this setting is frequently visited by humans and is mapped, managed, and monitored by their occasionally loud devices. Consequently, Leigh’s narrative paints a picture of the contemporary wilderness that corresponds with the arguments of Heise and Lorimer, and with the research of Irus Braverman, which makes clear that the boundary between wild and captive animals, conservation ex situ and in situ, is much harder to draw than we imagine. To quote one of the wildlife professionals Braverman interviewed: ‘Everything is managed’ (ix). Another important observation is that, like M, most commentators have concentrated on the thylacine. Yet the arguments mentioned earlier encourage us to notice the other actors and sounds of this habitat too. As the hunt takes exceptionally long, the protagonist notes at one point, disheartened, that the tiger is to be found ‘nowhere, nowhere’ (75). Yet he encounters other species everywhere, regularly enumerating various creatures in one go, as if to paint a quick picture of the setting’s broader fauna. It takes the hunter a long time to find a tiger print (92), but he notices numerous others, ‘mostly the deep two-toed wallaby spoor, … or scurrying devil spoor, or the occasional shuffling wombat’ (37). He witnesses how some species retire for the night—‘the flies, the snakes, the birds’ (117)—and observes ‘the animal traffic’ at dusk (148). This expansive ecological perspective takes a grim turn when the hunter checks the traps set for the tiger and discovers instead ‘wallaby, pademelon, native cat’ (58), ‘two wallabies, a currawong, a brush-tailed possum, a pademelon’ (143), and a ‘frozen menagerie’ consisting of ‘pademelons, wallabies (again, more wallabies), devils, native cats, two barred bandicoots, a feral cat, a shiny black currawong and, in one trap, a squat young wombat’ (69). As the wry reference to ‘more wallabies’ indicates, the deaths of these more bountiful creatures inspires a perspective that is closer to tragicomedy in Heise’s sense than to



elegy pure and simple, and that counteracts the use of synecdoche by reminding us of the other presences in this ecosystem. If we attend closely to the story’s background, wallabies and Tasmanian devils seem particularly important. Wallaby droppings prove easy to spot, the hunter occasionally shoots and eats these small kangaroos, and he notices their sounds too; he ‘hears a crashing to his right and quickly turns to spy a wallaby disappearing up into the scrub’ (32), detects ‘a scuffle’ that turns out to be a ‘[a]nother wallaby’ (68), ‘hears the thud-­thud of a wallaby’ (82), and once scares off a pair of these creatures with ‘loud yells’ (52). The same seems to be true of Tasmanian devils; if the tiger appears to be nowhere, the missing zoologist told his children that ‘[d]evils are everywhere’ (43), these ‘shameless scavengers’ (55) who can make a lot of ‘noise’ (113) but do not disturb the hunter when one of them ‘snorts and grunts’ in the night (146). Yet in real life, interestingly, these creatures started facing their own problems around the time Leigh’s novel was published, seeing that their numbers started to decline because of ‘devil facial tumor disease’, as Braverman explains (213–19). Indeed, these problems shed light on the hunter’s cover story, which is that he is visiting the plateau to carry out research on the Tasmanian devil, urgently needed then and now. So if it is true, as Thom van Dooren has argued, ‘that extinction is never a sharp, singular event’ (12) but a ‘dull edge’, a ‘prolonged and ongoing process of change and loss’ (58, emphasis in original), Leigh’s novel is an extinction narrative not only or even primarily because of its evocation of the sublime, isolated tiger, but because of its allusions to the continuing struggles of these more mundane creatures. In recent years, I should add, some Tasmanian devils appear to have developed an immune response to this disease (Timmins). But the fact remains that it had a devastating impact on these creatures, which continue to face multiple challenges. If read closely, in other words, The Hunter may be taken to suggest that less spectacular forms of endangerment and of animal acoustics deserve our attention too. In listing these traces of other animals, the novel subtly alerts us to a broader ecology of creatures and a more inclusive, multispecies soundscape. Instead of asking us to listen, simply, to one individual animal that will incite sonic awe, the novel plays these rare sounds off against the more mundane noises of larger populations of animals, which create an effect that is closer to curiosity. Whereas the tiger’s single roar calls for attentive, fine-grained listening, the noises of devils and wallabies require a more macroscopic mode of audition that is closer to the scientific monitoring projects described by Vallee. Asking us to toggle between these two types of sound in the story’s foreground and background, the novel offers two



sonic tracks simultaneously, in other words, inviting a form of what you might call ‘binaural’ reading. This is not the perspective of the hunter, clearly, for M may admit that ‘all animals are … mysteries and not puzzles which can be worked out’ (154–5), but he also believes that other creatures pale in comparison to the tiger, who would respond nobly to captivity: The missing trap puzzles him and, while he cannot be sure, he decides it is most likely that a ferocious devil, summoning the powers of good and evil, has managed to rip the retaining spike out of the ground. They were furious snorting grunting things, those devils, and never gave up without a fight. Not like the tiger. When the tiger was trapped it let itself go. Some trappers said they died of shock, but [others argued that] the tiger was a noble beast who refused to suffer the indignity of capture. (81)

In suggesting that this rare and noble predator differs sharply from these plentiful, persistent scavengers, such passages install a categorical border between the thylacine and less noble, charismatic animals. Another scene continues the theme, emphasizing sound further: [H]e is woken by a desperate high-pitched keening … He is not excited, no tiger has ever been known to make such a racket. ‘Yip, yip, yip, like a dog, a terrier’, reported one Samuel Riley in 1812, when asked by an English reporter to describe the fabled Tasmanian tiger’s roar. Strange, that an animal with such a monstrous gaping jaw should possess so feeble a voice. Exotic! Said the newspaper. … On his approach the keening grows louder, more frantic, and soon he has the animal in sight: a native cat, caught by one foot, thrashing around in the dark. … For another few minutes he watches this aerial display, now deaf to the ungodly wails … [He shoots the animal and] [h]ardly looking at the corpse, he swings it into the scrub. (53–4)

Focalized through the hunter, such scenes pit the quasi-extinct tiger against all other animals, as the former does not accept capture and has a unique, enigmatic vocalization that markedly contrasts with the dissonant whine of uninteresting animals, who merit neither burial in the fictional world nor elaborate individualization or memorialization in the novel. In recording their sounds, there is no need for paradox, halting descriptions, or stylistic pyrotechnics. The hunter may notice other animals, but the dying thylacine ‘is more than an animal to him, more than a wallaby or pademelon, and he observes her body as he would the body of a friend laid



out in the morgue’ (164)—which explains why he has no qualms about eating wallabies but immediately dismisses the thought of eating thylacine meat (147). If the hunter rejects the image of the sick tiger, and retrieves its uniquely potent organs, moreover, his careful diagnosis of wallaby meat and organs (144) proves that these other animals are not immune to disease but are fragile creatures, who inhabit dark ecologies, to use Timothy Morton’s phrase, rather than a healthy, pastoral wilderness. These remarks show that Leigh’s novel sketches a picture of the Tasmanian wilderness that is both more domesticated and more diverse in terms of wildlife than the hunter’s—and the secondary literature’s—predominant focus on the last remaining tiger leads us to believe. If we look beyond the novel’s elegiac story about the tiger, the hunter, and the plagued family, and truly open our ears, we find glimpses of a setting and a soundscape that are more complex than they appear. This environment is in the process of ‘wilding’ rather than rewilding, invites sonic curiosity alongside sonic awe, and tasks readers with what I have called binaural reading. What this novel allows us to see, in other words, is that we as humans and readers are so obsessed with rare, elusive specimens of charismatic species that we routinely overlook the presence of more everyday animal populations, sets of backgrounded and deindividualized creatures whose lives may nevertheless be more central to the habitats envisioned in the stories we read. Subtly undermining such prejudices, The Hunter hints at an alternative narrative, which offers an almost literal illustration of the type of plot required in our troubling times, according to Donna Haraway: ‘stories with room for the hunter but which weren’t and aren’t about him’ (40).

Music for Airports The novels by Heidi Sopinka and Julia Leigh have shown that recent fiction participates in the global recording project outlined by Bernie Krause as well as the biodiversity debates contemplated by Ursula Heise and Jamie Lorimer. These literary evocations of wildlife audio follow Krause in highlighting sound and listening, but they also complicate his project by imagining artistic or more-than-scientific representations of nonhuman audio and by hinting at more expansive, hybrid conceptions of wild habitats and their undomesticated sounds. Yet both Sopinka’s historical novel and Leigh’s adventure story remain preoccupied with non-urban settings, and partly repeat the elegiac template and affective logic of awe identified by



Heise and Lorimer—even if The Dictionary of Animal Languages also exhibits a database logic, and The Hunter contains traces of curiosity and of postcolonial as well as speculative fiction. But as recent theories of wildlife imply, we should not overlook urban environments and non-elegiac templates if we want to comprehend today’s impure ecologies and their multispecies acoustics. Furthermore, I have suggested that contemporary listeners and writers do not only associate animal sounds with anxiety and extinction, but also experience them as soothing antidotes to urban noise. That is why this chapter concludes with an analysis of Marie Kessels’s Roaring (Brullen, 2015), a novel that reflects on sound pollution in ways that resonate with my previous account of sound recording, nonhuman audio, and contemporary wildlife. Kessels’s novel continues a long tradition of literary writing about urban cacophony, which has been studied by scholars like Aimée Boutin, Philipp Schweighauser, and John Picker. But I am more interested here in the novel’s non-tragic confrontation of stress-inducing noise and soothing ambient soundscapes, seeing that the idea of serenity seems central not just to the story by Kessels but also to our experience of nonhuman voices. To grasp this aspect of the novel’s soundscape, we should first take a slight detour and consider so-called therapeutic discourse. My starting point is Paul Roquet’s analysis of the ‘aesthetics of calm’ in Japanese culture and of ‘ambient literature’ (87). Obviously, this argument concerns a literature and a context that are different from the ones I am focusing on in this section and even this book (though you might recall that Sopinka alludes to the stereotype of Japanese calm). Roquet is interested in so-called iyashi culture, a phrase that captures how ‘forms of transposable calm emerged in Japan in the mid-1990s as marketable commodities’ (88), generating a diverse set of products premised on the idea of ‘mood regulation’ (89), which were welcome palliatives in the wake of two traumatic events in postwar Japanese society, namely the Kobe earthquake and the Tokyo subway sarin attacks. According to Roquet, the commercialization of mood regulation forced literary writers to respond, as they competed for the same ‘affective space’ (91). This resulted in the subgenre of the ‘healing novel’ (90), a development that illuminates the work of writers like Murakami Haruki. Ambient literature and its calming aesthetic may seem specifically Japanese phenomena, but Roquet points out that these writers drew inspiration from American authors as well as Brian Eno’s conception of ambient music, which aimed, via compositions like Music for Airports (1978), ‘to generate calming moods and to



provide a space to think relatively free from outside affective manipulation’ (90)—a form of atmospheric background audio that distances itself from commercial Muzak. Published in a world where transportable mood-regulating devices were highly popular, Japanese novels began to function in ways similar to Eno’s music and the ‘Sony Walkman’ (92, 101). They are ambient media too, in other words, and aim for a calming effect on the reader by an emphasis on mood, ‘themes of healing’ (93), and an atmosphere of ‘comfortable mystery’ (96), features that turn these novels into soothing ‘sound wave[s]’ that threaten to disconnect their readers from the outside world (104). As ambient music and walkmans (not to mention more recent portable devices) have shaped other cultures too, one cannot help but wonder if novels from other contexts respond to such desires for mood regulation as well. Addressing that question would also enrich Timothy Aubry’s related argument on ‘therapeutic fiction’, which asserts that ‘the popularization of new psychological pathologies, the growth of the anti-depression drug business, and the proliferation of twelve-step recovery groups’ has led to the rise of therapeutic novels in the late twentieth century (38–9), books that confirm ‘affluent readers in their belief that everyone suffers the same kinds of psychological hardships, and that they too are participating in painful struggles constitutive of the human condition’ (24). In Aubry’s view, this ‘psychological humanism’ (205) can result in a valuable form of ‘communal, even global empathy’ (41), but the fact remains that these novels favor individual alienation over political activism. Bearing in mind this therapeutic turn as well as the idea that contemporary novels manage our moods in ways similar to ambient music and portable sonic devices, I will now return to Roaring, a novel that differs from the works discussed by Roquet and Aubry but nevertheless shares certain features with therapeutic fiction and the ambient novel. Whether it rises above therapy’s psychological humanism remains an open question, however. Roaring was written by Marie Kessels, a Dutch author who published her debut in 1991 and has won several literary prizes in the intervening years, even though her output remains unrecognized by the broader public. This relatively unknown novel deserves closer scrutiny, however, as it offers an unusually systematic meditation on urban noise and proposes that we can only solve this problem if we rethink sound and listening in ways that involve sustained attention to the environment and its nonhuman voices. In terms of plot, the novel relates how Dana, a middle-aged photographer, suffers a nervous breakdown because of the noises



penetrating her crowded apartment, forcing her to relocate to a friend’s home in a quieter neighborhood and to reflect on noise in today’s society, a reflection that finally convinces her of the need to accept and even embrace urban ‘roaring’. Successfully cured, she will return to her apartment, the novel suggests, though Dana is conscious of the fact that her ‘wanderings through the occasionally very exciting world of noise’ may ironically have increased her ‘sensitivity to the noises in the apartment’ (208; this and subsequent translations from the Dutch are mine). Interspersed with this therapeutic narrative are memories of rowdy neighbors, conversations with close friends, especially Saul and Joachim, and allusions to Dana’s artistic photo projects—not to mention references to illnesses big and small. Rather than follow the narrative logic of these storylines, however, the novel proceeds according to the idiosyncratic rhythm of the protagonist’s quest to understand and accept noise, which produces extended, essay-like observations on the roar of traffic, the chants of hooligans, the fragmentary audionarratives created by noisy apartment dwellers, the use of foul language, and a remarkable sound project involving airports and ambient sound that I will return to at the end. Obviously, readers of this essayistic novel encounter a fictional world and an environmental imagination that differ from the ones evoked in the stories by Sopinka and Leigh. At first sight at least, this narrative involves few if any wild habitats, wild animals, and wild sounds. Yet the novel enriches our view of wildlife acoustics and its cultural meanings in the twenty-first century, as the protagonist’s reflections on noise pollution culminate in a utopian field recording project—yet another sonic climax—that incorporates nonhuman sounds and destabilizes entrenched oppositions between ‘natural’ and ‘technological’ sounds. If a natural soundscape is often imagined to be capable of healing the human listener and her overloaded senses, as in The Great Animal Orchestra and The Dictionary of Animal Languages, Kessels’s therapeutic novel presents an alternative form of acoustic mood management, via an unusual, more-than-human yet also more-than-natural version of the ‘aesthetics of calm’ delineated by Roquet. The topic of unwelcome noise is hardly new to urban writing. As John Picker has observed in his account of Victorian responses to urban noise, ‘advocates for silence on the streets waged a battle to impose the quiet tenor of interior middle-class domesticity upon the rowdy terrain outside’, an acute problem for ‘silence-seeking professionals’ like writers ‘whose living and working spaces overlapped’ (43), producing in some cases a desire for soundproof rooms and vicious images of lower-class street musicians as



‘overgrown monkeys’ (69) and foreign ‘lice’ (73). Although the search for silent spaces continues among today’s teleworkers, as Picker notes, Kessels’s novel articulates a very different response to noise pollution (and to insects). For even though the narrator itemizes the numerous sounds that assault the senses of the modern subject, driving her slowly but surely insane, all of Dana’s reflections culminate in the observation that this sonic violence is, simultaneously and counterintuitively, precisely what binds us to our fellow citizens. The shock of noise may disorient and disconnect, but it also produces opportunities for compassion and connection between neighbors, family members, and people of divergent classes and backgrounds, including prison inmates. This empathy extends to animals too; although Dana dislikes the noises of a dog in a neighboring apartment (97), she portrays the animal compassionately, explaining how its nocturnal imprisonment in an iron cage on the balcony reduces it to a nervous creature with ‘shaking legs’ (86, see 90). This ambivalence returns in her reflections on earplugs. While living in the quiet neighborhood of her friend’s house (15, 175), she no longer needs to wear these tiny objects. But this seemingly positive development ends up revealing that she has grown fond of them too: Twenty years ago I reluctantly started wearing earplugs, and … not a day went by in which I did not long to be rid of these two small flexible tools for once and for all. And yet I grew attached to them soon, perhaps precisely because they did not really protect me very well against all apartment noises and all the clamor of the city. [Because] then behind the walls and doors of my house I would have lived the existence of a fish in an aquarium, cut off from the lives of others. They rather serve as new senses, as a replacement or rather an extension of the old, and therein lies … their big disadvantage: it is incredibly exhausting to interpret the incoming sounds correctly and to transform the drearily compressed acoustic space you have entered … into a space with the familiar dimensions … It is this effort which ensures that you as an earplug wearer (despite all of the claustrophobia) get connected to your environment in an extraordinarily intense fashion, so that after a while you can no longer take out your earplugs without experiencing a terrifying sensation of emptiness and degeneration, as if you have lost an indispensable prosthesis. (84–5)

Despite resenting earplugs for a long time, Dana has begun to appreciate these prosthetic devices because they modify her senses and spatial awareness in ways that do not just soften the noise but also extend the reach of



her ears, prompting the ‘possessed listening that has become the second nature of all earplug wearers and all noise experts, a listening with the whole body in the highest state of readiness’ (100). Dampening urban noise without muting it fully, these earplugs are a crucial medium for alert listeners and establish unsuspected affective ties between anonymous citizens; when she puts them in, it is ‘as if I had just “plugged in” to be more intensely connected, in love and simultaneously in hate, with my neighbors’ (200)—all of which suggests that these earplugs have the same effect, ironically, as Krause’s headphones. Although his neighbors are less noisy, Dana’s stay at her friend’s house provokes similarly ambiguous views about the noises generated by the local airport. Criticizing what Dana calls its ‘rough acoustics’ (22), the friend relates how the airplane noises ‘get under your skin’ (23) and invites her to join an organization that contests the airport’s sonic and environmental pollution. Subsequent passages continue this critique of plane travel, singling out its sounds as stereotypical examples of the ‘roaring’ of modern society (180, 217). Yet Dana does not engage in activism, and her critical interrogation of noise again unfolds in an unexpected direction after a series of visits to the area surrounding the runway, an untamed ‘edgeland’ inhabited by hares (42, 178). Collecting a series of sand samples from the site, which she puts into tiny, lidless boxes after removing small ‘feathers’, Dana reflects on their assorted colors, textures, and toxic properties, deciding that this impromptu work of site-specific art unearths the silences that persist amid the noise. We should not oppose these two categories, she finally offers, because she has come to realize that she is ‘completely attached to the charivari all of us produce to show that we exist … however easily it allows us to poison each other’s existence’ (196–7). Sound pollution is not a matter of guilt and innocence, in short, and we should resist the idea of a claimable right to silence, seeing that the dream of complete silence, like that of full health, ignores the imperfect realities of our messy worlds and bodies (see 198). While studying silence remains valuable, consequently, Dana’s investigation culminates in an acceptance of noise and a cautious embrace of its intersubjective character. If the sand sample collection already hints at a utopian acceptance of modern ‘roaring’, this message becomes more pronounced in the project Dana embarks on with her friend Joel, a mathematics professor with a keen interest in electronic music. While visiting the airport I mentioned earlier, Dana formulates the idea of ‘a sound project’ that would involve ‘just the two of us (who are at that moment nobody) and for example an



amplified pipe organ that “sucks in” ambient sounds, and perhaps also sounds or compositions recorded earlier, which mingle with the present airport sounds’ (38), a plan that should be carried out after sunset so that the result can be experienced by ‘all living creatures in the broad vicinity’ (225)—a project that is linked to the experimental music of Iannis Xenakis (37, 191–3) and to artworks like Horst Rickels’s Mercurius Wagen (194) and Willem van Genk’s Cubaanse luchthaven (219). After considering the project for some time, the characters decide to make a field recording at the airport, which they plan to play back near the airstrip after manipulating the results, a process of ‘selecting and isolating sounds’ that turns these characters into part-time composers, who reroute urban noises by intervening personally in the ambient soundscape (38). The resulting ‘open air concert’ constitutes the novel’s climax—compare with the equally aural endings of Leigh and Sopinka, and with the sonic exhibition imagined by Ivory and Tacita—and produces a hybrid soundscape that fuses technological roaring with organic sounds (215). When Joachim manipulates the recording by speeding up time, the airplane noise is naturalized a first time, seeing that it gradually morphs into ‘the sound of wind’, which he describes as ‘the sound of silence, of peace’ (223). This unexpected result leads him to imagine new ways of studying ‘nature sounds’, mentioning acoustic analyses of ‘the sound of the sea (waves)’ and a NASA recording of ‘the wind on Titan, a moon of Saturn’ (224). The technical manipulation of modern roaring hence results in the discovery of sounds that seem natural, perhaps even on a cosmological scale, and other passages from the novel naturalize urban noise in parallel ways, as when wind transforms ‘the roaring of football supporters’ into something that resembles ‘an erupting storm in which so much happens simultaneously that you do not know what you should direct your attention to’ (13). Even more crucially, Dana believes that this natural recategorization of noise might help sound-sensitive people to accept urban noise pollution; they are able to recover quickly, she realizes, when they interpret it as ‘a natural phenomenon, like a storm [or] harsh rains … which you cannot change anyway’ (201). This reinterpretation of urban noise may sound like wishful thinking, but it reveals that sound pollution can be interpreted non-tragically too, and it further erodes the stereotypical contrast between urban noise and natural silence. Noise is naturalized even more explicitly when Joachim manipulates the field recording further, and when he and Dana carry out their sound project in the novel’s final pages. Not unlike the collection of sand samples



gathered by Dana, Joachim hopes that this sonic project will produce ‘a sound image’ that captures the unexpected tie ‘between roaring and silence’ (224). This goal seems to be realized when he slows the recording down, for this procedure unearths a series of sound fragments that Dana feels has the same emotional resonance as the music of Bach, no less. Joachim explains how he discovered these resonant sounds and integrated them into the composition. As it transpires, this second manipulation reveals not figurative wind but literal insects: This was a find, unexpected. A beautiful small sound that was hidden deep among the recordings. I think they are crickets, first one, a bit later there are two. The strange thing is that I can’t hear any of it in the original recording, not even with my best equipment. Still listening with the same old ears, of course. But if I slow down time it gradually becomes clearer. Beautiful, isn’t it, that in the middle of the din of a passing jet you hear crickets, one of the ‘softest’ sounds in nature. … In this montage you first hear the ‘raw’ sound in a slightly polished version [followed by] a slowed-down recording in which the crickets can be heard, clearer and clearer as the jet engine becomes weaker and weaker [and it ends with] the most beautiful piece of the singing crickets. (228–9)

As these remarks imply, the project unearths usually imperceptible ties between airplane roaring and wind sounds, between technological noise and animal ‘song’, and it does not capture the charismatic vocalizations of fierce predators or melodious birds but  the repetitive stridulations of seemingly noncharismatic insects. This is wildlife too, the novel suggests, in Lorimer’s recalibrated sense, and Dana goes on to interpret this recording in terms of Joachim’s dream of possessing ‘other ears than those of man alone’ (231), the Krause-like desire that ‘he might once crawl into the skin of a bat or a shrew and orient himself in the world with their hearing, to familiarize himself with the life rhythm of an animal with a much faster heart rate and breathing rhythm’ (236). If Leigh’s novel hinted at the hybridity of the ‘wilderness’, moreover, Kessels’s novel reimagines the airport as a mixed space, not unlike the stories analyzed by David Herman, scenes of which involve ‘incursions of the nonhuman into ostensibly human territories’ (129), as he formulates it, and disrupt ‘the strict spatial partitioning entailed by anthropocentric distancing’ (133). It could be argued that the more-than-human field recording described in Roaring is not hybrid in nature after all, as Joachim’s technical manipulations modify



the raw sounds so as to filter out human noises and excavate hidden natural sounds. That is why it is crucial that the project does not go as planned when Joachim and Dana execute it. Connecting various technological devices, including an iPod (217), they play back their composition of ‘airplane noise variations’ near the strip while another plane is departing (227), but the timing is off, the supposedly soothing wind throws a spanner in the works, and passing cars and motorcycles disrupt the result too. Yet these noises are not judged to be unwelcome interruptions but are accepted as part of the multispecies soundscape, motorcycle noises mixing with airplane sounds and cricket chirps, all of this serving ‘no other end than expression’ (237). In other words, the point is not just that technological noises can be transformed into soothing wind and may harbor unexpected animal presences if we listen closely and have the right high-­ tech equipment, but that this hybrid ‘open air concert’, a site-specific work of art like Dana’s sand sample collection, makes room for all sounds, human and nonhuman, intended and unintended, noisy and soothing—so as to include both the great animal orchestra and its roaring human counterpart, and to establish a true sonic democracy, a project that resonates with the argument of the next chapter. This remarkable music project helps to heal the protagonist’s noise neurosis, as its original variation on the clichéd nature sounds album calms her nerves in a narrative of healing that runs parallel to, even if it does not overlap fully with, the ambient literature and therapeutic novels profiled by Roquet and Aubry. How should we evaluate this novel about mood management, in particular its use of nonhuman audio to soothe the protagonist’s nerves and to propose a similarly cautious reconciliation with urban noise in the reader’s life? It helpfully rethinks the class-based anxieties dissected by Picker and their racist as well as speciesist images, in my view, though its expansive social and environmental imagination also smooths over certain problems with the help of its psychological plot and consoling ambient soundtrack. As with the other novels, in fact, it remains an open question whether the book’s animal sounds are not being instrumentalized for all-too-human purposes here. Furthermore, the celebration of urban noise and hybrid sounds not only fits into the hopeful cosmopolitics outlined by Lorimer but also into a capitalist world order that wants to reconcile us to an increasingly urbanized planet, which is experiencing rough weather and impoverished acoustics, in part, because of systematic airplane travel. Although we should embrace hybrid ecologies and appreciate urban nature, we should also be mindful of the fact that such tactics may stifle critical voices that should be heard in a world



where animal habitats and sounds continue to diminish because of human encroachment. A novel like Roaring alerts us to the ‘wilding’ going on around us, but it also trains readers in listening more appreciatively to an urban soundscape that is only occasionally punctured by nonhuman audio. Just like biodiversity discourse tries to manage the unruly presence of wildlife, in other words, it could be argued that novels with animal sounds try to manage human readers, who might resist their noisy surroundings more strongly if it were not for soothing forms of music and resonant types of writing. Nevertheless, Kessels’s novel broadens the bandwidth of the novel’s soundscape and exemplifies once more how current forms of headphone writing provide detailed records of a biology humanized by sonic interest. Such works incite both sonic awe and sonic curiosity, encourage a binaural reading experience that attends to aural backgrounds as well as foregrounds, and make us think more closely about how we live (and fail to live) with wild predators, mundane wallabies, and noncharismatic insects in an age of noise that is also an age of extinction.

References Aubry, Timothy. Reading as Therapy: What Contemporary Fiction Does for Middle-­ Class Americans. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2011. Print. Benson, Etienne. Wired Wilderness: Technologies of Tracking and the Making of Modern Wildlife. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2010. Print. Boutin, Aimée. City of Noise: Sound and Nineteenth-Century Paris. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2015. Print. Braverman, Irus. Wild Life: The Institution of Nature. Palo Alto: Stanford UP, 2015. Print. Bruyn, Ben De. “Anthropocene Audio: The Animal Soundtrack of the Contemporary Novel”. Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 57.2 (2016): 151–65. Print. Cohen, Matt. The Networked Wilderness: Communicating in Early New England. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2009. Print. Daston, Lorraine and Peter Galison. “The Image of Objectivity”. Representations 40 (1992): 81–128. Print. Dimock, Wai Chee. “Hearing Animals: Thoreau between Fable and Elegy”. J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 1.2 (2013): 397–401. Print. Haraway, Donna. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2016. Harrison, Robert Pogue. Forests: The Shadow of Civilization. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992. Print.



Heise, Ursula. Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2016. Print. Herman, David. Narratology Beyond the Human: Storytelling and Animal Life. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2018. Print. James, David and Urmila Seshagiri, “Metamodernism: Narratives of Continuity and Revolution”. PMLA 129.1 (2014): 87–100. Print. Kessels, Marie. Brullen. Amsterdam/Antwerp: De Bezige Bij, 2015. Print. Krause, Bernie. The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012. Print. Leigh, Julia. The Hunter. London: Faber and Faber, 2000 [1999]. Print. Lorimer, Jamie. Wildlife in the Anthropocene: Conservation after Nature. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2015. Print. Morton, Timothy. Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2009 [2007]. Print. Mundy, Rachel. Animal Musicalities: Birds, Beasts, and Evolutionary Listening. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 2018. Print. ———. “Birdsong and the Image of Evolution”. Society & Animals 17.3 (2009): 206–23. Print. Picker, John. Victorian Soundscapes. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Print. Rohman, Carrie. Stalking the Subject: Modernism and the Animal. New  York: Columbia UP, 2009. Print. Roquet, Paul. “Ambient Literature and the Aesthetics of Calm: Mood Regulation in Contemporary Japanese Fiction”. The Journal of Japanese Studies 35.1 (2009): 87–111. Print. Schweighauser, Philipp. The Noises of American Literature, 1890–1985: Toward a History of Literary Acoustics. Gainesville: U of Florida P, 2006. Print. Sopinka, Heidi. The Dictionary of Animal Languages. Victoria/London: Scribe, 2018. Print. Sterne, Jonathan. The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2003. Print. Timmins, Beth. “Tasmanian Devils ‘Adapting to Coexist with Cancer’”. BBC News. 30 March 2019.­ environment-­47659640. Web. 26 December 2019. van Dooren, Thom. Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction. New York: Columbia UP, 2014. Print. Vallee, Mickey. “The Science of Listening in Bioacoustics Research: Sensing the Animals’ Sounds”. Theory, Culture & Society 35.2 (2018): 47–65. Print. Whitehouse, Andrew. “Listening to Birds in the Anthropocene: The Anxious Semiotics of Sound in a Human-Dominated World”. Environmental Humanities 6.1 (2015): 53–71. Print. Wolfe, Cary. What is Posthumanism? Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. Print. Zink, Nell. The Wallcreeper. London: Fourth Estate, 2016 [2014]. Print.


Polyphony Beyond the Human

The previous chapter explained how listeners and writers respond to the sounds of charismatic wildlife at the turn of the twenty-first century and identified strong parallels between recent fiction and real-life recording projects, both of which alert us to nonhuman audio but also threaten to repeat cultural biases in favor of undomesticated animals and nonurban settings. This chapter develops my argument about the multispecies soundscape in three distinct but related directions. First, it reflects on the conventional description of animal sounds as a form of music, an association that has been criticized by certain scientists but remains omnipresent in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—as was already suggested in the previous chapter, by Bernie Krause’s references to an ‘animal orchestra’ and scenes like the multispecies concert at the end of Marie Kessels’s Roaring. Because this music is typically credited with a particular emotional appeal, second, the chapter details how novels like J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999) and Richard Powers’s Orfeo (2014) update the literary motif of the creaturely voice, which has a long prehistory with roots in the eighteenth-century literature of sensibility. Third, the chapter reviews classic as well as recent accounts of the novel and its soundscape to rethink the genre’s sonic parameters and make room for voices that resound in this supposedly democratic form in ways left undescribed by past literary research. Compared to the previous chapter, in other words, we will now consider beauty instead of anxiety, sentiment instead of curiosity, and democracy instead of biodiversity. The three strands of this chapter are © The Author(s) 2020 B. De Bruyn, The Novel and the Multispecies Soundscape, Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature,




knitted together via the notion of ‘polyphony’, which is conventionally used to characterize both musical compositions and literary texts, and the cultural work of ‘sympathy’, an emotion that entangles humans and animals as well as readers and characters but is occasionally charged with heightening our feelings unnecessarily. After refreshing our knowledge of eighteenth-century culture, in other words, the following sections articulate how the passionate animal cry is currently being routed through various modern media, the novel included, and how the image of beautiful or discordant animal music functions in twenty-first-century prose fiction. My account of literary history and of conventional images for the nonhuman voice continues in Chap. 4, which contextualizes recent fiction further by turning to the nineteenth century and the topic of animal language. But I will first describe how novelists like Coetzee and Powers reconfigure the traditional motifs of the passionate cry and the animal song, a task which requires us to ask a number of broader questions about the novel, its characters, and its soundscape first.

Listening to Novels As I have shown in the previous chapter, contemporary novels record what I have been calling the multispecies soundscape, be that more or less inclusively. Yet we can only do justice to that nonhuman quality as literary scholars if we integrate the analysis of individual examples into a fundamental rethinking of the novel’s parameters and of the anthropocentric presuppositions underpinning existing research on sound and the novel. One way to initiate that larger project is to recalibrate the established notion of ‘polyphony’ so as to accommodate a broader array of voices and sounds. Most literary scholars will be familiar with Mikhail Bakhtin’s classic argument about how the novel orchestrates a polyphonic symphony of socially diverse voices. But our account of these voices, and of novelistic sound more generally, remains far from complete. Aiming to address these gaps in one of the pamphlets published by the Stanford Literary Lab, Holst Katsma has reinvigorated Bakhtin’s seminal insights with the help of quantitative reading protocols to trace the ‘patterned voices’ of the nineteenth-­century novel (13), paying special attention to Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (1874). Katsma’s pamphlet rightly emphasizes the structural role of sound in prose fiction and the importance of the reader’s aural experience. Katsma also outlines several hypotheses that invite further research: that loud voices in the nineteenth-century novel usually come from



individuals rather than groups; that certain grammatical structures (involving commands, questions, em dashes) are better indicators of loudness than specific ‘speaking verbs’ such as ‘whisper’ or ‘shout’; that loudness is organized in the novel, as its quasi-musical ‘polyphony’ of voices is modulated in accordance with plot structure, narrative space, and chapter divisions (16); and that the quantitative analysis of this loudness uncovers a ‘general muting of the novel over the course of the nineteenth century’ (21). As these observations indicate, the pamphlet illustrates how new digital techniques can refine existing insights in literary studies. Yet its underlying framework exhibits certain limitations. Without further reflection, Katsma dismisses other attempts to explain sound in literature, confidently claiming that ‘little has come of the study of sound in the novel’ (2). If he would have considered the research of scholars operating at the intersection of literary studies and sound studies, like John Picker, Philipp Schweighauser, or Justin St. Clair, Katsma might also have been able to revise his further assumption that sound in the novel can be reduced to the ‘voices’ of narrators and characters (1): ‘at the level of textual mechanics, a novel’s aural trajectory, heard by the reader, is created via the novel’s string of consecutive voices’ (10). In his view, the words of storytellers and characters are quasi-heard in our minds, whereas the music, noise, and other environmental sounds evoked by these words in the reader’s psyche are not part of the novel’s soundscape at all. In a footnote, Katsma admits that sometimes these human voices ‘ask the reader to imagine secondary sounds (sometimes referred to as “soundscapes”)’ via the description of sonorous phenomena like raindrops, for instance, but these are assumed to be ‘less intense’, ‘fleeting and rather infrequent’—in a word, secondary—in every form of literature (2). This dismissal of described sound is unsatisfactory, not to mention that Katsma’s lopsided focus on human voices might explain why he finds growing stillness where others have discovered increasing loudness. For if his analysis of voices reveals a gradual muting of the novel during the nineteenth century, as I mentioned, John Picker’s account of described sounds rather than imagined dialogue reaches the opposite conclusion; as fictional and other documents show, Picker confidently states, this historical juncture was ‘a period of unprecedented amplification, unheard-of loudness’, ‘alive with the screech and roar of the railway and the clang of industry, with the babble, bustle, and music of city streets, and with the crackle and squawk of acoustic vibrations on wires and wax’ (4). Similarly, when R.  Murray Schafer tried to chart changes in the cultural experience of sound by reviewing ‘an



extended card catalogue of descriptions of sound from literary, anthropological and historical documents’ in the 1970s (137)—a relevant precursor of more recent attempts at distant reading—he noticed ‘a decline in the number of times quiet and silence are evoked in literary descriptions’, which he attributed to an unconscious recognition of ‘the accumulation of technological sounds’ and correlates with a decline of ‘natural sounds’ in the case of modern British writing (145). As such arguments imply, Katsma fails to consider that the growing stillness of human characters in the literature of this period might be related to the increasing loudness of urban noise, as intimated in ambient descriptions of city life like the ones we encountered in Chap. 2. The fact that the opening scene of The Idiot is set on a train, for instance, is taken to have no implications for the sequence’s loudness, although the text mentions that it has crowded compartments and is travelling at full speed. Indeed, the counter-intuitive implication of this approach is that a scene set in the trenches or the Blitz featuring whispering characters is more silent in terms of the text’s internal organization and the reader’s aural experience than one featuring shouting humans in a hushed library. We can flesh out this incomplete model of the novel’s soundscape by considering the research of literary critics who take into account described sounds. Publications like Justin St. Clair’s Sound and Aural Media in Postmodern Literature (2013) helpfully complement Katsma’s exclusive focus on human voices by highlighting the role of technological sounds, for instance. Whereas the latter’s character-based account offers a quantitative update of Bakhtin’s ‘heteroglossia’, St. Clair extends this analysis of the novel’s ‘multilanguagedness’ in the productive direction of ‘multisoundedness’ or ‘heterophonia’: ‘[w]hile postmodern fiction arguably contains as many socio-linguistic points of view as the realist fiction that Bakhtin dissects, it also contains a multiplicity of media transmissions— snippets of audio artistically arranged’ (3). Instead of juxtaposing divergent sociolects or analyzing loud grammar, in other words, St. Clair literalizes the musical metaphors of Bakhtin and Katsma by asking us to ponder described sounds, particularly those that relate to new media and technological sound sources like radios, player pianos, and TVs and that register anxieties over the novel’s uncertain position in the competitive media ecology of modernity. This is a significant improvement on a model that only covers the sounds uttered by characters and narrators. Yet upon closer inspection, it could be argued that character voices and musical machines are intimately related, as they similarly serve to reveal the



fictional world’s class structure and social anxieties. As Philipp Schweighauser notes in a related publication, the sonic makeup of the modern novel often traces ‘social divisions within the urban soundscape’ (38) or, more succinctly, ‘[s]ocial [s]oundscapes’ (36). Such arguments imply that the speech of characters and the noises of machines are related strategies in the novel’s attempt to evoke the pluriform social world it inhabits. In technology—as well as character-centric accounts—you might conclude, the real and only source of the novel’s soundtrack is therefore human in nature. This conclusion is perhaps not surprising, given the underlying Bakhtinian model of these accounts. For despite his use of organic metaphors, Bakhtin’s observations about the novel’s ‘heteroglossia and polyphony’ are built on a conception of society that excludes the nonhuman (400). Throughout Discourse in the Novel (1981/1934–1935), the influential Russian critic ties the novel’s supposedly all-encompassing democratic symphony of voices to ‘the consciousness of real people’ (292): ‘that which makes a novel a novel … is the speaking person and his discourse’ (332, emphasis in original). As Bakhtin stresses, this everyday technology has an ‘essential human character’ and registers ‘a characteristic human way of sensing and seeing the world’ (370, emphasis in original), with independent discourse defined as ‘the fundamental indication of an ethical, legal and political human being’ (349–50, emphasis in original). Seeing that technological noises are correlated with the same social divisions as human sociolects, this anthropocentric model can easily be enlarged to incorporate the voices of machines, or at least of those machines discussed by St. Clair, which produce sounds adapted to human users. It is much harder, by contrast, to include the truly nonhuman sounds uttered by various species of animals. For even Bakhtin’s capacious view of polyphony fails to reserve a place for the nonhuman and rather prefers to weld the novel’s representation of reality tightly to human sense perception. Whether they attend to characters, machines, or both, in short, existing accounts of novelistic sound tend to ignore the contribution of other creaturely vocalizations, excluding them from the supposedly all-inclusive community that is the novelistic orchestra of voices. According to these critics, novels never feature the sounds of other species and record a distinctly human form of music. This anthropocentric conclusion is hard to swallow for multiple reasons. For a long time, critics and activists have been drawing attention to the cruel treatment of livestock, lab animals, and other captive creatures, and the wider public has grown increasingly



sensitive to the fact that we are causing wild animal species to disappear at an alarming rate, as we saw in Chap. 2—not to mention that humans sometimes live together with companion animals, who play significant roles in their lives, further destabilizing Bakhtin’s assumption that ‘person’ and ‘human’ are equivalent terms. As these entangled interspecies relationships are represented in modern novels, it should be obvious that we cannot parse their soundscapes properly with analytical tools that reveal an unreconstructed anthropocentric bias, like Bakhtin’s ‘polyphony’. Going forward, we need to recalibrate such concepts if we are to appreciate the multispecies soundscape that resounds—and in some cases fails to resound, of course—in the modern novel. Before mapping the presence of animal cries and music in eighteenth-­ century poetry and contemporary novels, it might therefore be wise to identify the different sonic dimensions of the novel more precisely by establishing a rough taxonomy. As I suggested earlier, we should distinguish between the imagined dialogue of characters, narrators, and narratees on the one hand and described sounds of whatever nature on the other. Bearing in mind research on literary practices that involve actual physical sound, as in modern audiobooks (Rubery) and practices of recitation (Perkins), at least one extra dimension should be added, which I propose calling recited text. While this typology can be refined further, surely, the identification of these three dimensions offers a fuller picture of literary sound and clarifies what I have in mind when talking about the novel’s soundscape. As Fig. 3.1 captures, the experience of novel reading involves at least three sonic dimensions which can be positioned along an axis that ranges from the most explicit presence of sound, as in audiobooks or recitation practices, to its least explicit presence in descriptions of storyworld events that do not accentuate their sonic properties. If the category of ‘recited text’ refers to the explicit voicing or recitation of a text, ‘imagined dialogue’ and ‘described sounds’ designate aspects of the text itself, which are encountered even while reading silently. Imagined dialogue includes both the implied, extra-diegetical dialogue taking place between the story’s narrator and narratee, and represented conversations between characters inside the fictional world. On both levels, the text can minimize or emphasize the aural qualities of that dialogue, as when characters or narrators exhibit verbal tics and accents, or draw attention to the process of speaking and listening, as in a brief example from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899): ‘No one took the


Explicit sound


Implicit sound

Recited text

Imagined dialogue

Described sounds

Described sounds



Sonic effect heightened



Sonic effect left implicit

Sound sample

‘No one took the trouble

‘I like it when it rains ‘It was raining’.

of rain, actual


hard. It sounds like white


presently he said, very




noise everywhere’.

slow’. Tone, pitch etc

Tics, dialects, aspects of Onomatopoeia, oral storytelling





explicit diegesis

reflections on sound

Fig. 3.1  Sonic dimensions of novel reading. (Source: Author)

trouble to grunt even; and presently he said, very slow …’ (5). Turning to described sounds, their sonic properties can again be downplayed or amplified, as in a phrase from Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2004), in which we do not encounter ‘It was raining’, a maximally silent description of this sonic event, but ‘I like it when it rains hard. It sounds like white noise everywhere’, a passage that turns up the audio on the acoustic environment in which the reader finds herself imaginatively (103). When that happens, I would claim, the result might even be ‘louder’ for the reader than the sounds of imagined dialogue, in contrast to what my table may seem to suggest (hence the arrows). In any case, my argument here is that existing accounts of novelistic sound are limited because they concentrate on imagined dialogue alone or restrict themselves to described sounds that are either explicitly or implicitly human in origin. Animal sounds and vocalizations can be present in many ways, however. Just consider a hypothetical audiobook that includes samples of birdsong or an imagined dialogue with an animal narrator or character. But these enigmatic, culturally resonant sounds are more typically present in the form of described sounds, in passages that frequently foreground



the peculiar sonic properties of nonhuman vocalizations via strategies like onomatopoeia, alliteration, or elaborate paraphrase. In this layer of the novel’s acoustics too, we are invited to become newly sensitive auditors, reader-listeners who are willing to cultivate what the previous chapter has called sonic curiosity. In a different context, Stephen Benson has drawn on Roland Barthes to promote the ‘acoustics of friendship’: ‘The perfect interlocutor, the friend, is he not the one who constructs around you the greatest possible resonance? Cannot friendship be defined as a space with total sonority?’ (597). Bearing in mind present environmental challenges, writers, readers, and critics should look for such resonant or hospitable descriptions of the animal voice, I believe, and their analysis requires a more refined, expansive conception of the novel’s polyphony, its multispecies soundscape.

Canine Operas and Nonhuman Novels As I explained in the introduction, scholars like Eduardo Kohn and David Herman have already begun to criticize anthropocentric biases of the type I have just outlined, calling for a renewed focus on the more-than-human world in all its variety by delineating an ‘anthropology beyond the human’ and even a ‘narratology beyond the human’. Summarizing a related trend, Richard Grusin argues that we are witnessing a ‘nonhuman turn’ in the humanities and social sciences, a turn that challenges the formerly predominant focus on language and representation by putting on the agenda twenty-first-century issues involving ‘animals, affectivity, bodies, organic and geophysical systems, materiality [and] technologies’ (vii). Studies of the nonhuman should be distinguished from work on the posthuman, he clarifies, as the latter inevitably and, in his view, incorrectly implies ‘a historical development from human to something after the human’ (ix). What is more, these new materialisms should not be mistaken for defenses of the status quo by those who feel obliged to stress social constructivism for emancipatory purposes; seeing that societies are composed of human and nonhuman actors, as Bruno Latour has established, ‘[a] concern with the nonhuman can and must be brought to bear on any projects [sic] for creating a more just society’ (xviii). While the modern novel exhibits a multifaceted nonhuman presence, I am particularly interested here in the role of animals, which we should not conflate with that of objects, however alive, interesting, and fragile the latter might be—as commentators including Kohn and Herman have underlined. In attending more closely



to this animal presence, we should also be alert to the role of sound. As Grusin mentions in passing, the ‘affectivity’ of nonhuman creatures is signaled by sounds such as a cat’s ‘purr’ (xvii). These weirdly familiar sounds deserve closer attention from cultural scholars, not just because their analysis fits into the emerging project of nonhuman studies, but because that promises to yield a more robust, inclusive model of novelistic sound. Apart from adding an overlooked sound source to the mix, a detailed analysis of animal voices can sharpen our awareness of human speech’s residual nonhuman quality, in line with arguments on behalf of human ‘animality’. For in the end, the characters and narrators mapped by Katsma are inevitably animals too, the novelistic symphonies identified by Bakhtin invariably creaturely concerts. Nor should we forget that the voices of nonhuman animals are and are felt to be disappearing, as contemporary culture keeps reminding us, adding urgency to the project of appreciating these sounds and their meanings in human lives. If the novel’s central imperative, as Bakhtin maintained, is to represent ‘all the era’s languages that have any claim to being significant’ (411), then clearly writers and critics working after the nonhuman turn and in an age of extinctions should acknowledge the quasi-languages and quasi-music of animals as well. Surely, these now have more than a passing claim to cultural significance. I will explore the topic of music first and return to the even thornier question of language in the next chapter. As the novels inspected in this book show, contemporary writers have enthusiastically embraced the role of attentive listeners. This chapter analyzes three novels that plainly intend to enlarge our notion of sound and music in a more-than-human direction, starting with J.M. Coetzee’s contemporary classic Disgrace (1999). Set in a tense postapartheid South Africa that faces internal as well as transnational challenges, as Derek Attridge has observed (2000), this famous novel tells the story of David Lurie, a literature professor who falls from grace after having an affair with a female student and is subsequently attacked, together with his daughter, while struggling to build a new life that includes work at an animal shelter where unwanted dogs are put down. In an important subplot, the protagonist is composing a chamber opera on Lord Byron’s life in Italy that appears to go nowhere but might include, David muses toward the novel’s end, the voice of one of the animals in his care—a good example of the broader pattern identified by David Herman, in which ‘humans’ understanding of their relations to other kinds of selves takes on special salience when self-narratives come under pressure’ (33). This is how the narrator



of Coetzee’s novel portrays the dog and its response to Lurie’s increasingly pared-down attempts at composition (he finally discards classical music for an African banjo): It is not ‘his’ in any sense; he has been careful not to give it a name …; nevertheless, he is sensible of a generous affection streaming out toward him from the dog. Arbitarily, unconditionally, he has been adopted; the dog would die for him, he knows. The dog is fascinated by the sound of the banjo. When he strums the strings, the dog sits up, cocks its head, listens. When he hums Teresa’s line, and the humming begins to swell with feeling (it is as though his larynx thickens: he can feel the hammer of blood in his throat), the dog smacks its lips and seems on the point of singing too, or howling. Would he dare to do that: bring a dog into the piece, allow it to loose its own lament to the heavens between the strophes of lovelorn Teresa’s? Why not? (215)

This passage captures the interspecies bond that obtains between David and the dog, and the emotional resonance between human humming and canine singing. It accordingly suggests that if we listen closely, to return to the argument from my introduction, even an unwanted dog can be a nightingale, or a tapaculo. In her reading of Disgrace, which devotes special attention to this scene, Carrie Rohman proposes that it ‘reveals the artistic to be [something that] reorients us to the most fundamental forces of the earthly and creaturely, rather than to the self-importance of the human’ (563), a project ‘bound up with horizontal affiliation rather than a vertical domination across, as well as within, species’ (574), ‘despite Lurie’s early investment in the aesthetic as a means of power, distinction, and privilege’ (571). Though my reading of the novel is indebted to this insightful analysis, we should adjust its account of the narrative’s nonhuman ending in two respects. First, it sidesteps the fact that the animal voice does not actually become part of this more-than-human opera. The inclusion of this creaturely voice should not be a problem, Lurie reflects, as the piece probably ‘will never be performed’, an unmistakable suggestion that this partnership remains utopian (215), and lest the reader has misunderstood, Lurie refrains from saving the dog, who has to be put down, at the end, and the novel gives us no reason to believe the animal will live for much longer. This ambiguous ending can be interpreted negatively as well as positively; David Herman claims that it discloses ‘how established narratives can impede the



potentially transformative power of cross-species identifications’ (64), for instance, whereas Donna Haraway holds that it constitutes an attempt to take ‘responsibility for killing’ (80), hinting at ‘a responsible “sharing of suffering”’ that moves beyond ‘some New Age Version of the facile and untrue claim “I feel your pain”’ (72). However we evaluate the ending, it is clear that if art and music are conventionally associated with a desire for long-lasting fame, this novel insists on the singing creature’s transience instead, as if to stress that the protagonist’s composition-in-progress offers no final redemption or transcendence of finitude—and certainly not for nonhuman animals. Second, and more to the point, Rohman’s reading of Disgrace does not examine animal sounds in other sections of the novel, leaving an intriguing question unanswered; bearing in mind that Lurie’s multispecies opera remains hypothetical, does Coetzee’s novel outperform this other medium by offering a more inclusive democracy of voices in textual form? Does it lend a voice to animals, allow them to speak up and participate in the work’s polyphony, stretching the concept beyond its originally limited, anthropocentric parameters? If so, how do these nonhuman sounds contribute to the novel’s broader soundtrack of human and technological noises? In charting the acoustic world of Disgrace, we might concentrate on various aspects of the novel: attending to characters and their ideological positions alerts you to the presence of legalese, academic jargon, (post) colonialist discourse, and non-English languages; focusing on technological sounds leads you to the novel’s radios, TVs, and earplugs (more earplugs!), to its fans, cars, and motorcycles as well as its numerous awkward telephone conversations. But we can only account for every component of the novel’s soundscape if we also consider its animal sounds, and not just the dog’s voice as Lurie imagines it at the end. If our analysis is to be attuned to the possibility of newly inclusive operas, we should also mention the novel’s other registrations of creaturely audio. In line with the conventional birdsong of the locus amoenus, these sounds are occasionally associated with a sense of pastoral peace, as brief references to chirruping ‘birds’ (26) and busy ‘bees’ indicate (218). Yet they can also launch, as in the endless ‘bleating’ of two young sheep, a disquieting moral appeal that confronts Lurie with his initially thoughtless stance regarding the slaughter of animals (123). The creaturely voice plays another role as well, for the novel’s human characters are not just animalized by their violent and passionate behavior, but also by their snoring, crying, whining, not to mention their even more explicit barking, hissing, roaring. Even more



striking is the fact that characters on several occasions quasi-communicate with nonhuman animals; though it is only rhetorical, Lurie asks the old dog Katy a question at one point (78), and during a later episode, his daughter prompts Katy to behave in a certain way by ‘speaking softly and urgently’ to the dog (207). The most explicit interspecies conversation takes place in the animal shelter of Bev Shaw, a friend of Lurie’s daughter, when he helps Bev examine a goat wounded by dogs: He makes his way through the [waiting-room], and through a sudden cacophony as two dogs … snarl and snap at each other. [An old] woman holds a goat on a short rope; it glares nervously, eyeing the dogs, its hooves clicking on the hard floor. … While Bev is examining [the goat], he passes a short burst of pellets on to the floor. Standing at [the goat’s] head, [the old] woman pretends to reprove him. … The goat trembles, gives a bleat: an ugly sound, low and hoarse. [Bev] kneels down again beside the goat, nuzzles his throat … She is whispering. ‘What do you say, my friend?’ he hears her say. … The goat stands stock still as if hypnotized. Bev Shaw continues to stroke him with her head. She seems to have lapsed into a trance of her own. [When the old woman refuses Bev’s advice], [David] can hear the accents of defeat [in Bev’s voice]. The goat hears them too: he kicks against the strap, bucking and plunging. (80, 82–3)

An examination scene that involves expert medical listening, a topic I return to in Chap. 5, this passage captures Bev’s remarkable attunement to the uncharismatic goat. Scenes like these confirm that if we want to describe all the ingredients of this novel’s soundscape, we should not just consider the halting Xhosa of its white characters or their fruitless phone conversations, but ponder how these frequent references to animal sound transform Coetzee’s novel into a successful version of the opera that Lurie fails to finish by incorporating nonhuman voices into a complex more-­ than-­human soundscape—the implicit message being, of course, that the modern novel is a more capacious multispecies medium than traditional opera. That this medical scene registers a form of interspecies communication is already suggested by the quasi-dialogue between Bev and the goat. That dialogue might seem to be disqualified by Lurie’s flat tone and subsequent remark about ‘New Age mumbo jumbo’ (84)—‘[h]e is not, he hopes, a sentimentalist’, David notes later (143)—but it is nevertheless portrayed as a form of two-way communicative traffic. As the narrator admits, human and animal seem in trance here, hypnotized. Even more



importantly, this quasi-telepathic dialogue alerts us to the less spectacular forms of cross-­species interaction taking place in this scene: the dogs react to each other; Lurie dislikes their chaotic noise; the goat fears yet another attack by these new dogs, as his clicking hooves signal; the animal responds to Bev’s examination; is unconvincingly reproved by his owner; utters a sound that Lurie dismisses as ugly; and, like Lurie, the goat immediately grasps the subtly changing accents of Bev’s voice. If the explicit conversation between Bev and the goat strikes Lurie (and, potentially, the reader) as implausible mumbo jumbo, the implicit back-andforth between dogs, goat, and humans proves him (and readers like him) wrong. Indeed, Lurie himself later imagines ‘whisper[ing]’ to the dog he first wanted to include in his opera, to ease its suffering when he and Bev proceed to put it down (219). At the start of his new life, he dislikes the cacophony of the animal shelter, with its ‘mob’ of dogs ‘barking, yapping, whining’ (84), and is exasperated by the ‘mechanica[l]’ ‘flurry of barking’ that returns every night at Lucy’s farm (67). Yet his later experiences, including the attack that leaves him with a permanently damaged ear, as the narrator keeps reminding us, prompt him to include, if only hypothetically, the dog’s voice in his work on Byron, as if to suggest that a sound which was first dismissed as ugly and mechanical may be reevaluated as beautiful, a form of music fit for a work of art, like a hypothetical opera or, indeed, an actual novel. Concluding that the novel as a genre can be a truly, fully nonhuman form would take things too far. But we should not overlook these sounds and their contribution to the novel’s polyphony either. In her account of how the spatial and temporal borders of American and other literatures are punctured by traces of far-flung continents and long-distant periods, Wai Chee Dimock maintains that the ancient epic has never disappeared but actually survives in modern fiction, in fractions or ‘percentages’ (87). Taking this suggestion in a different direction—though my argument may well be related to the epic quality pinpointed by Dimock—the present book demonstrates that novels like Disgrace exhibit something like a nonhuman percentage, a polyphony that points beyond the human, and beyond Bakhtin. The preceding argument might still appear counterintuitive, for the novel is often perceived as an obsolete prosthetic technology, which began to lose its monopoly over sound registration, as we learned in Chap. 2, when phonographs and gramophones first enabled listeners to capture sound directly. Both its imagined dialogue and its described sounds may seem equally outdated and ineffective, in other words. Yet as Steven



Connor has noted, we should not forget that the mental hearing that accompanies silent reading is quite complex, and may even anticipate the ways in which newer technologies enable us to pause, repeat, and cut-and-­ paste sound fragments—as if anticipating devices like computers and iPhones. Taking issue with reductive accounts of the history and phenomenology of silent reading, Connor holds that this practice ‘opens up a quasi-sonorous space in which sound is lifted out of the linearity of the sound stream, seeming to allow it to turn back on itself’ (2014, 110). In his view, ‘[t]he increasing commonness of silent reading is to be regarded …, not as the simple turning down of sound, but as the creation of a more complex space of inner resounding’ (109). It could be argued, in other words, that reading in silence actually enables us to attend more closely to sound than listening to explicitly aural media—not to mention that a seemingly silent medium like the novel is forced to spell out its sonic dimensions in ways that aural artifacts do not have to, turning literary descriptions of sound into an unexpectedly rich source for scholars invested in auditory culture. These observations imply that reading and the concomitant vocalizing of aural descriptions in our minds enable us to contemplate strange sounds more effectively, seeing that this form of quasi-hearing involves sounds that are both highly indeterminate (their precise features are almost impossible to pin down) and endlessly replayable (passages rich in sound can be re-read time and again). Literary texts in particular are full of strange sounds, including the animal calls too often dismissed by earlier research on the novel.

Representing Creaturely Voices To understand how writers can include other-than-human voices into the imagined community evoked by  the novel, I now turn to a study that contextualizes that strategy by probing the discourse of sensibility as it emerged in eighteenth-century Britain, Tobias Menely’s The Animal Claim (2015). Though he focuses mainly on poetry, Menely’s work offers several productive insights on novels past and present and their overlooked creaturely imagination. His argument helps to contextualize both this chapter and my book as a whole, and therefore deserves an extended discussion here. In general terms, The Animal Claim reconstructs a historical debate that continues to inform current human-animal relations. As Menely shows, the orthodox species boundary was unsettled by eighteenth-century political



thinkers and literary writers, leading to Britain’s first animal welfare legislation, Martin’s Act of 1822, even as this boundary was also reaffirmed by those who accused its opponents of sentimental anthropomorphism. The debate involves two main positions: In liberal societies, we learn to reject sentimentality because it treats our passions as if they were reproducible or substitutable, such that another’s passions might become our own. We learn to reject anthropomorphism because it treats animals as if they were human, projecting what is known innately … onto what we cannot know at all, the internal states of other animals. Both of these ostensibly bad mental habits are premised on the fantasy of substitutability, the … illusions of sympathetic communication. This is, of course, the ‘fantasy’ that defines sensibility, with its notion that the basic conditions of existence—an aversion toward suffering, a striving toward happiness—are shared among creatures, shared in that they are universal but also communicable: we may become averse to another’s pain or find that another’s joy intensifies our own. (187–8, emphasis in original)

The continued relevance of this debate is revealed by the recurring objections that animal lovers—often gendered as female—exhibit both too little emotion, by theatrically faking self-aggrandizing emotions in the light of real suffering, and too much emotion, by lavishing their misdirected attention, in what is seen as a zero-sum game, on lowly beasts rather than their fellow humans, a supposedly misanthropic gesture that threatens to erode the sociosymbolic order of human society with its radical egalitarianism. In other words, sentimentality has acquired a bad reputation (remember Lurie and Haraway) because it is assumed to stand for ‘conventionalized or exaggerated feeling’ (106). Revealing ‘profound changes in how we conceptualize the work of the aesthetic and the social life of feeling’ (116), this dual indictment has proven influential, Menely reflects, and explains why ‘sentimental anthropomorphism’ is no longer considered useful for ‘serious animal advocate[s]’ (187)—a point I return to in the next chapter. Meanwhile, social and economic changes have conspired to silence the nonhuman cry, transforming ‘the expressive creature [into] flesh without voice’, industrial factory farming becoming as invisible as it is ubiquitous (204). But the eighteenth-century poetics of sensibility continues to offer valuable resources, Menely claims, if we want to grasp how animal appeals promote less authoritarian communities and how creaturely voices are remediated in the work of writers who thereby humanize themselves and their



readers—an argument that sheds light on the modern novel and the image of Orpheus, both of which are central to the rest of this chapter. The Animal Claim demonstrates that the contemporary imagination of cross-species sympathy and multispecies democracy has significant historical precursors. For it recounts how the eighteenth century witnessed a clash between two theories of communication, democracy, and representation, via debates on ‘the natural sign’ and the ‘interspecies community’ summoned by the animal voice’s ‘remediation in poetic language, print culture, and political debate’ (35). On the one hand, there is the belief that nonhuman animals are silent in all ways that matter to humans, and that they therefore fall outside of our political community and its legal provisions, a belief associated with authorities like the Bible, Aristotle, and Descartes (recall Bakhtin’s remarks about the ties between independent discourse and human personhood, and the claims by Rancière that I sketched in the introduction). On the other hand, Menely notes, there is a countertradition composed of figures like Montaigne, Hume, and Rousseau, ‘a persistent minority of thinkers who have explicitly recognized the claims articulated in animal address’ (30). Rather than privilege human language, which is based on conventional words, the intentions of a rational speaker, and full communicative reciprocity, these thinkers stress the passionate, preverbal signs of the animal voice and its inevitably asymmetrical appeal to human listeners. This second group of thinkers foregrounds the role of sound, in line with Rousseau’s belief that ‘the most powerful medium for communicating emotion is the voice’ (73). They realize that these emotional ‘animal sign[s]’ may take other forms too, like gestures or facial expressions (63)—forms I explore further in Chap. 4. But the crucial point for these thinkers is not the mode of this creaturely voice but its emotional cross-species message of pain or pleasure, which is communicated transparently by a great variety of creatures, ranging from birds and stags over flies and hares to monkeys and donkeys. In responding to animal sounds, they feel, we should not stress ‘taxonomic distinctness but … creaturely affinity’ (19), the recognizable expression of ‘a shared susceptibility to injury’ (10). Without ignoring the diversity of life forms, this tradition puts great emphasis on the fact that all embodied creatures are vulnerable, and express their pleasure as well as protest against injury—a creaturely mode of communication that persists in human language and can be reactivated by writers attentive to animal



suffering. This conception of the nonhuman voice underpins a more convivial model of communal life too, in which society is not shaped by rational deliberation, social contracts, and self-directed individuals but by affective ties and animal signs that implore us to include other creatures in our community to come, turning humans from active speakers to passive listeners. But of course, the animal cry requires the help of humans who are willing to represent and circulate these cries, and humanize both themselves and their readers in this process of moral advocacy. Sympathetic to these broader claims, many eighteenth-century poets and painters tried to do justice to the animal cry. Poetry in particular proved to be well-attuned to this animal voice, its vulnerable perspective, and its need for human advocacy and remediation, Menely claims. For poets like Pope, Thomson, Smart, and Cowper registered these nonhuman appeals in literary texts that attest to a form of ‘biosemiotic attention’ (108), an awareness of the fact that ‘[d]istinct species … inhabit distinct semiotic environments, unique vantages from which to perceive and participate in a world of signs’ (107)—even identifying ‘something like the phenomenon of the acoustic niche’ pinpointed by Bernie Krause (112)— and integrated into their writing ‘the force of nonlinguistic meaning, be it avian song or insect noise, the lowing of cattle or the dying stag’s groans’ (122). Using a famous trope, Thomson’s influential The Seasons (1730) even presents the ‘music’ of birds as ‘the communicative model toward which poets strive’, Menely points out (112). The belief that ‘poetic language’ derives its ‘vitality … from its proximity to creaturely life and loss’ further explains why these writers keep returning to the classical myth of Orpheus, the underworld-bound widower ‘who, in his grief for his lost Eurydice, sings for the animals’, for their texts likewise attempt to ‘endo[w] creaturely loss with collective meaning, creating a common world out of the shared condition of corporeal finiteness’ (16). As his story is taken to prove, the animal voice persists in poetic, passionate forms of speech, which therefore hold out the promise of a political community based not on reason and contracts but emotion and vulnerability (78, 94). In a related argument, Stephen Eisenman has shown that visual artists from the eighteenth century onward have participated in ‘the radical tradition of the “cry of nature”’ by capturing the passionate nonhuman voice in what appears to be another silent medium, namely painting (157):



A shriek of pain—which arrests all thought and memory—is by its nature a sign of presentness … as well as an expression of the brute facticity and resistance of a body … It was heard every day, as Hogarth suggested in the second of The Four Stages of Cruelty, on the streets [of] every town and city in Georgian England. The outcry in [George Stubbs’s painting] Horse Attacked …—the sound of an animal in panic or in its death throes—was thus a sound Stubbs too would have known well. And its reverberation would be felt in many works of art and literature of the next generation and beyond … and find its logical culmination 150 years after Stubbs in the screaming horse at the centre of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. (113–14)

For a long time, in short, poets and painters alike have been alerting us to animal calls that were perceived as signs of distress, and models of affective democracy. What about the novel? At first sight, Menely notes with reference to Walter Benjamin, modern fiction appears to be a less appropriate medium for this creaturely voice. But this assumption, which found fertile ground in models like Bakhtin’s, might be wrong: Benjamin’s claim is familiar enough: the novel, as the exemplary literary form of modernity, is concerned with ‘human existence’ and the alienated individual, not with the vicissitudes of creaturely life. … The argument could be made, however, that those ‘realist’ novels so closely associated with the development of liberal individualism—with the model of a self-­governing modern individual, a definitively human self …—in fact retained significant creatural inflections. (129)

That the novel form features a lingering creaturely dimension is confirmed by the prose of Franz Kafka and Laurence Sterne. Building on Benjamin again, Menely argues that Kafka’s work returns us to a world filled with ‘forms of expression and kinship … that precede the established community and its accepted modes of communication’ (128). For his writing returns its readers to a quasi-primordial world in which life forms are neither directly identified nor clearly distinguished, with destabilizing effect: ‘Like Adam, the reader of Kafka’s parables encounters the animals still unnamed, so that when, in the course of the tale, the creatures are finally identified according to the accepted nomenclature, the reader’s experience is one of radical defamiliarization. … The effect … is a state of intensified concentration’ (127). What we find here, in other words, is a form of ‘delayed decoding’, a phrase coined by Ian Watt to describe how writers



may temporarily withhold the correct explanation of a disorientating sense impression (see McLeod 128). Scenes from the work of Laurence Sterne exhibit similar category mistakes and ontological confusion, Menely observes, making characters experience the same ‘form of creaturely defamiliarization Benjamin attributes to Kafka’s reader’ (196). That this effect can involve sound is shown by the episode in which Yorick hears the call of a caged starling and mistakes its cry for help for that of a human adult or child, their similar sounds underlining a shared, cross-species condition of vulnerability. In such a scene, ‘[l]inguistic solipsism is unsettled by the concrete particularity of a voice that refuses symbolic assimilation’ (195). This experience of taxonomic uncertainty is productive, in other words, in the sense that it invites the reader’s sympathy to spill over its apportioned borders. The fact that literary texts often heighten this aural confusion rather than represent animal sounds as easily categorized sonic specimens accordingly fits into an attempt to evoke more convivial communities. As my analysis of Disgrace already indicated, ‘creaturely advocacy’ has not disappeared from the modern novel at all (197), this form that still features ‘significant creatural inflections’—what I have called a ‘nonhuman percentage’. Yet there are some significant caveats. Menely rightly insists that this project of advocacy inevitably remains paradoxical and asymmetrical, seeing that the animal cry is only able to disrupt the conventional enclosure of human speech, apparently, if the poet lends the animal her voice: ‘[t]he advocate recognizes an imperative in a voice that in some sense cannot be heard, which is why he or she must, in his or her speaking for, make up for the insufficiency in the voice of the one whom he or she represents’ (130–1). In addition, these cultural practices may display a growing awareness of animal suffering, but they also confirm the identity of responsive viewers and listeners by establishing what he calls ‘the humanitarian public, a public consisting of spectators who consolidate their humanity by observing the tyrannical inhumanity of others’, for ‘to inhabit the place of the human, to be distinguished from other creatures, is to be responsive to the animal’ (84). In other words, these poems, paintings, and novels may unwittingly perpetuate hierarchical thinking by creating the impression that, even though humans and animals are both vulnerable and express their emotions, the former are ultimately better speakers, better listeners, and better feelers. In arguing for a broader view of polyphony, we should hence be aware of the fact that the novel’s attention to animal sounds may paradoxically reinforce its status as a privileged humanizing



practice. The presence of mice, birds, horses, and insects in the modern city reveals a nonhuman ‘circuit of produced and heard sound’, as Steven Connor has noted in a related context, seeing that ‘a soundscape populated by animals is polycentric [and] listens and replies to itself’ (2013, 4). Yet the fact that we as human listeners are able to overhear the back-and-­ forth between and among all these nonhuman species may be what defines us as nonanimals; ‘listening-in to the communications of other creatures’, Connor remarks, drawing on the writings of Michel Serres, ‘we have not only ourselves moved out of the sensory and communicational niche provided by our biological bodies, but may have become a kind of diaphragm or switchboard to connect up signals from different species’ (12). Even when we feel excluded from the ambient soundscape, our powerful capacity for eavesdropping on others implies that we retain an aural overview unavailable to other listening bodies—and the same might be true of our attempts to include ever more life forms into our emotional experiences and calculations. Humans hear more than other animals, not only by attending to the suffering of multiple species but also by exploring diverse habitats and inventing new sound production and reception prostheses—one overlooked instance of which, I am arguing, is the modern novel. For Connor’s account of human overhearing equally applies to the novel’s creatural traces or nonhuman percentage; this literary form too enables us to move out of the sensory niche provided by our biological bodies, by recording deafeningly loud noises as well as inaudibly soft vibrations, and functions like a textual switchboard that connects up (or disconnects, reconnects, scrambles) signals from heterogeneous species, most of which contemporary readers will never hear in real life. If not for novels like The Hunter (1999), The Hungry Tide (2004), Jamrach’s Menagerie (2011), and Orfeo (2014), where can nonspecialists like you and I listen to the sounds of a Tasmanian tiger, of an Irrawaddy river dolphin, of a Komodo dragon, of mutating bacteria? Perhaps we should follow Stephanie LeMenager’s suggestion, then, that it is wiser ‘to drop “the nonhuman” as a diagnostic for the limitations of humanism and simply declare a more interesting and diffuse human turn’, seeing that ‘[t]he word “human,” in some circles, has long implied something other and something more’ (402, emphasis in original). Instead of fully nonhuman narratives with exclusively animal soundtracks, you might say, there are only more-than-human novels with a multispecies soundscape. Formulated more positively, the inclusive acoustics of these stories underlines that, as Anna Tsing has reminded us, ‘human nature is …



an interspecies relationship’ (quoted in van Dooren, 102). If these novelistic sounds confirm our humanity, they also suggest that our existence is shaped by relations to many other life forms. As the preceding paragraphs have shown, Menely’s survey of eighteenth-century literature contextualizes recent representations of animal sounds by revealing how these creaturely voices have traditionally unsettled orthodox views of society and signification. Furthermore, it explicates how humans feel compelled to represent, in the legal as well as semiotic sense, animal suffering, redirecting their calls for sympathetic attention to a human public tied together by similar if often disavowed forms of emotion. As Kafka’s stories (and Coetzee’s novel) prove, this creaturely voice can find a home in prose as well as in poetry, and forces us to rethink communication and community in ways that subvert the species boundary but perhaps also confirm the category of the human by fetishizing her attentive acts of writing and listening. Bearing in mind this cultural history, we can now begin to measure the distance between the eighteenth and the twenty-first century.

Sensitive Listeners and Sonic Communities So far, I have argued that we can only arrive at a comprehensive understanding of novelistic sound if we complement existing research on character voices, machine noise, and other anthropogenic sounds by studying literary descriptions of animal calls and developing relevant suggestions by scholars like Tobias Menely and Steven Connor. That we need such an inclusive account is confirmed by the following scene, which represents the mysterious sound encountered by Peter Els, the protagonist of Richard Powers’s Orfeo (2014), after teaching a music appreciation class at a retirement home: The air droned like the tinnitus that had plagued [Els] in his sixties and made him want to mercy-kill himself. One low trill split into two, a minor second. The interval turned metallic. A moment more, and the pitches collapsed back into unison. The ringing resumed, a Lilliputian air raid. The new chord bent into more grating intervals—a flat third, widening to almost a tritone—a glacial creation like Xenakis or Lucier, one of those cracked Jeremiahs howling in the wilderness, looking for a way beyond. The sky-­ wide trill filled the air with sonic pollen, like the engines of a fleet of interstellar spaceships each the size of a vanilla wafer. It filled the air at every distance, too sweet for locusts or cicadas. Bats didn’t shriek in broad day-



light, and birds didn’t sing in chorus. Something abundant and invisible was playing with harmony, and Els turned student again. … The guessing began, but no theory held up. … [He] closed his eyes …. Listen to this: listen to this. (147–9, emphasis in original)

This passage would not show up on Katsma’s, St. Clair’s, or Bakhtin’s radar because the noise has no human or technological source; made by tree frogs, as another character informs the baffled music specialist, it communicates nothing special: ‘The usual. It’s cool and moist. We’re alive. Come here. What else is there to sing about?’ (148, emphasis in original). Yet the comic disparity between this deadpan response and the preceding catalog of similes and metaphors does not just illuminate Peter Els’s mind frame, whose musical expertise informs this description, but also implies that shrugging off such ‘songs’ as merely biological signals impoverishes our soundscape, and our novels. Indeed, if we bear in mind the arguments of the previous section, we may notice how such scenes implicitly humanize this fictional character by applauding a human sensitivity to sound that is designed to appeal to the implied reader—or rather listener—of this scene too. Though the imagery has been updated, this scene is perhaps not so different from the ‘biosemiotic attention’ present in earlier forms of writing. Because here too, we are confronted with a sound that defamiliarizes accepted categories and heightens our aural attention. A textbook example of delayed decoding, the passage’s sound source is only identified after readers are presented with several contradictory options, revealing the remarkable complexity of this described sound. Els regards it as unwelcome noise (akin to tinnitus, an air raid, grating and metallic intervals, howling prophets, spaceship engines) but also as a biomusical experiment that turns this teacher into a fascinated student again (the trill splits, pitches unexpectedly collapse, chords bend and widen, revealing a play with harmony worthy of envelope-pushing composers like Iannis Xenakis and Alvin Lucier). The sound also confuses Els’s perception of scale, as this ‘sonic pollen’ is minute (Lilliputian, the size of a vanilla wafer, invisible) but also omnipresent (sky-wide, abundant, it fills the air at every distance). Only suggesting a potential animal origin after trying out such descriptions, the passage goes on to compare the sounds of several species, gradually homing in on this voice’s unique features; if you pay close attention, the text says, these are not quite bat shrieks, locust stridulations, or bird songs—as if teaching us to listen properly, not just to experimental compositions but to biological music too. Illustrating how the perception



of animal sounds confuses established categories, Els seems to be sitting at an old telephone switchboard, to return to Connor’s image, unsure about the precise trunk he should plug his cable into. Apart from training the reader’s ear, the passage reveals how the association with noise distances animal calls from the human listener while the language of music draws them closer; in contrast to the matter-of-fact response from the woman ‘whom music didn’t move’ (and Els himself seems ambivalent about Xenakis and Lucier), he is enchanted by these ‘improvising’ amphibians with their ‘airborne harmonies’ and ‘harsh serenade[s]’ (148, 149). More fascinating than the music he has been teaching, these sounds of ‘life’ are nevertheless fragile; though this primordial song might have been going on for ‘[a] hundred million years’, the narrator ruefully notes, ‘[a]mphibia would not trouble anyone much longer’ (149, emphasis in original). In line with the arguments I mentioned in Chap. 2, then, Powers’s novel updates earlier literary responses to animal calls by interpreting their nonhuman music against the background of species extinction. Clearly, the time is right for listening more closely to such voices and for studying how writers interweave them with the figurative noise of air raids and howling humans, not to mention the actual sounds of whistling ‘children’ and ‘rooftop ventilation units’ mentioned in an adjacent sonic panorama (148). Overlooked by existing models, we need to include this creaturely presence in our account of novelistic sound if it is to do justice to their resonant fictional worlds and their attentive characters and implied readers. As this rich passage already suggests, the fiction of Richard Powers is another good place to start if we want to explore the role of animal music in contemporary literature, for his novels often contemplate the fragile ties between humans and nonhumans, most explicitly in The Echo Maker (2006), and showcase a profound knowledge of music theory and history, especially if not exclusively in Orfeo (2014). And the comparison with music, I have been suggesting, is a strategy writers often use to bring animal voices into the fold or, conversely, to exclude their dissonant noises from the harmonious community of nonanimals—not to mention that critics often describe the novel’s democratically capacious representation of society in terms of musical polyphony. Examining Powers’s novels further, in other words, enables us to explore the ‘animal music’ evoked by Coetzee in more detail (as if picking up where Disgrace ends, Orfeo begins with an extended discussion of the musical partnership between Peter Els and his dog Fidelio). In general terms, the writing of Powers has been criticized for its cerebral tone but it has been widely praised too, seeing



that he has won a MacArthur Fellowship and a National Book Award and his work has been longlisted for the Pulitzer and the Booker Prize as well, making him one of the most well-known contemporary practitioners of the novel of ideas. Famously, his novels follow a pattern that is succinctly described by Heather Houser as ‘the interlacing of multiple plots that synthesize and humanize diverse domains of knowledge’ (81). Connecting such techniques to a recent revival of omniscient narration, Paul Dawson adds that authors like Powers project an image of ‘the social commentator’, where omniscience means ‘less a divine or telepathic knowledge of the human interior, than a polymathic knowledge of how the world works’ (155), a form of ‘narrative authority’ that derives from the author’s position as ‘public intellectual’ as established in ‘manifestos, essays, interviews or critical works’ (150). This pattern repeats itself in The Echo Maker and Orfeo, which comment, against a post-9/11 political background, on brain dysfunction and bird migration in the former case, and on microbiology and experimental music in the latter. How do these novels imagine sound and music, humans and animals, sympathy and community, and how do they rework the literary tradition of the creaturely voice for the twenty-first century? In general terms, both novels propose that we enlarge our narrow definitions of political community and creaturely communication. Dealing with an endangered population of migratory birds as well as with Capgras syndrome, a rare neurological condition that causes patients to misrecognize their loved ones as imposters, a character from The Echo Maker observes that Gerald Weber’s popular neurology books about people with brain disorders help to ‘le[t] the normals know that the tent is much bigger than they thought’ (285) and another voice argues that all humans suffer from Capgras, because we wrongly shrug off our animal relatives, ignoring the fact that they look and ‘cal[l]’ like our human relations (439). Humans sound like animals too; apart from references to characters who groan, bark, bleat, cluck, squeal, hiss and ‘giggl[e]’ in a way that sounds like ‘the clicks of a squirrel’ (335), the novel underlines that the Capgras patient utters animal-like phrases right after his accident, like ‘Ah … ah, kee-kee-kee’ (34), ‘chick, chick, chick, chick’ (46), ‘How how how now now now’ (53), and ‘Echo caca. Cocky locky. Caca lala’—all of which defamiliarize human vocalizations (61). Orfeo evokes a similarly inclusive project. Inspired by hobo composer Harry Partch and forms of biocomposing, Peter Els dreams of a newly attentive audience and a richer democratic conversation, a Bakhtin-like situation where ‘ordinary people chatter to



each other, millions of massed solos, in pitches and rhythms so rich that no scale or notation can capture them’ (357–8). More importantly, he tries to expand our definition of community even further by conducting a seemingly innocent genetic experiment, which involves putting music files into a modified strain of bacteria, to call attention to the fact that even the tiniest organisms hold ‘astonishing synchronized sequences, plays of notes that made the Mass in B Minor sound like a jump-rope jingle’ (142). Animal music can now be discovered across the physical world, this plot implies, as meaningful patterns are seen to manifest themselves at various scales of reality. That sound plays a crucial role in these novelistic attempts to imagine more inclusive communities is verified by their repeated staging of scenes where characters listen attentively to creaturely sounds, as in the scene I analyzed at the start of this section. Although the patient from The Echo Maker initially does not ‘sto[p] to listen’ to animal sounds (53), shrugging off ‘cicadas on a warm night’ (61), an enigmatic nurse encourages Mark to notice ‘the cicada choruses that he hadn’t heard since fifteen’ (305). A dogged but aloof environmentalist similarly implores the patient’s sister Karin to attend more closely to the natural world—an invitation to listen that the book returns to twice: ‘[s]hrink your sphere of sound inside your sphere of sight’ (94, see 109, 442). If you listen closely to such sounds, they acquire a music-like quality, as is shown by the vocalization of sandhill cranes, the charismatic bird species singled out in the novel: ‘One bugles a melody, four notes of spontaneous surprise. The other picks up the motive and shadows it’ (537). Even when the human listener feels excluded from this nonhuman audio, the experience may reinforce the sense of a deeper, primordial connection. When Gerald from The Echo Maker leaves a loud bar, the calls of owls and coyotes trigger a remarkable perspective reversal which suggests that human noise is finally no different from other sounds: ‘[c]reatures, all of whom heard humans and knew them as just part of the wider network of sounds … just another swarming node in the biome’ (411, emphasis in original). Or consider the experience of Karin as she walks along the Platte River: The nameless bird opened its throat, and out came the wildest music. It sang senselessly, sure that she could follow. All around, answers sprang up— the cottonwood and the Platte, the March breeze and rabbits in the undergrowth, something downstream slapping the water in alarm, secrets and rumors, news and negotiation, all of interlocked life talking at once. The



clicks and cries came from everywhere and ended nowhere, making no judgment and promising nothing, just multiplying one another …. Nothing at all was her [and] she felt free of herself, a release bordering on bliss. The bird sang on, inserting its own collapsed song inside all conversation. The ­timelessness of animals: the kinds of sounds her brother made, crawling out of his coma. (70)

Not unlike the scene where Gerald leaves the bar, this passage stresses both the autonomy of the nonhuman acoustic world (Karin cannot decode their sense and the sounds keep multiplying and responding in a nonhuman circuit of communications, as Connor might say, that is disconnected from her and her narrative) and its proximity to human life (these sounds can still meaningfully be described with human terms like song and music, alarms and rumors, and have a rejuvenating effect on Karin—in line with my discussion of serenity in Chap. 2). She finally interprets these sounds in terms of the cross-species message of vulnerability expressed, supposedly, by all prelinguistic cries. In contrast to the scenes I will discuss in the next chapter, this passage therefore encourages us less to reflect on different types of animal communication and more on the integrated symphony of life and its emotional impact on the human listener. Orfeo emphasizes the importance of attentive listening as well, not just by singling out frog vocalizations and experimental music but by reflecting on the work of Olivier Messiaen and Els’s quasi-scientific compositions. Taking his cue from his dog Fidelio, Els at one point attempts to take in music’s ‘wild noise’ ‘the way an animal might’ (29). The link between music and nature returns in his reflections on Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time (1941), the world-famous composition Messiaen wrote in a German concentration camp. Like the ‘glacial’ compositions of Lucier and Xenakis, this work approximates nonhuman music, the narrator’s descriptions imply, because it forces its players ‘into a thicket of rhythms’ (112), makes the piano descend ‘in waterfalls of chords’, channels ‘a blackbird’ and ‘a nightingale’ (115)—if Gerald’s scene musicalizes animals, this one animalizes or at least naturalizes music—and because this composition, ‘birdsong’s answer to the war’, tries to capture a sense of nonhuman time (113). Messiaen’s ‘jagged lines struggle to defeat the present and put an end to time’ (112) and one strategy in this quest for a musical present beyond chronological time is the imitation of the old ‘predawn song [birds have] sung since long before human time’ (115). But the attempt to push music beyond human parameters and historical time can take even more



creative forms, as I mentioned. After hearing of experiments that include ‘[s]tring quartets … performing the sequences of amino acids in horse hemoglobin’ (331), Els realizes that music hides everywhere; a leaf has ‘rhythms’ inscribed in its veins, a dog splashing in a pond churns up ripples containing ‘enough data to encode an entire opera’ (ibid.), and the mud on his shoes houses billions of small organisms containing ‘encoded songs’, ‘deafening festivals of invention for anyone who cared to attend’ (332). This awareness produces the desire to compose in DNA and turn ‘a living thing into a jukebox’, a fully animated composition (359): Four billion years of chance had written a score of inconceivable intricacy into every living cell. And every cell was a variation on that same first theme, splitting and copying itself without end through the world. All those sequences, gigabits long, were just waiting to be auditioned, transcribed, arranged, tinkered with, added to by the same brains that those scores assembled. A person could work in such a medium—wild forms and fresh sonorities. Tunes for forever, for no one. (299)

Moving beyond the rich variety of sounds imagined by eighteenth-century writers, Powers here gestures toward a soundscape that is not limited to what humans may hear or find appealing in terms of sonic charisma, but incorporates miniature sounds and sonic information related to scales beyond human perception. Forcing us to stretch and rethink categories like ‘animal’ and ‘sound’, Els’s narrative asks us to cup our ears and access a place human hearing usually cannot penetrate: ‘Listen deep down: most life happens on scales a million times smaller than ours’ (207, see also 332)—drastically expanding the scope of the acoustic contact zone created by the image of animal music. In their own ways, then, both The Echo Maker and Orfeo alert us to the importance of sounds that seem to fall outside human communities, lending a particular sensory dimension to their calls for societies that make more room for neurological patients as well as nonhuman creatures. Orfeo especially redraws the boundaries between human and nonhuman music, evoking not an opera with a singing dog but a composition inscribed into bacteria, which will spread and mutate beyond human control. Like Disgrace, certain descriptions and plotlines in Powers’s novels invite us to take into account creaturely perspectives, explicitly using the image of a musical composition to evoke a more inclusive community, in line with the literary tradition traced by Menely. Yet we should not



conclude too quickly that either inclusive communities or more-thanhuman songs are easily produced. As the plots of both novels indicate, the well-­meaning projects of neurologists, environmentalists, and musicians face multiple obstacles. For both popular medicine and musical experiments fail to expand society; Weber’s literary mode of brain research is increasingly criticized by his peers and the wider public, and Els’s bacterial composition is wrongly interpreted as a deliberate terrorist act, a plotline loosely modeled on the FBI’s real-life arrest of bioartist Steve Kurtz in 2004. On top of that, both novels imply that music can isolate as well as unify. At the first Independence Day celebration after 9/11, we read in The Echo Maker, Mark’s friends and other locals listen to ‘patriotic lyrics’ (271) as well as ‘deeply affirmative Christian country rock’ (274), but it appears that neither religious nor national bonds are strengthened; the ‘sound waves batte[r]’ Karin when she arrives (271) and she watches Mark ‘look around, trying to catch the attention of his friends, searching for confirmation none of them could give’ (274). Returning to the Messiaen scene in Orfeo, a similar picture emerges when we consider the response of Els’s elderly students. Instead of harmonizing these characters from diverse countries, professions, and taste communities, the Quartet ‘spread[s] through the group like flu moving through a day-care center’ (121)— sonic miniaturization again—and creates confusion and isolation; clenching their jaws and shooting scared looks, the students respond as if this music announces death rather than delivers them from chronology through artistic timelessness. Music may appear like a hospitable country that welcomes disparate perspectives, but it can also seem like a totalitarian state with closed borders; for one elderly student, ‘music was her North Korea—an unfathomable country that refused her a visa’ (122). Furthermore, the novel suggests that Els’s fateful bacterial composition is intended less for a human audience that might redeem his experiment and more for a future audience of ‘alien archaeologists’ (333), who will find it ‘a billion years after we go extinct’ (359). If this suggestion corresponds with the novel’s posthumanist reimagining of life, it can also be interpreted as a fantasy of human mastery and perennial inscription along the lines described in Kate Marshall’s account of Anthropocene fiction. Does Els’s project undercut human hubris by enriching our view of music, or does it exhibit this flaw by promoting a mode of listening that requires expert knowledge, high-tech tools, and an impossibly distant, alien perspective? For all of these reasons, we should treat with caution these utopian projects involving more-than-human music. What is at stake here is



not a self-evident community but a complex ‘contact zone’, a phrase that I use throughout this book in the context of human-animal relations (see Broglio 114), but that was originally coined by Mary Louise Pratt to capture postcolonial contexts and language situations that did not accord with what she considered to be optimistic definitions of society (see Pratt 37). In Powers’s novels too, I would argue, the acoustic contact zone involving animal songs and human composers exposes fault lines as well as areas of overlap, and fails to yield a secure community.

Telephone, iPod, Twitter Novels like Disgrace, The Echo Maker, and Orfeo lend their voice to a more-than-human music and continue the literary tradition of the creaturely voice, even if they opt for a less emotional tone in the case of Coetzee and stress the frailty of endangered species alongside individual injurable animals in the case of Powers, in line with modern critiques of sentimentalism and fears about species extinction. This section analyzes Orfeo in more detail, as this novel permits us to see how the creaturely voice is being reimagined now. As I will show, it raises pertinent questions about sovereign power and mediation, which are increasingly important in a twenty-first century where the state tracks us everywhere, passionate appeals are routed through telecom networks, and ambient animal music has to compete with personal media devices. Turning to media here also allows me to circle back to the start of this chapter. For even though my account argues against models that reduce the novel’s soundscape to human voices and machine noises, the point is not that we should bracket these two components for an exclusive focus on creaturely sounds, but should interrogate how scenes involving sound and listening redraw and rethink the borders that supposedly differentiate the humans, machines, and animals entangled in particular contact zones. All of these points figure centrally in two important scenes from Orfeo, both of which feature human voices, machine noises, and creaturely audio. The first scene takes place at the start of the novel and involves a distress call made by telephone. It is therefore similar to a voicemail message discussed by Dominic Pettman, which features a distressing plea for help by what appears to be a drunk woman. Sounds like these raise pressing questions about the human-machine and human-animal boundaries Pettman goes on to rethink in his other publications. To begin with, it juxtaposes ‘messy emotion’ and ‘precise automation’: ‘[w]hile the quality of the



message conveys the mediation of the machine, the plea tugs at the heart of the listener due to the pathos-heavy presence of “humanity”’ (2010, 134). It also illustrates how ‘a person’s distress call is at once “like a dying animal” and a quintessential example of human suffering’ (134, emphasis in original). Consequently, sonic experiences like these appear to capture something essentially human about the pleading person and the empathetic listener (remember the humanitarian public convoked by the creaturely voice) but are shot through with traces of the animal and machinic other. For they attest to an embodied vulnerability we share with other creatures and prove that ‘unique’ human qualities can be transmitted via machinic means. Even more distressingly, they disclose that our humanity is established via automatic, gut-level responses of sympathy that imply we are really machines too. To use Donna Haraway’s terminology, the human is not just a critter but a cyborg. Similar concerns crop up in the strangely decontextualized scene from the start of Powers’s Orfeo: On the tape, the hum of deep space. Then a clear alto says: Pimpleia County Emergency Services, Dispatcher Twelve. What is the location of your emergency? There comes a sound like a ratchet wrapped in a towel. A hard clap breaks into clatter: the phone hitting the floor. After a pause, a tenor, in the upper registers of stress, says: Operator? Yes. What is the locWe need some medical help here. The alto crescendos. What’s the nature of your problem? The answer is a low, inhuman cry. The tenor murmurs, It’s okay, sweetie. It’s all right. Is someone sick? the alto asks. Do you need an ambulance? Another muffled bump turns into static. The silence ends in a stifled O. Rapid words shear off, unidentifiable even with digital filtering and enhancement. The sounds of failed comforting. The dispatcher says, sir? Can you confirm your address? Someone hums a muted tune … Then the line goes dead. (3, emphasis in original)

A distress call between the protagonist and a 911 operator, it records a cry for help that destabilizes human speech, dialogue, and identity via references to machinic mediation and more-than-human affect signs. As the text indicates, sounds fail to congeal into recognizable meaning, an ‘inhuman’ cry is heard, and the conversation is interrupted without yielding the desired transfer of meaning on the part of either caller or listener. In addition, the mediation of the machine is underlined by allusions to



static and digital filtering, not to mention by the fact that the reader is here listening to tape herself rather than witnessing the events in a fleshed-out diegetic world that would add clearly delineated characters and emotionally involved focalizers and narrators to its exclusively aural textual cues. In other words, the conversation acquires a creaturely quality just as the narrative takes a machinic turn, and becomes telephonic, tape to be deciphered rather than text to be grasped immediately. What complicates the matter further is that this cry for help should have been ignored. When police officers trace this call to the home of Peter Els, they are not amused upon learning the source of that inhuman cry: ‘You dialed 911 for your dog? … Your dog was sick, the policeman said, her voice sagging under the weight of humanity, and you didn’t dial a vet? … I’m sorry [Peter responds] … She was sliding around on the floor and howling. … I’m sorry to have bothered anyone. It felt like an emergency’ (5, emphasis in original). However urgent the distress call may have seemed initially, both call and response are out of place, it seems, if the root cause is animal suffering. Nor can the dog, Peter’s faithful companion, receive ‘a decent burial’, for her body should be removed, as the officers inform him, by ‘Animal Care and Control … Reasons of public health’ (6, emphasis in original). This scene propels the narrative (upon visiting his home, the officers discover Peter’s dangerous-looking lab, triggering his flight from the authorities) and can even be seen as a miniature version of the novel’s larger plot, seeing that it likewise features an attempt on Peter’s part to make his fellow citizens hear the overlooked sounds of nonhuman creatures as well as the dismissive response of a society intent on ignoring creaturely appeals that its biopolitical parameters deem less than human. It also updates the motif of the creaturely cry for the twenty-first century. If the novel begins with an animal voice that appeals to its human caretaker, along the lines we have discussed before, that appeal is here redirected and mediated via technological systems that enable ever-more efficient responses even if they also encourage increasingly strict management of human and animal populations to ensure that the latter go to vets instead of doctors and are disposed of via animal control rather than a proper burial. The animal cry is not invalidated by its mechanical mediation, to be clear, seeing that its telephonic transfer leaves its emotional impact intact and actually helps to perforate borders between humans, animals, and machines. But this mediation still fits into a broader biopolitical infrastructure that carefully patrols the borders of human community and emotion. Prefiguring the story’s further development, this scene cautions us that



such attempts to question anthropocentric thought, however inadvertently, will be resisted if not punished by the sovereign interventions of a state that is now able to track and monitor everything in its attempt to stamp out all forms of suspected terrorism—even arriving at your doorstep when you no longer need them to. When Els’s more deliberate attempts to rethink sound and music are discovered, this system of monitoring will be deployed again, making him ‘as marked as an endangered creature wearing a tracking tag’ (203). If you do not uphold accepted boundaries between humans and other life forms, acceptable sounds and unsettling vibrations, you may be cast out of the human community and become a killable form of life yourself. If the previous scene illustrates how recent novels redeploy the motif of the creaturely voice in ways that interrogate newer forms of mediation and sovereign power, another extended passage tries to situate animal music in the competitive media ecology of the twenty-first century. At a certain point in the narrative, Peter Els visits a park and encounters both a young female jogger who is listening to an iPod and a bird who is uttering melodious sounds he interprets as highly creative music. The contrast between Peter and the jogger could not be more clear-cut, it appears: The park could have been a seventeenth century landscape painting. Nothing tied Els to the present except for the jogging woman. She had on a sports bra and shorts of some shiny, environment-sensing tech material. … White wires ran from the cuff on her arm into her ears. Jogging and the portable jukebox: the greatest musical match since tape hit the V8. … When this woman reached Els’s age, mind-controlled players would be sewn into the auditory cortex. And not a moment too soon, because the entire nation would be deaf. … This park, these advance spring flowers … were colored for her [Els imagines] by invisible instruments that no one but she could hear. … Nearby, something small began to trill: an invisible soloist reinventing melody, as it had done for millions of years before human ears. … The jogger appeared again through a clearing, still executing her merciless verdicts. … A few menu clicks and she could be the Minister of Culture for her own sovereign state of desire. … She was looking for something, the perfect sonic drug. … Above him, in the branches, the air still rang with birdsong. … A thing no bigger than a child’s fist was asserting a chord as brazen as any that a kid Mozart might [invent]. … Why listen to anything else, if you can hear that? (71–8, emphasis in original)



Explicitly described as a ‘cyborg’, this young woman is associated with a mode of listening and a form of music that differ sharply from the primordial songs of birds and the attentive, emplaced audition of Peter Els. Indeed, her behavior seems a textbook example of iPod use and mobile listening as analyzed by Michael Bull. To Bull’s mind, sonic technologies like MP3 players and mobile phones with similar capacities have intensified the culture of listening inaugurated by devices like the Sony Walkman, in which listeners occupy ‘a privatised auditory bubble’ (344). These devices enable unprecedented individual control of the user’s mood and soundscape—remember the final section of Chap. 2—via the continual adjustment of a private acoustic experience. Yet this privatization of sound reduces the user’s social interactions and experience of traversed places via a process of auditory filtering, Bull claims, that reduces richly historical sites to generic non-places and inhibits social exchanges with the help of commodified sounds that are far less personal than users like to imagine. All of these features return in Els’s characterization of the female jogger, who keeps switching songs for a new, drug-like ‘fix’ and fails to appreciate this beautiful park and its soundscape—not to mention Els’s adoring male gaze—as her experience of the outside world is filtered if not obscured by her private sensory preferences. As the reference to ‘earbuds’ in another scene from Orfeo indicates, moreover, this situation has become the norm rather than the exception (247). Although animal musicians are still playing their inventive concerts, it would appear that attentive listeners have become rare in the age of personal listening devices—outside of this novel, at least. The stereotypical contrast between the old male composer and the young female cyborg is complicated in at least two ways, however, and that more complex picture shows that Powers’s novel links rather than opposes mechanical iPods and natural birds, human and animal media, real and virtual ecologies. First of all, other aspects of the scene falsify Els’s interpretation of the female jogger and her auditory behavior: White snowdrops, yellow aconite, and a carpet of crocuses almost indigo ran alongside scattered blooms whose names Els didn’t know, although he’d seen them every spring for decades. … It seemed to [him] that Mahler would have loved the MP3 player, its rolling cabaret. His symphonies, laced with tavern music and dance tunes, were like a vulgar playlist. … The goddess startled Els … She pulled the white wires from her ears. Are you okay? … Els pointed. The bird answered for him. … White-throated sparrow! She



opened her mouth wide, and a clear, bright alto poured out. Poor Sam Peabody-peabody-peabody… The bird answered, and the imitator laughed. … Oh-migod. I love that bird. I wait for him, every spring. (71–2, 77–8, emphasis in original)

As the rest of the scene reveals, the jogger may strike Peter as unresponsive to her environment, but she is immediately able to identify the bird in question and outdoes him further by offering her own onomatopoeic description and interspecies game of call and response, adding that she too appreciates old nonhuman songs alongside more transient popular tunes. Her precise knowledge of the bird also distinguishes her from the supposedly more attentive Els, seeing that he is unable, as the text suggests, to identify a species of flower he has encountered many times before. The composer is also forced to admit that a device like the iPod might be less incompatible with the classical and experimental music the novel venerates so systematically (there is no turn to humble African banjos here) than the crude opposition between the cyborg and the composer seemed to imply. Toward the end of the novel, in fact, Els uses a smartphone in similar ways, namely to access ‘all the tunes in the world’ (269) and to evaluate songs via the ‘swift judgement’ of a click afterward (286). More fundamentally, the reader learns at the end that the enigmatic phrases interpolated in the main text of Orfeo are actually tweets sent by Els in the final stage of his journey to escape from the law. Powers structurally embeds a digital media platform into the novel’s fabric, in other words. The protagonist’s use of that medium is described, moreover, in ways that again play up the affinities between music and technology, human and nonhuman expression: ‘He tweeted like that white-throated sparrow in the arboretum just days ago, reinventing tonality … The messages were spreading by themselves’ (351). Such passages show that Powers’s narrative not only updates the tradition of the creaturely cry but also adapts the motif of animal music for a world with more complex contact zones, which are shaped by mobile listening as well as experimental music, by real and virtual viruses, avian music and digital communication. It could even be argued that a novel like Orfeo is not that dissimilar from devices like iPods, in fact, seeing that it introduces readers to a series of highlights from classical music—a form of textual playlisting—and allows them to tune out ambient audio while reading the text and listening to its described sounds. As these observations indicate, Orfeo recalibrates the parameters of political and aural communities, and rethinks the place of animal music in a world awash in human song. It



also foregrounds the problem of mediation that already figured in earlier iterations of the animal cry by routing its passionate appeal not just through print culture but also through the digital and telephone networks the novel integrates into its more-than-human textual fabric.

Orphic Fiction and the Creature-System In this chapter, I have argued that our model of novelistic sound should accommodate the nonhuman voices of dogs and even bacteria, following the example of writers like Coetzee and Powers who are developing new, multispecies forms of literary polyphony. In doing so, we should bear in mind the long-standing tropes of the creaturely voice and of animal music, which are currently being rethought in ways that bypass overt sentimentalism, invoke fears of species extinction, and acknowledge that passionate cries and beautiful sounds are now being channeled through aural media that compete with the novel and its continued work of animal advocacy. Resisting human-oriented definitions of the novel and its sonic texture, works like Disgrace and Orfeo reconnect with a literary tradition that punctures conventional political, emotional, and communicative enclosures, a tradition that we might call Orphic writing. In an interview, Powers explains the title of Orfeo by mentioning ‘the transcendent power of music’ versus ‘the underworld of the contemporary culture of fear’, thinking of how newly expansive and convivial forms of audition might provide much-needed relief in the post-9/11 world (Vorda, np). Yet if we recall Menely’s account of the creaturely voice in eighteenth-century literature, this reference to the Orpheus legend—and to Monteverdi, of course—also extends an older tradition of writing in which animal cries speak to humans and their musical vocalizations provide a model for literary texts as well as for a broad affective community inhabited by all injurable creatures. Updating these tropes, Orfeo offers a literary version of the argument formulated by Dominic Pettman, which states that we need a modified incarnation of Orpheus right now, to reconnect with the vox mundi, the ecological voice: Orpheus is a key figure here, since, on the one hand, this cherished musical icon seems like an ecological hero, in harmony with his environment through the sonic sympathy of his lyre. On the other hand, he could be considered a paradigm of … anthropocentrism: the human as exceptional shepherd of being. Does Orpheus use his music to dominate nature, through



re-enchantment? Or is his song a harmonic, holistic, properly ecological response, with humans, animals, trees, and stones all vibrating together within the song of life as a kind of (coming) musical-affective community? At this fragile historical juncture, where history itself … seems to be threatened at the material level of the planet, we are in need of a reverse Orpheus figure to inspire a … less willfully ignorant orientation to the world. In this case, our anti-Orpheus would not seduce the environment through song but would rather allow himself to be seduced by it, through listening. (2017, 87–8)

Rethinking this influential legend about humans, animals, and music, I have argued, is precisely what novels like Coetzee’s Disgrace and Powers’s Orfeo try to do. In asking us to listen more closely, even to sounds that seem ugly and unappealing and at scales that appear disconnected from human concerns, they trace the contours of a narrator (and a narratee) who is willing to function like this reverse Orpheus, someone who mediates and recirculates nonhuman audio without claiming power or priority—someone who might produce a more-than-human opera or a newly polyphonic novel for a multispecies future. At the same time, these novels counterbalance this utopian suggestion with a clear awareness of the difficulties involved in such a project and its lingering anthropocentrism. The opera of Lurie remains unfinished and the bacterial composition of Els escapes his control and might not even reach human ears, all of which suggests that new models of sound and community may be difficult to attain. Additionally, we should not overlook the fact that both novels underline the role of human composers, however attenuated, and their sonic mastery, however inclusive the associated view of community. It hence remains an open question whether these novels really express a willingness to become humble listeners or rather celebrate a creaturely receptivity and musical creativity that confirms rather than questions the category of the human (remember, in this context, my analysis of Krause and Kessels). In the final analysis, some of these activities may be less a sign of musical hospitality and democracy than an expression of human auditory control. In any case, the stories by Coetzee and Powers help us to see that music plays a pivotal role in the contemporary novel’s exploration of biological sound, by establishing differences as well as similarities between human and nonhuman characters, humanized and animalized music, attentive listening and acoustic inattention. Their narratives reiterate an older tradition of writing about animal sounds by hinting at shared vulnerability and



semiotic confusion, but they also adjust this model by adopting an explicitly unsentimental tone (Coetzee) and by interpreting creaturely cries in terms of a multiscalar understanding of reality, a melancholic awareness of species extinction, and new forms of mediation and biopolitics (Powers). Such passages should be studied in more detail, for they promise to advance our understanding of animals, sounds, and novels. A sustained analysis of animal voices promises to refine our understanding of fictional characters, for example. As Alex Woloch has observed, we should pay closer attention to the minor characters and ‘character-system’ of the realist novel (14, emphasis in original), for its capacious form invites us ‘to comprehend forms of social relation which can encompass the diverse populations that people these novels’ (32) and which reveal the genre’s ties to ‘a maturing logic of human rights’ (31). Building on Woloch’s insights, Ivan Kreilkamp has detected a specific type of minor character in nineteenth-­ century literature: Where do we find animals, animality, or nonhuman creatures in Victorian novels? In realist novels …—it’s a different story in children’s and fantasy literature—they tend to exist … at the margins; in forms, embodiments, and characterizations that are minor, ephemeral, precarious, short-lived, and disadvantaged. We might say that they are in various ways thin rather than fully developed. Animals in realist texts tend to be … minor even in relation to the minorness of a human minor character. [Yet] in all of their minorness and marginality, animals do inhabit and even shape Victorian fiction in ways that have not been fully accounted for. (2)

Like Kreilkamp, I propose that we study these backgrounded characters in greater detail. That means we have to tweak Woloch’s insights slightly; taking animal voices seriously entails that we study the novel’s nonhuman as well as human populations, its ‘creature-system’ alongside its character-­ system, and the animal rights as well as human rights that are established and revoked in the modern novel. Joining Woloch’s argument with my own is not a far-fetched move, for the novel’s animal sounds can usually be interpreted in terms of the two kinds of minor characters identified by Woloch: the functional, unobtrusive ‘worker’ and the disruptive, hard-to-miss ‘eccentric’, contrasting roles that express themselves in ‘two different modes of speech’ (25), namely ‘the engulfing of an interior personality by the delimited signs that express it and the explosion of the suffocated interior being into an unrepresentable,



fragmentary, symptomatic form’ (24, emphasis in original). As my analysis of Coetzee’s unobtrusively buzzing bees and Powers’s musical, ear-opening frogs has shown, animal voices often fit into one of these categories, being either easily overlooked forms of background audio (‘delimited signs’) or baffling sonic disruptions (‘unrepresentable’ forms). If Woloch is right that ‘[t]he protagonist needs [the] contrast [of minor characters] in order to be fully individualized’ (47), moreover, we may conclude that the minor sounds of animals actually perform the major function of making the protagonist’s fully humanized voice ring out more clearly—an asymmetric structure that lends itself to all sorts of creative transformations and interrogations, depending on the more or less anthropocentric allegiances of writers and readers. In developing these remarks in a multispecies direction, we should also ask ourselves at what point the category of character ends and that of setting begins, seeing that many of the novel’s animal presences and sounds belong to an environment that is curiously alive yet that often remains backgrounded too—a point I will return to in the conclusion. Yet whatever we end up calling these sounds and characters, it is clear that we should start mapping their presence and function, their frequency, intensity, and distribution in individual novels and particular subgenres. Distant reading techniques may prove fruitful here, as Katsma claims, but only if we tune them to the novel’s nonhuman sounds—neither to disown the form’s inevitable human component, nor to naively celebrate animal signs that finally defy human understanding, but to better comprehend the novel’s patterned sounds and minor characters. Following in the footsteps of scholars working on a nonhuman narratology, such a project would establish an acoustics of posthumanist friendship and do more justice to the novel and its Orphic (or anti-Orphic) strain—what I have called its multispecies soundscape, its polyphony beyond the human.

References Attridge, Derek. “Age of Bronze, State of Grace: Music and Dogs in Coetzee’s Disgrace”. Novel 34.1 (2000): 98–121. Print. Bakhtin, M.M. The Dialogic Imagination. Four Essays. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981. Print. Benson, Stephen. “Contemporary Fiction and Narratorial Acoustics: Graham Swift’s Tomorrow”. Textual Practice 25.3 (2011): 585–601. Print.



Broglio, Ron. “‘Living Flesh’: Animal-Human Surfaces”. Journal of Visual Culture 7.1 (2008): 103–21. Print. Bull, Michael. “No Dead Air! The iPod and the Culture of Mobile Listening”. Leisure Studies 24.4 (2005): 343–55. Print. Coetzee, J.M. Disgrace. London: Vintage Books, 2000 [1999]. Print. Connor, Steven. “‘In My Soul I Suppose, Where the Acoustics Are So Bad’: Writing the White Voice”. Beckett, Modernism and the Material Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2014. 102–14. Print. ———. “Rustications: Animals in the Urban Mix”. Lecture given at the University of New South Wales, 10 July 2013. html. Web. 23 March 2016. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Richmond: Alma Classics, 2010 [1899]. Print. Dawson, Paul. “The Return of Omniscience in Contemporary Fiction”, Narrative 17.2 (2009): 143–61. Print. Dimock, Wai Chee. Through Other Continents: American Literature Across Deep Time. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006. Print. Eisenman, Stephen F. The Cry of Nature: Art and the Making of Animal Rights. London: Reaktion Books, 2013. Print. Haraway, Donna. When Species Meet. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2008. Print. Herman, David. Narratology Beyond the Human: Storytelling and Animal Life. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2018. Print. Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. New  York: Vintage Books, 2004 [2003]. Print. Houser, Heather. Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S.  Fiction: Environment and Affect. New York: Columbia UP, 2014. Print. Grusin, Richard, ed. The Nonhuman Turn. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2015. Print. Karlin, Daniel. “Hark! Nineteenth-Century Poetry and the Song of Birds”. In The Figure of the Singer. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013. 59–82. Print. Katsma, Holst. “Loudness in the Novel”. Pamphlets of the Stanford Literary Lab, September 2014. Web. 14 September 2015. Kohn, Eduardo. How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. Berkeley: U of California P, 2013. Print. Kreilkamp, Ivan. Minor Creatures: Persons, Animals, and the Victorian Novel. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2018. Print. LeMenager, Stephanie. “Not Human, Again”. J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-­ Century Americanists 1.2 (2013): 401–10. Print. Marshall, Kate. “What Are the Novels of the Anthropocene? American Fiction in Geological Time”. American Literary History 27.3 (2015): 523–38. Print. McLeod, Deborah. “Disturbing the Silence: Sound Imagery in Conrad’s The Secret Agent”. Journal of Modern Literature 33.1 (2009): 117–31. Print.



Menely, Tobias. The Animal Claim: Sensibility and the Creaturely Voice. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015. Print. Perkins, David. “How the Romantics Recited Poetry”. Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 31.4 (1991): 655–71. Print. Pettman, Dominic. Sonic Intimacy: Voice, Species, Technics (or, How to Listen to the World). Palo Alto: Stanford UP, 2017. Print. ———. “After the Beep: Answering Machines and Creaturely Life”. boundary 2 37.2 (2010): 133–53. Print. Picker, John. Victorian Soundscapes. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Print. Powers, Richard. Orfeo. London: Atlantic Books, 2014. Print. ———. The Echo Maker. London: Vintage Books, 2007 [2006]. Print. Pratt, Mary Louise. “Arts of the Contact Zone”. Profession 91 (1991): 33–40. Print. Rohman, Carrie. “No Higher Life: Bio-aesthetics in J.M.  Coetzee’s Disgrace”. Modern Fiction Studies 60.3 (2014): 562–78. Print. Rubery, Matthew. The Untold Story of the Talking Book. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2016. Print. Schafer, R. Murray. The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Rochester: Inner Traditions International, 1993 [1977]. Print. Schweighauser, Philipp. The Noises of American Literature, 1890–1985: Toward a History of Literary Acoustics. Gainesville: U of Florida P, 2006. Print. St Clair, Justin. Sound and Aural Media in Postmodern Literature: Novel Listening. London: Routledge, 2013. Print. van Dooren, Thom. Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction. New York: Columbia UP, 2014. Print. Vorda, Allan. “A Fugitive Language: An Interview with Richard Powers”. Rain Taxi. Winter 2013. Web. 2 October 2015. Woloch, Alex. The One vs. the Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2003. Print.


Multispecies Multilingualism

If many writers and listeners interpret animal sounds in terms of human music and cross-species sympathy, as I explained in Chap. 3, others prefer to categorize these nonhuman voices as a form of language, just remember the ‘dictionary of animal languages’ project mentioned in Chap. 2. Literary scholars are no exception, as is shown by their readings of specific literary works as well as more wide-ranging theoretical reflections. Writing about Virginia Woolf’s posthumously published novel Between the Acts (1941), Louise Westling has argued that its narrative about a pageant at an English country house overshadowed by the threat of war and the disintegration of empire disrupts fantasies of human superiority and separation from the nonhuman realm. A newly capacious view of language proves crucial in this respect: Conversation in the opening scene includes the coughing of a cow and the chuckling of birds over worms and snails, and the humans hear and respond to these animal sounds. Later, during the pageant, again and again the wind blows the words away as the chorus of villagers chant their lines. [Via such scenes] Woolf suggests the radical sense in which language belongs not only to the animal community but to the whole of the natural world … As Woolf’s treatment of animal, plant, and meteorological linguistic contributions suggests, [the novel’s] social world is not only human but collaborates within the much larger matrix of earthly life and energy. (1999, pp. 866, 888)

© The Author(s) 2020 B. De Bruyn, The Novel and the Multispecies Soundscape, Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature,




Rasheed Tazudeen proposes a similar reading, which claims that Woolf’s novel exposes the failure of human attempts to assign meaning to the natural world while exploring what he calls ‘the language of the living world’ (491). Via Woolf’s creative use of metaphors in particular, he asserts, Between the Acts gestures toward ‘a language no longer made in the image of consciousness’ (507), a nonhuman language akin to the sounds made by a flock of starlings at the novel’s end, ‘forged out of the interactions between animals and the natural world that take place in the absence of human consciousness’ (509). These analyses do not fully overlap, yet whether Woolf is seen to include human language in a broader continuum of communicative behaviors or to disconnect its conscious projections from non-conceptual expressions, both critics conclude that her representation of the sounds uttered by cows, birds, dogs, and other creatures urges readers to reimagine accepted views of language and of life. Such observations can be extrapolated to other works and contexts, Westling maintains in The Logos of the Living World (2014), which generalizes her analysis of Woolf to state that ‘language is everywhere’ (2014, 101). For those who want to explore literary representations of nonhuman languages, Westling’s detailed argument is a good place to start, even if my own account, as I suggested in the introduction to this book, also parts ways with her broad conclusions. Combining insights from literary studies with ideas from biosemiotics, Westling’s reflection on animal language begins by dismantling Heidegger’s notorious claims about nonhuman creatures being poor-in-world and poor-in-language before turning to Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological reflections on the ‘flesh of the world’. For these trace the contours of a less anthropocentric ontology, which is more environmentally sensitive and scientifically literate, and acknowledges ‘the immanence of meaning in the world itself and therefore communicative modes outside human language’ (2014, 43)—even improving on Jacques Derrida’s more famous interrogation of the human-animal boundary, in Westling’s view. She does not intend to deny ‘the distinctive linguistic abilities of humans, from the complexities of our verbal behavior to the invention of writing and all that it has made possible’ (109), but nevertheless feels that ‘the exclusion of all but the most abstract human cognitive and linguistic behaviors from the definition of language is not very useful in view of what we are learning about other animals’ communicative abilities’ (107). Reviewing recent scientific research, Westling tells us that human speech emerged ‘from bodily structures and behaviors shared with many other animals’ (102) and that



we should therefore embrace a broader definition of language, which includes the expressions of animal ‘voices’—‘[f]rom the rasping of cicadas to the songs of whales and birds to the howling of wolves and the vocalizations of primates’—but also nonverbal messages via smells, gestures, and facial expressions (119), repositioning ‘human linguistic behavior in this wider context in which meaning codes and communication are everywhere in the living world, even on as minuscule a scale as DNA-RNA messages’ (112–13). The contrast with Heidegger could not be clearer, Westling continues, seeing that he insisted on an ‘abyss yawning between ourselves and living creatures … defined by language, which he says we have and other animals do not’ (67) and even claimed ‘that apes do not have hands that can share and welcome and give, communicating complex thoughts’ (94). Biosemiotic research enriches our understanding of nonhuman signaling, but it also alerts us to ‘the interplay of human and other animal languages and behaviors’ (125), Westling adds, forms of cross-­ species communication that are indispensable in practices like sheep herding (139) but also feature in literary works like Between the Acts or, more recently, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (2001), in which a young boy and a Bengal tiger are forced to share a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean, pushing these unlikely allies to develop a ‘minimal common language … involving both human and tiger vocalizations as well as actions such as the direct stare’ (131). Interpreting this tenuous arrangement as an allegory of our global environmental predicament, in which the spread of human societies is fatally contracting the habitat of wild animals (forcing humans and animals alike into a cramped lifeboat), Westling concludes that we urgently need to take such imaginative reflections on cross-species kinship and communication more seriously. As this sample of existing arguments about individual writers and nonhuman communication indicates, linguistically oriented descriptions of animal sounds raise familiar questions about community and morality but also force us to rethink language in ways that move beyond the model of words and sounds. For the nonhuman world uses heterogeneous modes of communication; as ethologist Con Slobodchikoff points out, ‘animals can produce signals in the form of every sensory modality that we know of—sight, sound, smell, touch, taste—and even some that we as humans don’t use, such as electrical current, underground vibrations, and sounds produced above or below our range of hearing’ (17). Precisely because of this diversity, I will argue in this chapter that we should spend less time on arguments about a generalized nonhuman language and more on the



particular features and affordances of the languages used by specific species, and on the challenges involved in describing them responsibly in human words and novelistic forms. While opening up our general definition of language remains a worthwhile pursuit, a closer look at the communication systems of bees, dogs, and other creatures reveals that the nonhuman world does not use one selfsame language, and that novels about animal speech actually represent a peculiar form of multilingualism—one that simultaneously raises awareness of the multimodal character of human exchanges. As the literary imagination of these nonhuman tongues is a vast topic, this chapter zooms in on two particular versions of ‘the language of the living world’ and their novelistic representation, namely the communication systems used by elephants and apes. Continuing the short trip through the literary archive we began in Chap. 3, with its summary of research on eighteenth-century literature, I first recapitulate existing work about the impact of the Darwinian revolution on late-­ nineteenth-­century linguistic theory and literary practice, a development that provides the intellectual background for later narratives like those of Between the Acts and Life of Pi. If these earlier attempts to ‘rewild’ language seem to lead beyond the human, we should bear in mind that anthropomorphism is hard to avoid, also and perhaps especially when thinking about language. Attentive to such complications, I subsequently consider two novels that deal with elephant language and infrasonic calls, Barbara Gowdy’s The White Bone (1998) and Tania James’s The Tusk that Did the Damage (2015). Further contextualizing my argument, the next section reviews the history of animal language experiments in nineteenthand twentieth-century science as well as recent calls for a mode of literary analysis that you might call ‘behavioral reading’—contexts which are crucial to understanding two works that touch on the primate language debate, Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013) and Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal (2016). If the first set of novels recalibrates our definition of sound beyond the parameters of human hearing, the second rethinks our conception of language beyond sound altogether by highlighting gestures and body language. A related difference is that the elephant novels choose to represent these creatures through internal focalization—a strategy vulnerable to the charge of sentimentalism we encountered in Chap. 3—whereas the ape novels opt for an external registration of rich nonhuman behaviors rather than rich animal minds. These observations force us to address the thorny philosophical questions of alterity and anthropomorphism, but they also point to



recent debates about the postnatural lives of animals in wildlife sanctuaries, a condition that explains why the languages of these creatures function not only as lessons in multimodal messaging but also as responses to the condition of enduring captivity experienced by twenty-first-century wildlife—a situation that constitutes another complex acoustic contact zone and furthers my observations on wild acoustics from Chap. 2. In sum, the present chapter explores some of the ways in which contemporary writers have tried—and occasionally failed—to represent nonhuman sounds and messages, understood not as one animal tongue but as a wildly diverse set of languages.

Linguistic Posthumanism, Not Although the idea of animal language has a much longer prehistory, it is not surprising that scholars of Victorian literature especially have been able to identify numerous works that consider language and its nonhuman aspects, and have outlined a literary genealogy that precedes Woolf’s more-than-human pageant and Martel’s multispecies lifeboat, given the impact of Darwin’s theory of evolution and the global rise of English in the second half of the nineteenth century. Though I explain the history of animal language experiments in more detail below, this section contextualizes my argument about nonhuman languages in contemporary fiction by summarizing existing research on Victorian novels. Like Menely’s analysis of eighteenth-century literature in Chap. 3, this body of work helps to frame my analysis by disclosing, first, how individual literary works often fit into broader theories or discourses about human and nonhuman communication and, second, how difficult it is to imagine a language completely disconnected from human speech. Afterward, I will confront these general insights with a first set of examples, which explore the lives and cultural meanings of elephants in ways that underscore animal sounds and linguistic metaphors. Popular literature from the second half of the nineteenth century explicitly reflected on evolutionary insights and their implications for the sounds uttered by humans as well as nonhumans. As Will Abberley explains, Victorian fiction drew on cutting-edge insights from biology and philology, especially the ‘idea that language was a natural object, evolving through deep time independently of its speakers’, with ‘instinctive, infinitesimal parts of vocalization seem[ing] to carry traces of the past’ (3). Trying to stave off the resulting loss of human control, stories in a range



of genres performed ‘thought experiments in linguistic possibility [that] involved reviving and fabricating archaic speech, reconstructing the evolutionary past of language, and predicting future development’ (5). According to Abberley, individual works usually fit into larger discourses about language change, like the ‘language progressivism’ of utopian romances—which considers language as an artificial technology that enables ever-more rational and altruistic human communities—the ‘language vitalism’ of historical romances—which sees language as a living essence that develops in organic connection with an often oral past—and a symbiotic view of language ‘as a dialogue between biology and culture’ in the work of Samuel Butler and Thomas Hardy (18). Paying more explicit attention to nonhuman animals, Christine Ferguson details how linguistic fantasies involving ‘the talking brute’ and ‘the brutality of language itself’ shaped Victorian stories about the language of the masses, of ‘savage’ peoples, dialect speakers, and nonhuman animals (10). Like Abberley, she also integrates individual texts into broader discourses like ‘linguistic primitivism’ (47), ‘linguistic imperialism’ (101), and ‘linguistic humanism’ (116). The latter’s ‘quasi-religious worship of language’ is crucial here (125), for it returns in recent debates, as Ferguson notes: Language has long been the holy grail of animal rights’ activism and behavourist research, the ‘missing link’ that would permit our communication and recover our genealogical relationship with non-humans. Scientific, philosophical, and political arguments in favour of the existence of animal language often harbour a belief … that language is an elevating force, that once, for example, we recognize the ability of some gorillas to master ASL (American Sign Language), we will be less able to treat them as chattel. This assessment of language’s humanizing power has the consent of both activists and anti-liberationists alike, a fact manifest in the latter’s consistent refusal to recognize animal communication as an actual language. (108)

Contrary to what we may think, however, linguistic humanism is not an unalloyed good, for even though it grants animals moral standing, it comes at the considerable price of restricting rights to creatures with recognizably human capacities and of reducing all other communication systems to human language. Whether we are talking about the Victorian or the current period, in other words, we should be vigilant that well-­meaning attempts to assign language to nonhumans do not end up promoting human exceptionalism.



This existing research on Victorian literature devotes special attention to the work of H.G.  Wells, including The Island of Dr Moreau (1896), another canonical story about animal language relevant to contemporary debates. In Abberley’s reading, this classic story about a mad scientist who engineers human-animal hybrids and teaches them English by force deals with the ‘fear of language disintegrating without prescriptive authority’ (83), although it also challenges such authoritarianism by signaling that the beast-folk’s ‘[i]nstinctive vocal signs of emotion … sustain sympathetic society’ (85)—a point that recalls the argument of Chap. 3. As the language of these hybrid creatures disintegrates without human supervision—individual words ‘softening and guttering, losing shape and import, becoming mere lumps of sound again’, in the novel’s words (96)—Steven McLean rightly stresses that the novel’s animals are only ‘temporarily endowed with linguistic abilities’ (48, emphasis in original). Nevertheless, Ferguson contends that Wells’s narrative disrupts linguistic humanism, as the seat of human intelligence is shown to be, not the soul or the brain, but the puny ‘larynx’ (124). In reducing language to ‘a muscle-based system of noises’ (125), she notes, he does not praise the linguistic abilities of nonhuman animals, like contemporary anti-vivisection writers, who ‘adjusted conventional definitions of language so as to include the communication of animals’ (114), but presents ‘all language, whether uttered by a monkey or a human, as equally devoid of transcendent status’ (128, emphasis in original). Instead of elevating nonhuman communication, in other words, Wells downgrades all forms of language. As these accounts show, territorial disputes about the precise borders between human language and animal communication are part of a long literary tradition. The questions raised by these Victorian writers also remain important, for they continue to shape our relationship to other forms of life. Even after all these years, Abberley asserts, we need to ask ourselves: ‘Is language fundamentally different from animal communication or an anthropocentric construct?’ (21). In thinking about that question, we should heed the lessons of fictional thought experiments, he believes, as their focus on ‘the particulars of daily life’ is capable of nuancing ‘one-dimensional models of communication’ (173), like certain biosemiotic accounts of sounds and facial expressions, which ‘treat emotions and their signs as fixed and universal’ (172). In sum, earlier writers have mined this vein already, in ways that fit into larger discourses like linguistic humanism, and that do not always mark a definitive departure from human exceptionalism, even if



they occasionally cut language down to size by reducing it imaginatively to ‘mere lumps of sound’. As I will argue in the following sections, one strand of contemporary writing develops this literary tradition by supporting yet another discourse that we might name linguistic posthumanism. In these novels, writers embrace recent calls to ‘provincialize’ language (38), as Eduardo Kohn puts it, and actively attempt to trace what he calls ‘trans-species pidgins’ in the acoustic contact zones of contemporary life (131). In mapping this attempt, however, we should bear in mind that a phrase like linguistic posthumanism is a contradiction in terms, seeing that the very idea of a nonhuman language includes the behaviors of other species in a human category, and therefore threatens to revert, paradoxically, to linguistic humanism. This paradox is discussed at length by Christopher Peterson, who returns to Derrida’s reading of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoë (1719), especially the scenes with the seemingly mechanical sounds of his adopted parrot Poll, to consider what Peterson calls the ‘monolingualism of the human’ (95). His first point is that language inevitably has a nonhuman dimension. If Defoe’s castaway interprets his pet’s vocalizations in a way that reinforces the ‘linguistic sovereignty’ of the human, Derrida hints at their participation in ‘a linguistic dispossession whereby the origin of all language is put into question’ (84). Not unlike Robinson, Peterson clarifies, both philosophers and ethologists have tried to prove that language is the unique possession of humans, arguing that animals use only unambiguous signs triggering ‘a purely mechanical response’ (according to Jacques Lacan) (88) or that the communications of creatures like parrots and great apes involve ‘peri-referentiality’ instead of full referentiality (according to Irene Pepperberg) (91). Following Derrida, Peterson judges that this ‘assertion of animal linguistic poverty … functions to disavow our own linguistic dispossession’; as ‘all language is citational’ and refers to past as well as future contexts and meanings, there is no such thing as an unambiguous message with a single intention or referent (90). In other words, Robinson’s speech is really as citational and mechanistic as that of Poll, and all humans parrot as much as the bird does, an unsettling realization that we try to counter, fruitlessly, with claims of linguistic supremacy. Peterson’s second point is that language inevitably has a human dimension too. As any comparison of human and nonhuman languages assumes a working definition of language that is modeled on our own speech, ‘no matter whether it affirms or denies the existence of nonhuman languages’ (97), a completely posthumanist conception of language is forever beyond



our reach. The ‘gift’ of language to animals is therefore indistinguishable from its ‘theft’, Peterson concludes (98), prompting yet another version of the question raised by Abberley: ‘How posthumanist is the attribution of language to animals if our conception of nonhuman language cannot go beyond the analogical?’ (95). Though these claims on behalf of the inescapably human and nonhuman aspects of all languages are convincing, it does not follow that all representations of animal tongues are equally unhelpful. While there is no escaping human reference points, reductive views of language can nonetheless be criticized in productive ways, in my view, by narratives that reveal the poverty of human speech and writing or the diversity of animal communication systems (the latter being my primary focus here). Even if it is true that we cannot finally escape the monolingualism of the human, we will still benefit from exploring this multilingualism of the nonhuman, however imperfect the result. Indeed, such an exploration promises to enrich our view of human language too, which we should not reduce to verbal and intentional forms of communication either. These other expressive modes are strongly accentuated in certain contemporary novels. And it is precisely because their writers are aware of the complications I mentioned earlier that they move in the direction of what you might call, more accurately if slightly awkwardly, postlinguistic posthumanism. Bearing in mind older literary works as well as existing accounts of animal language, the following sections map the soundscapes we encounter in contemporary novels about apes and elephants, and their creative attempts to navigate between the partly overlapping positions of linguistic humanism, linguistic posthumanism, and postlinguistic posthumanism.

Nonhuman Frequencies Although the question of nonhuman language is usually discussed with reference to great apes, for reasons explained below, I will first consider another species, its ‘language’, and its cultural meanings: the elephant. From antiquity onward, as Bryan Alkemeyer reminds us, writers and thinkers have judged this large mammal to be a rational animal on a par with humans. Even if we are now accustomed to arguments against the human-animal distinction based on the ‘anatomical resemblance’ of humans and great apes, he explains, earlier thinkers rather stressed behavioral correspondences between humans and elephants, animals that were



associated with a remarkable capacity for reason, memory, and even religion (1151). If the image of the rational and linguistic elephant has recently resurfaced, as my first two case studies prove, that is probably because researchers, including Katy Payne, detected what some call ‘elephant language’ in the 1980s, leading to the Listening to Elephants project affiliated with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Aided by new technologies, these scientists were able to analyze the complex system of communication employed by elephants, which includes infrasonic rumbles that cannot be heard by human ears and that help these social creatures to connect across large distances and in the middle of dense vegetation. Here is how Payne describes the moment when technical equipment first confirmed the existence of this strange ‘language’ beyond the human, which she initially experienced as a ‘throbbing’ in the air, in a book aptly called Silent Thunder (1998): The flickering dots of light on the screen of [the] machine, and the crisscrossing black curves printed on the page, revealed a complex array of overlapping animal calls that none of us had heard in the zoo. With the tape running ten times its usual speed, we heard the calls, condensed and nearly three octaves too high—a little like the mooing of cows. The loudest calls coincided with a period when Liz and I had both sensed throbbing. Two animals had been carrying on an extensive and animated conversation below the range of human hearing. (27–8)

Through the use of a particular mechanical medium, this passage relates, meaningless silence is turned into meaningful sound—and into nonhuman ‘language’. These calls are intriguing, as Payne noted in the 1986 paper that announced this finding, because, ‘[w]hile the uses of sound above the range of human hearing … by animals [including] bats … have received considerable attention, little is known about the biological significance of sound below that range’ (297)—and researchers have to use a much more advanced assemblage of media and technologies to understand them fully, her book goes on to show. Like the work of Krause discussed in Chap. 2, Payne’s discovery also makes these sounds available for fictional reflection. In the following paragraphs, I examine this particular version of ‘the language of the living world’ by contrasting two novels that center on the lives of elephants and the threat of human poaching while highlighting sound and infrasound alongside intra- and interspecies modes



of communication: Barbara Gowdy’s The White Bone and Tania James’s The Tusk that Did the Damage. Though James has mentioned Gowdy’s work as an inspiration in interviews, these novels differ in various respects, as the earlier text centers on a group of wild African elephants, whereas the later novel explores the human management of captive and protected Asian elephants in India. How do these two novels represent nonhuman sounds and languages, and imagine cross-species communication? Written by Tania James, an Indian American writer with a background in documentary film, The Tusk that Did the Damage is a postcolonial novel that juxtaposes the stories of three characters and their competing stakes in the violent confrontations between humans and elephants near the fictional Kavanar Wildlife Park in southern India. James’s novel alternates between the perspective of a female American documentary maker who is filming the work of a charismatic local veterinarian at an elephant ‘rescue and rehabilitation’ center, the point of view of a young boy from a local farming family who experiences the gravitational pull of the illegal ivory trade, as engaged in by his wayward brother, and the unusual perspective of a male elephant who is killing local farmers after being traumatized by his past experiences with humans, despite the best efforts of two kind elephant handlers. As these plots converge on the border of an official wildlife park, feature a female interloper who is drawn to local experts, and involve a clash between incompatible claims for social and environmental justice, James’s novel is similar in several respects to Amitav Ghosh’s more famous The Hungry Tide (2004). Seeing that it represents the partnership between elephants and their human handlers, and builds on James’s interviews and fieldwork in India, it is also similar to the multispecies ethnography of researchers like Piers Locke and Ursula Münster, who have delineated the ‘embodied empathy’ (362) and ‘ambivalent intimacy’ (435), respectively, that obtain between captive elephants and their experienced mahouts, concentrating in Münster’s case on the same sanctuary visited by James, which is located in Wayanad, Kerala (James, “Interview”). Like James’s novel, furthermore, Münster’s research concentrates on human-animal conflicts caused by the fact that wild elephants increasingly ‘transgress the forest’s boundaries, destroy crops, and cause violent conflicts with humans … due to the ongoing loss of their habitat through agricultural expansion, deforestation, and large-scale developmental activities’ (439). The Tusk that Did the Damage underlines this ethnographic connection by listing the people James interviewed for the novel (223–4), resulting in a situation similar to that described by John Marx, in which



the acknowledgments of a book ‘present the novelist as interviewer and researcher as well as writer’ (620). Yet James’s novel also departs from the literary and ethnographic models of Ghosh and Münster, most obviously in its choice to take readers inside the mind of an animal, a dangerous elephant who is called the Gravedigger because he covers his human victims with leaves. By tracking different human and nonhuman focalizers, James’s novel illuminates the clash between social and ecological justice in what Münster calls ‘an anthropogenic conservation landscape’ (426), but also, however imperfectly, the elephant’s unfamiliar aural world and the moments of ‘interspecies sociality and communication’ identified by Locke (365). Once again, this novel features a multispecies soundscape that reflects the social and moral complexities of a particular acoustic contact zone. Whereas ethnographers studying human-elephant interaction worry in various ways about the problem of anthropomorphism, James’s novel features many sections focalized through the Gravedigger, and these often reveal his special attunement to sounds and smells. This is not to say that James simply embraces anthropomorphism; as she clarifies in an interview, the use of short paragraphs in the elephant sections, narrated in the third person, ‘reflects the distance between the humans and the elephants: there are pockets that we can understand, but there are also white spaces that we can’t’ (Turits, np). These short paragraphs suggest that the elephant is highly sensitive to loud human noises, unexpected events that are represented in ways that do not just humanize this frightened animal focalizer but also animalize noisy humans: ‘He knew the bad hour was approaching by the tourists who thronged outside, chattering, buffooning, baring their teeth, cunning as monkeys’ (24); ‘Women broke into riotous birdsong, backed by beating drums’ (89); ‘Parents nudged their children forward, fearful little things thin as saplings, who came with a feral scent’ (155). The novel also draws attention to the sounds produced by elephants, including the peculiar infrasonic rumbles discovered by Payne and her colleagues. As Payne explains, the advantage of these low-frequency sounds is that they remain audible within large elephant groups and enable the coordination of behavior among different groups, even across great distances (1999, 300). Yet a legend told by an elephant handler in James’s novel adopts a different, mythical register to explain these calls: The location of the [elephant] graveyard was a secret [the elephants] guarded so carefully [to prevent humans from desecrating their precious



tusks and bones] no elephant would speak the directions aloud; it was whispered through the pads of their feet. The elephants became so accustomed to keeping silence that they evolved toward a new language, at a frequency and range no human could hear. (127)

This legendary origin explains the peculiar characteristics of elephant language by tying it to a justified fear of human violence, which forces these creatures to communicate, precisely, at a nonhuman frequency. This seemingly silent language returns in the rest of the novel, in passages which adopt a less mythical register and rather try to record what life and sound must be like for an elephant like the Gravedigger. In doing so, the novel aspires to the condition of the machine mentioned by Payne, as it broadens the bandwidth of humanly audible sound by expanding its soundscape beyond our hearing threshold. The first page notes, for example, how in the Gravedigger’s earliest days ‘his name was a sound only his kin could make in the hollows of their throats’ (3) and these ‘rumbles’ of other elephants provide a familiar counterweight to animalistic human noises (158): ‘[w]hen the Gravedigger began to wring his head for dark, cloudy reasons, [the elephant] Parthasarathi rumbled at a frequency only the Gravedigger could perceive. He focused on the hum and the rest of the raucous world fell away’ (88). The novel’s evocation of the elephant perspective—what David Herman names ‘Umwelt modeling’ (153)—hence puts into place a straightforward opposition between soothing infrasonic rumbles and frightening human screams, an inverted image of the typical contrast between human sound and animal noise. This opposition is complicated, however, by several scenes of interspecies contact. At the start of the book, the Gravedigger’s mother is killed by poachers, and memories of this traumatic event explain why he later turns violent. Yet before the traumatized animal snaps, he is trained and cared for by human handlers, in scenes that recall Münster’s and Locke’s observations on the ‘embodied empathy’ and ‘ambivalent intimacy’ between real-life elephants and their humans. Within this cross-species partnership, the novel’s reader learns, animal and human have ‘their own private language’ (28), effectively becoming ‘two halves of a single conversation’ (161). The Gravedigger also experiences the reassuring effect of a handler’s ‘musk’ (88) and the novel recounts the growing affection between a talented young boy and this elephant, ‘whose trunk arched in question whenever the boy came near’ (185), descriptions that resonate with Locke’s remarks about elephant ‘body language’ and the belief that his



real-life elephant partner intentionally ‘hugs’ him with her trunk (365). Apart from smells and gestures, The Tusk that Did the Damage entangles animals and humans via sound, and not just through frightening noises. As the boy is especially attuned to these creatures, he is able to perceive (if not, perhaps, to hear) the infrasonic rumbles of his nonhuman partners, in contrast to the other handlers: ‘[the boy] once described to Old Man a sound he felt, when in the company of Parthasarathi and the Gravedigger. A kind of throbbing in the air, a shifting hum he could feel in his marrow. … I do hear them, the boy said. I feel the elephants talking’ (116, 118). Recalling Katy Payne’s experience of elephant throbbing in an American zoo, this caring elephant handler is almost able to tune in to the Gravedigger’s nonhuman frequency—and if this is a sign of the boy’s embodied empathy, and fosters the fantasy of a private interspecies language, the rest of the story underscores that human intimacy with these large and unpredictable animals remains ambivalent, as Münster says, if not downright dangerous. In the world of James’s novel, foreign characters are likewise able to connect with wild local animals and their sounds. Though the text stresses the visual quality of the film the American characters are shooting, it alerts readers to sound too; the male filmmaker is ‘a purist about sound quality’ (14), his female colleague is searching for ‘street sounds’ at one point (93), clips ‘a lav mic’ on an interviewee (95), is told ‘to keep the boom low’ (172), and worries that her voice-over sounds like ‘a breathy mouse performing spoken word’ (16). In one of the novel’s first scenes, this team of foreigners is following the local vet on a dangerous mission to reunite a trapped elephant calf with his mother. Teddy is filming the events while Emma ‘extended [her] mic [and] adjusted the dials on the DAT at [her] hip’ (18). The vet and his helpers first scare the mother away and then drag the calf out of the ditch it has trapped itself in, leading to a response from the mother that is furious at first and hard to read after: At Ravi’s shout, a forest officer fired the rubber bullet …. In answer, the elephant opened her lungs and screamed. My stomach dropped; my dials hit the red zone. … Ravi barked at the others to flee. [Yet Teddy continued to film.] The mother elephant raised her head, leveling her gaze upon Teddy. What happened next would become a subject of debate during an NPR interview, the question of whether the elephant’s gesture was, as Teddy would claim, a sign of gratitude. His fellow guest, a quippy animal ethologist, would dismiss the claim, accusing Teddy of ‘human-centric ­assumptions



of animal consciousness.’ ‘That wave … could have meant anything. It could have been a sign of anger … It could have been joy. But gratitude is a human expression … I mean, look,’ the ethologist would add, … ‘a wild animal does not say thanks!’ I would have locked horns with that guy. Had he ever watched a calf suckle its trunk while it slept, whimpering from some secret dream? … The confrontation [between Teddy and the elephant] lasted only a few moments. The mother elephant whipped her trunk up and down, three deliberate times. … Through my headphones, I heard the shivering leaves and beneath that, at a frequency felt only by me, a pulse of envy. (19–21, emphasis in original)

Underlining the authority of filmmakers (and writers) vis-à-vis reductive scientists, the novel confirms Ted’s (and Emma’s) interpretation of the mother’s behavior by characterizing her gestures as ‘deliberate’ and by opening the subsequent chapter with a scene in which the Gravedigger is dreaming, not unlike the whimpering calf alluded to by Emma—all of which implies that this external description of an elephant’s behavior is not enough and can (and perhaps must) be supplemented by an account of its rich interior life, in contrast to the novels I examine in the second part of this chapter. The scene further implies that Emma’s use of prosthetic technologies (the mic, the dials, the headphones) enhances her auditory awareness, to the extent that she picks up frequencies inaudible to human ears, in yet another example of the ‘headphone writing’ we first came across in Chap. 2. This scene is thus the acoustic counterpart of the later moment in which Emma watches Teddy’s footage, especially his long shot of the ‘twining trunks’ of the calf and mother, ‘whose ministrations seemed to suggest comfort and tenderness and yet seemed somehow private, … on a plane of communication we could glimpse only indirectly’ (39). Despite stressing the frightening effect of human noise on animals like its elephant focalizer, in sum, The Tusk that Did the Damage features scenes of cross-­ species contact via smell, gesture, and sound, and imagines that sensitive humans are able to discern elephant infrasound in ways that promise to realign these species. In the case of local mahouts, this exchange relies on experience and prolonged contact; in the case of foreign filmmakers, this recognition depends on media like cameras and sound recording equipment, not unlike the machine Katy Payne worked with to record this weirdly ‘silent’ speech. Although the threat of cross-species violence remains unresolved at the end, James’s novel intimates that the calls and even gestures of elephants broaden our view of language in a way that



enlarges our conception of society too, as if to say that the competing claims of environmental and social justice are not different in kind at all— and that the novel is a recording device at least as sensitive as those mics and headphones.

Comparative Linguistics Whereas James’s novel tackles contemporary human-elephant interactions along the contested forest frontiers of India, The White Bone by Canadian writer Barbara Gowdy deals with wild African elephants and their grim conditions of life in the final quarter of the twentieth century, in a way that accentuates infrasound and nonhuman language even more. As the narrative is told entirely from the perspective of a group of elephants, famously, The White Bone might at first blush seem to offer a pastoral fantasy aimed at children. But the novel pulls no punches in convincing its readers of the hopeless situation these animals find themselves in when caught between the hammer of human ivory poachers and the anvil of unprecedented drought. This is not Dumbo for adults, clearly, but Blood Meridian for elephants. The plot begins with a scene in which several members of an elephant family are savagely slaughtered, prompting two parallel quests for an important clan member who got separated from the herd as well as for the mythical ‘white bone’ that will enable these hunted and starving elephants to reach the elusive ‘safe place’—a wildlife park—where they hope to be safe from human violence. This story is relevant here for its plot, point of view, and its remarkably detailed evocation of a fictional elephant language. Existing interpretations of the novel illuminate its historical context and position in terms of anthropomorphism. Contextualizing this harrowing reading experience in ecohistorical fashion, Graham Huggan reads it against the backdrop of ‘the crisis of the 70s and 80s, when a sudden rise in ivory prices, allied to the increasing availability of guns across the African continent, led to a potentially cataclysmic escalation of the East African ivory trade’ (715–16). The 50% drop in the African elephant population in this period, Katy Payne recalls, also triggered a clash between competing visions of elephant management, with countries from the east of Africa arguing for a wholesale ban on the ivory trade and countries from the south advocating a monitored form of trade that uses wildlife culling as an engine for democratic growth—meaning that elephants would continue to be hunted officially as well as unofficially (1999, 194–7). Payne



disagrees with the second approach, which is responsible for the culling of several elephants she had previously monitored as a scientist in a wildlife park in Zimbabwe, and one chapter of Silent Thunder functions like a memorial for the individuals killed in the process, juxtaposing scientific biographies of these creatures with sparse summaries of their economic value, as recorded in the culling report (225–39). Remembering the families of Miss Piggy and Lutya, for instance, Payne notes that ‘[t]he records of the two families’ movements are wonderful to watch on a computer screen, where one can advance time and see the elephants making simultaneous changes in direction … over distances of one, two, sometimes three kilometers’, coordinating their movements via infrasonic rumbles (236), before adding a sobering note: ‘total ivory: 56.963 @ $200 = $11,393’ (237). Set in this context, you might argue that The White Bone is designed to expand such real-life elephant biographies into a richer fictional narrative of their unenviable lives. How should we interpret the result? According to Dana Phillips, the novel participates in a form of ‘animal-oriented populism’ (23), seeing that stories like Gowdy’s foster a ‘rosy view of elephant communication and culture [that] seems most appealing to those who live at a great distance from wild elephants, especially those for whom elephants are an essential part of an African landscape supposed to be composed mostly of wilderness’ (38). While this criticism is not unjustified, as we will see, Gowdy’s work is partly redeemed by the fact that it responds to an important issue in a way that tests the very limits of the novelistic imagination. If we read it in its own terms, Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin maintain, its portrayal of elephant life provides valuable lessons for scholars interested in both postcolonial and environmental issues. As their more appreciative analysis spells out, The White Bone employs various strategies to counter reductive, anthropocentric readings of its animal protagonists, who are not simply humans in disguise. Most obviously, it adopts the perspective of three elephants, who are represented in ways that are informed by scientific findings about their lives and social behaviors, making readers feel ‘what it is like’ to inhabit their unfamiliar point of view and illustrating their individual quirks, peculiar religious rituals, and matriarchal social structure. Crucial for my purposes is that the novel also offers an unusually detailed evocation of the language wielded by these fictional animals, which does not only involve ordinary speech, but also vows, songs, prayers, prophecies, and even lies, metaphors, and proverbs. A courting bull sings the praises of a female elephant as follows, for example: ‘You are the blue



haze that surrounds the sun at dawn’ (147). This is a novel about elephants and ivory, clearly, but also about language and sound. Gowdy’s narrative also resists anthropocentric readings in other ways. As Huggan and Tiffin elucidate, the novel conjoins genres like anatomical description, natural history, and the animal fable, resulting in a mixture that has no conventionally appropriate response, in contrast to traditional literary or scientific accounts, with their reassuringly compartmentalized emphasis on empathy or accuracy alone, and that urges us to think more critically about how nonhuman lives are presented to readers. The novel’s occasionally scientific tone sits uneasily with its emphasis on animal language especially; ‘[t]alking animals belong in satire, fable, cartoons or children’s stories’, Huggan and Tiffin assert, for ‘while vocal animal communication may be acknowledged as being complex in natural history programmes, even here these sounds are rarely referred to as “language”’ (170, emphasis in original). Yet by foregrounding the language of these individualized animals, Gowdy’s work puts anthropomorphism to good use, these critics maintain, as it undermines a crucial argument for distancing us from other people and other creatures, namely fantasies of the linguistic superiority of humans, particular European ones (remember Ferguson’s ‘linguistic imperialism’). Adopting a nonhuman point of view is a risky strategy—‘representation of elephant language is both necessary in humanising the animals, yet dangerous in inviting infantilisation or ridicule’—but Gowdy pulls it off, they feel, as she encourages readers to remain aware of this language’s otherness, using ‘a third-person narration which can incorporate comments on that communication, reminding us that this is a form of translation from a very different vocal source’, for instance, by writing ‘rumbles’ instead of ‘speaks’ when these animals communicate (174). Indeed, the use of the third person more generally, Dan Wylie has pointed out, enacts ‘an unbridgeable outside-ness’ (122) and implies that Gowdy—like James, we might add—is ‘not breaking fully into her animal’s “mind”’ (127). The alien quality of the novel’s fictional elephant language is further emphasized by the fact that it contains unusual words like ‘hindlegger’ for human or ‘longbody’ for cheetah, the most important of which are listed in a glossary that prefaces the story—a more recent version of the dictionaries for ape language and rabbit language familiar to readers of Tarzan of the Apes (1912) and Watership Down (1972) (but note that  these latter glossaries  feature fully made-up words like ‘abalu’ for brother and ‘sil’ for outside). What is more, Huggan and Tiffin continue, Gowdy ‘makes speech only one of many forms of communication, others



among which are of greater significance’, like infrasonic rumbles and telepathic communication—as if to underline the fact that ‘animals are never without language even if we prove unable to translate their speech’ (175). Bearing in mind the novel’s plot, perspective, and posthumanist language, you might conclude that The White Bone is the fictional counterpart of Payne’s Silent Thunder, a book that was published in the same year as Gowdy’s novel and likewise stresses human threats, elephant lives, and nonhuman speech. In returning to The White Bone in this chapter on multispecies multilingualism, I will concentrate on three aspects of the story, namely its evocation of infrasonic calls, cross-species telepathy, and nonverbal communication. As my analysis demonstrates, Gowdy’s novel is unusually alert to nonhuman language, even more so than The Tusk that Did the Damage, yet its description contains residual speciesist features and runs up against the limits of linguistic posthumanism, despite its imaginative experiments. As far as the novel’s representation of sound is concerned, The White Bone often mentions that elephants rumble and trumpet in each other’s vicinity; when one cow dies, for instance, the other animals start ‘an uproar of trumpeting, growling, urinating and defecating, weeping in deep gurgles that jostled the ground’ (10). Although these trumpets and gurgles already move beyond human sound, the novel’s linguistic rewilding or brutalizing (to use Ferguson’s term) is even clearer in the case of the rumbles we encountered earlier. As Gowdy’s narrator observes in a footnote that illustrates the novel’s weird generic mixture of scientific observation and anthropomorphic fable (‘grounders’, after all, is an elephant word): Infrasonic rumbles, or ‘grounders’, are long-distance body messages. To reach a specific individual the sender rumbles at that individual’s unique body frequency. The rumble originates in the belly rather than in the throat and goes down the feet and legs into the ground where it radiates until it enters the feet and legs of the receiver, provided that he or she is within transmission radius. Infrasonic rumbles have the advantage of travelling long distances at great speeds but are prone to interference from earth upheavals, such as stampedes and minor quakes. (46)

This infrasonic mode of long-distance communication is crucial to the narrative, as the novel’s elephants need to reestablish contact across great distances after the initial slaughter. Because these rumbles are so



important, one of the elephant characters is investigating their acoustic properties and frequently offers her observations on the physics of (infra) sound: ‘Since the onset of the drought, she has been conducting experiments into infrasonic rumbles and has come up with two theories. One is that standing on rock improves transmission quality. The other is that during severe droughts the ground dries out so thoroughly that the rumbles get blocked behind walls of impenetrable earth’ (101, see 186, 243, 270). In the world of this novel, creatures communicating via sound have to factor in physical factors like elevation (237), ‘transmission distance’ (187), and even the impact on sound propagation of anatomical features like ‘the peculiar placement of [a rhino’s] “tusks” on the snout’ (174). Although there are no media in this animal-centric novel to compare with James’s headphones or Payne’s spectrograms, it hence depicts the physical environment as a medium and the body as a ‘device’ that sends and receives information (a topic I return to in Chap. 5). Yet even more significant than the physical and nonhuman quality of these sounds is the fact that they prove ineffective in reconnecting the protagonists. Because of the harsh drought, the unique communication skills of these animals are no longer supported by their environment, despite their attentive listening, ‘eyes downcast, ears spread, waiting for the shudder underfoot that heralds a far-off rumble’ (93–4). If the animal body and the physical environment used to function as reliable media, they are no longer adapted to one another in an increasingly warmer world, with fatal results. The novel also features other modes of animal communication, including telepathy, an obviously fictional skill that is limited to every clan’s ‘mind-talker’ and establishes contact among the novel’s elephants as well as between them and other animals. This cross-species mindreading again plays a critical role, as the elephants require the help of other creatures at various points in the story (and while such collaborations require our suspension of disbelief, we should not forget that symbiotic relationships exist between many species, as in the example discussed by Payne (1999, 252–3), in which elephants dig water wells that are subsequently used by various other creatures). Several scenes feature this transfer of ideas and messages between animal species, resulting in a picture of cognitive diversity if also of linguistic hierarchy. As I mentioned, every family has one elephant who is capable of understanding ‘the language of most other creatures’ and can communicate with them by thinking hard, with the exception of ‘insects, humans and snakes’ (23)—human minds yielding ‘a silence so absolute and menacing that many of those who heard it



forswore mind talking altogether’ (43). This telepathic contact provides insight into the minds of other elephants, in the following case a young bull whose thoughts are ‘as distinct as if [the mind-talker] had her ear to his throat’: ‘Milk, Mud, sore, dead, there, She-Screams, cold, itch, sand … he thinks in single panted words except when he is remembering’ (308). Yet mind-talking also exposes the thought patterns of other animals; eavesdropping on other creatures reveals vultures to be ‘sadistic liars’ (102), giraffes to be ‘haughty’ (309), and eagles to be ‘articulate but … aloof’ (167), whereas ‘smaller flocking birds can scarcely be talked to at all, they’re so … scatterbrained’ (166). At times these thought patterns are even represented directly, as in the ‘embryonic language’ of oxpeckers— ‘That! It! What! Look! Where!’ (173). The novel’s comparison of nonhuman species and minds is particularly conspicuous in the following passage, which contains an extended example of what you might call its ‘comparative linguistics’: [The] speech [of a group of mongooses] is a twittering in which words are repeated two and three times: ‘Sing, sing, sing the song, song about, the song about the hot, the hot, hot, hot fight, fight, fight.’ … They and the martial eagles couldn’t express themselves more differently. Thinking and speaking, the eagles use as few words as possible. ‘There.’ ‘How long?’ They prefer to gesture. … The mongooses are dear to [the elephant]. … In the crook of her trunk an elderly male sits … telling her the story of his life, which is one vicious territorial battle and one riotous mating session after another. He has no name, none of them do. (272–3)

In contrast to a generalized view of ‘animal language’, this passage underlines that there are considerable differences between the minds of the storyworld’s multiple species, which correlate with their peculiar anatomies and behaviors, leading in the case of these mongooses to a one-­dimensional focus on mating, territory, and group identity—as long as these barely individualized creatures are able to focus, that is. What is also significant is that some of these passages seem to capture the mental processes of these creatures rather than their actual vocalizations: ‘Like other creatures with whom [one of the elephants] mind talks, [the mongooses] find her thoughts comprehensible and her speech gibberish’ (271). Yet the only way in which Gowdy’s text can present the characteristic ideas of distinct species, of course, is by alternating between forms of language that exhibit idiosyncratic differences in terms of syntax, vocabulary, and mindset. What



is more, the narrator often describes these species-specific thoughts explicitly in terms of languages, sounds, and even ‘single panted words’, as we saw. Ultimately, then, The White Bone suggests that thought is quasi-sonic, quasi-linguistic, and quasi-verbal in nature. Perhaps even more consequentially, the results of its cross-species comparison indicate that the minds of other species can be positioned at a variable degree of distance from the elephant mind (rhinos being closer to elephants than flies and even mongooses, for example). And while we should acknowledge differences between species, their minds, and their modes of communication— that is actually my argument throughout this chapter—the fact that elephants speak a comprehensible form of English implies that their thought and language are closer to the human model than those of all the other species, species that are represented, one should add, in fairly stereotypical terms, as in references to lying vultures and haughty giraffes. Apart from infrasound and telepathy the novel’s inventory of communicative modes also includes nonverbal messaging. As a cheetah called Me-Me supposedly has important information about the ‘safe place’ that she is willing to trade for an elephant calf, a sacrificial subplot with biblical overtones, the novel’s protagonists need to talk to this animal on several occasions. When a mind-talker is present, this goes smoothly: ‘“Where is the one with the warts?” Although she chirps, in Mud’s mind [the] voice [of Me-Me] is a peevish sing-song. “She died,” Mud thinks’ (318). This direct telepathic dialogue (which again describes thoughts in aural terms) is impossible in an earlier scene where the group’s original mind-talker is absent. The situation accordingly asks for a strange display in which the cheetah communicates her intentions differently: ‘She lifts her right paw and appears to study it. … [She] studies her right paw again. Again points it their way. … “It’s as if she is saying, ‘You’” Mud rumbles. “‘You are the ones’”’ (231–2). Though awkward at first, one of the elephants turns out to be proficient in this mode of gestural communication, and even has an elaborate conversation with Me-Me about childbirth, a particular location, and the promise that they will exchange an elephant calf for the cheetah’s information. Are you able to follow that unusual dialogue? She-Screams … launches into a succession of gestures and noises so explicit and spirited that [the others are surprised]. She touches her stomach, groans, points to She-Snorts, squats, grunts, squeals like a calf, taps the cheetah’s right paw, points at the four horizons, stamps her foot, points again at She-­ Snorts and then repeats the sequence. If they doubted her story about



inheriting the talent of [another elephant family] they can do so no longer, because it was with such performances that certain non-telepathic members of that family established rudimentary communication with other creatures. In a virtuoso exhibition of her own, Me-Me instantly tracks the gestures. When they end she comes to her feet, shakes her paw three times, makes a staccato churring noise and begins trotting away. … ‘She accepts the bargain!’ [She-Screams] calls. ‘The place she wants to take us to is a pan three days from here …’. (249–50)

This is not the only moment when the story draws attention to nonhuman body language. Consider the slaughter that propels the narrative, which features a related scene of failed cross-species communication: ‘“I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure!” She-Sees trumpets, extending her trunk in the greeting gesture. … The human fires, then prances back from the red spray’ (89). Human minds are not just inaccessible to mind-readers, apparently, but also fail to comprehend kind nonhuman gestures. In a similar fashion to The Tusk that Did the Damage, The White Bone defamiliarizes language by foregrounding infrasonic rumbles and nonverbal communication as well as alien animal minds and the physics of sound. Many of the relevant scenes describe nonhuman ‘languages’ in verbal, sonic, and linguistic terms, though, revealing the continued importance of the human model to the novelistic imagination of nonhuman language. Gowdy’s novel arguably succumbs to another form of speciesism as well. As Bryan Alkemeyer has insisted, we should be careful not to ‘trade one speciesism for another’ (1162–3): ‘[a]lthough the rational elephant constitutes an implicit critique of anthropocentrism before modernity, it is an undeniably speciesist construction. This fact becomes especially apparent when the elephant’s remarkable intelligence is established at the expense of other creatures, such as apes’ (1162). That is precisely what happens in The White Bone, where the minds and languages of other nonhuman animals pale in comparison to the mental and linguistic agility of elephants. In addition, the novel’s critique of poachers produces a fictional world in which all species can interact meaningfully, with the exception of nasty humans, who are akin to what appear to be lowly insects and snakes. In that sense, Dana Phillips rightly notes that the novel proposes an ‘extension of the human on the one side and contraction of it on the other’, making it ‘both anthropomorphic and misanthropic at the same time’ (37). In contrast to James’s novel, making room for nonhuman sounds



and languages here requires that all human voices relevant to this contact zone are silenced and excluded from the text.

Reading Animal Bodies We have learned that contemporary elephant novels subvert linguistic humanism by alerting readers to a form of nonhuman communication, infrasonic calls, that is undeniably strange, as it is inaudible to human ears. Yet ‘elephant language’ is familiar to us too, seeing that it involves listening closely to sound. These stories also remain relatively rare, as they build on fairly recent scientific observations about elephant rumbles. By contrast, there is a long and large literary tradition of ascribing language to primates—a logical consequence of the fact that modern debates on the human-animal boundary famously revolve around great ape species like gorillas, bonobos, and chimpanzees. Twenty-first-century novelists continue to reflect on this question of human/ape kinship; ‘[i]n contemporary American fiction’, Virginia Richter has found, ‘apes are quite a topos’ (365). Throughout literary history, apes have often had to play the part of ‘the comic chimpanzee’ (184), as Catherine Parry explains, but ‘[a]n acceleration of primatological research in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries inspired fictional representations of apes that were far more densely informed by ethology, biology and primatology than their literary forebears’ (176). For the postwar period witnessed several well-publicized scientific experiments on human-ape communication, and ‘[t]he contested outcomes of these experiments open up a productive space of uncertainty and non-knowledge that is filled by literary texts’, as Richter points out (366). The following sections inspect two of these novels, Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal, both of which introduce their readers to chimpanzee communication, critically address animal language experiments, and contemplate the problem of great ape captivity. These novels offer an instructive contrast to the elephant narratives by James and Gowdy for two reasons. Taking their cue from chimp behavior, Fowler and Martel open up anthropocentric views of language, not by amplifying sounds-­ beyond-­the-humanly-audible, but by confronting readers with a communication system based on meaningful gestures and facial expressions, a point hinted at but not developed in the elephant novels from the previous sections. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and The High Mountains



of Portugal also refuse to take their readers into the minds of their chimpanzee characters, meaning that their expansive view of language does not derive from imaginative projections inside the mind of other species but from an externalized, camera-like registration of nonhuman behaviors. Despite their critiques of animal experiments and scientific mindsets, the mode of characterization in these novels consequently runs parallel to the notoriously exterior perspective of behaviorism. Offering a distinct take on linguistic posthumanism—understood as a productive if inevitably problematic corrective to orthodox, anthropocentric views of language—these writers prioritize the rich behaviors rather than the rich minds of their fictional animals, avoiding obvious anthropomorphism while continuing to stretch and adjust our view of sounds and language. We can only grasp their contribution to the debate, however, if we first review the history of animal language experiments and existing work on behaviorist thinking in modern literature. The history of the animal language debate is recapitulated in Gregory Radick’s The Simian Tongue (2007), an important study that explains how different scientists and disciplines have tackled the problem from the late nineteenth century onward, paying special attention to two groundbreaking versions of the ‘primate playback experiment’ (xi), attempts to learn about nonhuman communication by recording the vocalizations of primates, playing these sounds back to their conspecifics, and closely monitoring their responses. As it provides crucial background information on the novels discussed in this chapter, it is worth summarizing Radick’s account in some detail. His story about language experiments can be broken down into three main phases: the build-up toward the first set of experiments, conducted by amateur naturalist Richard Garner in the 1890s, their scientific discrediting and disappearance in the first half of the twentieth century, and the independent development of a second set of experiments, carried out by animal ethologists supervised by Peter Marler in the 1970s. The story begins with the Victorian debate on the origin of human language, which I alluded to earlier, in which the linguist F. Max Müller maintained that language is inextricably linked to reason and therefore had to have emerged abruptly with modern humans, installing an unsurpassable language barrier between us and other animals, despite the fact that Charles Darwin argued for continuity across this species gap and for a gradual evolution of language out of animal communication. This dispute framed interpretations of late-nineteenth-century research in comparative anatomy and comparative psychology, which finally convinced



scientists ‘that language arises through the coordinated activity of several parts of the human brain, and that anthropomorphic interpretations of animal behavior—attributing to animal minds the ideas that would cause humans to behave thus—are unscientific’ (50), the latter claim becoming known as ‘Morgan’s canon’ (51). Rejecting these arguments on behalf of the unique features of human brains, minds, and languages, Richard Garner entered the scene believing ‘that language existed in higher and lower forms at all points on the scale of nature’ (86), and he tried to prove the existence of this ‘great chain of expression’ by using a phonograph to isolate a simian vocabulary (99), first in American zoos and later in the African jungle. Garner’s expedition was well-publicized and led to literary tributes by Jules Verne as well as a satirist in Punch magazine, whose poem featured the impenetrable refrain of gorilla words ‘Hxerrg ztti hnnwpflb srth kkqam’ (Radick 136–7, emphasis in original). But the expedition was a failure, Radick relates, as Garner was unable to obtain the necessary phonograph, was thwarted by missionaries unsympathetic to this evolutionist project, and was subsequently lambasted for his inflated claims and unscientific methods. At the turn of the twentieth century professional scientists also abandoned the debate, as physical anthropology turned to newly discovered hominid fossils, cultural anthropology aimed to reveal the equality of cultures rather than a racist hierarchy of languages, and psychologists were drawn to experiments with puzzle boxes and maze running, for which vocalizations were irrelevant. Embracing Morgan’s canon, psychologists now also argued that the human mind had ‘a profoundly different character from its ideas-free animal predecessor’ ‘[l]ong before language arose’ (207), putting another nail in the coffin of attempts to explain the relation between animal and human vocalizations, which they claimed were distant cousins at best. Yet the playback experiment returned later in the twentieth century. Taking issue with psychologists’ reductive views of animals and experiments, the new field of ethology tried to shed light on ‘instinct, learning, and evolution’ (258), Radick continues, topics that could be illuminated with animal vocalizations once the new technology of the spectrograph and the new framework of information theory made them available for close scientific analysis in the early 1950s, as was confirmed by Peter Marler’s pioneering work on the songs of chaffinches (which paved the way for Katy Payne’s later research on elephant rumbles). Observations



from the emerging field of primatology forced Marler to rethink his initial conclusions, as primate communication systems differed significantly from avian systems: primate vocalizations were not discrete and melodious but graded and unlovely (to humans, at least), they were not self-contained but multimodal—‘primates seemed to express themselves with face and body and voice all at once’ (301)—and they did not signal their location like birds but offered continuous, close-range exchanges of vital social information, an example of how the specialized needs of individual species shape animal signals. Questions about the semantic quality of animal communication also kept re-emerging, as Charles Hockett attempted to pinpoint the unique design features of human languages; researchers in the field found evidence that vervet monkeys had separate names for distinct threats; and commentators dismissed seemingly successful experiments with chimps cross-fostered with human children and trained in American Sign Language (ASL), claiming that ‘the animals could be trained to communicate symbolically, but left to their own devices, they did not—and certainly not with their voices’ (324, emphasis in original). In this context, Marler supervised fieldwork by Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth that tried not to teach animals human language, but to understand nonhuman communication on its own terms, using movie cameras and tape recorders (more media, then) to prove, first, that vervet alarm calls have a semantic dimension, as ‘[d]ifferent alarms evoked different responses in the same context and responses to some alarms remained constant despite contextual variation’ (356), and, second, that their subtly different grunts play specialized roles in maintaining the group’s social fabric. Yet these observations do not mean that the language barrier has been lifted, for linguists including Noam Chomsky are adamant that ‘many of the elementary properties of words … have only weak analogs or homologs in natural animal communication systems’ (378). Radick’s account therefore ends by showing that scientists continue to disagree about the relation between human language and animal communication. Yet it also reveals how the debate has changed since Müller and Darwin, traveling from linguistics to ethology, from phonographs to spectrograms, from apes to birds and back again, from zoos over labs to fields, from sounds to multimodal signs, from emotional to symbolic and social messages, and, importantly, from a racist to a nonhierarchical framework. Crucial for my purposes is that this scientific background retroactively contextualizes Payne’s work on elephant calls and casts further light on novels about animal language. In fact, Radick’s account clarifies certain differences between older and newer



literary representations of the nonhuman tongue, as contemporary writers no longer show much interest in comparing the complexity of distinct human languages or in reconstructing their evolutionary origins, and appear more reluctant to think about animal communication in terms of words and lexicons (Gowdy’s White Bone being an important exception). Furthermore, these writers no longer concentrate exclusively on primates and vocalizations, seeing that they spotlight other nonhuman animals as well as modes of communication that do not, or not exclusively, depend on sound. If the preceding paragraphs indicated that writers are now also exploring the infrasonic calls of elephants, for example, the following sections elucidate how at least some ape novels highlight gestures and facial expressions to rethink language beyond sound. Animal language experiments adopt a dispassionate, external view on communicative behavior, and the same is true of a particular strand of modern fiction. That is why Fowler’s and Martel’s representations of nonhuman body language should not just be read in terms of the history of scientific experiments, but also of existing cultural research on nonverbal communication and externalized description. Regarding the first topic, film and literature scholars have argued that nonverbal cues between people are easily overlooked but convey valuable information, and are intuitively tweaked by writers and filmmakers for aesthetic purposes. Writing about the modern novel, Barbara Korte holds that the nonverbal behavior of its characters expresses their ‘personal traits, mental states, and interpersonal relations’ (6) and ‘is increasingly gaining ground in the aesthetic of the novel’ (16). Turning to film, Michael Z. Newman has studied the role of facial expressions in movies and he concludes that context is crucial to their interpretation, as ‘people sometimes experience more than one emotion at a time and display blended expressions that correspond to blended emotions’ (60). If David Bordwell’s discussion of blinking in mainstream film establishes that acting ‘amplifies behavior for our quick understanding’ (335), Newman’s account adds that in independent cinema, conversely, ‘facially inexpressive acting is one baseline technique … which may function to involve the spectator in constructing the character’s interiority … and to make the characters seem complicated and interesting’ (64). If certain movies use exaggerated nonverbal signals to streamline communication, in other words, others opt for opaque, low-key versions to enhance character complexity. As I show below, these nonlinguistic signals establish animal characters and interspecies relations too, and the novels by Fowler and Martel exploit these ambiguous external signals to hint at



the complicated interiority of animal characters whose minds remain inaccessible, as neither novel accesses their unfamiliar psychologies but limits itself to recording gestures and facial expressions that seem inexpressive to bad observers but are as meaningful as any form of language. This turn toward overt behaviors also resonates with research that shows how the modern novel, a form famous for providing unlimited access to other minds, occasionally opts for the exteriorized perspective of behaviorism instead. Rereading Samuel Beckett’s Watt (1953), Joshua Gang maintains that its ‘mindless modernism’ questions ‘the expectation that readers and narrators have unfettered access to character minds’ (123), resulting in a ‘mode of writing that replaces the representation of covert mental states with the representation of overt behaviors and actions’ (120) and that delivers not ‘an image of seemingly infinite psychological interiority’ but ‘a behavioristic mode of narration’ (124)—a more literal version of what Gérard Genette calls ‘behaviorist’ narratives in a brief discussion of Hemingway (219). In the case of Watt, Gang notes, this approach culminates in the detached description of a chess game between two people that exclusively represents overt actions, downscaling the narrator’s role to that of an external recorder rather than an internal sympathizer—a situation Beckett himself likened to a photo of two chimps playing chess. In this case, Gang continues, ‘instead of saying the chimpanzees are playing chess, … we can only say they are sitting opposite a chessboard and pushing the pieces around’ (126, emphasis in original). Radicalizing fiction’s interest in body language, such forms of writing lead him to ask: ‘What would the novel look like … if it were mindless and had no access to mental states?’ (128, emphasis in original). This question becomes even more intriguing if it is applied to novels about nonhuman behaviors. If we want to develop these claims about body language and reconceptualize reading along behaviorist lines—as my second set of novels invite us to do—we should also consider the work of Heather Love. In her recent articles, she advocates taking ‘observational social science as a model for a renewed practice of description in literary criticism’ (2010, 389). Siding with calls to reject suspicious reading methods, which ignore textual surfaces in favor of deeper meanings, she delineates a mode of ‘descriptive reading’ that reads closely but not deeply, and discards the residual humanism embedded in claims for the opacity of literature (375). We can find valuable clues for such an antihumanist hermeneutics, Love says, in the writings of Clifford Geertz and Erving Goffman. In her view, earlier literary scholars may have embraced Geertz’s call for interpretation and ‘thick’ description, but they have failed to acknowledge his unshaken



commitment to observation and ‘thin’ description. The opposition is familiar: thick description can explain the difference between an involuntary twitch and a meaningful wink, to use a famous example, because it adds ‘layers of human significance, including attributions of intention, emotion, cognition, and depth, as well as cultural context and display—all those affective and aesthetic qualities that literary critics look for in texts’, whereas thin description refers to ‘an unadorned … account of behavior, one that could be recorded just as well by a camera as by a human agent’ (2013, 403). Love also draws inspiration from Goffman and microanalysis, a sociological approach in which researchers avoid speculating about the inner lives of their research subjects and concentrate on a painstaking registration of overt behaviors involving ‘gesture, body posture, touch, facial movements, patterns of speech’, relying on work in ‘animal ethology’ (416). Goffman applied this mode of analysis to texts as well, deliberately ignoring their rich evocation of affect, experience, and identity—their ‘human’ dimension—to ‘min[e] them for evidence of behavior’ (421). This approach seems an awkward fit with literary texts, Love concedes, yet this ‘science of the concrete’ is anticipated by literary texts (419), seeing that novelists have always paid ‘meticulous attention’ to ‘visible behavior—“grimaces, gestures and tones of voice”’ (428)—and Korte would surely agree. This unusual approach is also productive, Love demonstrates in a reading of Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987). This canonical story about slavery is usually praised for its psychological detail, but it also features scenes of violence that merely ‘le[t] the camera roll, recording circumstances and actions with minimal intervention’ (2010, 384). In doing so, the novel tracks human gestures from a ‘flattening, dehumanizing, exterior perspective’ (385) that resists these horrors via a distanced project of registration akin to the ‘documentary aesthetics’ of Goffman (2013,  420). These insights about animal experiments, nonverbal communication, mindless novels, and thin reading shed a powerful light on the following two case studies, which criticize animal experiments but nonetheless embrace a related exterior perspective to render the quasi-­ language of chimpanzees, which should not be understood in terms of sounds, discrete words, and flexible minds but of body language, social cues, and flexible behaviors. These novels do not commit to this external perspective fully, but its inclusion in fairly traditional narratives means that these examples occupy an interesting intermediate position, between interior and exterior narration, between anthropomorphism and behaviorism, and between human and nonhuman languages.



Expressive Faces As I mentioned, other critics have discussed twenty-first-century novels dealing with apes and their insights about nonhuman communication. Returning to Virginia Richter, she discovers that these stories typically exhibit a domestic focus, which is ‘geared to the family and interpersonal relations (persons, nota bene, including apes)’; often feature female protagonists, ‘reflecting the prominent role of women in primatology and their supposedly more empathetic approach to their objects of study’; and spend time on human-ape communication, using their fictional thought experiments to explore the moral and scientific implications of the postwar projects I sketched earlier (366). Concentrating on two novels by Sara Gruen and Benjamin Hale in which apes appear to have acquired language, Richter claims that these works reveal the continued clash between science and religion, especially in the US, and the strong ties between human and nonhuman animals. Yet these novels also promote, at least occasionally, a heteronormative conception of family life and a traditional gender politics: ‘the fact that it is specifically the female body that is connected with injury, illness, and death as well as procreation limits the posthumanist impact of both narratives, since in Western dualistic thinking woman has always been aligned with nature, the body, and animality’ (378). These narratives also endorse divergent theories of language: ‘While Gruen’s bonobos employ their language skills in a way that is presented as unproblematic—they succeed in unequivocally bringing across their meaning, at least to those who are willing to look for it—[Hale’s work] is more interested in the deferral of meaning: it is self-referential, digressive, and full of intertextual references’ (367). Richter dismisses the first, naively mimetic view of language, and holds that both novels remain vulnerable to the charge of anthropomorphism and even speciesism as they give their animal characters ‘the ability to speak’ (366) instead of ‘exploring the phenomenological differences—for instance, the difference in sense perception—between humans and apes’ (367). She rightly reminds us of the limitations of realism, and of linguistic posthumanism, and the novels I will analyze return to some of the topics Richter has identified, science and language especially. Yet my case studies subvert human exceptionalism, in my view, not because they simply assign human language to nonhuman animals—which would indeed perpetuate anthropocentrism—but because their representation of animal communication unsettles orthodox views of



language, a strategy that evinces, precisely, an awareness of the difference in sense perception between humans and apes. The first example is Karen Joy Fowler’s acclaimed novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013), another thought-provoking response to the ape experiments summarized by Radick and Richter. Told in a non-­ chronological fashion, the novel alternates the story of Rosemary’s childhood teamwork with her sister Fern, who turns out to be a chimp, with the former’s later attempts to cope with the trauma of being separated from Fern when she grows unpredictable and is transferred from her more-than-human home to a horrible psychology lab. In his interpretation, Matthew Calarco juxtaposes the novel with Kafka’s famous ‘A Report to an Academy’ (1917)—which provides the mottoes for the book’s six parts—to argue that the novel relates not the process through which an ape is forced to become human (Kafka’s Red Peter), but that through which one child is forced to become fully human by unlearning her animal traits (Rosemary) and another is forced to become fully animal by unlearning her human traits (Fern). According to Calarco, this dual story refutes the idea of the sacrosanct difference between humans and nonhumans as well as the opposite but still reductive thesis that animals and humans are identical on an abstract, ethical level. For the interactions between Rosemary and Fern exhibit what he calls ‘indistinction’ and ‘radical alterity’, which are basically more refined ways of thinking about human-­animal similarities and differences; if indistinction refers to the shared condition of vulnerability and the ways in which humans and animals ‘co-constitut[e] each other’s subjectivity in … deep ways’ (625), radical alterity designates a perspective ‘in which the other’s interiority is understood as never being fully present, providing only oblique signs and traces’ (628). In David Herman’s reading, this tension can be mapped onto Rosemary’s development from child to adult, seeing that she gradually learns to appreciate trans-species ‘alterity’ alongside ‘comparability’ (65). Consequently, the lesson of Fowler’s novel seems to be that we should reevaluate the ways in which society codes certain bodies as human and animal by acknowledging the indistinction of vulnerable bodies and alterity of unobservable interiorities. Interesting for my purposes is that such border disputes and related texts like Kafka’s story and Fowler’s novel typically involve implicit theories of language, as Calarco notes at the start. He even mentions ‘other-­ than-­human languages’ (617) and alludes to the ‘alternative modes of relation that unfold between Fern and Rosemary that take place before



and beyond discursive language’ (620). But he finally proposes another reading strategy, which stresses the limitations of human language, this medium that fails to capture ‘ape reality (and reality more generally)’ (626)—as is already implied by Fowler’s fragmented, nonchronological narrative. Although his analysis begins with animal language, Calarco thus abandons the topic in trying to reckon with nonhuman embodiment and difference. The same is true of Catherine Parry’s account of the novel, which stresses that Rosemary ‘challenge[s] the hierarchical, centralised status of language to define the quality of a being’s encounter with the world, and disempower[s] traditional emphasis on the linguistic response’ (209). In the next paragraphs, I complement these existing interpretations by scrutinizing the oblique signs, unobservable interiorities, and prediscursive interactions at play in this story, redescribing its preoccupation with nonhuman attunement and alterity in terms of language and translation. More specifically, I consider the novel’s stance vis-à-vis animal experiments, its attempt to rethink language along more-than-human lines, its systematic use of an exterior perspective, and its related interest in film and photography. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves criticizes animal experiments and linguistic humanism, and promotes a more capacious, posthumanist view of communication. A creative attempt to come to terms with the legacy of Fowler’s father, who performed animal experiments (311–12), this novel returns to the history of cross-fostering projects and reworks the bios of real chimps like Viki, Nim, and Washoe for its longer fictional narrative (155–8), much like Gowdy’s elephant novel draws on the fieldwork of scientists like Payne. The original subject of such experiments was language, but the results seemed to point in a different direction: ‘[Viki’s human father] complain[ed] about the way Viki is … held up as an example of a failed language experiment. Doomed to failure, because they tried to teach her to speak orally, which, of course, a chimp is physiologically incapable of doing. … But Mr. Hayes said that the … critical finding of their study [which] everyone was choosing to ignore, was this: that language was the only way in which Viki differed much from a normal human child’ (287–8). The implication that language is not decisive appears to correspond with the rest of Fowler’s novel, which adopts a self-reflexive stance akin to the one praised by Richter and harbors few illusions about human language, as it underlines the distorting effect of this ‘imprecise vehicle’ (85), which ‘simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies’ our memories (48). That such distortions have real consequences is borne out by the



novel’s plot, crucial parts of which revolve around the damaging, self-­ serving uses of language on the part of Rosemary’s father and Rosemary herself, who lie about Fern’s new home and her violent behavior, respectively (118, 270). Yet instead of dwelling on this critique of human language, like Calarco and Parry, we can also read Viki’s story and Fowler’s novel as a celebration of the more-than-human mode of communication that entangles cross-fostered humans and chimps, a form of language that is not modeled on the sounds of human elocution and of discrete, descriptive words. Reflecting on the peculiar sound of Fern’s laughter, Rosemary’s father observes that chimps ‘can’t sustain a single sound through a cycle of repeated exhalation and inhalation’, potentially impeding their ‘oral speech development’, but this scientific interest in human-like oral speech again misses ‘the crucial bit’, Rosemary feels, which is that ‘Fern was being mean’ (82). Rather than obsess over sounds and words, such passages imply, we should learn to read the social cues communicated by Fern’s behavior. Such an animal-centric approach would yield a picture of expressive abundance rather than linguistic poverty, two old close-up photos of these sisters suggest: ‘I can’t see much difference in the picture of me happy and the picture whose label says EXCITED. It’s easier with Fern. Her lips are opened in the first, funneled in the second. Her happy forehead is smooth; her excited one deeply creased’ (291). Rosemary may win the competition if we look for sounds and words like ‘refulgent’ and ‘ithyphallic’ (in contrast to Gowdy’s novel, there is more need for a human than a nonhuman glossary here), but Fern beats us all if we notice her expressive body language and its dynamic, ever-changing social cues. This desire to reconceptualize language along less anthropocentric lines explains why the novel keeps returning to nonverbal communication and education. Primed by the cross-fostering experiment and Fern’s kinesic skills, Rosemary is unusually attentive to nonlinguistic signals, noticing that one character’s cheeks ‘[i]n states of high emotion … turned from a scrubbed pink to white to pink again, so quickly it was like timelapse photography’ (129) and that another person  expresses his intentions without words: ‘[The professor] leaned forward to force me into friendly eye contact. He knew what he was doing. So did I.  Did I not train at my father’s knee? I mirrored his posture, held his gaze’ (233). Continuing this theme, Rosemary’s hands at one point begin to make a sign in ASL, but the message is lost on an onlooker who is ‘unaware that [she] was talking’ (174, emphasis in original). She tries to communicate with her eyes too: ‘I tried for a look back that said no, absolutely not …



but either she didn’t understand or had never been asking in the first place’ (192). Furthermore, many if not all scenes revolve around social information, given the narrative’s preoccupation with Rosemary’s jealousy. Indeed, you could say that the novel does not only deal with human language and its damaging lies but also with nonlinguistic signs and their clues about our constantly renegotiated social status—providing an original illustration of Blakey Vermeule’s argument that literary narratives revolve around the gossip they so much like to criticize, a social practice which ‘serves roughly the same function for humans as grooming does for other primates’ (105). Fowler’s narrative cannot help but alert us to body language, moreover, because Rosemary’s acute understanding of Fern’s cues is coupled with a flawed grasp of properly human gestures and expressions, leading to an important pedagogical subplot. When Rosemary first goes to school, her mother attempts to correct certain behaviors she picked up from Fern, a process Calarco characterizes as a ‘painful process of domestication and humanization’ (623). Yet if we bear in mind that chimpanzee body language is a form of communication, the scene also involves an unlearning of animal ‘language’: I started kindergarten, where my classmates called me the monkey girl or sometimes simply the monkey. There was something off about me, maybe in my gestures, my facial expressions or eye movements, and certainly in the things I said.… Here are some things my mother worked with me on…: Standing up straight. Keeping my fingers still when I talked. Not putting my fingers into anyone else’s mouth or hair. Not biting anyone, ever. No matter how much the situation warranted it. (101–2)

Rosemary needs to behave in recognizably human ways, and that means her repertoire of movements, which double as social messages (via gestures, postures, eye movements, etc.), have to be curtailed. This unlearning process goes hand in hand with an education in properly human body language, for she simultaneously learns ‘[h]ow to read children’s faces, which are less guarded than grown-ups’, though not as expressive as chimps’’ (103). But regardless of this training process, the narrative suggests that even in her later life, Rosemary continues to misread human cues and to repress nonhuman ones, and it accentuates this pedagogical



subplot and its communicative aspects via scenes that center on her later work as a kindergarten teacher. As she observes, her past makes her a great teacher—‘I’m good at reading body language, especially that of small children. I watch them and I listen and then I know … what they’re thinking [and] what they’re about to do’ (293)—and she even teaches her charges ‘chimp etiquette’: ‘When you visit a chimp family, I tell them, you must stoop over, make yourself smaller, so you’re not intimidating. I show them how to sign friend with their hands. How to smile so that they cover their top teeth with their upper lips’ (294). This scene refers to the human sign language Rosemary’s family uses to interact with Fern, but it also gestures beyond ASL to incorporate animal-centric modes of communication that are not sonic in nature and transmit valuable social information. If we want to jettison reductive theories of the human-animal boundary, one strategy is to criticize the distortions of human language, but another option, these passages imply, is to expand our idea of communication and education so that it acknowledges the role of such kinesic expressions. Even though Fowler’s novel appears to promote a positive view of body language and a negative view of animal experiments, both claims have to be modified if we consider its description of cross-species communication and Fern’s behavior more closely. Several scenes in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves show that nonverbal communication and its social information are neither unambiguous nor friction-free (remember that the other characters miss the messages Rosemary is transmitting with her hands and eyes), and the same is true of the passages that feature both sisters. In the novel’s final scene, Rosemary sees Fern again for the first time after their long separation, and she reflects that ‘I didn’t know what she was thinking or feeling. Her body had become unfamiliar to me. And yet, at the very same time, I recognized everything about her’ (308). If this is a scene of recognition, it is also one of impaired communication, and it hence differs sharply from Rosemary’s earlier sense of connection and smooth translation—the belief that she can speak ‘chimpanzees’ (100): I always used to believe I knew what Fern was thinking. No matter how bizarre her behavior, no matter how she might deck herself out and bob about the house like a Macy’s parade balloon, I could be counted on to render it into plain English. Fern wants to go outside. Fern wants to watch Sesame Street. Fern thinks you are a doodoo-head. Some of this was convenient projection, but you’ll never convince me of the rest. Why wouldn’t I



have understood her? No one knew Fern better than I; I knew every twitch. I was attuned to her. ‘Why does she have to learn our language?’ … ‘Why can’t we learn hers?’ Dad’s answer was that we still didn’t know … that Fern was even capable of learning a language, but we did know … that she didn’t have one of her own. … Language is more than just words, he said. Language is also the order of words … One of the early grad students … had argued that in our preverbal period, Fern and I had an idioglossia, a secret language of grunts and gestures. This was never written up … Dad had found the evidence thin, unscientific, and, frankly, whimsical. (98, 100)

This passage pits two conceptions of language against each other by contrasting ideas like projection, syntax, and scientific evidence with attunement, gestures, and idioglossia. On the one hand there is human language in all its grammatical complexity (as studied by scientists like Rosemary’s father), on the other there is the fantasy of a semi-private language shared between animals and humans (as experienced by young Rosemary), not unlike the attunement between the Gravedigger and his mahout. Communicating nonverbally, the two children are a team, as if they are ‘a single person’ (108). But as the narrator’s wording in these scenes implies, this cross-species attunement is partly a fantasy, and one dramatic episode convinces young Rosemary ‘[t]hat I didn’t know [Fern] in the way I’d always thought I did’ (270). Despite her critique of experiments and scientists, moreover, Rosemary’s thoughts about the long-term memory of chimps—crucial for deciding whether Fern can recognize her after so many years—bear the traces of ‘the exacting ghost of my father’: ‘These interiorities can never be observed in another species. Doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Doesn’t mean they are’ (302). In line with this cautious view, the novel’s narrator opts for an external account of Fern’s behavior and remains reluctant to speculate about, let alone directly access, the mind of this nonhuman animal. Even when Rosemary rejects her father’s externalist reading of Fern’s attempt to communicate—‘Two interesting behaviors—that was as far as Dad could go’— her alternative interpretation is carefully worded: ‘I’d thought Fern was apologizing. When you feel bad, I feel bad, is what I got from that red chip’ (203). We should not just examine the novel’s interest in more-than-­human communication, in short, but take cognizance of the fact that it remains skeptical about cross-species attunement and its anthropomorphic projections, and ultimately considers Fern’s mind off-limits. Whether Rosemary is



talking about young Fern’s transparent behavior or old Fern’s impenetrable mind, the narrative only records expressive faces and meaningful twitches, not unlike Beckett’s mindless novels and Love’s thin reading—a strategy that helps to establish Fern as a mysterious, round character, despite (or precisely because of) our total lack of knowledge about her train of thoughts, just like Newman’s remarks about body language in film suggested. In that sense, my interpretation of this novel parts ways with David Herman’s account of animal minds, which suggests that the most promising strategy for multispecies narratives lies in ascribing rich minds to animal actions often interpreted as mechanistic behaviors. As he explains, ‘a given narrative can reshape [discourse] domains by engaging in mental-state attributions in contexts where they tend not to be found … such that the register of action becomes grafted onto domains in which the register of events has been normative’ (225), meaning that ‘animals [for example] take on the profile of acting subjects rather than natural objects’ (242). Herman is right that many multispecies narratives resist anthropocentric views by representing as meaningful actions what are conventionally judged to be mere automatic behaviors. Yet I wager that the opposite approach can be productive too, and that descriptions of animal characters from an external perspective, which refuses to speculate about the meaning and motivation of visible behavior, can heighten rather than reduce our interest in nonhuman characters and their opaque contributions to human stories and lives. My final point in this section is that the novel’s representation of expressive bodies is associated with mechanical recording technologies. Fowler’s novel repudiates behavioral studies on chimpanzees, as we have seen, and implies that filmed footage of animal behavior, for example, is not as vital as scientists believe. At one point, Rosemary bitterly notes that a center for primate research ‘has shelves and shelves of video still to be analyzed; the researchers are behind the data by decades’ (296). But she concedes that some experiments are necessary for medical reasons (141, 256) and just like the novel implicitly salvages a more sensitive form of behavioral description, it also hints at the real value of film and photography in making sense of human as well as animal bodies. Apart from the passages I discussed before, involving time-lapse photography and facial close-ups, Rosemary mentions ‘photos of the space chimps in their helmets, grinning from ear to ear’, explaining ‘that chimps grin like that only when they’re frightened’ (128), and she transcribes a video of her and Fern lounging side by side: ‘The opening shot is a long track up the farmhouse stairs. The



sound track is from Jaws. … Shift to Fern and me. … Our postures are identical, our arms crooked behind our necks, our heads cupped in our hands. … A picture of complacent accomplishment. The room about us has been trashed’ (290). Such passages highlight facial expressions and body language, but they also foreground the media that enable us to register these subtle clues, some of which are similar across species boundaries. Preparing her mother’s old journals for publication at the end of the book—journals that feature poetry alongside ‘a graph of two, some numbers and some measurements’ (283)—Rosemary reflects that she would like to include such videos in the book she is writing but has to opt for photos instead, because it is currently not possible ‘to embed [a] video in a book’ (290). But it could be argued that some scenes in Fowler’s novel do something like embed that video and its external record of behaviors into the text via intermedial references. Consider the very first page: We have a home movie taken when I was two years old, the old-fashioned kind with no sound track, and by now the colors have bled out … but you can still see how much I used to talk. I’m doing a bit of landscaping, picking up one stone at a time from our gravel driveway … I’m working hard, but showily. I widen my eyes like a silent film star. … I’m speaking emphatically now—you can see this in my gestures … The whole thing lasts about five minutes and I never stop talking. … My little hand sweeps over my tub of rocks. All this, I could be saying, all this will be yours someday. Or something else entirely. The point of the movie isn’t the words themselves. What my parents valued was their extravagant abundance, their inexhaustible flow. (1–2)

Like the videos and photos I alluded to earlier, this movie records the behavior of Rosemary from an external perspective, which privileges body language rather than sounds, notably absent here. In doing so, this passage intimates that whether we are looking at apes or humans, we always use overt behaviors as indexes of inner lives that we cannot access. Perhaps sounds and language are therefore less crucial than gestures and facial expressions, which seem more intriguing here than those irrecoverable words and their definite meanings. If we are serious about expanding the novel’s multispecies soundscape, surely these meaningful silences need to be included too. Such scenes gesture toward a more expansive view of language, but we should not overlook the fact that the ‘inexhaustible flow’ of Rosemary’s



words, in this highly creative text about a highly accessible human mind, also underscores the difference between humans and animals in a way that arguably fits into linguistic humanism. If Fern is comparatively good at social cues and poor at vocabulary, Rosemary is a great talker, not just in old movies but on the page too. Gowdy’s elephant characters may wield metaphors, but here they are the exclusive property of human characters, meaning that the novel’s external description of nonhuman behaviors, which discloses the rich body language of Fern, rubs against an internal excavation of human minds, which lays bare the pliable verbal language of Rosemary—arguably revealing a residual form of linguistic anthropocentrism. Both of these contradictory messages are conveyed by the scene that explains the novel’s title. As the reader learns, the phrase refers to the shared excitement of Rosemary and Fern, who knock into grad students and demand ‘in [their] own ways to be picked up and swung’, pointing toward communicative democracy (98). Yet the remark that ‘we’re completely beside ourselves’ is a ‘strangely illuminating phrase’ returns us to human linguistic creativity, which the book celebrates time and again in the service of a creature without such verbal fireworks, paradoxically (ibid.). Nor should we gloss over the fact that Fern is absent for long stretches of the novel, just like she is absent in the silent video described at the start. As the pedagogical subplot and Rosemary’s multimedia book project already implied, Fowler’s novel may feature a morethan-human family, but it remains in other respects a traditional Bildungsroman.

Signs and Sanctuaries We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves critically reflects on cross-fostering experiments by exploring nonhuman alterity and attunement. The novel also trains its readers in nonverbal language and cross-species translation, a project that occasionally mimics the affordances of other media like film to capture the meaningful behaviors of humans and chimps alike. We should not just read the novel in the context of posthumanist thought, language experiments, and mindless literature, however, but also trace its ties to what you might call ‘sanctuary discourse’—a context that enables us to compare Fowler’s novel to this chapter’s final case study, Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal. Like other contemporary ape stories, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves contrasts the horror of caged lives in scientific labs with a



utopian image of the ideal ape home. After Fern is removed from her more-than-human family, she is sent to a ‘psych lab’ (124) that is run by a scientist who is more like ‘a supervillain’ (214) and forms the setting of a heartbreaking scene of violence involving Fern (206–9), who appears to be traumatized by her captivity and is reduced to broken, ‘sloppy’ signing (209). At the end of the novel, by contrast, Rosemary sketches a picture of the ideal chimp home, a positive counterpart to this lab from hell. In the storytelling present, she explains, Fern and the other chimps in her group are ‘cared for in the best way possible, and yet their lives are not enviable’, as ‘[t]hey need more room inside and much more out’ (296), and this convinces Rosemary to design a house with room for humans and great apes both, a ‘dream sanctuary’ with ‘an electrified fence around us, a bulletproof wall between’ (297). In a similar vein, Sara Gruen’s Ape House (2010) contrasts the horrors of the scientific lab (148–153) with a hopeful visit to ‘the most ape-friendly habitat I’ve ever seen outside of a jungle’ (346). Here, the novel’s scientists can continue to study the animal language of the story’s bonobos, and once again, humans and apes are expected to live apart together, separated by ‘a curved wall of glass’ (349). These narratives voice certain views about nonhuman language, such scenes show, but they also ask how we can live together with other great apes, and what sort of environment establishes the proper conditions for a more appreciative view of animal communication. How can we translate the ideal of a more-than-human community, as sketched in Chap. 3, into a particular living space? Similar concerns are raised in the elephant novels I discussed earlier, incidentally, as they too imply that we can only appreciate the rich lives and languages of these animals if we first provide the right, safe environment. To make sense of such passages and wrap up my argument, this section briefly examines chimpanzee sanctuaries and sanctuary discourse before inspecting one more novel, Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal. In general terms, anthropologist Thom van Dooren has called attention to animals living in conditions of ‘perpetual captivity’ (108–9), who are exposed to ‘regimes of violent care’ (92) by human caregivers who attempt to ameliorate their living conditions via various ‘enrichment practices’ (120). Zooming in on the case of captive chimpanzees, Julietta Hua and Neel Ahuja have published an ethnographic account of the sanctuary system that is directly relevant to my case studies. They observe how recent years have witnessed a series of changes in the legal and social status of great ape species; if they used to function as ‘key raw materials of the



national security state’ before, given their role in scientific research related to the conquest of space and the treatment of illnesses like AIDS (622), the interventions of advocacy groups have resulted in new legal protections and expanded conservation efforts in Africa and Asia as well as the creation of ‘an official sanctuary system’ for retired research chimpanzees in the US (624), which transforms them ‘from imperial conscripts in Cold War technological development into unkillable wards of the US state’ (619). Interrogating this system via interviews with caregivers from an undisclosed sanctuary, Hua and Ahuja explain that the underlying pro-­ animal logic at these institutions is not based on abstract rights or the belief in human-animal likeness but on a creative, improvisational form of care that accepts the inevitability of nonhuman captivity for species that cannot simply be returned to the wild. In their view, this improvisational care can be characterized as follows: ‘(1) a hesitance toward claiming species-­wide conservation goals and a focus on chimpanzee individuality; (2) awaiting and welcoming the death of wards during the “surplus time” of retirement; and (3) an obligation to provide a kind of good life, but acknowledging that this goal is deeply compromised by the realities of captivity’ (621). Accepting the idea of lifelong captivity, the pivotal question for these care workers becomes: ‘How can the space of captivity be transformed into a maximally livable space for nonlaboring chimpanzees?’ (626). How should we design this necessarily flawed space, which should fill the surplus time of these retired animals ‘with activities to normatively socialize chimpanzees to accept the conditions of confinement, to forgo the infamous forms of aggression attributed to the traumas of captivity’ (629)? In contrast to negative tales of imprisonment in labs, the sanctuary system fosters more positive stories about captivity, it seems, even if the feminized labor of its caregivers is undervalued and the apparent ‘good life’ of these animals remains circumscribed and non-free (635). These are the issues and questions that preoccupy Rosemary at the end of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, and Isabel and John in the conclusion of Ape House. These spatial and ethical questions are also central to the final section of Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal, but this novel paints a very different picture of the ideal chimp future, which implies that their nonhuman tongue and behavior can only flourish outside the confines of a sanctuary system that renders them invisible and inaudible to other creatures. A magical realist novel not unlike the celebrated Life of Pi, Martel’s work consists of three interlocking stories in which human characters from



consecutive periods of the twentieth century struggle with grief and have a life-changing encounter with a chimpanzee. On an abstract level, these stories fit into three paradigms for thinking about human-animal relations, namely in terms of rights and slavery (the narrative of Father Ulisses and his unusual crucifix, as read by Tomás), mortality and medicine (the story of the autopsy performed by Eusebio, with its anatomical detail and fantastical result), and the attempt to live with (and become-with) companion animals (the third and final section)—even if the book’s focus on the shared frailty of all creatures ultimately overrides these differences in emphasis. In the third story, which I focus on here, a Canadian senator with Portuguese roots visits a ‘chimpanzee sanctuary’ in the US and abruptly decides to buy an animal he feels connected to before moving to Portugal with his new nonhuman friend (224). Although a large portion of this story is set in a remote, quasi-exotic locale and centers on a male politician rather than a female primatologist, it shares several features with the novels profiled by Richter, including its extended reflections on religion and vulnerable bodies, its attempt to reimagine the family and the domestic sphere, and its sustained interest in ape experiments. Like the novel by Fowler, moreover, The High Mountains of Portugal rethinks language along more-than-human lines and adopts an external perspective on its nonhuman protagonist. In contrast to Ape House and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, however, it does not suggest that the resulting interspecies dialogue should take place in the secluded environment of a sanctuary-like space, but in the new makeshift home of an aging politician. One result of this choice is that the ape plays a much larger role in the narrative and is no longer moved off-stage for long stretches of the text, as happens in the novels by Fowler and Gruen—though all of this takes place in a story framed by the parable-like conventions of magical realism, as I mentioned. What happens to our view of chimps, their language, and their future if we imagine taking them and us out of an institutional context that cannot help but remind us of the violence inflicted upon lab animals? What sort of sanctuary would be the alternative, what sort of interspecies communication the result? The topic of language is raised in general, abstract terms at the beginning of Martel’s story, when one of the sanctuary workers (the kind counterpart of his boss, another hostile scientist) delivers the chimp to the senator’s care, and it reappears in more concrete, embodied terms when Peter begins to live together with Odo, the chimp. This particular



nonhuman language is rich and subtle, and involves both sound and other sensory modalities, the worker explains: He teaches [Peter] the basics about chimpanzee sounds and facial expressions. Peter learns about hoots and grunts, about barks and screams, about the pouting, puckering, and smacking of lips, about the many roles played by panting. Odo can be as loud as Krakatoa or as quiet as sunlight. He has no command of American Sign Language but does understand some English. And as is the case with humans, tone, gesture, and body language do much to convey meaning. The ape’s hands also speak, as does his posture and the lie of his hair, and Peter must listen to what they have to say. … The best face is one where Odo’s mouth is slightly open, his demeanour relaxed; this may be followed by one of the delights of chimpanzee language, the laughter, a bright-eyed, nearly silent panting, the mirth fully expressed without the grating HA HA HA of human laughter. ‘It’s a complete language,’ says Bob of chimpanzee communication. ‘I’m not very good with foreign languages,’ Peter muses aloud. ‘Don’t worry. You’ll understand him. He’ll make sure of that.’ (245–6)

These observations are filtered through the model of human language, as is shown by references to English, humans, laughter, and foreign languages. Yet they also underline the peculiar features of this nonhuman communication system, which draws on a complex register of sounds and tones—sounds that can be much louder as well as much quieter than human ones, and that can play ‘many roles’ to boot—as well as gestures and other kinesic expressions that should be closely monitored from the outside (and that should again not be limited to ASL). Furthermore, this passage puts great emphasis on the active role of the animal, as the sanctuary worker explains that Odo comprehends some English, that Peter must learn to listen to the chimpanzee, and that Odo will make sure Peter understands him. In this multispecies dialogue, animal sounds are fundamentally different from human speech, but they do not seem terribly hard to interpret. As far as the comparison with foreign languages is concerned, the rest of the novel will confirm that we can usually interpret unknown tongues when properly contextualized, be they human or nonhuman in origin. Nor does the story normalize chimpanzee communication once Peter begins his life with Odo in Portugal, as is shown by the following public and private scenes, which reveal different degrees of closeness between the two main characters:



The ape is evidently delighted with their new digs. He gives out excited hoots and bobs his head as he races from one end of the apartment to the other. … ‘A casa é boa—muito boa!’ [Peter] cries [to the villagers]. … Odo joins him at the window. In a state of high excitement, he says the same thing Peter has just said, only in his own language, which, to his ears and those of the people down below, comes as a terrific shriek. The villagers cower. ‘Macaco … macaco’—he searches for the word—‘macaco … é feliz!’ The villagers break into applause once more. … ‘So, yesterday at the café, why did you throw that cup to the ground?’ he asks as he [grooms] Odo’s shoulder. ‘Aaaoouuhhhhh,’ the ape replies, a rounded sound, the wide-open mouth closing slowly. Now, what does aaaoouuhhhhh in the language spoken by a chimpanzee mean? Peter considers various possibilities: I broke the cup to make the people laugh more. I broke the cup to make the people stop laughing. … I broke the cup because of the shape of a cloud in the sky. … I don’t know why I broke the cup. I broke the cup because quaquaquaqua. (270–1, 287, emphasis in original)

Both scenes describe Odo’s vocalizations as a form of language. In the first case, his utterance can easily be decoded with Peter’s growing knowledge of the chimp’s behavior. Throughout the story there are several examples of similarly transparent sounds, as when ‘Odo’s shrieks echo the same gratitude’ (272), when he has ‘an inquisitive hoo on his lips’ (289), or his ‘[t]ap, grin, and display all signal the same thing: It’s time to play!’ (311). Yet the second sound, Odo’s response to Peter’s question about the cup, remains obscure and generates many potential explanations that cannot be verified or translated because the animal remains ‘essentially unknowable’ (288)—even if these explanations assume that Odo understands Peter’s question and is capable of grasping causal processes, given the format of these imagined meanings. These descriptions feature nonhuman sounds, moreover, but they do not congeal into distinct, human-like words, as formulations like ‘aaaoouuhhhhh’ and ‘quaquaquaqua’ imply. There is no ‘hindlegger’ or ‘abalu’ here. The crucial point seems to be, moreover, that this rich picture of chimpanzee language, as explained in the abstract by the sanctuary worker and experienced in the flesh by Peter in Portugal, sharply contrasts with the chimp communications witnessed in the sanctuary, which seems but a meagre improvement on the evil labs that are staple features of ape stories: ‘They display various levels of aggression or agitation; they shake, they growl, they shriek, they grimace, they make forceful body movements’ (232). Although some of its workers are kind, this sanctuary does not just take away the liberty of these animals, the story implies,



but their language too—and both are restored in the more-than-human home of Odo and Peter, a union that is only possible in Portugal, however, and in magical realism. Like Fowler’s novel, Martel’s story rethinks sanctuary discourse while reflecting on nonverbal communication, and its descriptions again adopt an external perspective, with some interesting variations. Even more than Rosemary and Fern, Peter and Odo are shown to communicate via kinesic expressions involving touch and gestures. When Odo fights with one of the dogs from a pack that is attracted to this unfamiliar ape, the offending dog makes amends by whining and does not let up until Odo ‘brings out a hand and touches it’ (313). Similarly tactile moments punctuate Odo and Peter’s life together. The ape’s gestures can be hard to interpret (301), but touch usually seems straightforward: ‘Nearly always Odo is right next to him, lightly pressed against him’ (304); ‘He and Odo are side by side, their bodies touching’ (329); ‘Each time he notes how Odo touches him as he goes by, … nothing hard or aggressive, more a verification. Good, good, you’re there’ (282, emphasis in original). If these human and nonhuman creatures can communicate and live together, that is not just because of their ability to listen, but also because of their meaningful gestures and touches, as their scenes of cross-species ‘[g]rooming’ imply (286). Interestingly, the novel suggests that we pay insufficient attention to similar modes of communication among humans too, as in the passages where Peter observes that the villagers require some ‘social grooming, so to speak’ (275) and reflects that he does not grasp the precise words of a Portuguese woman ‘but her gesture was pretty clear’ (320). Interestingly, this close attunement between Peter and Odo occasionally leads to an unusual, hybrid point of view. As in the descriptions of Fern, Odo’s behavior is rendered exclusively from the outside, and the story never peers confidently into his enigmatic mind. Even when the narrative leaves Peter behind at the end, the narrator limits herself to an externalized perspective: ‘The ape rises and drops off the rock, barely breaking his fall with his hands and feet. … He stops and looks back at the boulder. Then he turns and runs off’ (332). When the connection between Odo and Peter is sufficiently strong, however,  the narrative evokes a perspective that is akin to what Susan McHugh calls the ‘intersubjective mind-set’ at play between horses and their human riders (75). In these scenes, the narrative adopts a hybrid point of view, a position somewhere in between internal and external focalization: ‘Peter and Odo look at each other. They acknowledge their mutual



amazement, he with a stunned smile, Odo with a funnelling of the lips, then a wide grin of the lower teeth’ (330–1). Or consider this scene: It starts to rain. Peter finds a large pine tree and takes refuge under it. … Odo settles on his haunches close-by. Though the ape doesn’t seem to mind the rain, Peter takes out a second poncho from his backpack. In doing so, he lifts his own. Odo grins. Oh, there’s the rest of you! He scoots next to him. Peter places the poncho over the ape’s head. They are now two disembodied faces looking out. … The pine smell is strong. They sit and watch the falling rain and its many consequences … They are surprised when a solitary wild boar trots past. Mostly they just listen to the living, breathing silence of the forest. (282–3, second emphasis added)

If this scene is initially focalized through the perspective of Peter, who interprets Odo’s behavior in ways that paraphrase the ape’s projected mental processes implicitly or explicitly (he ‘doesn’t seem to mind’, ‘Oh, there’s the rest of you!’), the perspective segues into a joined, more-than-­ human point of view on the forest that does not engage in rich speculations about the ape’s private mental life but records the shared surface sensations of these two sentient bodies who live and listen together, propped up against a tree. Although the story of Peter and Odo’s entangled lives and occasionally joint perspective moves beyond Fowler’s more circumscribed view of the ideal chimp home, as I have been arguing, we should not forget that Martel’s narrative fits into a magical realist frame, which means that it functions more like a mythical fable than a realist mirror. This fantastical frame is accentuated in the last line, which suggests that Odo encounters the mythical Iberian rhinoceros (332), an extinct creature whose fate is mentioned throughout the novel, in another example of the extinction discourse I contemplated in Chap. 2. You might see this as an image of hope, but you could also argue that the novel ends up suggesting that chimps will soon inhabit, not the ideal home sketched earlier, but the fantastical realm of myth. As this chapter has shown, the elephant and ape novels by Gowdy, James, Fowler, and Martel respond to specific historical debates regarding the ivory trade, contested forest frontiers, cross-fostering experiments, and sanctuary discourse. While they raise long-standing philosophical questions about alterity and anthropomorphism, they hence also draw attention to concrete issues that invite ecohistorical analysis. In addition, these contemporary animal novels try to reimagine language beyond



humanly audible sound and even beyond the verbal and the sonic altogether, in line with the differing behaviors of nonhuman species and evolving scientific views of more-than-human communication. Building on the literary archive related to the Darwinian revolution and modern animal language experiments, some of these works explore such posthumanist languages by entering the minds of nonhuman animals, whereas others opt for a fully external registration of animal behaviors, in line with recent accounts of mindless novels and thin readings. But all of these examples foreground modes of language that are shaped by other bodies and minds, and are made available by an array of mechanical media that these novels both mimic and interrogate. In the final analysis, this exploration of distinct nonhuman tongues encourages us to position, against the monolingualism of the human, not one generalized language of the animal or ‘the living world’ but a properly differentiated, richly communicative set of languages—a multispecies multilingualism that sheds new light on multimodal exchanges between humans and human characters too.

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Reading the Animal Pulse

The previous chapters explained how animal vocalizations are processed by contemporary listeners and writers in a time of threatened biodiversity, and how such sounds are regularly represented in terms of cross-species sympathy and/or other-than-human music and language. Chapters 5 and 6 shift the focus slightly and spotlight a topic we have encountered multiple times already: the fact that sonic ties between human and nonhuman animals are mediated via particular devices and technologies. As my preceding analyses of novels and scenes featuring headphones, cellphones, and spectrograms indicated, this book is not exclusively concerned with animal sounds or with human listening but with the shifting interfaces between human and nonhuman lives, which involve particular ideas and cultural practices but distinct media technologies too, even when they seem absent, the human ear being not a direct portal to a supposedly natural soundscape but yet another medium that filters our sonic environment in certain ways. Complementing my earlier remarks on the devices that connect as well as disconnect us from nonhuman creatures, the following chapters single out two media that merit further attention in an analysis of the modern multispecies soundscape, namely stethoscopes and sonar technology. This chapter scrutinizes the role of the stethoscope, a technological device that is important for the purposes of this book, as it plays a pivotal role in the history of modern auditory culture (and the related history of sound studies) and permits us to rethink sound beyond the narrow © The Author(s) 2020 B. De Bruyn, The Novel and the Multispecies Soundscape, Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature,




parameters defined by the human ear. In what follows, I first review relevant research on sound, media, and nonhuman animals and then proceed to examine an overlooked creaturely dimension of the novel’s soundscape, namely the noises of the vulnerable body. Unearthing the ‘stethoscopic logic’ and ‘culture of the heart’ in novels by authors as diverse as Glory Ralston, Bram Stoker, Cormac McCarthy, and Don DeLillo, the following sections specify how modern novels have incorporated as well as resisted this quintessential medical medium, providing detailed sonic records and unusual focalizations related to the inner bodies of humans and other creatures. A comparison of these narratives also uncovers divergent responses to conventional species boundaries, as they alternately emphasize or minimize the condition of creaturely vulnerability shared by living beings—even encouraging a mode of physiological response that I propose calling ‘visceral reading’. In an age where apps and art transform medical monitoring into an amateur pastime, the literary archive illuminates the prehistory of such cultural practices and their lingering anthropocentric presuppositions, not to mention their implicit celebration of touch and manual labor. As I mentioned, this chapter claims that the modern novel amplifies the sounds of the vulnerable body, offering its own, textual version of the enhanced auditory perception made possible by the stethoscope. It might seem odd to argue for the contemporary relevance of this diagnostic device. For even though laypeople continue to associate doctors and stethoscopes, the emergence of newer medical tools and practices entails that these instruments are increasingly viewed in a nostalgic light, as part of a cultural fear in which ‘[t]echnologies are viewed as replacing the senses in contemporary medicine, with blood pressure machines, ultrasounds, echocardiograms, X-rays and other investigations argued to replace practices involving touch, listening and more embodied approaches to care’, as Anna Harris has observed (33, emphasis in original). This perceived shift away from the traditional stethoscope leaves its traces in the cultural archive too; if the narrator of George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871–2) could refer to the device’s cutting-edge character by stating that the use of René Laennec’s 1816 invention still ‘had not become a matter of course in practice at that time’ (314), thinking of the early 1830s, the protagonist of Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis (2003) rather underlines its archaic nature at the start of the twenty-first century: ‘He didn’t know why stethoscopes were still in use. They were lost tools of antiquity, quaint as blood-sucking worms’ (43). The incarnation of innovative disease management in the first novel,



stethoscopes seem to signal a relapse into premodern and pre-professional (indeed, not fully humanized) quackery in the second. We should nevertheless consider the stethoscope if we want to grasp the soundscape of the modern novel, its impact on the reader’s senses, and its representation of medical care and vulnerable bodies. This project should not limit itself to human medicine and human patients, moreover, but take into account that vets handle stethoscopes too, and that nonhuman creatures inhabit bodies that, while different in multiple respects, are composed of equally noisy and fragile organs—a fact that has not escaped modern writers. If read closely, certain novels anticipate art installations like Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Pulse Room (2006) and Christian Boltanski’s Les Archives du Coeur (2008–) as well as apps like Heartkick, all of which record and/or respond to the real-time heart rates of users (see Jones). But these literary works also task readers with rethinking the anthropocentric presuppositions behind these cultural practices, by appealing to a form of sonic curiosity and creaturely sympathy that are similar to if not the same as the ones we identified in Chaps. 2 and 3. An analysis of the species and stethoscopes in novels by writers like Ralston, Stoker, and McCarthy also advances existing research at the intersection of sound studies, animal studies, and media studies—not to mention the medical humanities, which have largely ignored nonhuman animals in the past (Cassidy et  al.), prompting calls for ‘more entangled investigation of the bio-psycho-­ social-physical events that underpin the life, and death, of any organism’ (Viney et al. 3). For all of these reasons, the present chapter investigates this particular medical medium, the acoustic contact zones it helps to establish, and the role of bodily, medicalized listening in literary history. Existing work in sound studies already points us in the direction of the stethoscope, even if it has not canvassed the more-than-human dimensions of bodily sound in detail. In his landmark publication The Audible Past (2003), which we have encountered before, Jonathan Sterne claims that the history of sound reproduction technologies does not begin with the well-known phonograph or telephone but with the earlier stethoscope, and recounts how Laennec’s invention marked an important step not just in nineteenth-century medicine but in modern auditory culture too. In medical terms, the stethoscope provided access to the invisible ‘insides of living human bodies’ and enabled medical professionals to interpret the undistorted sounds of the body rather than the potentially untrustworthy statements of their patients (99),  turning ‘an intersubjective exchange between doctor and patient’ into the ‘sonorous clarity of reason’ delivered



by mechanical objectivity (136). The stethoscope also laid the foundation for the attentive listening protocols associated with later media like the phonograph. For Laennec’s device and its earphones already isolated sounds from other perceptual data—remember the headphone writing of Chap. 2—and placed listeners in a ‘private acoustic space’ where they could apply new technical listening skills (87)—which Sterne groups under the rubric ‘audile technique’ (90)—to interpret minute but meaningful vibrations, like the ‘barely audible details of a patient’s breathing or heartbeat’ (115). Like later sound technologies, moreover, the stethoscope appeared to ‘eras[e] itself’ as an intervening medium as this process became second nature for modern listeners, and the novelty of bodily sound wore off (112). This insightful analysis has shaped the work of literary scholars, including my own, but it offers few clues for research on nonhuman animals, as Sterne holds that ‘human beings reside at the center of any meaningful definition of sound’ because it refers to that set of vibrations that can be picked up by a human ear (11). Granted, he hints at a more capacious view of sound: ‘the boundary between sound and not-sound is based on the understood possibilities of the faculty of hearing—whether we are talking about a person or a squirrel’ (12). Yet Sterne mainly has ‘the human body’ in mind (51), despite the fact that ‘human and animal bodies’ share the crucial tympanic mechanism, for instance (34). At the precise moment when the stethoscope is introduced in sound studies, in other words, nonhuman sounds and bodies are excluded. This is unfortunate, as stethoscopes disclose the importance of soft, humanly inaudible sounds, and can be applied to other animal bodies too—as Laennec himself recognized. Although his ‘researches on auscultation in the diseases of animals have been very limited’, he is confident that his invention ‘will be found very useful in [certain] cases’ relevant to ‘veterinary medicine’ (720). The anatomy of other creatures complicates things, to be sure; listening to a horse’s heart is arduous, he concedes, as its ‘respiration is very indistinct … even when the animal has just ceased running’ (720). Still in the nineteenth century, British veterinary surgeon William Youatt writes that this instrument has convinced him of the importance of sound and diagnostic listening, recommending ‘the application of the ear to the chest and belly of various animals’ (533). This procedure allows acute listeners to discern a cow’s pregnancy sooner, for example, for ‘[t]he beating of the heart of the calf will be distinctly heard’ as will ‘the audible rushing of the blood through the vessels of the placenta’ (533). Although we should not lose



sight of different anatomies and the unequal power relations between human and nonhuman animals, especially in a medical context, such observations hint at the cross-species state of vulnerability I addressed in Chap. 3 with reference to passionate vocalizations rather than noisy anatomies. If the stethoscope makes lungs, hearts, and other organs newly audible and amenable to medical management, as Sterne says, it simultaneously raises awareness of a condition of embodied fragility that bleeds across species lines—or at least extends to creatures with similar organs suffering from comparable medical conditions, a significant nuance. Companion species in particular, we will see, are repeatedly described as medical emergencies in waiting, with bodies that require constant human care and professional monitoring. A return to the stethoscope also advances debates in the environmental humanities on the body, vulnerability, and nonhuman sound. The following argument furthers existing cultural research on the ties between environmentalism, modern medicine, and embodiment, first of all. The leading example here is Stacy Alaimo’s Bodily Natures (2010), as her analysis of literature in the age of invisible toxicants introduces a conception of the body that is vulnerable and permeable rather than safely enclosed— in which ‘all creatures exis[t] as part of their own corporeal crossroads of body and place’ (111)—and it explores similar exchanges between medicine and environmental literature. Especially interesting here is that she mentions technologies that enable us to monitor the interior body and trace toxic effects on what used to be our ‘nice insides’, in the words of a fictional character (75). Alaimo even suggests that literary texts can function in ways analogous to such medical media, rendering invisible things visible ‘like an X-ray’ (52), and that bodies are media too, quietly registering toxicity like ‘a scientific instrument’ (24). Developing these insights, Heather Houser addresses related themes in her Ecosickness in Contemporary US Fiction (2014) by calling attention to images of abject, boundless bodies that incite an uncomfortable but ecologically useful form of disgust (156–7). Yet despite their focus on the porous body and pronounced interest in environmental issues, these studies remain primarily concerned with ‘human illness’, as Houser puts it (2). By contrast, human-animal relations occupy center stage in Anat Pick’s analysis of creaturely vulnerability. In Creaturely Poetics (2011) Pick considers works of film and literature that explore ‘the corporeal reality of living bodies’ (3), the ‘logic of flesh’ (6) she characterizes at one point as ‘the anonymity of perishable matter’ (183). Adopting this ‘creaturely’ perspective



entails that we do not focus on the interiority of selves but the exteriority of bodies, not on self-­made historical actors but transient ‘creatures of history’ (74), and not on a conceptual strategy of supposed extension (‘all animals are humans too’) but one of contraction instead (‘all humans are creatures too’). These three accounts of fragile bodies devote more attention to sight and visual media, but they occasionally refer to sound too, as in Pick’s analysis of a film scene where human and canine voices mix, in a moment of ‘creaturely longing’—remember Chap. 3—in which ‘[s]omething needy and mammalian calls out’ (118). Often overlooked, the cultural meanings of such sounds have received more attention in the last few years, as I mentioned in the introduction and the previous chapters. For many of these studies, the crucial question is whether we are able and willing to retool our conception of ‘voice’, seen as a sign of legally and politically meaningful personhood, so as to include other life forms and sounds formerly consigned to the cultural background. As I have explained in Chap. 3 especially, this is a crucial connotation of nonhuman sound whenever it crops up in cultural artifacts. Yet another reason why stethoscopes are interesting at this juncture is because they provide access to organic sounds that are not vocalizations part of a conscious semiotic process and that are neither fully natural nor truly old, seeing that they only become properly available to human listeners after the emergence of a particular modern technology and mindset, as Sterne has demonstrated. Returning to Dominic Pettman’s Sonic Intimacy (2017), we should certainly interrogate how the secure possession of an individual ‘human’ voice is premised on the exclusion of sounds assumed to be (merely) machinic, feminine, or creaturely. As I stated in the introduction, Pettman is absolutely right in saying that ‘[e]xpanding the conceptual spectrum of what counts as a voice is one way to better understand—and thus challenge—the technical foundation and legacy of taxonomy (gender, class, race, species)’ (92). What is more, he astutely notes that we should not interpret the voice in terms of real-time presence and an individual signature alone but also need to consider its indirect, impersonal, and acousmatic dimensions, and trace how sounds that circulate among humans, animals, and machines establish shifting forms of intimacy. Yet if we want to explore scenes of sonic intimacy and grasp how sounds that are both personal and impersonal travel between living bodies and other media, an analysis of stethoscopic listening and the veterinary ear promises to yield compelling results, seeing that the sounds of fragile bodies and organs permit us to bracket the conventional focus on voice,



communication, and subjectivity even more radically. Pettman takes into account divergent sound sources so as to arrive at a more elastic view of voice: ‘[w]hether it is a mother listening to her daughter’s voice on the telephone, a dog listening to His Master’s Voice on a gramophone, a lamp listening for the clap of a hand, or a microphone listening for specific shapes determined by an algorithm, there is a subjectively inflected object or operation “paying heed” to its environment’ (74). The sounds I examine in this chapter could likewise be integrated into this expansive view of ‘voice’ and ‘subjectively inflected’ operations, assuming that we are willing to ascribe some measure of agency and individuality to organs and bodily processes (and why not?). But that strategy should take cognizance of the fact that these bodily sounds have acquired connotations rooted, precisely, in the fact that they are ordinarily deemed to be impersonal, non-­subjective, anonymous. Even if we decide to include this bodily acoustics into an all-­ encompassing ‘vox mundi’, in other words, it would be wise to bracket the category of voice initially and analyze these sounds, their literary representations, and their cultural meanings more neutrally first. Formulated more strongly, it could be argued that these usually imperceptible vibrations demand a different strategy and force us to think of the more-than-human soundscape in ways that do not privilege individualizing, humanizing notions like voice. Whatever our views on the matter, it cannot be denied that this form of sonority has received little sustained attention in existing publications on animal sounds. I should also add that the present chapter underlines the specialized nature of medical listening; whereas the ethical appeal of the animal voice is theoretically accessible to all auditors, as we saw in Chap. 3, monitoring the body’s noises requires skills and equipment that are unevenly distributed among human listeners. If the debate on modern auditory culture can be enriched by factoring in nonhuman animals, in short, a closer look at stethoscopic culture extends our view of the body, of creaturely life, and of nonhuman acoustics. Finally, an analysis of the stethoscope and its nonhuman dimensions improves our understanding of the interaction between literary texts and other media. As I mentioned at the start of this book, literary scholars interested in historical recording technologies initially kept returning to the impact of the gramophone on literary practice, but scholars like Paul Saint-Amour have started overturning this ‘gramophonocentrism’ (16, emphasis in original) by studying how other media competed with ‘the recording, storage, and playback technology we call the novel’ (17). One of these rival regimes involves the stethoscope. Following Jonathan Sterne, literary scholar John Picker maintains that



‘modern aurality begins with the stethoscope’, this device that ‘represented the rational conquest of previously undetected sound and led to the rise of the clinically skilled listener’ (603). The sounds made available by modern media prompted new anxieties concerning Victorian identity, Picker relates, and they shaped the writing of George Eliot and Edgar Allan Poe, among others, whose fiction is ‘full of hidden hearts beating for those perceptive men and women who would hear them’, inviting ‘the kind of stethoscopic perception that permits the attentive individual to access the invisible lives of others’ (605). Working on Victorian poetry, Kirstie Blair has reached similar conclusions. The advent of the stethoscope implied, she notes, that the conventional image of the ‘feeling heart … bec[a]m[e] subject to technology, its beatings classified and reduced to medical symptoms as the possibility of affective communication between doctor and patient [wa]s denied’ (24). At the same time, people became newly attentive to ‘the irregular and affective pulse’ (24), and this resulted in literary works in which the heart resists its modern management, and authors and readers perform ‘a kind of stethoscopic reading’, with a pulse speaking ‘at amplified volume’ (26). Whereas these accounts firmly focus on human bodies and identities, Pearl Brilmyer has claimed that an author like Eliot uses ‘literature not only as a medium for intersubjective understanding but also as an amplificatory technology’ (36), meaning that a famous passage from Middlemarch can be read literally, in terms of more-than-human perception: ‘What would it feel like … to look on the world with an extrahuman range of faculties? “[I]t would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence”’ (35–6). As the close observations of her realist fiction aim to surpass the limits of human perception, Brilmyer argues, Eliot ultimately regards literature as ‘a kind of nonhuman extension of the human body’ (45), like the ‘microscope’ (40) or the ‘microphone’ (45). Or, I would add, bearing in mind that squirrel’s heart, the stethoscope. As these insights imply, ‘stethoscopic perception’ should not be limited to the human, neither in reality nor in writing. That is why I now turn to three sets of novels that explicitly contemplate sounds, species, and that quaint prosthetic tool, the stethoscope.



Humane Vets Before inspecting the novels of famous writers like Stoker and McCarthy, I will compare two contemporary novels that describe the activities of veterinary practitioners in detail, Sid Gustafson’s Swift Dam (2016) and Glory Ralston’s While the Music Played (2016)—contemporary iterations of the type of narrative popularized by James Herriot in the 1970s. The stories by Gustafson and Ralston might not stand the test of time, seeing that neither of them was written by a professional author or published by a high-profile press. Yet in their potential ephemerality these novels are representative of the early  twenty-first-century literary scene, arguably, which thrives on expressions of ‘amateur creativity’ (Vadde 29) and the often unpaid labor of ‘indie writers’ (McGurl 460) and ‘literary volunteers’ (Hungerford 2016, 6). These novels repay closer scrutiny, moreover, as they provide insight into the meanings of physical labor and human-animal partnerships, not unlike the narratives analyzed in Susan McHugh’s Animal Stories (2011). More specifically, they shed a powerful light on the life of modern vets and the cultural meanings of the stethoscope. The best way to contextualize these novels is to recapitulate the history of the veterinary profession in twentieth-century America. According to Susan D. Jones, this history can be divided into four rough phases: animal doctors initially offered their services in cities, treating horses that provided transport or signaled social status; the rise of motorized vehicles necessitated a subsequent shift toward work related to farms, food animals like cows, and the systematic inspection of meat and milk; as wars created a need for cheap food in great quantities, vets also started developing vaccines and preventive protocols that created the necessary conditions for large-scale factory farms composed of chickens and other animals who were only valued in large quantities; and alongside these developments vets started reorienting their labor in function of reindividualized companion animals like dogs and cats, who were valued for sentimental rather than commercial reasons. As this historical trajectory indicates, vets have had to renegotiate their place in society several times, adjusting themselves to changing ideas of which animals are valuable and why. This account further shows that veterinarians are not simply ‘a great humane society’ (128), as professional leaders like to declare, but have played a pivotal role in creating the ambiguous social status of nonhuman animals, in which some creatures are valued and others are not, and in reconciling desires for



profit and sentiment, even though the latter motive seemed initially hard to reconcile with the traditionally masculine, unsentimental ethos of the animal doctor. This history makes its presence felt in the novels by Ralston and Gustafson; gender inequality is crucial to both stories, for instance, and they both allude to historical changes in the veterinary profession, like the shift toward companion animals and the increasing use of medication. While they do not idealize stressful working conditions, moreover, both novels present a highly positive take on the veterinary life, accentuating compassionate care and individualized patients rather than morally ambivalent situations involving large-scale factory farms and vets as ‘herd health experts’, as Jones phrases it (113). In representing rough but rewarding labor in the countryside, both novels also plumb the life of the family and the traumas of the Vietnam War and Manifest Destiny, respectively, meaning that they share a commitment to regional identities, cultural memory, and intergenerational ties. But my main concern here is that they feature several scenes in which a vet examines an animal patient, using his or her stethoscope—scenes that task readers with imagining the body’s interior acoustics. Set in northern California in 1985, Glory Ralston’s While the Music Played (2016) is a self-published novel about three female characters and their interlinked stories: seventeen-year old Jenna has lived with her grandmother and aunts ever since her mother left her when she was three; her mother’s letters uncover how she became an alcoholic after her husband disappeared in Vietnam and how she is now trying to reconnect with her estranged daughter; and Jenna’s aunt Marge is a self-taught, unlicensed veterinary assistant who tends to local animals with Jenna and fears her job is disappearing now that people have begun to prefer the services of licensed vets (see 68). Alternating between these storylines, the narrative features many examination scenes, three of which mention stethoscopes explicitly. The first scene is an early, positively charged passage in which the intervention of Marge and Jenna ends up saving the pregnant patient. Because a profit-seeking farmer has bred a ‘sweet little heifer’ to a big Angus bull, the male calf is simply too big to leave the mother’s body, requiring the skillful intervention of Jenna’s small hands to help move the animal into the right position (22). As the text stresses, this is arduous work involving bodily fluids, life-and-death tension, and the threat of physical harm. Yet in contrast to the cursing male farmer, who only cares about the valuable calf, Marge and Jenna never lose sight of their animal patient and keep talking to the mother in soothing tones—recalling Bev’s



behavior in the scene from Disgrace I discussed in Chap. 3. Even more important than this comforting interspecies dialogue are the medically relevant sounds of the body; as the calf is not breathing when it eventually emerges, Marge applies a ‘stethoscope’ to listen for a heartbeat, in a textbook example of audile technique—‘Her face tightens in concentration. “It’s there, not very strong but there”’ (19)—and those barely audible sounds elicit a set of chest compressions that end up saving the calf. More crucial to the narrative is that this successful intervention produces an overwhelming sense of ‘pride’ (21) in the human protagonist and confirms Jenna’s desire to become a vet, a life-changing sequence of events that essentially replays a similar scene from Marge’s life, integrating the protagonist’s individual aspirations into a longer family history of animal care (see 23). In Jenna’s words: ‘I know now, beyond all doubt, that this is what I want to do with my life’ (28). Given this promising start, we should not be surprised to learn that the novel’s climax, in which Jenna finally meets her mother, underlines her status as a vet-to-be, seeing that she watches the car approach ‘with the stethoscope dangling from [her] hand’ and finally embraces her mother with ‘the stethoscope in [her] hand’ (276). Emphasizing the magical quality of this reunion as well as the quasi-coincidence of doctor and instrument, the character even forgets she is holding it: ‘[t]hat’s when I notice that I’m still holding Ben’s stethoscope’ (277). Though it miraculously provides access to inner bodies, and Jenna does not know how to use it properly yet, the stethoscope has already become invisible, an unobtrusive extension of the vet-to-be’s body. If read closely, the other scenes that mention stethoscopes reinforce the anthropocentric connotations of Jenna’s heroic delivery at the start of the novel. In the middle section a barn fire has injured two horses, one of whom is again not breathing. Coaxing this animal back to life proves more difficult, but Jenna is undeterred by anatomical differences like the fact that this is ‘a thousand-pound animal’, encouraging her aunt to do CPR with their ‘combined weight’, a form of teamwork that is interspersed with multiple instances of audile technique (82): ‘Aunt Marge listens intently, moving the stethoscope over Dolly’s ribcage … She keeps her head down and moves the stethoscope over Dolly’s chest for several minutes … She closes her eyes and cocks her head, listening’ (82–3). The animal cannot be saved, but this apparent failure seems to be offset by the facts that this fatal scene is set in a landscape of ‘breathtaking’ natural beauty (81) and that an autopsy is able to explain why this seemingly unhurt animal perished, medical knowledge about scorched lungs providing reassuring insight even if it ‘isn’t exactly



good news’ for the animal patient (112). The reason why Jenna is holding a stethoscope in the third scene at the novel’s end, finally, is because she comes across an injured deer on the highway as she drives past with a young vet (274). Once more, Jenna is forced to admit that this particular animal cannot be helped, and the male vet uses his stethoscope after euthanizing the deer to make sure it has passed away in a so-called humane fashion. Lending further weight to this climactic scene is the fact that the deer has a fawn who is hiding in the woods nearby. The presence of this animal child has an emotional impact on the protagonist, but the fact that this nonhuman mother and daughter are violently separated by human actions—apart from the actual accident, the vet ends up taking the euthanized body with him—at the precise moment when the novel’s central human mother and daughter are reunited nonetheless proves that animals and humans occupy asymmetrical positions in this fictional world and experience their vulnerability in uneven ways (the novel evokes a particular, binary ‘creature-system’, to use the phrase I introduced in Chap. 3). Admittedly, the novel systematically underlines the ties between equally fragile and caring humans and animals, by discussing the medical condition of one of Jenna’s aunts in detail (26–7); by comparing an injured animal to a ‘man on [a] stretcher’ (83); by remarking that Jenna, despite initial doubts, is ‘getting used to the idea of a four-hundred-pound pig as a house pet’ (194); and by relating how another animal mother ‘even looked to be smiling’ when she recognizes her pup after their forced separation, in another proudly anthropomorphic moment (247). Furthermore, Jenna wonders what it must be like to be one of her patients, the horse trapped in the burning barn: ‘I try to picture what it must have been like for Dolly in the fire’ (86). But the species divide remains in place, as the ending already implied (not to mention the protagonists’ systematic and untroubled consumption of meat throughout the novel), and not just because the idea that we can easily inhabit another animal’s mind overlooks its alterity by presupposing its ‘essential humanity’, as scholars like Cary Wolfe have pointed out. Because if we inspect the novel as a whole, the crucial, recurring challenge of imaginative identification is rooted in human rather than nonhuman trauma: ‘Was that what it was like for my mother after my father went missing?’ (76). Though it shares many features with While the Music Played, Swift Dam is different too. Instead of concentrating on the homely teamwork of semi-professional women treating various species of animals, the second novel revolves around a rugged male veterinarian who works on his own and is primarily interested in horses. Swift Dam also wears its literary



ambition on its sleeve; apart from references to ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ (45), James Herriot (71) and ‘a Richard Ford novel’ (53), all of which display the writer’s awareness of particular literary coordinates, the plot involves a vet who dabbles in writing, convinces a literary agent of his talent, and manages to publish a successful novel. This character is suspiciously similar to the novel’s author, Sid Gustafson, who is not just a journalist for the New York Times, as the cover informs us, but also ‘a longtime practicing veterinarian in Montana and equine behavior educator’. Drawing on Gustafson’s experience, Swift Dam switches back and forth between the story of a Pondera County sheriff with Native American roots, Bird Oberly, and that of the aforementioned vet-turned-novelist, Doctor Alphonse ‘Fingers’ Vallerone. The lives of these characters reveal the impact of two disasters: the real-life flood of 1964 that destroyed the titular dam and killed many Native Americans from the nearby Blackfeet Reservation as well as the larger trauma of Manifest Destiny and its aftereffects. Not unlike Ralston’s novel, Swift Dam follows established models of how to narrate trauma, as it tells its story in a fragmentary, reverse-­ chronological fashion, slowly piecing together dreams, memories, and conversations to disclose the precise link between Bird and Fingers. Apart from these broader themes of identity and memory, Gustafson’s novel again contemplates the state of the veterinary profession; Fingers repeatedly criticizes the ‘drugs-for-all ideology’ (95), and his nickname accentuates his low-tech, hands-on take on veterinary medicine and the contrast with its more comfortable human counterpart: ‘Vallerone had relied on his fingers all his life to diagnose what burdened animals. He had no radiographic capabilities in the field, no ultrasound, no blood scans, no digital imagery; nothing other than his namesake digits abetted by his eyes and nose, a feel doctor all around’ (93). Yet despite this anti-technological stance, Gustafson’s story, like Ralston’s novel, includes several examination scenes involving stethoscopes and the human-animal boundary. The scenes from Swift Dam are more technical, however, underlining the expertise of the fictional vet as well as the book’s writer, who does not have to add a note at the end, like Ralston, to thank a ‘DVM’ or doctor of veterinary medicine for ‘sorting out the possible from the impossible in all the animal scenes’ (279). We are in the hands of a male professional now, not a female amateur. Further clarifying the literary role of stethoscopes, the rest of my reading again analyzes three scenes that establish ties between animals, sounds, and medical care. The first scene depicts Vallerone’s natural ability in



treating his injured patient, a dog who has been impaled with the quills of a porcupine and is owned by a ‘murder-mystery novelist’ who stumbles out of the exam after seeing his injured pet ‘to barf in the waiting room garbage can’—a scene which suggests that popular writers cannot stomach the hard-nosed realities of the veterinary life as described in what must therefore be a more serious novel (49): [Vallerone] checked the hydration, pinching the skin over the shoulderblades, over the eyelid. Fingers listened to the wispy heart and struggling lungs with his ancient black-rubber stethoscope, his Littman. … He tightened a … tourniquet and deftly slipped a catheter into the foreleg vein, seemingly all in one fluid motion that … hypnotized the usually high-strung hunting dog. … Once the fluid had dripped its magic, relaxing the dog and providing metabolic relief, the dog came to appreciate Dr. Vallerone. … Mardo watched the doctor come into a rhythm with his patient [and noticed] Fingers’s constant monitoring of vital signs, his intuitive quill extractions, the care so as not to … overlook even one. (48, 51)

In line with its setting, the meticulous, step-by-step description of this scene in Vallerone’s clinic is more technical than the passages in Ralston’s novel (via references to hydration, the Littman brand, catheters, metabolic relief). Focalized at the end through the admiring eyes of Mardo, the mystery novelist’s female assistant, the passage also celebrates the professional skill of this individual male doctor (no teamwork or female vet assistants here), who does not miss a single quill, as well as the healing and hypnotic effect of medical expertise more generally (though Fingers considers them problematic, drugs can apparently do wonders too). Not unlike Jenna, moreover, the extradiegetic narrator imagines herself to be able to inhabit the canine patient’s perspective, confidently noting that the dog ‘came to appreciate’ the doctor. Gustafson’s novel intimates that animal and human medicine differ, yet it also recognizes certain similarities, a move that unsettles the border between humans and other animals but also serves to enhance the status of animal doctors by likening their life-saving mission to that of their more prestigious human counterparts. These similarities are made explicit in a passage where the vet applies the stethoscope to his own aging body, in which the text represents the sounds of the body and the vet’s audile technique while gesturing toward the vulnerability of all creatures—or at least those creatures with lungs, hearts, and livers:



He fished the stethoscope off the exam tray and auscultated his chest … His heart sounded fine. Lub-dub, lub-lub, lub-dub, lub-ub, lub-dub. Fairly steady, save that up and down arrythmia that corresponded with his breathing. He listened on. His endocrine system reacted to scrutiny, increasing his heart rate. Maybe just a half beat missed now and then. He was not so sure about his lung sounds. Light rales, perhaps a heaviness. He dropped the bell down to his abdomen and listened to the light bubbling of his intestines. … He tried to palpate his liver under his ribcage, but couldn’t get a feel of the hepatic margin under the ribs like he could a cat’s. (91–2)

This scene of self-monitoring replicates the sounds heard through a stethoscope, even using onomatopoeia. It also points to the similarities between human and animal bodies (if not, how could a vet understand the state of his own organs?) as well as their anatomical differences (a cat is nonetheless different from a human). Furthermore, the language records the uncertainty inherent in medical listening (‘fairly’, ‘maybe’, ‘not so sure’, ‘perhaps’, ‘tried’), implying both that doctors are fallible and that bodies remain opaque, problems made urgent by the fact that so much could be amiss with its vulnerable mechanism (that missing half-beat, those worrisome lungs and liver), a mechanism that responds automatically, disturbingly independently, to its medical monitoring. The comparison between human and animal medicine returns in the final scene that mentions stethoscopes, which places Fingers in an even more passive position and increases the tension by subjecting him to the medical gaze and ear of a young attractive woman. As all of the previous points converge in this passage, I quote at length: [S]ignaling him to stay put with a gesture of his chart, like one might signal a dog to remain sitting [the young female doctor] massaged his neck, … much like Vallerone might unwind a tense horse. … The she-doctor percussed his ribcage with piano fingers. She auscultated while gently tapping, she the raven, his torso the window [and used] a Littman stethoscope similar [to] the one he used to hear inside animals. … The exam was changing him, something about the doctor’s touch. She pressured his jugular groove with an index finger while auscultating his heart, assessing how the heart beat matched up to the carotid pulse. She spotted the head of her ­stethoscope on various parts of his chest, listening carefully at each stop … Fingers came fully awake, examined for the first time in his life. … Her needle fell into his vein; the sensation sexual, a whimsical penetration of his doctorness by hers. (97–100)



Awkwardly phrased, this passage attests to literary ambition (the image of ‘piano fingers’, the allusion to Poe’s raven) and technical knowledge concerning instruments and anatomy (the doctor’s chart, the bell of her stethoscope, Fingers’s jugular groove). It also aligns human and animal patients (Vallerone is like a dog and a horse, the stethoscope is like that of a vet) and stresses the quasi-magical effect of physical exams and medical treatments, not unlike the scene with the quilled dog, or the delivery scene in Ralston’s novel (the doctor’s quasi-musical touch changes Vallerone, makes him feel reborn). And gender is once more crucial, seeing that Fingers imagines a form of sexual tension to be at play, one that culminates in an image whose true purpose might be less physical wish-fulfilment than professional fantasy, as if to say that vets and other doctors, male practitioners and female colleagues share a fundamental mission that overrules differences related to species, gender, and social prestige. But given the procedure’s emasculating impact, Fingers’s fantasy also indexes a fundamental sense of helplessness, which turns this male expert into a dog, a horse, a piano, a penetrated body, a passive entity that is no longer able to listen to his own body and decide on the proper treatment, despite his shared expertise—an old patient rather than a young doctor. All of which suggests that, the novel’s strong endorsement of veterinary practice notwithstanding, human doctors and concerns finally remain in charge. Not to mention that Swift Dam, like While the Music Played, relates a human story about parents and their children, in which nonhuman characters function mainly as charismatic extras rather than truly independent agents. Yet in doing so these novels alert us to the role of sound in the treatment of vulnerable creatures, suggest that the inner body and animal mind are ultimately knowable and manageable, and that the stethoscope is a powerful, almost invisible instrument, which is exempt from the criticism leveled at modern medicine, and which natural vets carry in their hands unknowingly.

Monitoring the Species Boundary The previous sections have documented how certain contemporary novels incorporate specialized knowledge related to the veterinary life alongside detailed descriptions of bodily sounds. But these novels are not the only or first literary works to explore the meanings of the body, of medical procedures, and of modern media like the stethoscope. Similar themes make an appearance in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), to give but one



example, which refers both to the anatomy of the monster—his skin ‘scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath’ (58)—and that of his creator—‘[s]ometimes my pulse beat so quickly … that I felt the palpitation of every artery’ (59). But this early novel’s treatment of the inner body remains largely symbolical, the seat of unruly passions rather than leaking organs, and that changes when medical technology evolves. As Kirstie Blair has argued, the Victorian period marks a crucial transition, as new anatomical insights and inventions like the stethoscope in combination with the contemporary ‘culture of doubt’ led to a reinterpretation of the heart, transforming it from a literary symbol to a literal organ, meaning that it turned elusive as well as knowable, pathological as well as healthy, negative as well as positive. As heart disease served ‘almost as cancer does today, in terms of being the most feared yet most readily assumed interpretation of any set of symptoms’ (30), moreover, there were multiple reasons for monitoring heartbeats, like the fear that cardiac disease was related to intellectual labor, to hereditary influence, or to sexual desire and female sensitivity, impelling ‘pregnant women to regulate their feelings and carefully monitor their pulse’, for instance (106–7). This shift in the ‘culture of the heart’, Blair finds, has left its traces in literary works that respond to these cultural fears via cosmic and mechanical metaphors, unusual metrical patterns, and, more rarely, ‘image[s] of vampirism’ (209). Turning to fiction, Meegan Kennedy has pointed out that sensation novels provide an even more literal record of bodily data by capturing ‘precisely the kinds of physiological rhythms that a registering apparatus might be expected to record, in particular the standard triad in medical case histories: temperature, pulse, respiration’ (452). These novels are therefore similar to the sphygmograph, she asserts, a medical instrument invented in the 1850s that recorded the pulse on paper, tracking ‘physiological changes that took place, hidden inside the body, and that were too subtle … for accurate perception using human senses’ (453). To explain the simultaneous rise of these two ‘body graphs’ Kennedy turns to Victorian scientific discoveries and concomitant questions of natural history and ‘the individual’s status as an animal body’ (457), for she believes that the sphygmograph and sensation novel ultimately ‘succeed[ed] in re-placing the human form as a mindful, feeling body at the center of that endless history’ (458). Like Blair, moreover, Kennedy proposes that such texts not only track the sensations of fictional characters but provide a model for the bodily sensations of their readers. We can refine such arguments by rereading Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), I will argue, taking a first step in the



direction of a longer literary history of creaturely bodies and more-than-­ human listening. A popular phenomenon known across the world, Dracula has received considerable academic attention too, especially in terms of cultural constructions of the other and literary responses to the modern media system. Unsurprisingly, this Gothic novel about a foreign count who invades England and preys on its young women has been interpreted in terms of several signature anxieties of Victorian culture, like antisemitism (Halberstam), fears of prostitution and the female body (May) as well as orientalism, imperial decline, and the ‘anxiety of reverse colonization’ (Arata). As these readings demonstrate, Stoker’s novel is a story ‘about the production of monstrosity, whether it be monstrous race, monstrous class, or monstrous sex’ (Halberstam 334). Composed ‘out of the traits which ideologies of race, class, gender, sexuality, and capital want to disavow’ (345–6), Dracula’s discursive function is ‘to be all difference to all people’ (349). Yet what critics have curiously overlooked, Mario Ortiz Robles adds, is the story’s animal dimension, and that oversight fits into a pattern whereby the animality of Victorian monsters ‘is acknowledged only to be dismissed as a mark of their radical alterity’ (11). These existing readings stress different aspects of the count’s otherness, but they all agree that Stoker’s novel does not just evoke a threat to Victorian respectability but also contains that threat. In terms of the animal question, Robles writes that a work like Dracula ‘spectacularly stag[es] the permeability … of the border that separates human and non-human, only to then restore that border with all the force of an overdetermined prohibition’ because it appeared in an age ‘in which biopower need[ed] to be reconfigured to take into account a new cultural awareness of human animality’ (19). If these disparate forms of otherness are associated with a premodern condition, another strand of the secondary literature insists on the novel’s modern quality instead, most obvious in its references to law, journalism, and medicine as well as a whole array of technical media. Masquerading as a composite of documents, Dracula integrates memos, telegrams, newspaper articles, and diary entries written in steno, recorded on a phonograph, and transcribed on a typewriter. Emphasizing this aspect of the novel, Friedrich Kittler holds that it relates ‘the counterattack of a democratic empire’ against the premodern world of the aristocratic vampire (72). In the end, he asserts, ‘Stoker’s Dracula is no vampire novel, but rather the written account of our bureaucratization’, drily adding that ‘[a]nyone is free to call this a horror novel as well’ (73). In an attempt to unite the



novel’s modern and premodern strands, Jennifer Wicke has proposed that both aspects hint at a preoccupation with the underlying problem of ‘consumption’ (479), claiming that vampires and phonographs, monsters and media can both be interpreted in terms of a broader anxiety about mass culture—a synthesis that reduces the animal quality of the titular character to a mere metaphor, as Robles suggests. Yet if critics are aware of the fact that Stoker’s novel often alludes to the animal world and to modern media, they have not paid much attention to the stethoscope and a related mode of listening that chips away at the conventional boundary separating humans and nonhumans—even when they trace the influence of Thornley Stoker, an eminent brain surgeon whose work on cerebral localization and animal rights resonates in his brother’s novel (Stiles). Critics have rightly noted that Dracula reflects on the phonograph and acts as if its text is an alternative wax cylinder, so to speak: ‘[Dr Seward] placed [Mina Harker] in a comfortable chair, and arranged the phonograph so that I could touch it without getting up … I put the forked metal to my ears and listened’ (259–60). However,  the argument of Jonathan Sterne’s The Audible Past primes us to notice that Mina’s attentive listening to the phonograph is anticipated by the use of another medium, which similarly isolates its users in a private acoustic space. As readers of the novel will remember, Dracula bites both Lucy and Mina, thereby endangering their lives and souls. The first patient is put in a hot bath after losing a large amount of blood, and afterward Dr. Van Helsing applies a particular instrument to her body: ‘Lucy’s heart beat a trifle more audibly to the stethoscope, and her lungs had a perceptible movement’ (173). This treatment is the only moment Dracula explicitly mentions the stethoscope, but it features many similar scenes involving anxious listening, medical monitoring, and noisy bodies, suggesting that the text invites ‘stethoscopic perception’ even when the device is not explicitly represented. In response to gramophonocentric readings, it could even be argued that the novel’s phonograph actually functions like the overlooked stethoscope; after calling the former a wonderful but cruel machine, Mina clarifies that the phonograph ‘told me, in its very tones, the anguish of your heart. … I have copied out the words on my typewriter, and none other need now hear your heart beat as I did’ (258, emphasis added). What is more, the text often registers the pulse of its characters, underlining the importance of continuous medical monitoring in the fight against the premodern vampire. It records, for instance, how Lucy is breathing ‘not softly, as usual with her, but in long, heavy gasps, as



though striving to get her lungs full at every breath’ (110), how Van Helsing ‘bent over the bed, his head almost touching poor Lucy’s breast [before giving] a quick turn of his head, as of one who listens’ (172)— hinting at the potential breach in decorum caused by such intimate listening—and how the quirky doctor keeps track of Mina’s pulse without her knowledge, using his touch to establish that it was ‘[s]eventy-two only’ during a conversation, as he informs Dr. Seward afterward (395). Indeed, even Lucy hears her afflicted mother’s ‘poor dear heart … beating terribly’ (168). Like the pregnant and excitable women mentioned by Blair, the bodies of the novel’s female characters need to be watched—and listened to—closely. And that is because an animal aggressor threatens the nature and integrity of that body. As the novel explains, Lucy’s poor condition is caused by Dracula’s bite, which is akin to that ‘of some animal’ (227), and his assaults threaten to transform Lucy and Mina into beast-like vampires, forcing Dr. Seward to describe Lucy’s illness not only in terms of a disturbed pulse but also in terms of a distorted anatomy, which is no longer reassuringly human: ‘Lucy was breathing somewhat stertorously [and] by some trick of the light, the canine teeth looked longer and sharper than the rest’ (185, see 187). The novel tracks a species boundary that appears to be breaking down, in other words, by recording the breaths and heartbeats of these precious female characters—stimulating a mode of stethoscopic perception in its characters as well as in its readers. Even when the novel asks us to listen to a phonograph, its textual wax cylinder captures information about pathological, barely human heartbeats first made available by that other sonic medium, the stethoscope. In line with biopolitical fears and the changing ‘culture of the heart’, we have seen, Stoker’s novel affirms the importance of a well-managed heartbeat via its narrative of systematic medical monitoring. This account can be enriched further if we consider the reader’s body and the animal question in more detail. Bearing in mind the observations of Blair and Kennedy, the novel’s attention to the heart may be responsible for the accelerated pulse of its characters but it also, potentially at least, speeds up that of its readers. Consider the suspense-generating description of a patient’s death, a scene which foregrounds difficult breathing and loud heartbeats and even suggests that the characters are listening to something like a group stethoscope—in line with Sterne’s discussion of instructional stethoscopes that ‘attached a single chest piece to many listening tubes’ from the 1840s onward (161)—as the text amplifies the bodily sounds of all the positive characters in the room:



The poor man’s breathing came in uncertain gasps. Each instant he seemed as though he would open his eyes … but then would follow a prolonged stertorous breath, and he would relapse into … insensibility. Inured as I was to sickbeds …, this suspense [nevertheless] grew and grew upon me. I could almost hear the beating of my own heart, and the blood surging through my temples sounded like blows from a hammer. … There was a nervous suspense over us all, as though overhead some dread bell would peal out powerfully when we should least expect it. … Then there came a breath so prolonged that it seemed as though it would tear open his chest. … I could fancy that I could hear the sound of our hearts beating … (320–1, 330)

This passage talks about accelerating heart rates but it also attempts to produce a similar effect in the reader’s body, speeding up her pulse with alliterative descriptions (‘beating’, ‘blood’, ‘blows’, ‘bell’, ‘peal’, ‘powerfully’) of amplified and anticipated sounds that destabilize a medical professional, unnerve other listeners, and render the patient’s fragile condition transparent, a becoming visible of the interior body that is almost literalized at the end. Even if this patient is not transforming into an animal-like vampire here, the description nonetheless points toward the creaturely vulnerability of his body, and of the bodies of those characters and readers whose pulses beat faster while witnessing this scene. Such passages resonate with D.A. Miller’s classic account of the sensation novel, which makes a number of observations that are pertinent here, namely that all the subgenre’s characters ‘sooner or later inhabit the “sensationalized” body where the blood curdles, the heart beats violently, the breath comes short and thick’ (109); that such nervous bodies are correlated with a femininity that needs to be put under masculine control with the help of ‘the doctor’ (120); that the reader who starts to experience similar nervous effects is hence feminized—‘his rib cage [now] houses a woman’s quickened respiration, and his heart beats to her skittish rhythm’ (111); and that these novels perform their ideological work by appealing to physical sensations that are allegedly immediate rather than ‘part of a cultural, historical process of signification’ (108). We can apply this account to Dracula not just because the novel participates in this project of gender stereotyping but also because the sensationalized body animalizes readers as well as feminizes them. In reading such scenes, we are summoned to experience faster heart rates and to become newly aware of our fragile bodies and their unruly organs, a potentially unnerving experience of the body’s creaturely quality that nevertheless remains but a temporary



effect, seeing that the narrative moves toward a reassuring conclusion that restores control over our animal hearts.  And like Miller suggests, the immediacy of this sensation reinforces the ideological function of a narrative that can underline human mastery even more effectively after its detour via the apparently transparent animal body, which briefly becomes audible here. Like the stethoscope to which it draws attention, Stoker’s novel enables us to intimately experience bodily sounds that testify to our creaturely vulnerability while producing new opportunities and rationales for medical management and human control. It encourages, in short, a form of ‘visceral reading’, an experience that corresponds well with Heather Keenleyside’s argument on behalf of a ‘first-person form of life’ in literary texts, a form that, while highly intimate, cannot be reduced to human biography but gestures instead toward the ‘generic living body’ of a more-than-human biology (117). To return to Pettman’s account of sonic intimacy, what could be more intimate and individual and yet less uniquely human than the first-person experience of your own heartbeat? Alongside the reader’s body we need to examine the novel’s representation of animals further. Even though the evil count is associated with a menagerie of wild animals that comprises rats, bats, wolves, lizards, leeches, vipers, and panthers, as critics have noted, Stoker’s novel does not demonize all nonhuman animals. On the contrary, companion species like dogs and horses function as allies of the protagonists, who sensitively register the presence of the enemy even when poor human senses cannot, and suffer from the same fear that grips human bodies. In the presence of evil, vulnerable companion animals behave like frightened people, and elicit the cross-species sympathy I discussed in Chap. 3; a set of horses ‘cowered lower and lower, and moaned in terror as men do in pain’ (422), for example, and one dog ‘fell all into a tremble [and] crouched down, quivering and cowering, and was in such a pitiable state of terror that I tried … to comfort it’ (106). The implicit distinction between humanized animals like dogs and horses, and animalized animals like bats and vipers is a conventional use of what Cary Wolfe has called the ‘species grid’ (100). But it implies that the crucial distinction here is less that between humans and animals, and more that between natural and unnatural creatures. Perhaps the real danger is not that Lucy and Mina become ‘animals’ but that they join the ‘new order of beings’ Dracula is trying to father (349)—though it is no coincidence, obviously, that this unnatural species is portrayed with the help of animal imagery. Formulated in terms of the medicalized body, the danger is not a pathological but an absent heartbeat, seeing that these female characters will relinquish their pulse upon completing their



transition. As Jonathan observes upon finding Dracula in his coffin: ‘He was either dead or asleep, I could not say which … But there was no sign of movement, no pulse, no breath, no beating of the heart’ (61). The point of checking the pulses of these characters is therefore not only or even primarily to monitor the boundary separating humans from nonhumans but to patrol the one dividing natural from unnatural creatures. Consequently, even a heightened pulse is reassuring; although it animalizes you by revealing bodily frailty, it also confirms your status as a living being, a member of the divinely sanctioned order of creatures that is pitted against the unhallowed demons whose difference from this creaturely community is nonetheless made vivid via animal images. In amplifying the sound of these organic beats and struggling breaths, Stoker’s work underlines the creaturely dimensions of the body and the reading process, and broadens stethoscopic perception beyond the human, even if it also subscribes to a religious conception of the world and its beings that can only be described as anthropocentric.

Weird Bodies The previous paragraphs have detailed how two recent novels link stethoscopes with vets, unveil the ties between animal and human medicine, and stress the role of audile technique and the veterinary ear in treating all fragile bodies. An earlier novel like Dracula anticipates these concerns by reflecting on porous species boundaries, encouraging stethoscopic perception, and stimulating an adrenaline response on the part of readers that animalizes their bodies without truly destabilizing their identity. If these examples offer an ultimately reassuring take on medical care and the creaturely body, I now turn to more ambiguous representations of stethoscopes from a final set of novels, analyzing Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing (1994) in detail before mentioning two additional examples and returning, briefly, to Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis. As we will see, the novels by McCarthy and DeLillo direct our attention to an organic vulnerability that is shared by forms of life which nevertheless remain alien to one another. This pessimistic attention to the body’s dark matter notwithstanding, both novels exhibit a trust in medical expertise which implies that, even though doctors are not considered infallible, they nevertheless command respect as figures who mediate between creaturely life as subjectively experienced and material life as represented by the indifference of organs and the broader nonhuman landscape. If the earlier sections of this



chapter highlighted sonic description, literary history, and the reading process, this concluding part adds the role of focalization to the mix. A canonical writer whose novels have received prestigious awards and been adapted into high-profile movies, Cormac McCarthy is one of the most praised contemporary writers in English and is famous for his quasi-­ biblical treatment of stark subjects related to the violent pasts and futures of American society. As the secondary literature on his oeuvre is extensive, I limit myself here to three preliminary observations that frame my analysis of The Crossing, a novel about a young cowboy called Billy who escorts first a captured wolf and then his brother Boyd on a series of dangerous journeys across the US-Mexico border in the 1940s. According to Raymond Malewitz, who zooms in on the novel’s first section, McCarthy’s work illustrates how literary texts can represent the autonomous agency of nonhuman animals. As animals cannot be physically present in writing, ‘the possibility of a literary animal agency comes into being when the limits of anthropocentric discourse are rendered visible’ (558), in inevitably brief moments in which animal characters disrupt their human use values, as in scenes where the wolf fails to correspond to its stereotypical interpretations as an ‘agent of economic sabotage’ or a romantic ‘symbol of wildness’ (549). If this account illuminates the novel’s animal theme, Kate Marshall identifies a more radically nonhuman strain in McCarthy’s work. Unearthing ‘the long history of American literary weirdness’, she claims that certain novels have ‘the capacity to engage critical questions about the nonhuman agencies, sentience, and points of view being presented so urgently in contemporary critical discourse’ (633), singling out the materialist dimension of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (1985) especially. In such works, readers come across ‘impossible focalizations’ related to landscapes withdrawing from humans, to characters’ non-experience of their elusive inner selves, or to a sense of predetermined fate (639), strategies that are more typically associated with horror fiction, and that disclose either the neutral or the actively malignant ‘indifference’ of the material world to human life (643). If these insights clarify McCarthy’s representation of the vulnerable body, as I will show, a third critic has underlined the medical realism of The Crossing, No Country for Old Men (2005), and The Road (2006). Drawing on archival materials, Daniel King explains how McCarthy drew on medical textbooks to portray scenes of injury and treatment and enlisted the help of an orthopedic specialist to enhance the realism of the first two novels, revealing a pattern in which the doctor urged McCarthy to replace ‘“technically correct” medicine lifted from



source texts with more practical solutions familiar to practising physicians’ (347), like choosing recognizable penicillin in favor of more specialized drugs or, in the case of The Crossing, changing several aspects of a central scene in which Boyd is treated for a gunshot wound. Because of this expert advice, the finished version features sterile techniques, omits a medically dubious scene involving an injection, and provides more details about the doctor’s examination, suggestions that McCarthy at times copied ‘almost verbatim’ (344). Though King usefully identifies the role of medical knowledge in McCarthy’s writing, I do not agree that these technical allusions function as mere descriptive details in The Crossing or that the novelist prizes the input of his medical advisor to quite the same extent as writers on medical TV shows, who publicly acknowledge that assistance (349), seeing that McCarthy never mentions the advisor in his novels, preferring to remain firmly in charge of his writing (recall my comparison of Ralston’s hesitant and Gustafson’s confident position vis-à-vis expert medical knowledge). We can refine these claims about nonhuman creatures, indifferent matter, and medical realism by investigating a topic that has not received attention so far, namely McCarthy’s representation of the stethoscope and the creaturely mode of listening I have been outlining in this chapter. Two scenes from The Crossing represent the medium explicitly. When he returns to the US after losing track of Boyd, Billy learns that the country is at war and the army is recruiting soldiers for World War II. But there is no place for young Billy in this newly global world of violence, despite the fact that he is desperately looking for work and the army is hastily taking on large numbers of men, a process portrayed in dehumanizing terms, tellingly, by a friend of his father: ‘[t]hey run em through up there I reckon in wholesale lots’ (657). The hard-pressed cowboy does not fit in, as this growing army may not even have a ‘cavalry’ anymore (657). Even worse, Billy cannot join the war effort because something is wrong with his heart, as three consecutive doctors at different recruiting offices notice, after applying their stethoscopes and listening skills: [The first doctor] put the cool cone of the stethoscope against the boy’s chest and listened. He thumped his chest with the tips of his fingers. He put the stethoscope to his chest again and listened with his eyes closed. He sat up and took the tubes from his ears … You’ve got a heartmurmur, he said. … [The second doctor] put the stethoscope to his back and listened. Then he listened to his chest again. Then he … stamped Billy’s form and … handed



it to him. I cant pass you, he said. … You’ve got an irregularity in your heartbeat …. He’d asked the [third] doctor if there was any medicine he could take but the doctor said that there was not. … If I’m goin to die anyways why not use me? … Who told you you were going to die? … They never told me I wasnt goin to. Well, the doctor said. They couldnt very well tell you that even if you had a heart like a horse. Could they? (652–5)

It is, of course, highly ironic that military regulations consider Billy’s body too fragile to be shipped to a front where that same body would be exposed to harm from the start. Nor is this the only reason young men can be turned down, as is shown by references to ‘flat feet’ (646) and to a boy whom they ‘wanted to put … four-F too … [o]n account of his leg’ (657). Far from heroic subjects, these men from the US-Mexico border appear to be vulnerable and wounded even before the war begins. In contrast to the more confident stories we encountered earlier, moreover, there is no medicine for this particular condition. Despite the bureaucratic efficiency and regularity of their diagnosis, these agents of modern biopolitics are unable to make Billy’s body conform to government prescriptions. Like the wolf discussed by Malewitz, the human body does not always behave as people would like it to, revealing its own form of animality and independent agency. The upshot of these observations is that the story’s central character is unable to participate in a world-defining historical event by the physical limitations of his own body, reducing him to a ‘creature’ of history, in Pick’s terminology, rather than a more active, self-directed historical agent. If medical procedures actively bring into being the bodies of doctors and patients, as Anna Harris has argued, these emergent bodies are not just ‘skilled’, ‘affected’, and ‘resonating’, to use her terms, but frail and mortal too (31). As far as their hearts are concerned, the third doctor notes in a quasi-proverbial phrase, most humans are even less than horses. If these scenes involve Billy’s future health, an earlier section painstakingly records the urgent threat of Boyd’s gunshot wound and its examination by a country doctor. In a similar vein to the scenes I analyzed earlier, this long diagnosis and treatment scene underscores the vulnerable status of the body and the doctor’s expert listening skills while allowing lay listeners like Billy and the reader to monitor Boyd’s condition at a distance via his audible breathing: ‘[Boyd’s] breathing was shallow and labored. [The doctor] lifted the earpieces of the stethoscope into place and … placed the cone over Boyd’s heart and listened … with his eyes closed. … Shh, said the doctor. … No habla’ (616–7). What distinguishes this scene



from the previous examples is that it casts the doctor as an ancient healer as well as a modern professional. Driving a car rather than riding a horse, the country doctor is aware of germ theory and sterilization techniques, follows a step-by-step procedure not unlike that of Fingers Vallerone, and handles modern tools like stethoscopes, hemostats, and silver nitrate to identify the problem, clean the wound, and cauterize it shut. Yet the extradiegetic narrator also emphasizes the procedure’s time-honored character: The brass catches [of his bag] were worn from eighty years of use for his father had carried it before him. … In the panes of his antique eyeglasses the thin and upright flame of the votive lamp stood centered. … Like the light of holy inquiry burning in his aging eyes. [Those present,] bent over the poor pallet where the boy lay [,] looked like ritual assassins. … When he had [finished the doctor] sat for a moment with both hands over Boyd’s back as if exhorting him to heal. (618, 621, 625)

If the army doctors inhabit an official world of forms and regulations, the symbolical language of this scene depicts Boyd’s treatment as a spiritual event—modern perhaps, yet venerable too. It hence exemplifies the fact that McCarthy, as Amy Hungerford has argued, writes ‘a prose that sounds like scripture, tempts one to read (for metaphysical structures) as if one were reading scripture, and yet withholds all but the aesthetic and sentimental effect of scripture’ (2010, 95). In line with the passage’s premodern imagery, the scene features nonhuman life too. When the doctor pulls Boyd’s blanket back, ‘[s]omething small scurried away over the muslin’, as if incarnating the danger of infection the doctor is trying to avoid (616), and when the physician removes the poultice on Boyd’s chest, we read that ‘it came away unwillingly. Like something that had been feeding there’ (622), revealing the malignant indifference of matter pinpointed by Kate Marshall. Yet the passage mentions a positive nonhuman presence too, as the doctor notices: ‘Le interesa el perro, the doctor said. … The dog sat watching them. Git, [Billy] said. Está bien, the doctor said. No lo molesta. Es de su hermano, no? Sí. The doctor nodded’ (624). Nor is this the only scene with kind dogs. In the final pages, a solitary Billy chases away a dog before changing his mind and calling for the animal, imitating the dog’s earlier cries, but to no avail: ‘[The dog] tottered away … and as it went it howled again and again in its heart’s despair until it was gone from all sight and all sound … It had ceased raining in the night and



[Billy] walked out … and called for the dog. He called and called. Standing in that inexplicable darkness. Where there was no sound anywhere save only the wind. … He sat there for a long time … and after a while the right and godmade sun did rise, once again, for all and without distinction’ (739–41). This very last scene not only discloses a flat ontology in which humans and animals occupy the same, egalitarian plane but also stresses the creaturely nature of the ‘old dog’, an outcast with a frail body, much like Billy; an ‘arthritic and illjoined thing’, it is ‘so scarred … that it might have been patched up out of parts of dogs by demented vivisectionists’ (738). In the final analysis, The Crossing features faithful companion animals as well as life-threatening organisms feeding on people, a binary menagerie that recalls the basic ‘creature-system’ of Dracula. But humans and animals fail to sympathize properly in McCarthy’s storyworld, perhaps because their divinely sanctioned bond has eroded in a world that still resounds with sacred language but no longer harbors a reliable God. In contrast to what Kennedy says about nineteenth-century sensation novels, this text and its soundscape disclose that the human body cannot be repositioned at the center of the world and its inhumanly long natural history. Although there are no vets and no more stethoscopes in the rest of the novel, several other scenes portray related modes of treatment and listening, revealing a systematic interest in creaturely fragility. Billy’s parallel failures to keep the wolf and his brother safe already imply that the problem of physical as well as symbolical care is at play across species boundaries. When a cow accidentally steps into a wolf trap, his father treats the injured animal, ‘doctor[ing] the leg with Corona Salve’ (336), and a Mexican farmhand deals with the injured wolf in a similar fashion: ‘They finished their surgery in the last light of the sun. The Mexican had pulled the loose flap of skin into place and he sat patiently sewing it with a small curved needle clamped in a hemostat and when he was done he daubed it with Corona Salve and wrapped it in sheeting and tied it’ (379). The irony of the situation is not lost on the American farmer watching the scene: ‘People hear about me givin first aid to a damn wolf I wont be able to live in this country’ (379). In line with the uneven exposure to vulnerability of distinct animal species, as described by Anat Pick (2018), this wild carnivore does not deserve a vet, however unprofessional. Nor are cows and wolves the only animals requiring medical care in this novel. Toward the end, an outlaw trying to rob Billy plunges a knife into his horse’s chest, forcing the young cowboy to stop the bleeding by using an improvised cake of river mud. Another lay vet subsequently emerges to diagnose and



treat the wounded animal with medicinal leaves, checking the animal’s eyes and examining the wound before pouring a concoction into the horse’s mouth and placing some of the cooked leaves ‘against the wound in a poultice’, as if it were a human patient (726). And what is crucial here is not just that different species of animals receive medical care, despite their divergent statuses, but that the treatment of cows is similar to that of wolves (both involving Corona Salve), and that wolves and horses are treated much like Boyd is (wounded animals and humans both requiring hemostats and poultices)—parallels that are underlined by the fact that the horse is attacked while Billy is transporting Boyd’s decaying remnants, further indexes of human vulnerability and animality; looking ‘like some fragile being’ (710), his brother’s ‘bones seemed held together only by the dry outer covering of hide’ (713). If that is still not clear enough, Billy relates how Boyd was ‘shot down in the street like a dog’ (631) and the narrative clarifies that the doctor who successfully treated Boyd’s first gunshot wound passed away not long after (645). Despite the apparent sanctity of medical and other forms of care, and entrenched human views of the relative worth of animal species, all living bodies turn out to be fragile and the material universe remains indifferent. The Crossing often revisits creaturely fragility, cosmic disregard, and the unruly agency of bodies as well as animals, but it also stresses sound and listening—and not just through its many untranslated phrases in Spanish, its references to radios and jukeboxes, or the interpolated story involving a blind character. At various points in the story, after all, McCarthy amplifies disturbed breaths and pulses, eliding distinctions between species and occasionally even taking the reader on a virtual tour inside living bodies. When Billy first sees the wolf, for instance, ‘[h]is heart was slamming inside his chest like something that wanted out’ (359), a phrase that hints at the body’s independent agency. The wolf responds similarly when she encounters dangerous humans: ‘he could feel the wolf trembling electrically against him and her heart hammering’ (372). When threatened or wounded, all animals are the same, as Billy discovers when he licks the wolf’s blood, ‘which tasted no different than his own’ (434). In an example of impossible focalization—impossible, that is, without a stethoscope and related media like the modern novel—the reader is even allowed a glimpse of the body’s dark, resonant interior when Billy gets into trouble: They did not move and there was no sound and he listened for something in the town that would tell him that it was not also listening for he had a



sense that some part of his arrival in this place was … ordained and he listened … for any sound at all other than the dull thud of his heart dragging the blood through the small dark corridors of his corporeal life in its slow hydraulic tolling. (677)

Extending Marshall’s observations by exploring the alien character of human bodies, this passage points toward a sense of fate as well as invisible, not necessarily human agencies, and toward the sounds and channels of Billy’s interior organism. When other creatures are listened to closely, we find parallel representations of their ‘corporeal lives’—which again suggests that the species border is porous. Consider another impossible glimpse of the inner body: ‘He … buried [the wolf] in a high pass … The little wolves in her belly felt the cold draw all about them and they cried out mutely in the dark and he buried them all and piled the rocks over them’ (437). As if heard through a stethoscope, this passage suggests that this is no country for young animals—be they human like Billy and Boyd or nonhuman like the wolf’s cubs. Similar if less dramatic forms of stethoscopic perception crop up throughout the novel, from the pathological breathing of the horse at the novel’s end—‘its breathing had begun to suck and rattle and it sounded all wrong’ (712)—to the reassuring sounds of Boyd’s body at the start—‘[Billy] would lie awake at night and listen to his brother’s breathing in the dark’ (309). In other words, The Crossing keeps circling back to the creaturely finitude that we encountered in Chap. 3, but modulates that lesson by the introduction of the stethoscope and modern protocols of medical monitoring, much like the other novels analyzed in this chapter. As McCarthy’s narrative evokes a flat ontology and indifferent universe, however, it offers a much bleaker picture of care, sound, and the body, inviting readers to contract the category of the human to the frail creature, as Pick says, rather than to expand the category of the animal to that of the self-directed, expressive human subject. If we can identify a signature soundscape in McCarthy’s writings, as Julius Greve and Markus Wierschem assert, this includes not just the regional, masculine, and violent ‘rugged resonances’ they have in mind, but also the fragile heartbeats of humans, horses, and other animals. More generally, this medical or even veterinary acoustics is a crucial ingredient of the novel’s sonic texture, its multispecies soundscape.



Wild at Heart The novels by Ralston, Gustafson, Stoker, and McCarthy have many properties in common, despite their different emphases, and despite the fact that they fit into distinct periods and genres. All of them task readers with stethoscopic perception while portraying creaturely bodies, implicitly undermining the anthropocentric and ocularcentric biases of earlier arguments about audile technique and animal vulnerability, respectively. Indeed, their repeated emphasis on disturbed breaths and pulses prompts readers to attend more closely to their own bodies, animalizing the reader’s sensations in what you might call a form of ‘visceral reading’. These narratives also attest to a strong if qualified trust in medicine and its media, the stethoscope and the body appearing at times as fully transparent conduits and immediately legible indexes of health and harm. In reading these works, we should bear in mind that the ideal of the transparent body is a cultural construct, as José van Dijck has shown; whenever new techniques for charting and visualizing the body have been introduced, this has ‘been accompanied by the enthusiastic claim of increased transparency’, she contends, ‘[b]ut in each case, the claim has proven to be illusory’ (125). More recently, Richard Grusin has insisted that, in thinking about reality and representation, ‘it is mediation all the way down’ (146). We should take seriously ‘the ubiquitous nature of mediation’ (145), he claims, a process that is at work in phones, TVs, and laptops but equally in flowers, mammals, and digestion (remember my remarks on biosemiotics in the introduction)—and this means that ‘[t]he human body itself is a … nonhuman mediation among other … nonhuman mediations’ (148). In further examining the weird bodies and sounds of human and nonhuman creatures, that process of multiscalar mediation deserves more systematic scrutiny. This analysis can also be extended by attending to other narratives and cultural practices that involve bodily sound. I have barely scratched the surface as far as the literary archive is concerned, anti-vivisection discourse being an obvious place to start in developing my brief history of more-­ than-­human medical listening in modern fiction. A more extensive comparison of contemporary examples would enrich my analysis too. A novel like Cynan Jones’s The Dig (2014), for instance, does not mention stethoscopes—though it refers to vets (73, 117) and X-rays (22)—but this sound-sensitive novel again exhibits what we might call, tweaking a phrase by Ivan Kreilkamp, a ‘stethoscopic logic’, as it frequently alludes to the noisy anatomies of human as well as nonhuman characters, in a work that



reuses many of the topics and tropes of McCarthy’s writing, including its preoccupation with violence, masculinity, and indifferent matter—most obviously in a gruesome delivery scene  (115–20) that inverts the rosy picture we encountered in Ralston’s novel. Inviting its readers to listen closely, this novel about farming and badger baiting hence confirms the picture I sketched earlier, in which human and animal voices mix with the sounds of organs and unruly heartbeats, revealing the blind agency of matter as well as the shared fragility of creaturely bodies. If Jones’s work corroborates the previous account, a novel like J.M. Ledgard’s Giraffe (2006) develops it in a slightly different direction, as it hints at the vulnerability of all creatures while celebrating the weird anatomy of the titular animal. Investigating the mysterious massacre of a group of giraffes in a Czechoslovakian zoo in the 1970s, Ledgard’s novel features a vet with ‘a stethoscope’ (87) but also a hemodynamicist who utilizes ‘sound waves’ to map the complex network of the giraffe’s blood vessels and arteries (28) and reflects extensively on the peculiar anatomies of gravity-defying bodies that are powerfully adapted to their peculiar way of life but remain as fragile as those of their human counterparts, as the narrative reveals: ‘I feel [the giraffe] Sněhurka’s legs behind me, through which veins run like vines, and I perform equations to represent the journey of blood through those veins to the ventricles of her heart, powerful as an elephant’s heart, on into thick-walled arteries, up the neck against the hydrostatic pull of gravity to her head, pushed impossibly high on an “f”-shaped stick. I feel her pulse’ (100). Other media could be scrutinized too, like movies and soundtracks featuring heartbeats, not to mention the apps and exhibitions I mentioned at the start, seeing that they invite similar forms of visceral reading. The preceding analysis implies, for instance, that an intriguing project like Boltanski’s ‘heart archive’ may be problematic, not just because the exhibition exclusively records the heartbeats of its human visitors but because it does so in a way that stresses their irreducible individuality, disregarding the unsettling, generic character of a fragile pulse that is shared across at least some species. In mapping this anatomical imagination further, we should also bear in mind an important limitation of the cases mapped so far. As Alphonso Lingis has noted, we are only attached to certain aspects of our anatomy: ‘We can see nothing of what is behind our skin. We do feel, vaguely, something of what is back there, in a mix of attachment and repugnance. We are attached to the beating of our heart and to the filling up of our lungs with fresh air. But we feel repugnance over substances expelled from our bodies [as well as over less ‘noble’ organs, as] in the brief thought of … the grisly kinks of our big intestine pushing



along chunks of mush turning brown with dead bacteria’ (37, emphasis added). The same lesson applies to bodily sounds, in the sense that most novels privilege breaths and heartbeats over belches and farts, aspects of our bodies that are related to what Mikhail Bakhtin theorized as ‘grotesque realism’ (Delville 93). When do these ignoble sounds become audible in fiction, and what does that tell us about human-animal relations? There is one additional similarity between the novels I have analyzed, finally, which can be clarified by returning to DeLillo’s  Cosmopolis. Although its protagonist rejects stethoscopes, as I mentioned, his observations are not necessarily reliable, as this unsympathetic character believes many staple features of contemporary life to be outdated in the context of cyber-capitalism, things such as  skyscrapers, airports, ATMs, computers, and saxophones. More significantly, he actually considers medical monitoring to be indispensable, seeing that he has his body checked every day, ‘the doctor listen[ing] to his heart valves open and close’ (43). In addition, fantasies of public ‘untouchability’ (66) and of individual human existence ‘on a disk, as data’ (206) are subverted by a powerful experience at the novel’s end, in which the protagonist joins a group of naked humans lying on the street for a movie scene that is being filmed: ‘His body felt stupid here, a pearly froth of animal fat in some industrial waste. … Voices died … He felt the presence of the bodies, all of them, the body breath, the heat and running blood, people unlike each other who were now alike, … heaped in a way, alive and dead together’ (174). As the silence enables sensitive listening, these bodies become audible in a way that unveils their generic animality and frailty. Even this protagonist is hence shown to be a vulnerable creature with a noisy body, ‘a male mammal’ (52), as the novel puts it, with a weaker heart than animals like ‘gulls’, with their ‘large strong hearts … disproportionate to body size’ (7). Even in this novel, in other words, we encounter comparative anatomy and a stethoscopic logic. On top of that, DeLillo’s exploration of late capitalist culture allows us to identify a final similarity between these narratives. As the use of our hands is increasingly limited to keyboard use rather than messy labor, Nicole Shukin has observed, ‘nostalgia for an earlier era of rural life and the authenticity of material labor it represents … conditions the appeal of a special petting section for children in many modern zoos’ (493). A similar nostalgia related to tactile encounters is at play in these novels, which either question disembodied and dehumanized forms of labor, as in Cosmopolis, or celebrate the more intimate manual activities of vets and doctors, farmers and cowboys, not to mention the quasi-physical activity of readers engaged in visceral reading.



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Whale Song in Submarine Fiction

In the middle of Martha Southgate’s novel The Taste of Salt (2011), the reader comes across a summary of the project the protagonist is working on as a marine biologist at the renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts: I’m working on a big study of the effect of LFA (that’s low-frequency active) sonar on whales. This is the sonar that navy ships use to track down ‘quiet’ submarines—it blasts low frequency sound waves for hundreds of miles under the sea. On the way to the submarines, it impairs all the sentient marine life it encounters. The blasts of sound disorient and disable their delicate internal mechanisms and their hearing. Just another way that humans are making it rough, rough, rough for every other life form on this planet. It’s depressing. Anyway, I came home late and miserable. (127)

Even though commercial whaling has been scaled back in the last few decades, this passage reminds us of the fact that marine mammals still face serious threats, including devastating, fatal levels of anthropogenic noise. The violent blasts of military sonar especially are dangerous for various species of whales and dolphins (and other forms of marine life), scientists believe, as these animals depend on sound to navigate, feed, and communicate in the low-light conditions below the ocean’s surface. Southgate’s novel returns to this research project during an awkward telephone conversation with the scientist’s estranged father. This passage does not © The Author(s) 2020 B. De Bruyn, The Novel and the Multispecies Soundscape, Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature,




accentuate the clash between violent humans and disoriented nonhumans but their common vulnerability: ‘I’m all right. Busy working. You know.’ I kept typing as I spoke, the phone tucked uncomfortably between shoulder and ear. … ‘I’m working on a paper about the effect of LFA sonar on sperm whales. …’ Click. Click. … ‘… The navy uses [LFA] to track submarines, but it makes such a loud sound in the ocean that the whales freak out and surface too fast, and it gives them the bends, like divers get when they surface too fast.’ ‘Really? That’s terrible.’ ‘Yeah.’ Silence. (209, emphasis added)

The plight of these creatures generates a strangely muted response in these passages, as they usher in melancholic resignation rather than immediate action. Yet these two scenes alert readers to our takeover of the submarine soundscape, which compels marine biologists to study the effects of human as well as whale sounds these days, and they provide a first glimpse of how writers of fiction as well as nonfiction are trying to integrate these environmental issues in their work. That attempt is the topic of this chapter, which analyzes five novels that explore, explicitly or implicitly, military sonar and the changing cultural meanings of cetacean sounds. Forced by contemporary reality to move beyond a more conventional account of how literature celebrates whale vocalizations, this chapter returns to a topic first raised in the introduction and asks how underwater relations between humans and animals are mediated by sonar technology, and how novels may help us to reimagine underwater space, militarized listening, and the cultural lives of marine mammals. After tracing the ties between literary fiction and stethoscopes, in other words, I will now address the role of another important medium and the multispecies contact zones it generates. To appreciate the fact that underwater noise pollution is a cultural as well as a biological problem, we should first examine the sounds of whales, dolphins, and other cetaceans, and the multiple meanings ascribed to them by distinct human communities in the postwar period. The sounds themselves are thought-provoking, as these creatures employ a broad range of clicks, whistles, squeals, chirps, and so-called songs to communicate and navigate through echolocation, and marine biologists have discovered individual, group, and even seasonal variations among these sounds, meaning that we can speak of ‘whale culture’ without any form of conceptual exaggeration (see Whitehead and Rendell). But it proves



equally fascinating to consider the range of human associations and projections inspired by the vocalizations of marine mammals. Commentators have stated that whale song may be ‘the most environmental of all popular sounds’ (Ritts 1096) and that ‘no other animal sound on the planet has a comparably powerful effect on the contemporary environmental imagination’ (Grebowicz 14). Examining the cultural impact of these sounds, most scholars also mention the first record of baleen whale vocalizations, Songs of the Humpback Whale from 1970, which had a galvanizing effect on the whale protection campaigns that resulted in the US Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the international moratorium on commercial whaling of 1982. As such observations indicate, these sounds merit careful scrutiny in a study on the multispecies soundscape and its cultural functions. Before they could perform their role as a sonic index of environmentalism, raw whale sounds needed to be transformed into the cultural phenomenon that is ‘whale song’. As Stefan Helmreich has observed more generally, the submarine soundscape requires considerable work before it can be accessed by human listeners, whose ears are ill-adapted to an aquatic environment: ‘How did the underwater realm, this zone to which humans cannot have extended, unmediated access … become imaginable and accessible as a space of sound? What kinds of technical work have been necessary to bring this field into audibility for human ears?’ (2007, 623). This ‘work’—which involves cultural framing alongside technological mediation—is the subject of recent research on whale song and its listeners in the 1970s and 2010s. Max Ritts has documented how the emergence of whale music recordings in the Age of Aquarius was enabled by particular historical shifts and promoted a specific type of ‘implied listener’: Whale music was not discovered, as its devotees proposed it was, but invented, through a combination of animal sounds, recording techniques, consumer trends, and ideologies of nature. It reveals environmentalism as a sonorous formation—a system that recruits listeners into sonically-mediated realms of thought, action, and subjectivity. (1096)

As he relates, the popularity of whale song in the 1970s depended, among other factors, on the music industry’s growing desire to cater to ‘niche audiences’ (1102) and on the technological manipulation of cetacean sound, which ‘was engineered to sound “natural”’, for instance, by boosting echo and reverb so that it seemed to resonate in an expansive ocean (1103). This popularity also relied on its usefulness for a spectrum of



environmentalist practices, from New Age fantasies to scientific monitoring, most of which interpellated their listeners in ways that reinforced the stereotype of white male middle-class communion with a supposedly ‘universal’ natural landscape denuded of indigenous cultures. Margret Grebowicz reaches a similar conclusion after comparing the 1970s whale music hype with later phenomena like the 2013 internet sensation 52 Blue, a ‘lonely’ whale who became famous for singing at a frequency that is supposedly too high for conspecifics to hear. Emphasizing the importance of cultural work again, she maintains that these two phenomena ‘are not only different sounds [but] products of … different social worlds: different modes of music distribution, imaginaries of collective experience, acceptable formats for social interaction’ (72). In her view, we should realize that human fantasies of whale song—in terms of true contact, beautiful music, transparent communication, harmonious collectivities—are not just about whales and humans but also about ‘the communications technologies that mediate relationship[s] among whales, among humans, and between whales and humans’ (71–2). And what is typical of the current moment, she asserts, is that whale song now functions as a soothing antidote—remember my discussion of serenity in Chap. 2—to the realities of our digital lives, in which omnipresent ‘smart’ devices exacerbate rather than ameliorate our ‘connection starvation’ (11). Like Ritts, in short, Grebowicz exposes the human work necessary to turn cetacean sound into whale song and underlines the role of sound in the cultural lives of marine mammals—though she concludes that there are fewer and fewer real human listeners. If ‘whale song’ promises to connect human and nonhuman animals, Southgate’s novel raises a topic that does not receive sufficient attention in these otherwise valuable accounts of whale song: the threat of anthropogenic noise and the militarization of the ocean. Admittedly, Grebowicz notes that human noise interferes with cetacean biosonar, yet she mainly discusses noise pollution in a figurative sense and human context, foregrounding a ‘spiritual’ form of ‘hearing loss’ (62) and ‘the noise of ideas’ instead of ‘material noise’ (76). This is unfortunate, for another defining characteristic of cetacean life and its cultural meanings at the start of the twenty-first century is the specter of literal noise and nonhuman hearing loss. If whales were cast as beautiful singers before, they are now characterized more accurately as deafened victims. This development is documented in Joshua Horwitz’s War of the Whales (2014), a bestselling and prizewinning nonfiction account of a mass stranding event of beaked whales in



the Bahamas in 2000. Trying to make sense of this environmental crime scene, marine biologists managed to reconstruct the events leading up to the stranding, Horwitz explains, proving the causal link between these and other whale beachings and cutting-edge forms of active sonar developed to locate ever-more quiet military submarines. He also narrates the uphill struggle of environmental lawyers to convince judges of the fact, not that these Navy exercises are illegal—their violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act is beyond dispute—nor that the Navy’s procedures are questionable—the government’s failure to rigorously review environmental impact statements for these exercises is equally hard to deny—but that the public’s environmental concerns occasionally outweigh national security in peacetime. The scientific evidence enables the lawyers to secure some concessions, but the reaction of a Supreme Court judge succinctly explains why these harmful sonar exercises are allowed to continue: ‘when I think of the armed forces preparing an Environmental Impact Statement, I think, the whole point of the armed forces is to hurt the environment (laughter from the gallery). … Of course they are going to do something that’s harmful’ (340, emphasis in original). This reaction—and the response from the gallery—illustrates a major dimension of contemporary life, which Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-­ Baptiste Fressoz have labeled the ‘Thanatocene’. In The Shock of the Anthropocene (2016), these historians argue, first, that we should disentangle the many environmental problems currently collected under the umbrella term of the Anthropocene and, second, that this epoch of the humanized planet is in part that of the militarized planet, the age not just of the human species but of violent global death (see De Bruyn 2018). If you look (and listen) closely, many of the ways in which ‘humans are making it rough, rough, rough for every other life form on this planet’, to recall Southgate’s phrase, lead back to the armed forces. More specific links between the military and the ocean have been traced by Jacob Darwin Hamblin, who recounts how the US Navy became the leading sponsor of postwar oceanographic research in an attempt to secure its position as a vital branch of the military in strategic as well as technological terms. Faced with an expanding Air Force that offered a seemingly exhaustive range of tactical options to military commanders, Hamblin relates,  the Navy sought and found a new frontier by prospecting the alien landscape of the deep ocean (36–8). This resulted in an enormous increase in valuable knowledge about the sea (and the global climate) in the Cold War especially, but it also culminated in an aural territorial clash between



cetaceans and humans, and repeated whale strandings. When we think of whales and sound these days, the first thing that should come to mind is accordingly not a beautiful symphony, but unbearable tinnitus. If this chapter again centers on a particular community of skilled listeners, as we will see, not unlike Chaps. 2 and 5, it hence also calls attention to human and nonhuman subjects whose hearing is impaired. Bearing in mind that ‘whale song’ is a product of cultural and technological mediation and that these sounds are being drowned out by military sonar, we should now return to my opening example to explain more fully why these topics are not just important for cetologists and environmentalists but for students and scholars of literature as well. As I noted, Southgate’s The Taste of Salt features a marine biologist, is partly set in the Woods Hole institute, and explicitly considers whales and military sonar. These features are no accident, as the title and the novel’s marine metaphors imply, not to mention the author’s remarks in the peritext. In her account of the story’s origins, Southgate recalls that ‘[a] colleague’s husband had what I thought was the coolest job I’d ever heard of’, namely ‘ichthyologist (a scientist who specializes in the study of fish)’ and she adds that ‘[t]hough I have no scientific background, I have always loved the water and could not stop thinking about how I might make the ocean and someone who loved it part of my next novel’ (275). The input of this ichthyologist was valuable, Southgate clarifies in the acknowledgments, ‘though [the protagonist] ended up being a marine biologist’ (271). Yet despite these remarks, it turns out that the ocean is not the story’s real focus; the two passages at the beginning of this chapter are the only moments the protagonist mentions the sonar project, and in both cases these summaries function as digressions in a story that quickly returns (‘anyway’) to the more obvious narrative material of an individual human character arriving home or talking to an estranged relative. In the narrative’s broader context, the emphasis in these passages lies on the emotional state of the protagonist and the awkward silences of the phone conversation, not on the violent sounds of sonar and their effect on marine mammals, a problem that ultimately seems distant both physically and emotionally speaking. This human story merits our attention, to be clear, as it lays bare the challenges faced by Josie, the protagonist, who is an African American female scientist in what is still assumed to be a ‘very white male business’ (121). Her narrative is interwoven with the stories of her father and brother, moreover, both of whom struggle with the consequences of addiction, racism, and urban decay in Cleveland. These stories deserve—need—to be told, but it



remains odd that a novel about a character investigating nonhuman life and sonic violence actually pays so little attention to these topics, and rather confirms the trite anthropocentric moral spelled out on the back flap, namely ‘that the ways of the heart are more complex than anything studied under a microscope’. Several scenes in the novel illustrate this shift in narrative priorities. In a rare passage set on the ocean, Josie experiences ‘the never-diminishing thrill of seeing the whales’ (138), but the focus immediately returns to the excitement of an illicit affair afterwards, a relationship that relegates all environmental issues to the sidelines: ‘We were kissing and we weren’t going to stop. Who cared about plankton and how they were affected by the warming of the ocean?’ (160). This blatant anthropocentric emphasis recurs when Josie’s brother loses his battle with alcohol and she has to identify his drowned corpse. ‘I’ve seen many dead fish and sea mammals, but I had never looked at a dead human face, the face of someone I loved’, she muses, implying that human and nonhuman deaths are far from equal—there are clear overtones here of Emmanuel Levinas’s much-­ discussed argument about the supposedly unique ethical appeal of the human face—and that alcohol is a far graver threat than sonar (248). Such passages suggest that literature is finally incapable of crossing the species boundary, even if it can transcend other differences according to Josie’s father, an avid reader: ‘it wasn’t “white boy” stuff. It was human stuff. That’s why he loved it so: because he just felt human when he read it’ (38). Throughout the novel, Josie acts as a confident ventriloquist for all of her family members, ‘imagin[ing] scenes I did not witness, speak[ing] the thoughts of other people’ (35), making big ‘imaginative leap[s]’ in the process, as she admits (81). But it appears that this novel can only accommodate a restricted polyphony of human voices, human music, human sounds—that it is more comfortable exploring the taste of salt, to return to the title, when it refers to human kisses and bodies (see 170). Despite drawing attention to whale strandings, in sum, Southgate’s novel devotes itself mainly to the loves and deaths of its human characters, and consigns animal suffering and submarine sound to a narrative background that remains the proper domain of science, a field that is becoming more inclusive and has cool jobs, apparently, but falls outside the range of the novel genre as this author conceives it. Yet given the fact that military noise is changing the lives and cultural meanings of whales beyond recognition, we should ask ourselves whether other novels do not offer more detailed and critical reflections on this particular contact zone and its multispecies



soundscape, and push beyond the constraints of a genre that certain writers and readers continue to associate primarily if not exclusively with psychological explorations of the human heart and the emotional impact of the human face.

The Blue Turn, Sonar Discourse, and Submarine Fiction The first section has explained that sound plays a crucial role in the lives of whales, dolphins, and other cetaceans, that some of these nonhuman sounds have been repurposed by humans as musical ‘whale song’, and that manmade noises, including military sonar, are disrupting and even destroying marine life. In thinking about cetacean sounds and their meanings now, the most urgent task for literary and cultural scholars is therefore less to examine novels that celebrate their vocalizations as examples of animal music or nonhuman communication (in line with the arguments of Chaps. 3 and 4) and more to consider forms of fiction that deal with echolocation and military noise, asking ourselves how these narratives enable their readers to access unfamiliar submarine worlds that appear inhospitable, as The Taste of Salt suggested, to literature. Continuing my exploration of the multispecies soundscape, this chapter takes us below the waterline, like the introduction, to complicate the cultural clichés of the wild ocean and the musical whale with the help of stories that represent the sea as a warzone and cetacean sound as a form of sonar instead. I first analyze two examples from the Cold War period: Hank Searls’s econarrative Sounding (1982), and the textbook example of genre fiction about submarine warfare—Tom Clancy’s technothriller The Hunt for Red October (1984). Afterwards, I will take a brief look at a more recent submarine novel, Joe Buff’s Deep Sound Channel (2000), before reading a literary work about another female marine scientist and the global War on Terror, J.M. Ledgard’s Submergence (2011). Though they feature prominently in the following account, novels about submarine war may seem an unlikely archive for scholars looking for environmental insights. Yet these ideologically dubious stories are rewarding case studies in this context, seeing that their stories consistently revolve around characters who are listening intently to the submarine soundscape, including its nonhuman components. The argument in this chapter advances existing research on the cultural histories of maritime worlds and activities, which I summarize here to



contextualize my subsequent literary analysis. In recent years, scholars from various disciplines have investigated subjects like the topos of the chaotic sea, the human remaking of the oceans, and nautical literature’s fetishization of technical knowledge. Steve Mentz has called for a ‘blue cultural studies’, for example, that counteracts both a lack of academic attention to the oceans and a loss of intimate experience with maritime life and labor among the public (997) by adopting ‘[a] renewed focus on the waters themselves—as cultural symbol, physical setting, and emblem of inhospitable nature’ (1002). Concentrating on the early modern period and its colonial aspirations, Mentz articulates how maritime literature implicitly contrasts the pastoral image of the orderly garden—the starting point for traditional ‘green’ and ‘dry’ ecocriticism—with chaotic visions of the unruly ocean, the topos of ‘the sea-as-other’ (1001) that elicits a sense of ‘oceanic disorientation’ (1007). Also relevant for my account is that Mentz underscores the impact on the Renaissance imagination of leaving the fairly shallow and hospitable Mediterranean basin for ‘a global oceanic world, punctuated by vast deeps’ (1000). But as Naomi Oreskes has pointed out, it would take much longer before this submarine world was understood as a multidimensional space rather than a lifeless void. In her words, the conceptual shift ‘from the ocean as deep, dark, … inaccessible and not … terribly important to the ocean as a vast abode of life, both familiar and strange, and a place on which all life … depends’ constitutes ‘one of the most important cultural and scientific shifts of the twentieth century’ (384). This immense aquatic space is not devoid of history but has been ‘humanized’ in several ways, she reminds us, including through the postwar process of militarization I sketched earlier: ‘the deep-sea “environment” … came to be understood by scientists and military planners as a theater in which nuclear weapons might be … transported, disguised, detected, and ultimately … exchanged’ (383). Nor should we forget about commercial ventures like offshore drilling and resource extraction more generally. In fact, one reason for the resurgent interest in the oceans, Rachel Price contends, is ‘their reframing from what was once figured as a mysterious … no man’s land to a final frontier for privatized extractivism’ (45), a militarized ‘final battleground for what remains of a global commons’ (46)—a big blue ‘extractive zone’, to recall the argument of Gómez-Barris that I summarized in the introduction. The seabed is home to a vital component of our media infrastructure as well; as Nicole Starosielski has argued, the popular imagination misconstrues reality in associating telephone and internet traffic with satellites



and wireless technology, as most international signals really pass via a limited number of undersea cables, grounding these technologies in a network that is unexpectedly material, fragile, and aquatic (3–14). Humans have also remade the oceans through climate change and processes like acidification, plastic pollution, and species extinction. As Elizabeth DeLoughrey puts it: ‘[w]hile earlier scholarship figured the ocean as a blank space or aqua nullius that, in crossing, catalyzed an often masculine agency, … critical ocean studies engages sea ontologies, figuring maritime space as a multispecies and embodied place in which the oceanic [world], including its submarine creatures, [is] no longer outside of the history of the human’ (42). Existing scholarship does not just tackle stereotypical images of the sea and the ocean’s human history but also related cultural forms like maritime literature. Shedding light on the genre’s celebration of masculine agency, critics like Margaret Cohen and Hester Blum have clarified how nineteenth-century texts especially stress technical expertise and the seaman’s craft, the use of what Blum calls the ‘sea eye’ (110), understood as ‘a special capacity for vision’ (113). Extrapolating these insights to a different corpus, I will be stressing military craft and professional listening instead. Following John Shiga, we might call this alternative form of agency the ‘underwater ear’ (2013, 358), but we should realize that this is a trained, machinic ear, part and parcel of ‘the cyborg in a deep-sea soundscape’, as Stefan Helmreich phrases it (2007, 623), a figure who is ‘a combination of the organic and technical’ and is ‘threaded into a media ecology of communication and control … that extends … and conditions our senses’ (622). Recent insights from sound studies help to articulate the acoustic dimension of the blue humanities and to frame my analysis of stories about military activities in the unfamiliar ocean and their violent impact on sea ontologies. As I mentioned in Chaps. 2 and 5, Jonathan Sterne’s The Audible Past (2003) has alerted us to neglected media like the stethoscope and the historical roots of ‘audile technique’ by tracing the process whereby a class of professional listeners is established and sounds are scrutinized for their precise features and meanings. These insights shed light on the literary soundscape and the novel’s representation of headphones and stethoscopes, as we have seen, but they can also be extrapolated to military listening and the overlooked medium of sonar. In exploring the Thanatocene, we should also consider ‘thanatosonics’ (317), in other words, the ties between sound and violence as described by J.  Martin Daughtry’s Listening to War (2015). Drawing on blogs and interviews but



movies and novels too, Daughtry has mapped the role of sound in wartime Iraq, scrutinizing disparate phenomena like improvised explosive devices (IEDs), iPods, Iraqi music, and military earplugs. This account aims to chart what he calls ‘the belliphonic’, ‘the spectrum of sounds produced by armed combat’, and the result provides helpful conceptual coordinates for my reading of submarine fiction (3). As he explains, sound in war acts as a violent, vibrational force that impoverishes the natural soundscape—by muting ‘the insect, avian, and even canine populations’ (57)— and is characterized by ‘omnidirectional leakage’ (174), often creating unintended victims who remain injured afterwards and share in ‘a kind of traumatic intersubjectivity’ (208). To describe this violently reconfigured world, Daughtry introduces a flexible model that takes into account the clashing ‘sonic campaigns’ of wartime Iraq, the overlapping ‘acoustic territories’ these created, and the ‘auditory regimes’ listeners drew on to process these dangerous data (210, emphasis in original). Zooming in on auditory regimes, Daughtry adjusts Sterne’s work on stethoscopes and audile techniques (134, 143) to describe the aural acuity of wartime listeners, who use their ears to filter out some sounds and to interpret others attentively—and who in some cases complement this input with data from the ‘distributed macro-sensorium’ that is the military communications network (79). Especially in the case of professional soldiers, this vigilant listening stance—associated with masculine traits like objectivity, rationality, and toughness (130–1)—hence produces both a zone of ‘ethical deafness’ and a ‘narrational zone’ in the vicinity of the listener, in which telltale noises become material for ‘audionarrative[s]’ that reconstruct what weapons are being used where and by whom (80, emphasis in original), turning human listening into its own form of ‘echolocation’ (88, 161). In war, in short, sound is weaponized as well as narrativized. My analysis explores different materials and contexts, and is less exclusively preoccupied with ‘the human encounter with the belliphonic’ (207, emphasis added). But we can still describe the events I am interested in as a clash between the acoustic territories of whales and submarines, a clash that involves the violent leakage of sonar’s sound waves and the auditory regime of sonar operators, who screen out biological sounds as unimportant while scrutinizing military sounds and their implicit tactical narratives, all of which finds its way into stories that gesture toward the traumatic intersubjectivity caused by submarine warfare but that also install hierarchies of sounds, events, and bodies that are not unlike what we encountered in The Taste of Salt.



The preceding topics—aquatic history and martial sound—converge in sonar and sonar discourse. Technologies of underwater acoustic threat detection changed several times in the course of the twentieth century, John Shiga has explained, from underwater warning bells near submerged hazards over electric hydrophones that passively pick up incoming sounds to automated forms of active sonar that emit signals and listen for echoes distorted by hidden objects like enemy submarines. These shifts correlate with changing views of submarine noises—first considered to be irritating interferences that can be circumvented by amplifying human sound, later recategorized as predictable effects of the properties of seawater or the activities of marine life, which call for expert classification—and of the role of human hearing—if the rise of sonar seems to valorize listening, the growing use of automated sensors and visual translations of acoustic data bear witness to an undiminished distrust of the human senses (see Shiga 2013, 2016). What became especially important is the capacity ‘to divide the broad field of underwater sound into useful categories and to train listening subjects to perceive the ocean through that system of sonic division’ (Shiga 2013, 365), the upshot of which is akin to Daughtry’s conclusions: a mode of ‘aggressive listening’ (Shiga 2013, 370) based on the ideas of ‘sound-as-weapon’ and ‘ocean-as-battlespace’ (366). Interestingly, Shiga also spotlights sonar’s environmental impact, observing that it requires resources like quartz and electricity, and harms marine fauna via military as well as commercial fishing applications. Reformulating the phrase from Jacob Smith I mentioned in the introduction, we might conclude that sonar is not an eco-sonic but an eco-thanatosonic medium. Yet as Shiga underlines in a joint paper with Max Ritts, sonar yielded beneficial environmental effects too; as ‘[s]onar operators, oceanographers, and cetologists collaborated on efforts to isolate and classify cetacean sound sources’, military listeners were co-responsible for the gradual reconceptualization of whale song, from meaningless noises that should be filtered out over characteristic sounds that can be classified to meaningful signals in their own right (199). Even more interestingly, Shiga proposes that we read Samuel Beckett’s elusive ‘Ping’ (1966) as a reaction to ‘postwar military discourses of sonar’ (2016, 141) and maybe even as ‘an anticipation of contemporary anxieties [related to] ecological catastrophe’ (142). We can expand and refine this claim, I will show in the next sections, which analyze four novels that engage with these topics—humanized oceans, militarized listening, and biological noise—in much greater detail by representing communication networks and martial whales in a Cold War



context (Clancy and Searls) and by plumbing the nonhuman deep and the threat of species extinction at the start of the twenty-first century (Buff and Ledgard).

Cold War Networks In an Anglophone context, the classic work of fiction dealing with submarine sound is undoubtedly Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October (1984). This signature piece of Cold War culture probably needs no extensive introduction, seeing that the bestselling novel was turned into a Hollywood blockbuster, provided the blueprint for countless later technothrillers, and started both the ‘Jack Ryan’ franchise and the ‘Tom Clancy’ brand, which has since expanded into the realm of militarythemed videogames. ‘A perfect yarn’ according to Ronald Reagan, supposedly, Clancy’s novel tells the story of a group of Soviet officers who attempt to defect with a cutting-­edge ‘boomer’ submarine capable of launching nuclear missiles, starting a potentially cataclysmic game of catand-mouse in the silent deep of the North Atlantic. Although the story seems to revolve around the figures of Central Intelligence Agency analyst Jack Ryan and Soviet commander Marko Ramius, played by Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery in the 1990 film version, I will foreground a different set of characters here: the highly skilled sonar operators and other professional listeners who are given pride of place in the narrative. This emphasis is a characteristic feature of submarine fiction, according to Linda Maria Koldau. As ‘blind’ submarines ‘rely completely on the sonic monitoring of their surroundings and the acoustic registration of any sound event’, she notes, submarine films stress the emotional and narrative power of their sound effects, which range from sonar pings to ‘the ominous creaking of the hull …, characteristic alarm sounds, the aggressive propulsion sound of torpedoes, … the deafening terror of depth charge detonations [and] the psychologically terrorizing sound of silence’ (73). Yet Clancy’s novel highlights sound even more, seeing that it keeps circling back to the unique and particularly quiet sonic signature of the rogue submarine, now hunted by Russian as well as American forces. As a result, the novel features numerous scenes devoted to audile technique, the military auditory regime, and the noise/signal binary—not to mention the underlying communication networks that coordinate the activities of listeners, subs, and other military assets. What might be surprising,



though, is that we not only detect sound and sonar when we examine these scenes closely, but whales and their songs too. As Clancy’s novel shows, one of the prototypical features of the submarine thriller in the Cold War era is its feverish attention to the depths of the North Atlantic, which was imagined to be ‘the site of nuclear security for the West, the place where SSBN patrols … and a raft of military infrastructure and the latest technology thwarted the evil empire’, as Hamish Mathison puts it in his synoptic account of this subgenre (392). No piece of infrastructure represents these anxieties better than the so-called Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS), a formerly secret underwater warning system that alerted the US and its allies to the presence of Russian submarines through a network of hydrophones at strategic locations. As if to underline its importance, Clancy’s narrative only truly begins when the reader is taken on a tour of SOSUS Atlantic Control: [A] visitor might easily have mistaken the room for a NASA control centre. There were six wide rows of consoles, each with its own TV screen … supplemented by lighted plastic buttons, dials, headphone jacks … The men at … the computers were linked electronically by satellite and landline to the SOSUS system. … The hundreds of [underwater] sensors received and forwarded an unimaginably vast amount of information, and to … analyse it a whole new family of computers had to be designed … Even the ultraquiet American and British attack submarines were generally picked up. The sensors, lying on the bottom of the sea, were periodically updated; many now had their own signal processors to presort the data … enabling more rapid and accurate classification of targets. … The senior duty officer had the frequently exercised authority to prosecute a contact with a wide range of assets, from surface ships to antisubmarine aircraft. … Although this quiet, tomblike facility … had none of the drama associated with military life, the men on duty here were among the most important in the service of their country. (161–4)

This passage exhibits all the traits of what Paul Edwards has called ‘closed-­ world discourse’ (1). As he contends, the Cold War promoted a pervasive worldview in which the sealed entities of the US and the USSR were felt to be locked into an all-encompassing conflict that required, on the one hand, ‘a worldwide satellite, sensor, and communications web that would allow global oversight and instantaneous military response’ with the help of digital computers and nuclear weapons (75) and, on the other, new forms of human-machine integration that were allied to a masculine,



militaristic, and hyper-rational subject position (compare with Daughtry’s listeners) that Edwards calls, following Donna Haraway, ‘cyborg subjectivity’ (303). In his view, this closed-world discourse finds its purest expression in near-future sci-fi stories such as 2001, Star Wars, and The Terminator, narratives that stage an apocalyptic conflict and feature enclosed settings as well as ‘sealed vehicle[s]’ that generate a sense of confinement and persistent stress via the ‘electric tension’ of their technological devices, as in ‘the flickering fluorescent light, the ringing telephone, the active computer screen’ (307). All of these elements return in Clancy’s awed tour of the SOSUS facility and the rest of the novel, and the overarching plot projects the related idea that the US military is not an aggressor but a dispassionate global technician who is merely responding to warning signals on its monitoring networks. Whereas Edwards’s account singles out cultural representations of airpower and outer space, seeing them as responses to projects like the automated air defense system SAGE, The Hunt for Red October foregrounds naval power and the ocean deep, which similarly turned into a closed world of sorts with the help of SOSUS—as Clancy’s narrative implies in its description of this secret facility for oceanic monitoring and its staging of scenes in enclosed subs replete with screens and cyborg subjects. As a formal corollary of this bunker-under-siege mentality, moreover, the perspective in the SOSUS facility scene, as in the rest of the narrative, is highly dynamic, panoramic and synchronized, able if necessary to move in realtime from the facility to the ocean deep to the sky above with remarkable ease—a total narrative point of view for a total war (see Saint-Amour 2015, De Bruyn 2018). Summarizing this particular perspective on the ocean, Jack Ryan at one point bluntly asserts that ‘[t]he Atlantic, Mr President, is still our ocean’ (270, see 281). Although machines take center stage in closed-world thinking, the novel removes the sting from scenes of automation by praising the interpretive talent of these trained listeners, a strategy that helps to rehumanize the military network of sensors, missiles, and ships. Rightly criticizing the ideological work performed by Clancy’s novel, Celeste Fraser Delgado has described how it conducts readers—exclusively interpellated as male—into ‘the technological wonderland of the modern military [while] allow[ing] every man to envision himself in the role of Superman’ (134). For if the book confuses uninitiated readers with its ‘bewilderingly complex technological world where systems designated by acronyms like SOSUS and SAPS behave like characters and minute technical descriptions come to function as crucial devices in the plot’, it also restores human agency and



meaning, Delgado observes, by praising the interpretive skills of characters like sonar operator Ronald Jones (132). This pattern is illustrated by the SOSUS control room scene, which fetishizes the high-tech equipment used by an operator but also celebrates his ability to identify an unusual signal amid the oceanic noise, his ‘finesse’ (169): ‘[a]n eyebrow went up, and his nearly bald head cocked to one side’ (164). As other scenes in the novel confirm, this combination of talent and technology is a crucial asset; once different pieces of acoustic information are categorized as meaningful signals, after all, they allow expert listeners to reconstruct stories of what is happening where and to whom. In line with Daughtry’s suggestions, sonar technology establishes a ‘narrational zone’ in which acoustic information becomes tactical narrative. The physics of underwater sound, virtuosic human listening, and the idea of sound-as-narrative are all present in an extended scene where a Soviet serviceman notices a strange ‘contact’, triggering the novel’s climactic fight between the defecting Red October, another submarined called the VK Konovalov, and their talented sonar operators: ‘Comrade Captain, I have a contact, but I do not know what it is’, the michman said over the phone. … The water … was not entirely perfect for sonar systems. Minor currents … set up moving walls that reflected … sound energy … It took five minutes for the [strange] signal to come back. … ‘It’s Red October!’ … ‘Sonar, search forward on all active systems!’ the captain ordered [resulting in a loud ping]. ‘Range seven thousand, six hundred meters. Elevation angle zero’, the michman reported. … [On board the Red October] Jones heard [their response] first …. ‘Torpedoes in the water port side!’ … By sending out slightly distorted return echoes, [the October crew] could create ghost targets. … [Yet] [c]oolly and expertly, [the Konovalov crew] commanded the second torpedo to select the centre target. … ‘A solid hit, Comrade Captain’, the michman reported [afterwards]. … ‘I hear hull creaking noises, his depth is changing’. … [After the October was hit] [t]rillions of bubbles had formed, … obscur[ing] it [yet the Soviet sonar man] was an experienced man trying to decide what was noise and what was signal, and he had reconstructed most of the events correctly. (1067–8, 1070–1, 1073, 1079, 1083, 1087–8)

A sequence tailor-made for an action movie, it exemplifies the extent to which the narrative’s information and emotion originate in sound and listening; the scene involves misleading noises generated by water and jamming technology but also meaningful signals that experts can use to



identify a particular vessel and deduce its location in the submarine dark, providing a crucial human component that ensures sonar and torpedo systems function smoothly. In line with Delgado’s remarks, the novel and its many sonic mini-narratives therefore reveal a reassuring division of labor in which, as Shiga puts it, ‘[c]alculative tasks, such as determining the proximity and direction of the target, [a]re delegated to machines, whereas interpretive tasks, such as deciding which echoes matter, [a]re delegated to the listener’ (2013, 370–1). Together, it seems, computers and cyborgs can master the deep. This account of sonar and SOSUS in The Hunt for Red October remains incomplete, however, as long as we do not consider the role of whales and the fragility of these military networks. Marine life is important, first of all, as it complicates the aggressive hermeneutics valorized in this storyworld. A thermal satellite image reveals two submarines, an interpreter concludes, for ‘[t]he time of year is wrong for mating whales’ (982). But this potential biological complication manifests itself more often acoustically. The talented sonar operator Jones first picks up the weird rumble of the defecting sub when he hears a strange sound and is able to state confidently that ‘[i]t’s not screw sounds, not whales or fish’, using an ‘oscilloscope’ to visualize this anomalous sound (188). More importantly, one strategy the novel uses to rehumanize the cyborg masculinity at the heart of the SOSUS network is to connect sonar operators to music and to whales. In representing these attentive listeners, the text displays multiple examples of what I called ‘headphone writing’ in Chap. 2: Sonarman Second Class Ronald Jones … was in his usual trance. The young college dropout was hunched over his instrument table, … eyes closed, face locked into the same neutral expression he wore when listening to one of the many Bach tapes on his expensive personal cassette player. … He listened to sea sounds with the same discriminating intensity. [That this is typical of sonar operators is shown by a chief who] became so familiar with the humpback whales that summered in [a specific] area that he took to calling them by name. On retiring, he went to work for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, where his talent was regarded not so much with amusement as awe. (178–80)

Jones provides crucial military expertise and is fully integrated into the machine that is the submarine. Yet he is also individualized and humanized by being depicted as a college dropout who loves classical music and



does not shrug off sea sounds, in contrast to the focalizer of this scene, who seems amused rather than awed and is baffled that this ‘skinny kid who listened to Bach’ has more success with women than himself, ‘the football hero at Annapolis’ (181). Indeed, the reader learns that Jones had heard a weird signal on a past mission, and ‘it had been the noise of diving pelicans that he could not figure out until the skipper had raised the periscope for a look’—briefly turning that military operation into an impromptu scientific expedition (643). This interest in biological sound is instrumentalized in reductive, hypermasculine ways, however: ‘off Bermuda they had encountered mating humpbacks, and a very impressive noise that was. Jones had a personal copy of the tape …: some women found it interesting, in a kinky sort of way’ (643–4). Nor should we recategorize Clancy as a progressive thinker, clearly. As the narrator of The Bear and the Dragon (2000) confides, it is hardly exciting to ‘trac[k] whales in the North Pacific, which some of PACFLT’s boats had been tasked to do of late, to keep the tree-huggers happy’ (990). Yet certain scenes in The Hunt for Red October nonetheless intimate that whale sounds are acoustically rich, that sonar readings help to identify individual named animals as well as particular submarines, and that these men operate in a military zone that is simultaneously home to a whole range of nonhuman animals—as if to anticipate the fact that SOSUS would later be repurposed for environmental purposes like monitoring ‘whale communications and migrations’, as Starosielski informs us (213). As my observations show, this classic submarine thriller may deal explicitly with the Cold War but it engages implicitly with the Thanatocene too. Not unlike the novel by Julia Leigh that I discussed earlier, it invites a mode of binaural reading, in which we keep in view both the narrative’s acoustic foreground (composed of striking sounds that are crucial to the plot) and background (which features softer, easily overlooked audio). We have found that Clancy’s novel revels in the technological sublime of closed world networks while hinting at the fact that subs and cetaceans dwell in overlapping environments. In addition, the book reveals that high-tech machines and networks do not always function smoothly  and expose submarine personnel to various dangers on the outside (the ocean) and the inside (the nuclear reactor). Despite their aural acuity, for instance, the experienced operators in the SOSUS control room fail to pursue the weird signal emanating from Red October, as if to illustrate that human interpretation is not error-proof (169). At a certain point in the narrative, furthermore, something goes catastrophically wrong with that sublime



piece of machinery, the reactor, because the Soviet crew misinterprets its sounds twice: [Chief Engineer Petchukov] could hear the vibration. It had to be a bad bearing getting worse [which was not really dangerous] …. Petchukocov … was right, and wrong. … The valves were made of titanium because they had to function reliably after prolonged exposure to high temperature … [Yet] [t]he metal had become brittle over the years. … At first [another crew member] thought [a new buzz] was feedback noise from the PA speaker, and he waited too long to check it. The clapper broke free … It was not very large, only ten centimetres in diameter and five millimetres thick. … The coolant flow moved it up, towards the exhaust pipe. … Here … the clapper jammed momentarily. … This caused the pipe to flex a few millimetres. … What had just begun was a catastrophic loss-of-coolant accident. … The reactor emergency was regulated by physical laws. … [Petchukov] barked orders [but] only made things worse. (477–85)

As this passage demonstrates, in detached prose one might justifiably describe as cyborg style, the machinery of the closed world occasionally breaks, with fatal results. Zooming in on the material properties of machines and small details that usually remain invisible to human eyes, the scene implies that we are better equipped to see problems—as in this visual description—than to identify them correctly with our ears—though the novel itself is able to record these significant sounds too. In this closed world, even minor problems (involving ten centimeters, five millimeters, a few millimeters) can translate into a major catastrophe costing the lives of the entire crew. Rather than rehumanizing the ‘worknet’ of the submarine with displays of individual talent, to use Bruno Latour’s phrase for an assemblage of human and nonhuman agents (132), this scene underlines the limitations of human perception and communication; as if spoken by a metallic computer voice, the narrative simply notes how fragile materials and physical laws result in a failure that cannot be averted by these military subjects, their poor hearing, and their barely human ‘barking’. Another complication is that even though the novel usually suggests that whales and subs are part of parallel worlds that peacefully coexist, other passages imply the opposite by hinting at their violent confrontation. The same sub that suffers a reactor failure encountered another problem at the start of her career: ‘a fifty-ton right whale had somehow blundered in her path, and the [sub] had rammed the unfortunate creature broadside’, killing the whale and nearly destroying the vessel (471).



On top of that, the novel frequently highlights the violence of ‘vicious sonar lashing’ (99), a procedure that involves ‘wave fronts of energy’ directed at enemy vessels: ‘Sonar, ping the sonuvabitch! Max power, blast the sucker!’ (1081). When the Soviet torpedo hits the defecting Red October, in fact, one casualty is an acoustic victim: ‘Jones had flipped his headphones off just in time but [another operator] had not. He was rolling in agony on the deck, one eardrum ruptured, totally deafened’ (1084). Though the novel is too preoccupied with its geopolitical agenda to consider the environmental impact of military media and conflicts (not unlike the Supreme Court Judge we met earlier), such passages indicate that the oceanic soundscape does not just harbor the music-like beauty of whale song as studied by acoustic geniuses but manmade explosions and torpedo-like sonar lashes too, violent vibrations that create omnidirectional leakage. Ultimately, then, Clancy’s novel travels along a sublime but fragile network of humans and machines in which whale song helps to humanize cyborg-like sonar men but submarine war also drowns out nonmilitary sound—if it does not kill animals outright in a violent collision.

Demilitarized Mammals Lingering in the Cold War period, I now turn to Hank Searls’s Sounding (1982), a largely forgotten novel by a popular adventure fiction writer that explores similar issues as The Hunt for Red October, but in a way that foregrounds the latter’s environmental subtext. Searls’s novel tells two parallel stories. The first is that of musician-turned-sonar-operator Peter Rostov, who is trapped in an old Soviet submarine at the bottom of the sea but is not allowed to signal for help by the close-minded onboard political officer (the so-called zampolit). The second storyline relates how an old emperor whale travels back to his former pod to provide advice and reconnect with what appears to be a nuclear family of sorts before getting into a fight with the mad young whale who has replaced him and is a spiritual heir to the most famous whale in literary history, Melville’s Moby Dick (see 124). Both of these characters long for interspecies communication, seeing that poor trapped Rostov is trying to compose a symphony based on whale song and that the wise whale desires to connect with what seem to be newly peaceful if fundamentally unpredictable humans. Here at least, the multispecies soundscape of this submarine world seems to receive the literary attention it deserves. Yet even though the novel underlines the ties between humans and whales in terms of sound, music, and love, their



potential union is prevented at the end thanks to the madness of the zampolit and the madness of the young whale, which are rooted in Soviet ideology and the history of violence between humans and cetaceans, respectively. The Hunt for Red October and Sounding differ in many respects, even though both novels involve subs and whales in the Cold War Atlantic. The latter does not involve a high-tech submarine and cyborg listeners but an obsolete vessel that is destroyed at the end and a single survivor whose defining feature is musical passion rather than technological savvy. In contrast to Clancy’s novel, moreover, Searls’s narrative involves immobile humans who are disconnected from friend and foe alike, and who provide a sharp contrast to the story’s mobile cetaceans and their efficient form of long-distance communication. Sounding briefly mentions the US ‘hydrophone listening-network off Hawaii’ (29) and ‘marine cables’ used for ‘undersea telegraph transmission’ (184), but it does not fetishize human communication networks and rather represents what you might call a ‘world whale web’, with different species of underwater animals feeding information to what the whales name the ‘Ocean of Thought’, gathering knowledge ‘like the trembling antennae of rock lobsters testing and feeling the seas’ (202). Differently put, the reader of this novel no longer finds herself in the sealed container that is ‘our Atlantic’, but in the open-­ ended realm of ‘Cetacea’ (25), the ancient ‘kingdom’ of marine mammals. Even more strikingly, Searls’s novel provides imaginative access to the minds of its whales, allowing the narrative to plumb the ocean realm in ways unconstrained by human bodies and technologies—while maintaining the safe distance of third-person narration (see the argument by Dan Wylie I mentioned in Chap. 4). Sounding also has an unmistakable environmental message, as is spelled out by its historical interludes about human-whale relations and its concluding note, in which the author thanks cetologists affiliated with institutes like Woods Hole and environmental organizations like Sea Shepherd (279–80). In turning to this novel, we therefore seem to escape from the sealed container of Cold War politics to what Edwards calls the ‘green world’, a sphere that often functions as a hopeful contrast in closed-world fiction. This natural setting is home to ‘trees, animals, and natural forces …, frequently as active agents’, according to Edwards, and their presence typically convinces the protagonist of the need to undertake an integrative quest that will lead to spiritual growth and the restoration of order via ‘renewed communion among human beings … and other living creatures’ (311) and via ‘the transcendence of



rationality, authority, … and technology’ (13). However, Searl’s narrative does not simply oppose the closed world of SOSUS and submarines to the open alternative of Cetacea and whales. For upon closer inspection his novel, like Clancy’s, implies that the ‘green world’ of the ocean resembles a closed claustrophobic space too, and that whales and subs cannot be disentangled so easily. In trying to defuse the clash between soldiers and cetaceans in the Atlantic, Sounding accordingly suggests that we should first demilitarize human and nonhuman mammals, our military modes of listening, and the related idea of the ocean-as-battlespace. This message of demilitarization corresponds with existing cultural constructions of the whale. Lawrence Buell has clarified how, from the late twentieth century onward, whales have functioned as ‘icons of endangerment’ (201), ‘ecosystemic … synecdoche[s]’ (223) that point toward the ecocosmopolitan stance theorized more fully by Ursula Heise. Yet Jonathan Steinwand has also identified a ‘cetacean turn in postcolonial literature’, in which whale narratives provide localized critiques of the universalist and sentimentalist stance characteristic of Western environmentalism (185). In his turn, Stefan Helmreich has traced the emergence of the ‘digital whale’, a cultural construct crucial to government monitoring protocols that match whale DNA samples to official databases, and even of ‘simulated’ and ‘virtual’ whales in practices that model or memorialize species whose future fate remains uncertain (2016, 46–7). Reflecting on this plurality of meanings, Myung-Ae Choi has described a particular site in South Korea where whale protection schemes, whale-watching tourism, and whale meat consumption occur side by side. He finds that ‘[e]ach of these practices enacts whales differently: as lovely animals, delicious meat, an endangered species and a fishing resource’, and concludes that they produce ‘multiple ontological enactments of whales, which I call “the whale multiple”’ (2548). Of particular importance to the Cold War context is an opposition between peaceful and military versions of the ‘whale multiple’. As far as the first is concerned, Frank Zelko has detailed how the commercial view of the whale as a resource and the conservationist view based on scientific quota is undermined by the countercultural view of the ‘metaphysical whale—a sublime, mystical, ecologically harmonious … aquatic being representing a supreme form of power and intelligence rooted in a oneness with nature’ (104–5). As Zelko shows, the contrast between whales as ‘Buddha[s] of the [d]eep’ (91) and humans as ‘carnivorous Nazis’ (105) was fueled by postwar popular culture and scientific experiments from the 1960s and 1970s that proved the intelligence of



these creatures but also led to increasingly implausible claims regarding our ability to communicate directly with whales and dolphins, as in the research of John Lilly, most notoriously—a colorful figure who is thanked at the end of Searls’s novel for ‘insist[ing] that we learn cetacean body language by swimming with his dolphins, and that we try to penetrate the cetacean mind by floating in his Samhadi isolation tank’ (279). Surprisingly, these countercultural fantasies received a strong financial impetus from the US military, which was keen on exploring mind control techniques and military applications of cetaceans’ underwater abilities. Indeed, Ritts and Shiga argue that the growing understanding of cetacean echolocation resulted in the concurrent idea of the ‘pinging cetacean’ (206) and the belief in military circles that whales and dolphins are efficient ‘models for undersea media and weapons’ (207). As the previous section already suggested, we can therefore also speak of a military or militarized whale— poster animal, not for the Age of Aquarius, but for the Epoch of the Thanatocene. And what we find in Sounding is an unresolved clash between these two iterations of the whale multiple, the mystical and the military cetacean, alongside a related confrontation between musical and military humans. On several occasions, Searls’s novel calls attention to the fact that dolphins and pilot whales have been utilized by the military, which eagerly recruited the cetacean weapon system for Cold War purposes. A case in point is the scene where Rostov and the zampolit are listening to the aquatic soundscape; sweeping the submarine’s ‘electronic ears in a slow semicircle’, Rostov hears both ‘the faint thump of a vessel’s screws … evaluat[ing] her as a supertanker bound west for New York Harbor’ and ‘the mewings of echo-ranging pilot whales, the chirp of dolphins, and an occasional blang from his friend the kashalot [sperm whale]’ (227). To Peter’s surprise, the commissar is as worried about the animals as he is about the ship, and if this scene appears to mock the paranoia of this unlikeable character, the novel goes on to mention an ‘Operation Elsinore’ in which ‘the US Navy … equipp[ed] trained pilot whales with underwater movie cameras to film [the] passage [of Soviet subs]’—a biological version of SOSUS, if you will, that fully integrates the animal cyborg into the military network (92). The whale protagonist at one point even meets one of these nonhuman soldiers, a traumatized pilot whale who received military training and participated unknowingly in an operation like Elsinore. As the whale reports, he used to play ‘games’ with humans, learning how to respond to whistles, save drowning humans, and retrieve



torpedoes, which humans tracked ‘with a pinging sonar like the sound of a baby sperm’ (159). After training him and two other pilot whales to film submarines with cameras attached to a harness, these three male animals were deployed in the North Atlantic, with catastrophic results: That day they had noticed … another ship with a gate astern, much like their own. … [T]he gate … opened [and] they heard the mewings of female pilots squealing with desire. … When they swerved to pair in couples, his two herd mates were far ahead. … The four passed under a sound-layer [and] he lost contact. He [heard], from their direction, a faint explosion and then another. … Unconcerned, he doubled back, sounding on the [remaining] cow. … But then he heard her shrilling the … frightened whistle of a pilot sensing danger. … She … squirmed as if he were a killer whale … She was trying to echo something for which there was no sound. … She skidded in and struck the ship. There came an orange flash and a boom like summer thunder. (212–13, emphasis added)

In the world of the novel, this treacherous operation and its destructive consequences are hard to reconcile with the cetacean mindset, as is demonstrated by the pilot whale’s initial incomprehension, by the fact that this deception cannot be communicated via cetacean means, and the fact that these animals see no real differences between their ship and team and those of the enemy. As one would expect from these ‘Buddhas of the deep’, they are more concerned with love (understood in heteronormative fashion) and do not anticipate such brutal acts, nor do they have an established call for intraspecies violence. If the novel’s representation of dolphin operations acknowledges that these animals are being conscripted by Cold War navies, in other words, it simultaneously implies that this goes against their peaceful nature, the militarization of these creatures proving as unnatural on a psychological level as their killing is cruel on a physical level. What Searls’s novel is trying to do in such scenes, in short, is to reverse the history of cetacean weaponization by characterizing its animal focalizers in ways that demilitarize these creatures, who exhibit an emotional intelligence that is immediately recognizable to right-minded readers. Searls’s narrative does not only criticize these reductive conceptions of the whale but also endeavors to demilitarize humans and their belligerent mode of listening. First of all, the novel repeats the point from Clancy’s



novel, which is that sonar operators need to learn about biology and marine mammals if they want to be able to distinguish between meaningful signals and meaningless noise; as ‘[t]he echo of an approaching sperm or a blue [whale] on his screen was so similar to that of a NATO attack submarine’, Rostov, ‘[l]ike all sonar officers … knew a great deal about sperm, and finbacks, and sei whales too’ (194). Yet if Sounding follows the same strategy as The Hunt for Red October, of rehumanizing the characters guarding the borders of these ‘two vast sonic worlds—the western and the Soviet—[that] lay glowering at each other in the depths of the planet’s seas’ (194), it goes much further in connecting its sonar operator to whales and in disconnecting this rehumanized character from the military mindset. Rostov has heard a copy of Roger Payne’s famous 1970 record of ‘the song of the humpback whales’ (62), the reader learns, and the end of the book explicitly recapitulates the argument for ignoring cetacean sound before emphasizing once more that these sounds are captivating to those who know how to listen or to interpret a ‘sonograph’ that visualizes whale song (compare with Jones’s oscilloscope) (197): At the Leninskiy Higher Naval School of Submarine Navigation he had taken the standard course in biosonics—‘sound-garbage’ the officer-­students called it. It encompassed all the living voices of the sea, from pistol shrimp and croakers to Wedell seals and humpback whales. The class was meant to teach sonar operators the background noises of the oceans, so that their ears could pick from it the whirr of NATO subs. … ‘Listen, comrade, [his instructor explains] kashalot is nothing more than a pig who dove below, belched, heard an echo, found food, and got fat’. … He wondered now if the professor had ever really listened to the tapes he played in class. No musician in the hearing of an echo-sounding sperm could confuse him with a pig. (196)

In this passage, readers are first exposed to the reductive view of cetaceans and their sounds—as apparently uninteresting pigs and garbage—and then hear how the meaningless noise of whale song can be transformed into a beautiful signal in its own right. Readers are interpellated here as listeners attuned to a global musical culture that prepares them for the appreciation of the cultural construct of whale song, understood as melodious compositions—in line with my account of animal music and its humanizing effect in Chap. 3. As I mentioned earlier, one recurring if underdeveloped storyline involves Peter



listening to the ‘songs’ of humpback whales and attempting to compose an elegiac symphony called ‘Cetacea’ (152) ‘[f]rom their mournful sobs and distant trills’, dedicating it to his wife, ‘a flutist with the symphony he had tried so hard to join’ (15)—a celebration of Peter’s unrecognized talent fitting into the novel’s critique of the Soviet system. Underscoring the deep affinity between metaphysical whales and musical humans, the novel’s climax even suggests that Peter and the old whale come close to an actual interspecies dialogue when the animal is lured to the sub by Mozart’s Prague (!) and the two characters appear to interact via cetacean ‘blangs’ and military ‘pings’, a scene told twice, from both perspectives; ‘Ping-blang … ping-blang … ping-blang’ (251) and ‘Blang-­ ping … blang-ping … blang-ping’ (254, emphasis in original). Peter is suffering from oxygen deprivation at this point, making his perspective partly unreliable, and the dialogue remains limited, to be sure; the whale apparently manages to communicate a reassuring ‘vision’ to Peter (251)— the novel depicts cetacean conversation as a transmission of ‘sound-­ pictures’, a process that is likened to TV (see 139–40)—but the animal discovers that the sub’s sonic response is poor in content: ‘[t]he ping was empty of pictures, but it seemed a cry for help’ (254). But these limitations do not invalidate the fact that in the novel’s fictional world these two species are able to communicate via a quasi-telepathic link. ‘Man could not hear [cetacean] song in air, or understand it if he did’, one passage admits, but it can still seem as though ‘their minds were locked’ (41). This multispecies narrative about a telepathic whale and a ‘singing submarine’ appears to yield a hopeful conclusion (26), in other words, even if the anticipated union of ‘men’s voices and whales’’ mentioned in the final sentence has to be deferred to an indefinite future after the whale and his family are attacked by humans while trying to save poor troubled Rostov (278). But we should not lose sight of three significant complications. First, the novel’s pro-environmental message does not cancel out the problematic aspects of its fictional world, in which certain marine species occupy a natural position of authority and male-female relations appear in a conservative light—Rostov’s extramarital love interest being sacrificed rather quickly at the end, to give but one example. Second, I have shown that Sounding intimates how whales, oceans, and listening have been militarized and how they could and should be demilitarized. Yet even though the novel challenges the idea of the whale-as-weapon, certain passages nevertheless cast whales as living submarines; orcas use a ‘chilling secret code of hunting that other whales or dolphins could not read’ (170–1)



and whales are depicted as ‘calculat[ing] an angle of dive and pursuit curve’, for example (216). When the old emperor whale confronts his young successor, most clearly, the resulting scene reads like a submarine thriller in which whales have replaced subs or, more accurately, in which they have become subs. Compare the clash between Konovalov and Red October, which I analyzed earlier, with the following scene: The aging sperm lunged onward, sounding mighty cracks to pinpoint his adversary … He heard the young bull’s staccato bursts of sonar tracking him. Instantly he mimicked the sound to blur his image in the other’s mind. The younger defeated the tactic by varying his frequencies too swiftly for him to follow. … But strangely, he was not yet charging, only computing his elder’s incoming speed … [After a surprise attack the elder whale] did not yet dare to use sonar: It would give his position away. … Closing head-on with a combined speed of almost forty knots, they were using frequencies from every voice box and sounding chamber in their bodies. Hurling toward impact, each assessed his antagonist’s speed, angle of jaw, number of teeth, and present weight. … [After a violent clash the elder is hurt.] In the acoustic blind spot behind and below his opponent, he was safe from detection for the moment. (98–9, 101–3, 105)

Apart from showing once more how sound is transformed into narrative, this passage about fighting whales repeats several characteristic moves from action scenes involving submarines; both parties attempt to weigh up the opponent by using sonar, though this threatens to give away their own position, aim to confuse each other’s readings by masking their own sounds, struggle to ‘compute’ this data while cruising at a speed of x-amount of knots, and try to remember the blind spot in their wake, the so-called ‘baffles’ of a submarine. Even if the ultimate aim of Sounding is to demilitarize these animals, we should note the extent to which such action scenes accept their militarization too and implicitly evoke the military whale alongside its mystical counterpart. Like the novel’s conservative gender politics, these quasi-military scenes and related observations about the whale’s virility finally point toward a reductively aggressive and masculinist view of social relations beneath (and above) the waves. A third and final observation is that Searls’s novel, like Clancy’s, does not pay much attention to sound pollution. Sounding reflects on the problem of overfishing and pollution on several occasions, calling a rusty tanker ‘a worldwide oil spill asking to be loosed’, for instance (240). At times, the novel also refers to manmade noises that are imagined to be less appealing



to whales than classical music. The narrator notes that cetacean long-­ distance communication has become more difficult since ‘propellers cluttered the sea with noise’ (19), and the novel even evokes the aural impact of underwater explosions during World War II: whales would ‘beach themselves’, we learn, as ‘[e]ardrums were ruptured by the shock waves of these strange explosions. Deafened, blinded aurally, the victims—dolphins and orcas, too, who had seldom felt the bite of harpoons—were without the sonar they relied upon to home in on prey and navigate’ (16). If these passages uncover the human colonization of the underwater soundscape in the Anthropocene, the narrator seems confident that other human noises are unproblematic; individual whale voices stay ‘recognizable over the thrashing of [a ship’s] giant propellers’ (253), apparently, and these animals seem unimpressed by human sonar, ‘man’s feeble echo-locaters’ (174). By contrast, nonhuman sound can function as a powerful sonic weapon (remember the ‘military whale’); one creature claps his jaw, producing ‘a crack like a cannon shot that paralyzed for a moment the men on [a] distant [whaling] ship’ (54), and another whale adopts a similar strategy in battling a giant squid: ‘The weapon was her explosive, concentrated sound. The enormous blang of her inner lips, … beamed precisely at short range, could stun the squid into an instant of incredulous immobility’ (217, emphasis in original). And while it might seem unfair to fault writers from an earlier period for failing to address the damaging impact of later technologies, the current situation compels us to note that novels like The Hunt for Red October and Sounding paint a distorted picture of underwater lives, in which whales and humans coexist in parallel worlds, military listeners are at the forefront of positive cross-species exchanges, and sonar technology appears like an ecosonic rather than an eco-thanatosonic medium—all of which downplays the harm inflicted in this particular acoustic contact zone.

Stranded Species Although underwater space seems resistant to literary representation, the previous examples of Cold War culture have demonstrated that fiction can turn highly aquatic, and that human perception and narration can rely to a large extent on acoustic data alone. If read closely, it becomes clear that both novels refer to the sounds of cetaceans and their intimate ties with modern war, relegating them to a parallel world (in the case of Clancy) or pleading for the demilitarization of whales as well as listening (in the case of Searls). But even in Clancy’s novel cetacean sounds are judged to be



more than mere noise, and this shows that military listeners—and submarine stories—are not deaf to biological sounds and have indirectly participated in turning them into the cultural phenomenon that is whale song. Yet these works also suggest that we can only listen to this expansive aquatic soundscape if we are willing to board a submarine and to adopt a military mindset that instrumentalizes the ocean and its inhabitants in ways that are at least as reductive and anthropocentric as Southgate’s use of marine mammals in her story about human love. We now know that our military presence in the oceans has helped to drown out these nonhuman sounds, moreover, but neither Clancy’s nor Searls’s novel really acknowledges the environmental impact of sound pollution, as they prefer to consider sound and sonar as privileged means for human-whale interaction, yielding an overly optimistic, idealized representation of the multispecies soundscape below the waves. In this final section I scrutinize two more recent examples, which originated in a very different context. Obviously, the geopolitical situation has changed drastically in the years after the Berlin Wall came down. Submarine novels have therefore had to reinvent themselves, as Hamish Mathison has explained, seeing that the clear coordinates of the Cold War have been replaced with new conflicts that do not always involve nation-states, most clearly in the so-called War on Terror. As a result, boomers and their secretive patrols have become less important and subs have turned into vehicles of littoral rather than deep-sea warfare if not into a prohibitively expensive ‘tactical bus’ for Special Forces battling terrorist adversaries without similar high-tech tools (Mathison  390). This does not mean that subs have disappeared from the military arsenal or that the bottom of the sea has become less central in the cultural imagination, far from it; in line with new technologies and commercial prospects as well as environmental fears, twenty-first-century humans have become more rather than less invested in the deep ocean and its sounds (as is shown by new SOSUS-style listening networks deployed by the Russian and Chinese militaries, incidentally). Responding to these developments, my two final case studies illustrate how more contemporary texts have brought the submarine world into audibility and have contemplated the overlap between human and nonhuman acoustic territories. If the first case reveals an even more systematic militarization of the deep, the second appears to leave the military mindset behind to reflect critically on whale strandings and the traumatic intersubjectivity of our humanized oceans, creating new possibilities for prose fiction as a verbal vehicle, so to speak, for deep-sea exploration.



The first example is Joe Buff’s Deep Sound Channel (2000), a genre thriller that recycles many of Clancy’s tropes—technical descriptions, distributed agency, SOSUS-style monitoring networks, tense scenes involving sonar operators—while updating them in several respects: the story uses its principal submarine as a glorified delivery vehicle for SEAL operators, shifts the attention to South Africa and the Indian Ocean, and invents a wildly implausible geopolitical scenario to justify its continued investment in expensive undersea warfare and the horrors of nuclear war. Indeed, US characters are admonished in the novel for cutting back on their excessive ‘defense spending’ by critics who blame a new global war and the subsequent loss of lives on the apparently irrational desire ‘to save some dollars’ (32). Environmental issues figure more prominently in Buff’s novel as well, though that does not mean its underlying message is progressive. Even enemy characters occasionally recognize the ecological impact of destructive tactics (78), and a female oceanographer with a PhD from Scripps who joins the crew—as if to compensate for the story’s aggressive masculinity—is aware of the fact, unlike Clancy’s Jones or Searls’s Rostov, that ‘[r]eal whales don’t like being pinged so hard’ (188). Yet Deep Sound Channel also imagines a shockingly systematic use of deafening nuclear weapons both above and below the water, and the environmental knowhow of human characters is instrumentalized even more thoroughly than in the previous novels. Having detailed knowledge about cetacean sound enables you to ‘disguise [y]our ping as biologic’, for instance—a real-life tactic—even though that has its drawbacks, as ‘[w]hale songs go on for minutes, even hours, so they can stay in touch moving in and out of each other’s convergence zones’ and ‘enemy boats would track the source’ (50). In two remarkable scenes, furthermore, the characters travel in vessels that are designed to mimic the appearance of marine mammals for stealth purposes. The SEAL team utilizes dolphin-shaped swimmer delivery vehicles, so that characters look at the enemy through dolphin ‘eyehole[s]’ (201)—literalizing the fantasy of seeing through nonhuman eyes, as in Searls’s evocation of the whale mind—and feel tickling on their bodies from the ultrasonic emissions of the ‘active sonar in the SDV’s head’, which ‘gave off whistles and clicks, mapping the sea and its floor’ ‘just like a real dolphin’s melon’ (195). Another extended scene narrates how a small sub is being tracked by enemy sonar, forcing the crew to do ‘something whalelike that no sub would do’ in terms of movement (184) and to play back a recording of ‘a female calling to others, asking them where is



the food’ (185). If these scenes of military mimicry evince a greater understanding of animal behavior, the characters continue to leverage this knowledge for strictly strategic purposes. While exploring the deepest parts of the ocean with their advanced technology, both sides in the novel’s fictional war also discover creative new ways of exploiting the environment; the strange primordial organisms living in hydrothermal vents on the seafloor are engineered into lethal biological weapons by the enemy (111), and the US crew exploits the turbulence produced by these vents to obtain the crucial sonic advantage in the climactic showdown: ‘[s]onar superiority’ (341, 345). Even though writers like Buff have tried to reinvent the genre of submarine thrillers and are more aware of sound pollution, a novel like Deep Sound Channel accordingly fails to explore environmental issues in a more critical, sustained manner and intensifies, if anything, the militarization of the ocean and its inhabitants. Even the year 2000 is now a long time ago if we bear in mind two epoch-defining developments from the intervening period: 9/11 and its aftershocks, and the growing anxiety surrounding climate change and species extinction. Southgate’s The Taste of Salt already proved that recent writers have addressed the latter theme—‘Just another way that humans are making it rough, rough, rough for every other life form on this planet’ (127)—in ways that are relevant to my analysis of whale song and militarized noise. Yet if that novel failed to fathom the submarine deep in detail, the opposite is true of J.M. Ledgard’s Submergence (2011), a final novel dealing with marine mammals and sonar culture. Based on visits to research centers like Woods Hole and on Ledgard’s work as an investigative journalist (192), the novel is composed of three storylines: a female scientist is investigating hydrothermal vents in the deepest layers of the ocean, an English spy is captured by jihadist fighters on the East coast of Africa, and both characters are thinking of their encounter in a luxurious hotel near a French beach and its enduring romantic impact. As it mentions climate change, the book can be categorized as a ‘novel of the Anthropocene’, to use Kate Marshall’s phrase. In Pieter Vermeulen’s reading, Ledgard’s narrative contemplates ‘the limits of … cosmopolitan conviviality’ (188) but also transcends discussions of intercultural encounters by ‘introduc[ing] a lexical distinction between two dimensions of [maritime] life: there is the sea, which is shaped by human concerns, and there is the ocean, which is not, and which rather persists as an uncolonizable reality that resists human designs’ (183–4). Via this distinction, Vermeulen contends, Submergence contributes to the modern novel’s ‘effort to trace the ongoing



reorganization of human life, and to bring nonhuman life into the purview of the form’ (187), and this is a salutary move, as this defamiliarizing view of life ‘can more forcefully confront us with the disjunctions that mark life in the Anthropocene’ (190)—even if the novel remains indebted to ‘humanism’ and does not really ‘abandon the sea for the ocean’ (197). This analysis illuminates various aspects of the novel, like the scene which imagines our death and reanimation as micro-organisms in the deepest ocean, and adopts what you might call a microbial point of view: You will take your place in the boiling-hot fissures, among the teeming hordes of nameless micro-organisms that … are the foundation of all forms. In your reanimation you will be aware only that you are a fragment of what once was … Sometimes this will be an electric feeling, sometimes a sensation of the acid you eat, or the furnace under you. You will burgle and rape other cells in the dark for a seeming eternity, but nothing will come of it. Hades is evolved to the highest state of simplicity. It is stable. Whereas you are a tottering tower, so young in evolutionary terms, and addicted to consciousness. (180)

While revealing that such fantasies remain indebted to human consciousness, this remarkable passage takes us even deeper than Clancy’s SOSUS description and Buff’s climactic battle, to the deepest reaches of the ocean and beyond, temporarily reducing the interlocutor, directly addressed here, to a micro-organism that barely registers sensations, a dazzling move that revises our understanding of life along the lines identified by Vermeulen. Yet even though Ledgard’s novel raises questions about human extinction and the primordial deep, we should not limit ourselves to these points, as they do not do justice either to current environmental challenges or to the narrative’s full complexity. A description of nonhuman life from the bottom of the sea may help to diminish a sense of human exceptionalism, but it may also lead us to ignore the fact that the oceans have now been thoroughly humanized. If we still desire contact with something that remains untouched by humans, we will not find it here. As Stacy Alaimo has observed, ‘[t]he pervasive trope of the oceans as alien may alienate humans from the seas’, blinding us to our inextricable historical and material ties (2012, 477). She also asks us to reject reductive responses to the Anthropocene, in which complex issues are construed in terms of geology alone, of panoramic, omniscient visuals, and of an undifferentiated,



seemingly disembodied humanity. Rather than privilege ‘man’ and ‘rock’, Alaimo claims, we should attend to immersive subject positions, multispecies assemblages, and the permeable and vulnerable nature of all bodies (which we already explored in Chap. 5). She takes issue with visuals that represent the Anthropocene in terms of human travel and communication networks, moreover, and asks a question that is pertinent here: ‘Where is the map showing the overlapping patterns of whale migrations with shipping and military routes? Or the sonic patterns of military and industrial noise as it reverberates through areas populated by cetaceans?’ (2016, 145–6). Indeed, the oceans are a privileged site for this critical interrogation of Anthropocene discourse, she asserts, in line with DeLoughrey’s work on sea ontologies, seeing that these environments resist flat overviews and visual control, and invite us to contemplate vulnerable creatures in acidifying oceans and to embrace an alternative, ‘materially immersed subjectivity’ (166). In a similar vein, Alaimo criticizes photographs that disconnect exotic deep-sea creatures from their environments by placing bright, aestheticized specimens against a black background from which life-sustaining particles and minute creatures have been digitally erased, and points us instead to images that feature ‘lively interminglings of creatures’ (2013, 242). Bearing these comments in mind, I will now return to Submergence and see if it offers any insights on what Alaimo calls ‘anthropocene seas and their scenes of extinction’—extinction understood in the plural, as it applies to many species, including but not limited to the human (2016, 13). If we read Submergence with this focus in mind, we can delineate another dimension of Ledgard’s novel, which is less concerned with primordial ooze and the potential future extinction of human beings, and more with sonar technology and actual ongoing extinctions involving marine mammals, including the whale species at the heart of Horwitz’s nonfiction account of submarine acoustics. This alternative reading of Submergence may appear counterintuitive, seeing that Danny, one of the novel’s two protagonists, explicitly presents her earlier research on cetaceans as a mere stepping stone, finally ‘abandon[ing] the beaked whales’ for the supposedly more fundamental topic of microbial life (81). But if we were to conclude that the novel as a whole accepts this move, we will find it hard to explain why it keeps revisiting the topic of whales. The shift in research interests is mentioned at the start: ‘Her earliest work … had been on a project to track the diving patterns of Cuvier’s beaked whales in the Ligurian Sea. That had been too zoological, too macroscopic. It was the deep itself which interested her



[especially the] microbial life in the deepest layer, the Hadal deep’ (21). As she confides later, the work for this project ‘wasn’t challenging, I grew tired of it, by the end the whales did not interest me any more than a partridge’ (53). These remarks imply that Danny has left the topic behind, but whales nonetheless keep resurfacing throughout the story. She continues to associate these creatures with the deep and the ocean’s multiple layers, for instance, and suggests that whales and micro-organisms, despite being distinct research topics, still inhabit the same environment, an environment characterized, precisely, by a ‘lively intermingling of creatures’: ‘What is really interesting about [the beaked whales] is how deep they go. They are the deepest diving creatures in the world. They stay underwater for an hour, to a depth of 2000 metres, using sonar to hunt for squid there.’ … ‘The Cuvier’s … have learned to dive deeper over a million-year evolution. They edged further in from one mutation to the next. Thinking about the way a beaked whale dives is a good way to think about the dimensionality of the ocean. … It has five layers.’ … [Imagine that a] beaked whale has a heart attack in the Ligurian sea and dies. It sinks and its head is mashed on the sides of an underground canyon. Immediately its cheeks are flushed with bacteria. There are worms, spider crabs and all manner of creatures feeding on a single vertebra. (53, 58, 178)

Here, the beaked whale functions as a synecdoche or stand-in for the ocean along the lines identified by Lawrence Buell, and even mutates into a miniature ecosystem when it dies, with a vibrant rather than a sanitized background. Using stronger terminology, which underscores the symbolic function of the whale in Ledgard’s narrative, this icon of the deep appears as a reverse, submerged, animal Christ: ‘The Cuvier’s beaked whale dives, touches the ligament of the sea’s throat, and rises again. It breaks for breath in the light, then returns to the deep. Whereas Christ, after his Crucifixion [rose] from hell … to the highest dwelling place of God’ (174). This religious imagery implies that beaked whales are connected with suffering too, and with a creaturely view of embodied life—a point that is central to Danny’s early research, which again resonates with Horwitz’s account in War of the Whales: They needed a mathematician to understand how noise reverberated in the undersea canyons. The hope was to track the diving range of the Cuvier’s and see if the navy sonar was damaging them…. At first I felt they hadn’t



grown up, that they were childlike, but the more we studied them, the graver their lives seemed to be…. [T]here I was on the boat … listening for them, first at this many fathoms, then deeper … [D]o you know what a whale sounds like underwater? … Like a piece of plastic bending and snapping. Or sometimes telephonic clicking. Finally I got the message. The Cuvier’s were showing me the way, that was all. … Instead of looking at creatures, I started looking at the sea itself [and] the bottom … I first started to think of this when my colleagues began to study the decompression the Cuvier’s suffered when they came up for air. (52–4)

This excerpt establishes that Danny’s attitude toward whales is more complex than her initial dismissal of the project may lead us to believe (and it reimagines cetacean communication in terms of telephonic clicking rather than TV-like sound-pictures, as in Sounding). Indeed, her turn to the Hadal deep is here described as though it were triggered by beaked whales, their quasi-human sounds, and their remarkable mobility and vulnerability. Or, to put a finer point on it, this turn is triggered by beaked whales injured by military sonar, forced out of the water by human sound and its omnidirectional leakage. Further emphasizing the ties between species, or at least certain species, in this aquatic contact zone, Danny imagines that, if she would find herself adrift in the deep, ‘[t]he cold would trigger in her the same mammalian diving reflex found in seals’ (166). In light of the above, it appears that the novel’s reflection on human extinction fits into a more immersive and multispecies picture of the ocean and its ecological troubles than Danny’s opening remarks implied, and that the story actually points toward the traumatic intersubjectivity experienced by creatures exposed to underwater war and its military sounds. Nor are these the only sections where Ledgard’s novel alludes to whales, sound, and sonar. When Danny travels to the Arctic for a research trip to the hydrothermal vents she has discovered, we again encounter the topos of whale music, not to mention headphones, classical music, and the peculiar acoustic properties of water: ‘Danny lay in her bunk listening to Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony on high-fidelity headphones. … She … contemplated the Greenland Sea as an orchestra pit and the entire Los Angeles Philharmonic dropping into it. The sound changed and carried underwater like whale song’ (143). This fantasy of oceanic whale/music—familiar by now—culminates in a scene that takes the long view and condemns less benign forms of sonic colonialism, using whale strandings as a springboard



to ponder the possibility of human extinction in what the narrator explicitly labels the ‘anthropocene’ (150): A killer whale … went in and out of the water [Danny saw]. It appeared troubled by the thrumming of the ship. … When [the orca] was birthed there were hardly any ships. There were no submarines. There were … no man-made noises …. The ocean was being fished out, poisoned and suffering acidification. Quite apart from the vessels there were sonar arrays and other electronics that ruptured the orientation of sea mammals. And if sea mammals could become so disorientated as to beach themselves, so could man exterminate himself. (149–50)

This passage confirms that Ledgard’s novel deals with contemporary fears of human extinction, but also that it does so in a way that aligns the future fate of humans with the present predicament of other species, their fragile bodies, and their unbearably loud environments. In thinking about the novel’s use of sound, it is also worth noticing that Danny occasionally adopts something like a sonar point of view, yet another example of how contemporary literature interacts with other media and tries to absorb their particular affordances: [In the Alps] [s]he biked along the valley floors and visualised the day they would be at the bottom of a new sea. The steepness of the slopes matched those of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. … She pictured the ski pistes on a sonar display, the chalets lit up by pinpricks of light, the heated municipal swimming pools as hydrothermal vents thick with … microbial life and not day-­ trippers from St Gallen. … The waves [along the French coast] were messy, porridgy, falling off before the lighthouse. There were no surfers. She knew how deep it was out there at the horizon. She had these other languages of numbers and sonar. She saw the deepness that was at the edge of France and it made the beach under her feel like a ledge on a cliff. (82, 94)

In these sentences, Danny registers the everyday character of familiar landscapes (slopes, lighthouse, beach) and singles out mundane water-related features (municipal pools, porridgy waves, absent surfers) before defamiliarizing them with the aid of her specialized knowledge, transforming day-­ trippers into microbes, the Alps into underwater ridges, and the French coast into dizzying cliffs. These observations are made possible by the sonic technology of sonar, but they do not foreground acoustic data, interestingly, but their visual



translation, by referring to ‘a sonar display’ and ‘pinpricks of light’ as well as to Danny’s acts of ‘visualization’, ‘picturing’, and ‘seeing’. This visual reading of sonar can be interpreted in posthumanist terms, as a perspective in tune with the fact that, as Alaimo notes, ‘80 to 90 percent of deep-sea life forms use some type of bioluminescence’, displaying a complex ‘language of light’ in what is assumed to be a pitch-black nothingness (2013, 246). In this reading, the scene acknowledges that the ‘voices of [deep] sea creatures … tend to “speak” in visual modes’ (244)—in line with my discussion of animal multilingualism in Chap. 4. Indeed, when Danny visits the underwater vents, the reader of Submergence learns that ‘[d]own there everything spoke in light: it was the most common form of communication on the planet’ (176). Yet it could also be argued, bearing in mind my earlier argument, that this visual emphasis is less a posthumanist move than a humanist one; perhaps it does not relinquish the all-too-­ human interest in meaningful sound for a truly alternative semiotics but rather translates the ocean’s violet-black world and complex soundscape into visual and numerical data that are more easily processed by insufficiently sensitive human ears—recalling Shiga’s remarks on the increasingly visual character of sonar technology, and the passages in Clancy, Searls, and Buff that mention displays, sonograms, and other visualizations of sonic information. We can ask ourselves, in other words, if the mental images overlaid on these terrestrial landscapes are destabilizing scenes of a nonhuman deep in tune with a microbial point of view or reassuring panoramas of a technologically mediated and managed ocean voided of those sounds that are crucial to less exotic forms of submarine life. Even more importantly, Ledgard’s novel again imagines sonar to be a benign technology, which discloses rather than damages the nonhuman realm, not unlike the representation of sonar in Searls or of GPS in Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide, as I explained in the introduction—despite Danny’s earlier research on the violent impact of military sonar. Once more, then, this novel imagines the nonhuman deep in a way that exhibits both anthropocentric limitations and posthumanist insights. I have been arguing that Submergence critically reflects on human extinction and microbial life but also on whale strandings and sonar technology, producing a multispecies as well as intermedial account of submarine life in the early twenty-first century. Yet even this rich summary limits itself to Danny’s story and does not address the novel’s other half: the thriller plot involving James, the captured spy. As we have seen, the Hadal deep is associated with a stability that is diametrically opposed to human



turbulence and the absence of political debate among Danny and her fellow crew members apparently proves that ‘scientists seem to exist slightly out of time in that way’ (160). The narrator also notes (and repeats) that submersibles used for research purposes are the ‘opposite’ of military submarines (175), which ‘keep to the shallows’ (44): ‘[t]here is no comparison between the technology of a submarine going across and the unadorned submersible diving deep’ and that is because ‘our world is firstly about power and only secondly about knowledge’ (96). Such claims disconnect oceanography and the navy rather easily and unconvincingly, however, if we take into account the arguments of Jacob Hamblin and others. And if these remarks capture the novel’s overall position, why does it juxtapose the narrative of a scientist visiting underwater vents with a story about a captured spy—a spy who might be rescued from his captors by a cruise missile fired ‘from a submarine off the coast of Somalia’ (184)? Do the proliferating gaps between these two strands of the story not invite us to speculate on the intimate ties between Danny’s scientific project and James’s military activities, both of which involve submarine travel? Upon closer inspection, these two storylines are related in at least three ways. As the microbial perspective passage in the first excerpt indicated, violence crops up in the world below as well as above the waves, and the family histories of Danny and James (which involve whaling and slavery) reveal that violence among humans and between humans and nonhumans have long prehistories—hinting at an almost metaphysical, quasi-­ Heraclitean view of cosmic strife across scales and life forms. Second, both plots and their settings attest that life clings on tenaciously, equally undeterred by the inhospitable conditions of hydrothermal vents and by the harsh environment of the desert. For James, the parts of a wadi where hard sunlight never reaches are ‘a reminder of what Danny had said, that the strangest life exists in the cracks’ (120), and the narrator remarks that ‘films of the microbial life we shall arrive at’ can even be found on the walls of underground caves in Mecca (4). Apart from violence and life, the novel joins both halves of its narrative through water, as the spy pretends to be a water engineer in a country devoid of potable water and reliable infrastructure. This geopolitical plotline alerts us to the fact that human survival is not just a problem for the future, but for the present too, especially for poor communities, and that current injustices and conflicts are rooted in the West’s aggressive exploitation of natural resources (see 65). ‘If he had been more gentle’, James reflects at one point, ‘he really could have been Mr Water’ (122)—and it is hard not to interpret this statement



as a larger claim about the role of affluent societies in the ‘Tropic of Chaos’ (see De Bruyn 2018). Indeed, it could be argued that Ledgard’s novel is not just an example of submarine fiction or what you might call ‘Woods Hole literature’ but of ‘NATO fiction’ too, seeing that Danny’s whale research was actually ‘a NATO project’ (52), that these impromptu lovers meet in a hotel named after the Atlantic, with rooms featuring a ‘series of engravings of the regiment of Aquitaine’ (18), in yet another reference to the military, and that they discuss their love for this particular ocean, which ‘links the halves of the Western world’ (36)—not to mention that the book summarizes various facts about ‘the ocean most crossed and considered by man’ (15). In short, we should take into account that the narrative discusses beaked whales alongside microbial life and hooks up geopolitics to biology, referring to the ‘submergence’ of Osama bin Laden as well as that of humanity (50, 180). It deals, in other words, with a crucial dimension of life in the twenty-first century, in which aggressive geopolitics are interwoven with environments grown inhospitable for humans and nonhumans alike—the fact that we live in what Bonneuil and Fressoz have named the Thanatocene. In the process, as we have seen, Submergence refers to the nonhuman ‘language of light’ below the ocean’s surface while evoking a demilitarized conception of human sonar that is hard to square with its adverse effects on fragile sea ontologies. The five novels I have analyzed illustrate that literary fiction has helped to make the submarine soundscape audible and has participated in the (re) construction of ‘whale song’. In various ways, these stories show that militarized listening has helped to discover these nonhuman voices as well as to silence their alternative acoustic territory if not to threaten the lives of mammals on land and in the ocean. To some extent at least, the reader of these novels is urged to adopt the perspective of the submarine, its sonar technology, and the underlying communication networks. If we compare these five works, literary novels like The Taste of Salt and Submergence are much more explicit about questions of identity, race and gender especially, and about the environmental impact of sound pollution, even compared to a recent genre novel like Deep Sound Channel. Having said that, even the novels by Southgate and Ledgard, which seem to be disconnected from the military, reveal the continued impact of Cold War technologies and the enduring ties they established between marine science and the US Navy. Turning to genre novels like The Hunt for Red October and Deep Sound Channel, these texts celebrate high-tech communication networks, tactical listening, and aggressive masculinity, largely disregarding the



traumatic intersubjectivity created by war—a gap that Sounding tries to fill in ways that move, in inevitably flawed ways, beyond the human. Although we should be critical of these military thrillers, and their questionable ideological agendas, these works represent the soundscape beneath the waves in greater detail than either The Taste of Salt or Submergence. Ledgard’s novel improves on Southgate’s narrative, arguably, by taking its oceanic setting more seriously and attending closely to the threat of military sonar and the plight of marine mammals. Yet it too provides few descriptions of the sounds that may be lost, in line with its ultimately limited interest in the cetacean perspective and in sound-as-narrative. A rare exception is the scene where Danny visits the vents in a research submersible and hears sounds that appear, to her human ears, both diverse and plaintive: ‘[t]he microphones picked up ghostly whining, knocks, moaning, shrieks, wailing, and firing’ (177). Beyond beautiful whale song and cetacean telepathy, our oceans and maritime literature now host acoustic contact zones involving loud sonar lashes, military mimicry, and ghostly shrieks. When the latter sounds are amplified in literary fiction, they seem designed to cancel the ethical deafness generated by war and to call for human sympathy with the deafened animals washing up on our eroding shores.

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Conclusion: Sonic Curiosity at the End of the World

To wrap up my account of the novel and the multispecies soundscape, I will recapitulate its main observations and identify some of their broader implications as well as remaining limitations. Looking back at the previous chapters, this conclusion explains how my argument supports recent calls to reconsider the notions of character and setting, to revalue the practice of description, and to promote hope rather than environmental despair. It also flags certain shortcomings, singling out two topics in particular that have not received the attention they deserve, namely the fact that a multispecies perspective should look and listen beyond the animal ‘kingdom’ and consider the cultural meanings of plants and ‘speaking’ flora too, and that nonhuman sounds are experienced not just as intriguing vibrations— which inspire curiosity, anxiety, and sympathy as well as analogies in terms of human music and language—but also and simultaneously as monotonous, mechanical repetitions. Even though a full treatment of the first point especially falls outside the scope of this book, the following paragraphs attempt to redress these oversights by reflecting briefly on the porous borders between animals, plants, and machines while reviewing my previous claims. This reflection is interspersed with short notes on three relevant literary works, namely Charlie Jane Anders’s hybrid fantasy/sci-fi narrative All the Birds in the Sky (2016), Han Kang’s psychological novel The Vegetarian (2007), which was translated into English in 2015, and Amanda Ackerman’s more-than-human poetry from The Book of Feral Flora (2015). As the following paragraphs will stress one last time, my © The Author(s) 2020 B. De Bruyn, The Novel and the Multispecies Soundscape, Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature,




book contributes to a much larger puzzle that should be investigated further by scholars from several disciplines if we want to comprehend twenty-­ first-­century contact zones and multispecies narratives, their multisensory and multimedial features, and their rich cultural prehistories. The five preceding chapters have articulated how acoustics mediates human-animal relations and how the resulting more-than-human sound worlds become invested with cultural meanings, as is demonstrated by a series of novels that engage these topics in an unusually detailed and self-conscious fashion. To be more precise, these chapters have explored a series of ecohistorical contact zones related to our experience of wild acoustics in an age of extinction, of emotional cries that struggle to be heard as music, of quasi-linguistic forms of communication used by captive animals, of the bodily sounds of domesticated animals amplified by the veterinary ear, and of marine mammals deafened by the very military technologies that originally revealed their acoustic capabilities. They have introduced us to a cast of characters that includes more and less charismatic animals as well as specialized human listeners like scientists, composers, ethologists, vets, and sonar technicians. While the novels I analyzed and compared often allude to the particular hearing capacities of animals and the biological meanings of their vocalizations, moreover, they also point toward the cultural meanings that have accrued to these sounds, which comprise connotations of anxiety and serenity, musicality and democracy, linguistic complexity and diversity, vulnerability and mortality, violence and hearing loss. In mapping the contact zones and meaningful acoustics that emerge out of these interspecies entanglements, the book also traces the outlines of a larger cultural history of multispecies sound and listening, seeing that it delves into historical debates related to the eighteenth-century discourse of sensibility, the nineteenth-century emergence of evolutionary theory and bodily listening via the stethoscope, and the twentieth-century rise of Cold War discourse and subaquatic hearing via sonar technology. Furthermore, the narratives I discussed respond to a range of twenty-first-century debates concerning biodiversity, mobile listening, ivory poaching, wildlife sanctuaries, changing practices of veterinary care, and sound pollution on land and in the sea. My analysis of these debates builds on existing research about the ‘animal cry’ (Menely), the ‘vox mundi’ (Pettman), the ‘simian tongue’ (Radick), and distinct ‘eco-­ sonic media’ (Smith), and it enriches the emerging interdisciplinary debate about nonhuman sounds and their human meanings by laying bare the importance of the ‘multispecies soundscape’ in a series of mostly Anglophone novels from a broad range of genres.



As I have shown, nonhuman voices travel widely in literature, making an appearance in works ranging from a canonical horror story like Dracula over a historical novel like The Dictionary of Animal Languages and a submarine thriller like Deep Sound Channel to nonfiction books by Bernie Krause, Katy Payne, and Joshua Horwitz, not to mention acclaimed literary fiction from writers as diverse as Amitav Ghosh, Julia Leigh, Marie Kessels, J.M. Coetzee, Richard Powers, Tania James, Karen Joy Fowler, Cormac McCarthy, and J.M. Ledgard. As this multifaceted analysis proves, the novel as a cultural form offers valuable insights about our changing sonic relations with nonhuman creatures via its extended reflections on the social ecologies inhabited by humans and other life forms. In broadening the scope of traditional ecocriticism to match the ambitions of the environmental humanities, we should accordingly remember that some of our most creative data and fieldwork, even for a topic that might seem like a bad fit, can be found in literature and its particular, fictional brand of multispecies ethnography. Underlining the role of the novel as a cultural prism, I have tried to show that the ‘question of the animal’ is also the question of voice, sound, and listening, and that, conversely, ‘auditory culture’ is shaped and populated by a heterogeneous set of animal participants. My account of these topics has produced a number of general insights. Literature is much louder and both more and less anthropocentric than we conventionally imagine. Animal calls have biological functions, obviously,  but they play a role in human culture too, and their cultural meanings cannot be reduced to human-oriented symbols and clear pedagogical lessons. Nonhuman sound involves voices but soundscapes too, and these sounds never constitute an immediate portal to dehistoricized pastoral landscapes but always figure in asymmetrical contact zones involving people, animals, and machines. These contact zones are related to philosophical questions about anthropomorphism and posthumanism, but they also entangle specific creatures in contexts that require ecohistorical analysis. The confrontation with these sounds and questions humanizes us as listeners, but it also destabilizes that humanity in a more-­ than-­human direction. Our response to this audio involves sympathy and awe on occasion, but also anxiety and curiosity. In general terms, then, this book calls for a particular mode of environmental attention, which is prefigured in contemporary multispecies narratives. As Anna Tsing has argued in a related context, ecological issues compel us to appreciate human as well as nonhuman rhythms, and require a response akin to polyphonic listening: ‘When I first learned polyphony, it was a revelation in listening;



I was forced to pick out separate, simultaneous melodies and to listen for the moments of harmony and dissonance they created together. This kind of noticing is just what is needed to appreciate the multiple temporal rhythms and trajectories of [a multispecies] assemblage’ (2017, 24, emphasis in original). The previous chapters have mapped a similar form of polyphonic attention. My analysis has significant implications for literary studies in particular, including for our understanding of fictional characters and settings. While nonhuman creatures occasionally play pivotal roles in the stories recounted by my case studies, making them hard to overlook, a detailed description of the novel’s nonhuman soundscape typically requires close attention to features and presences that seem background details, and flicker in and out of the reader’s perception as the narrative unfolds. This raises a series of questions similar to those explored by David Alworth, Emily Steinlight, and Branka Arsić. Building on Woloch’s observations about minor characters (which I sketched in Chap. 3), Alworth has outlined a method he calls ‘site reading’: So how do we distinguish character from setting? [In contrast to more human-oriented forces] there is also a counterforce at work in narrative … that blurs the line between character and setting to disclose … an assemblage of humans and nonhumans. … [T]o perform a site reading … is to scrutinize [this] assemblage of humans and nonhumans in the story world with an eye on how the interaction of such figures simultaneously models and theorizes social experience. (17–19)

By the same token, my argument implies that we should rethink the categorical distinction between characters, which are usually assumed to be human, and settings, which are seen as nonhuman and felt to be resistant to narrative. Truly including animal presences and more-than-human social networks into the novel’s cast of characters is more difficult than it appears, for the protocols of critical reading are such that even when our analyses try to incorporate nonhuman objects and creatures, we tend to privilege ‘actants’, to use the narratological term popularized by sociologist Bruno Latour, that remain present for longer stretches of text. Our conception of literary characters does not just presuppose agency, subjectivity, and individuality, in other words, but also strictly formal properties like a certain duration and extension in the fictional world. The upshot of these observations is that a survey of the novel’s nonhuman creatures and sounds inevitably raises intractable questions about the



limits of characterhood; is the mere mention of ‘a bird’ or ‘chirping’ a sufficient reason to speak of a character or set of characters? Grouping such intermittent references to animal lives, we might follow scholars like Emily Steinlight and proceed on the assumption that modern novels do not exclusively deal with the ‘micropolitics of the individual subject’ but also with ‘a macropolitics of population’ (15). Indeed, my second chapter offers a version of this argument, you might say, when it redirects the reader’s attention from the last thylacine at the heart of Julia Leigh’s The Hunter to a dispersed population of apparently less charismatic wallabies and Tasmanian devils. When does the activity of such backgrounded animal lives puncture the boundary of setting and turn anonymous, undifferentiated agents into characters proper? Confronted with such questions, we can adopt one of two strategies, I believe. The first is to upgrade every component of the storyworld to a character of sorts. Indeed, if we are mindful of the flourishing interest in nonhuman actants, we can ask ourselves whether we should not dispense with the category of setting altogether. When we adopt a properly environmental perspective, is there any background left? The second response takes the opposite stance and brackets the category of character, choosing to re-describe everything in the storyworld as part of the setting, understood not as a passive stage for more significant characters but as a horizontal yet vibrant set of entangled relations between life forms that never truly manage to differentiate themselves sufficiently from the rest of the world. Such a picture emerges from Branka Arsić’s reading of Poe’s “The House of Usher” (1839), for instance, which revises the orthodox interpretation of Ruskin’s famous theory of the ‘pathetic fallacy’ while drawing attention to ‘the vitality of Usher’s eco-estate’, as Arsić puts it, which behaves as an ‘entangled and living ecosystem, in which various beings and phenomena form continuous, affective, vital fields of matter’ (129). Reformulated in terms of sound, the first strategy entails that we extend a voice to everything, and learn to see every part of the world as capable of expression. The second approach is less preoccupied with this extension of the voice, which upgrades everything to the status of an individual or character, and more with the leveling of all sounds to an ambient soundscape, which downgrades every voice to the status of one more sound source among others. Both of these strategies are valid, and they are not incompatible. But seeing that the first has received more attention, I think it is worth reminding ourselves that the second can be productive too. When thinking this issue through, moreover, should we not pay equal



attention to plants, forms of life that are still more easily relegated to the sidelines as a backdrop for the supposedly more dynamic stories of animal life? Are these too not part of the novel’s vibrant setting, its creature-system? * * *

Listening to Plants #1 This broader question about characters and settings recurs in most of my examples, which regularly feature scenes in which human listeners become newly aware of background audio and struggle to make sense of animal voices they desire to include into social communities that thereby become newly inclusive if no less violent and asymmetrical. A good additional example of that background-becoming-foreground motif can be found in All the Birds in the Sky, a novel by transgender author and popular culture specialist Charlie Jane Anders that blends elements from fantasy and science fiction by interweaving the stories of Patricia and Laurence, a gifted young witch and a talented young engineer, both of whom struggle with their identities and ubiquitous media devices, and attempt to address the catastrophic effects of manmade climate change through their unique talents. As the reader learns at the start of the novel, Patricia is able to understand nonhuman animals, a skill that is frustratingly undeveloped at first. Interestingly, the first animal sound she is able to grasp is an example of the sentimental appeal I discussed in Chap. 3: ‘“No,” the bird said. “Please! Don’t lock me up”’ (13). When Patricia masters this skill, her perception of the world changes accordingly, she explains to Laurence, in a scene where a noisy set of birds, which initially seemed to function as mere background to a dialogue between and about humans, is gradually pushed to the narrative foreground—meaning that this part of the setting suddenly becomes character-like: Petals scattered across the sidewalk … as the [parrots] squawked …, while Laurence and Patricia watched from the steep bank of the parklet across the street. … Truth was, Laurence only half paid attention to the amazing sight of these … birds … because he kept trying to wrap his mind around the fact that he had nearly erased a human being from existence. … The parrots had



stopped munching and were just flying back and forth … screaming in midair. … ‘I can understand what [the birds are] saying [Patricia remarks]. Mostly, they’re pissed at their friend in the middle, who keeps almost getting eaten by hawks because he’s too dumb to stay high up. And those crows over there, too. I can understand what they’re all saying, right now. … Most of the time, I tune it out [but] I always have in the back of my mind the idea of, what would the crows think? … I’m not saying that I ask the crows for scientific advice. … I’m saying that there are a lot of different ways of looking at the world, and maybe I … do have a unique advantage, because I get to hear different voices’. … [Laurence] told her about how he imagined going to another planet and seeing firsthand that none of the things we took for granted on Earth were true here. … ‘And maybe that’s what you have, right here on Earth: a nonhuman perspective on reality …’. (279–80, 283–7, emphasis in original)

If the conversation between these two human characters initially deals with an experiment of Laurence that nearly killed a friend, the background audio of screaming parrots slowly becomes more prominent as Patricia explains how her perspective on ethical questions is inflected by her unique attunement to nonhuman creatures, which permits her to approach our environment as if it were deeply unfamiliar, another planet altogether. This scene turns out to be crucial to the narrative, for Patricia’s awareness of the fact that she does not fully grasp nonhuman perception prompts an unexpected answer to the strange question posed by the animals she meets at the start of the novel: ‘Is a tree red?’ (23). As there are so many divergent human and nonhuman ways of perceiving trees, she reflects, the only truthful answer to the riddle is that she does not know, a humble admission of ignorance that apparently satisfies the animals (422–3). What is more, Patricia’s successful answer—or, indeed, non-answer—enables her to converse with a powerful old tree who figures prominently in the story’s opening and conclusion, and whose slow enunciations sound ‘like the wind blowing through an old bellows, or the lowest note playing on a big wooden recorder’ (67). This strange conversation culminates in a scene where the story’s most powerful representatives of biology and technology—the majestic tree and an artificial intelligence inadvertently developed by Laurence—merge; even though they are often pitted against each other, these nonhuman actants state, they exhibit a similar ‘distributed consciousness’ (426) and even feel ‘love’ for each other (428). Offering a hopeful response to current predicaments, Anders’s novel blends genres in ways that enrich narrow conceptions of ‘cli-fi’ and orthodox oppositions



between technology and biology. And it once again shows how nonhuman settings, which include trees as well as animals, become more active and audible in contemporary fiction. * * * All of the case studies examined in this book offer their own version of the preceding scene, in which characters and narrators turn up the audio on habitually backgrounded voices, and allow them to join the more inclusive conversations and communities envisioned by these novels. In each of these stories, there is a desire for interspecies connection and even communication that ends up making characters out of nonhuman settings that are revealed to be more lively and noisy than conventional definitions imply. In short, these storyworlds are ‘vibrant’, to use a term from Jane Bennett that can easily be tweaked for explicitly acoustic purposes. The desire for contact often translates into the fantasy of cross-species telepathy, as in the close correspondence between hunter and tiger in Chap. 2; the direct emotional impact of the animal cry in Chap. 3; the intimate attunement between elephants, chimps, and their human caretakers in Chap. 4; the doctor’s intuitive grasp of the resonating, rickety bodies of people, wolves, and horses in Chap. 5; or the quasi-dialogue between sonar technicians and whales in Chap. 6. In all of these cases sonic contact between humans and animals is depicted as a direct, authentic, deeply felt form of interaction that provides a restorative contrast with the supposed indirection, ambiguity, and artificiality of human speech. While the narratives draw attention to the human devices and technologies that enable and occasionally distort these interspecies exchanges, several scenes from these novels also suggest that, after media assemblages have established cross-species contact, these instruments become invisible (and inaudible) again, facilitating fantasies of an immediate, frictionless transfer of emotion and meaning. When human auditors listen through earphones or stethoscopes, such devices occasionally appear to lose their weight and materiality and to position humans and other animals in an idealized one-­ on-­one dialogue. As such observations indicate, we should not just praise these narratives for alerting us to nonhuman voices and for scrambling the relation between characters and settings, but also interrogate their representation of sounds and animals—their illusion of transparency as well as their sonic stereotypes. Returning to All the Birds in the Sky, we should appreciate its capacious view of genre, character, and more-than-human



sound, but also critically probe the facts that Patricia’s interspecies communication skills only crop up on a handful of occasions, and that the sounds and languages of other creatures prove remarkably easy to understand, both for her and for the reader—in contrast to the more nuanced picture that emerged from the cases discussed in Chap. 4. Nothing much changes, it seems, whether we talk to a person, a bird, a cat, or even a tree. Anders’s novel may underscore the discrepancies between human and nonhuman modes of perception on the level of plot, but this has no fundamental impact on its formal treatment of animal and tree voices. As I have been at pains to emphasize throughout this book, we should appreciate that other creatures become audible in fiction, while remaining cognizant of the fact that representations of cross-species dialogue occasionally smooth over significant differences and hard questions, not to mention reiterate well-worn stereotypes about certain species as well as nonhuman animals in general. The argument of the preceding chapters has its own limitations, of course. Although there are probably more than the ones I am currently aware of, five problems are clear to me in writing this conclusion. The first and most obvious point is that my analysis of the multispecies soundscape in a limited number of novels should be extended and refined by considering examples from other genres, other periods, and other countries and cultures. While I have pointed toward earlier texts occasionally, even a cursory look at literary history will show that many more nonhuman voices resound in the literary archive—just think of Grendel’s scream in Beowulf; the speaking foxes, hawks, crows, and other creatures in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; or the meaningful cadences of Houyhnhnm language in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. As I have suggested on a number of occasions, furthermore, my account could be enriched by paying more systematic attention to postcolonial and decolonial contexts. An interesting starting point here is Mirja Lobnik’s synthesis of ‘sound studies, postcolonial ecocriticism, and new materialist perspectives’ (118) and its application to the ‘ecological sensibility’ at work in Arundhati Roy’s writing, which ‘present[s] material bodies as media through which submerged historical voices make themselves heard [and] reorients the self in relation to the material environment’ (131)—even if Lobnik seems more interested in the sounds of rain, violins, and human bodies than in the noises of other animals. Future research should also explore cases that do not fit the roughly realistic template of my main examples and it should also compare novels more closely with other eco-sonic media like film. While I am



convinced that this topic is particularly important to the contemporary novel, given the form’s traditional investment in the human voice, and actually becomes more audible in this medium than in cultural practices that might seem more obvious choices, it goes without saying that this book has only begun to map the novel’s multispecies soundscape, let alone the cultural meanings of nonhuman sound. Quite simply, we need additional examples and more detailed comparisons, especially those that extend my observations in historical and cross-cultural ways, given the devastating impact of extractive capitalism worldwide and the potential variety among the cultural meanings ascribed to animal sounds. Another significant limitation is that my account has paid special attention to sound and has therefore put aside interesting passages and questions related to the other senses. In charting the novel’s soundscape, I have failed to explore touch, taste, and smell in detail—to study the rich ‘smellscapes’ of the novel, for instance, as Hsuan L. Hsu puts it in his analysis of olfactory description, characterization, and injustice in naturalist fiction. Indeed, it is likely that smell especially is more vital to many of the creatures we encountered in the previous pages than hearing (and the same is true of plants, I imagine). More fundamentally, it could be objected that an exclusive analysis of either sounds or smells is problematic in principle, as it disentangles one form of sensory data from experiences and realities that are always already multisensory and multimodal in character, for humans and nonhumans alike. While individual senses can be distinguished in the abstract, they ordinarily interact in complex ways, and it stands to reason that this is the case in literary texts too. This second complication also merits attention in future research, even though, in my defense, I have tried to do justice to the complexity of sound and listening, and have alerted my readers to body language and humanly inaudible sounds in Chaps. 4 and 5. Furthermore, I believe that at least some novels foreground sound and listening in particular because literature and humans are so deeply invested in the human voice and its meaningful speech. This means that there is an implicit anthropocentric bias in their focus on sound, in line with my discussion of ecological charisma in Chap. 2. Yet in identifying that bias, we should bear in mind that the goal of this book has not been to map environmental realities directly but to explain their cultural meanings—with all of the restrictions, limitations, and mystifications that entails, as in this human privileging of sound, voice, and hearing.



Apart from its limited corpus and strong emphasis on sound, the present book is vulnerable to at least three charges. As I have expounded how twenty-first-century writing accentuates animal acoustics and human listening, one might object that my argument has an ableist dimension, in the sense that it might be taken to suggest, like much of popular and literary culture, that outdoor life and human-animal exchanges require a particular, non-disabled human body capable of listening closely to its surroundings. For what would the idea of an acoustic contact zone mean to humans—and nonhumans—whose hearing does not satisfy our orthodox parameters? We should not forget exclusions related to race, class, and gender either, but Sarah Jacquette Ray has underlined the lingering problem of environmental ableism especially, arguing that we should investigate what I call the ‘corporeal unconscious’ of environmental thought and its recreational expression, adventure culture, to broaden what counts as environmentally ‘good’ ways of being in the physical world. Even if the myth of an inaccessible wilderness underpins adventure culture, there is no reason that environmentalism, as an activist and theoretical set of ethical imperatives, must share this attachment to the wilderness myth. Not only does it behoove environmentalism to incorporate an array of corporeal interactions with the physical world, but also its failure to do so thus far points to its ‘hidden attachment’ to the abled body. (260)

That point has important repercussions for my account, though its analyses can be expanded in this direction, I believe, if we develop my discussion of earplugs, unbearable tinnitus, deafened whales, and the media devices that enable us to access animal sound worlds and experiences that transgress the boundaries, precisely, of what humans can usually  hear. According to Jonathan Sterne, early sonic media like phonographs and telephones functioned as ‘machines to hear for them’, meaning that ‘sound reproduction came to be represented as a solution, not only to the physical fact of deafness or hardness of hearing, but … to the social fact of unaided hearing’ (83). My book has taken that lesson to heart and has underlined time and again that our access to acoustic contact zones involving animals is always mediated by sonic devices. This implies that there has been terribly little unaided hearing and able-bodied listening in the previous pages, for anyone. A related objection is that my book might be seen to imply that the right way forward necessarily involves doing more listening, adding more sounds, and getting even closer to nonhuman animals. I have warned on a number of occasions that the project of more-than-human listening has



disquieting overtones, seeing that it risks instrumentalizing animal voices and confirming acute listeners in their humanity. Indeed, a detailed mapping of nonhuman sound worlds not only creates opportunities for cross-­ species sympathy but also enlarges the realm of human control and oversight, inflicting its own harm in over-exposing animals to eager auditors. As Anat Pick has proposed, ‘[i]n the context of advanced optical and tracking technologies that render animals permanently visible, the possibility of not-seeing emerges as a progressive modality of relation to animals that takes seriously the notion of animal privacy and the exposed animal’s resistance to the human gaze’ (107, emphasis in original), advocating ‘less acquisitive modalities of sight that forgo the automation and acceleration of the technologically-ratcheted human gaze, and, as it were, hesitate in the face of the animal’ (121, emphasis in original). A plea for more inclusive soundscapes, in writing and in reality, might seem to invite a similar form of overexposure on an auditory plane, and that is why we should foster more hesitant, partial modes of listening in particular, in which the aggressive capture of nonhuman sounds—as in the military audition of Chap. 6—is offset by a more discrete stance, an ‘acoustics of friendship’, to recycle a phrase from Chap. 3, which accepts and even welcomes not-hearing. As I noted earlier, a final limitation is that my interpretations concentrate almost exclusively on relations between humans and animals. I have mentioned different species and life forms, including viruses, and creatures who fulfill divergent social roles to boot, not to mention that my account has emphasized the fact that individual creatures and species are entangled and co-shape each other’s lives and subjectivities. But the fact remains that even this rich relational account has not said much about other taxa, most notably plants. This is a cause for concern, seeing that the inclusion of organisms who are not animals is a signature move of multispecies research, as is apparent from the publications of scholars like Anna Tsing and Julian Yates. Furthermore, it appears that the last decade or so has witnessed a related shift in posthumanist thought and literature. If the fiction of earlier decades bears witness to consecutive alien, cyborg, and animal ‘moments’, as Ursula Heise has argued in an overview article (2011), we now seem to be experiencing a ‘plant moment’, as is suggested by the academic publications of Michael Marder and Jeffrey Nealon, recent novels by Annie Proulx and Richard Powers, and general nonfiction books by Peter Wohlleben and David George Haskell, to give but a few examples. In inviting readers to attend to the expansive multispecies soundscape of twenty-first-century literature, should we not ask them to listen to plants as well as animals? How would that change my account of



more-than-human music and language, of medicalization and militarization, of biodiversity and sound pollution? To remain with this last point, I may have sidelined the vegetal turn in the preceding pages, but it is undeniably relevant to the novel’s multispecies soundscape. To drive home that lesson, let us take a brief look at The Language of Plants (2017). Collecting contributions by philosophers, literary scholars, and plant scientists, this interdisciplinary volume edited by Monica Gagliano, John C. Ryan, and Patrícia Vieira targets a persistent cultural cliché; in the pithy formulation of Erin James, ‘[p]lants endure a reputation for being unmoving, unfeeling, unthinking, unspeaking’ (254). This cliché clarifies, according to the introduction, why literary works ‘tend to represent plants as part of the landscape or as the backdrop for human and, on occasion, animal dramas [if not simply to consider them as] correlatives of human emotions’ (x). Yet shifting scientific insights and cultural sensibilities have renewed our awareness of the agency, mobility, and complexity of vegetal life. Cutting-edge research on plant communication and plant bioacoustics, the editors explain, has begun tracing the meanings of so-called volatile and vascular signs as well as the role of (ultra)sound in plant organisms, for instance, bringing to view complex interplant and interspecies interactions as well as the actual, literal ‘polyvocality of the world’ (xx). Concurrently, writers and literary scholars have begun to ‘release the vegetal from a background position in literary discourse and underscore the vital role of plant narration, voice, presence, and sensoriality’ (xvi). One example of this trend, I would add, is a lecture entitled “Can the Non-Human Speak?” by Amitav Ghosh, in which the writer wittily notes that ‘for a tree, humans are mute’ (2019, np). But the most detailed example may well be Richard Powers’s Pulitzer Prize–winning The Overstory (2018), a complex, multifaceted novel that explicitly takes up new scientific insights about plant behavior and tackles many of the themes addressed in the previous chapters—extinction, nonhuman communication, human advocacy for other life forms—while criticizing, again, a structural lack of human attention: ‘Out in the yard, all around the house, the things they’ve planted in years gone by are making significance, making meaning, as easily as they make sugar and wood from nothing, from air, and sun, and rain. But the humans hear nothing’ (168). Yet in making a case for the significance of plant lives and sounds, we should be careful not to transform these life forms into quasi-animals, seeing that often ‘plants are still expected to exhibit animal-like qualities in order to be acknowledged as sensitive living organisms, rather than being appreciated



in their own right’ (Gagliano et  al. xii). In this respect, Michael Marder warns in his contribution to The Language of Plants, we need to modify our view of language further, seeing that its orthodox definition ‘is thoroughly anthropocentric, insofar as it ties linguistic phenomena to the voice, which only humans possess, and grants other creatures the right to speak only on the condition that they ventriloquize quasi-, proto-, or post-­human voices’ (113)—though we should not overlook the fact that plants may be less silent than we think, given the results of ‘plant bioacoustics’ research summarized in the rest of the volume (120). A writer like Ghosh is aware of this potential pitfall, though. Drawing on the research of Eduardo Kohn that I sketched in the introduction, Ghosh claims in The Great Derangement (2016) that we should revise our human-oriented view of language in ways that correspond with my argument in Chap. 4. We should, he says, become aware of the multiple ways in which we are constantly engaged in patterns of communication that are not linguistic: as, for example, when we try to interpret the nuances of a dog’s bark …; or when we try to figure out what exactly is portended by a sudden change in the sound of the wind as it blows through trees. … We do these things all the time … yet we don’t think of them as communicative acts …. It isn’t only the testimony of our ears that is blocked in this way, but also that of our eyes, for we often communicate with animals by means of gestures that require interpretation … Nor does interpretation necessarily demand a sense of hearing or sight. In my garden, there is a vigorously growing vine that regularly attempts to attach itself to a tree … ‘interpreting’ the stimuli around it [in a way that] is clearly accurate enough to allow it to develop an ‘image’ of what it is ‘reaching’ for … (2016, 82–3)

As I have been arguing in this book, we need to attend more closely to nonhuman sounds and signs, without reducing them to preexisting notions of voice, character, and language, or to their biological functions alone, and this argument applies equally to vegetal soundscapes. * * *

Listening to Plants #2 A good additional example of this new interest in plants, and its relevance to my argument, is the Man Booker International Prize–winning novel The Vegetarian by South Korean writer Han Kang. Recalling Herman



Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener”  (1853) as well as Carol J. Adams’s famous analysis of the ‘sexual politics of meat’, Kang’s novel relates a disturbing tripartite narrative about a young woman who becomes alienated from friends and family after refusing to eat meat, is subsequently asked to participate in a weird erotic art project, and is finally committed to a mental institution after refusing food altogether. The protagonist’s unusual behavior is motivated by an apparent desire ‘to shuck off the human’ and to adopt a more plant-like mode of living (179), a desire that originates in violent dreams and the feeling of a lump in her chest, a lump she describes in terms that recall the motif of the animal cry we encountered in Chap. 3: ‘Yells and howls, threaded together layer upon layer, are enmeshed to form that lump. Because of meat. I ate too much meat. The lives of the animals I ate have all lodged there. Blood and flesh, all those butchered bodies are scattered in every nook and cranny, and though the physical remnants were excreted, their lives still stick stubbornly to my insides’ (49, emphasis in original). Animals and sounds reappear in the rest of the narrative, as the woman’s behavior and vocalizations are frequently characterized in nonhuman terms—if she does not refuse to make a sound and present legible body language at all, that is. These unnerving events ultimately persuade the woman’s sister to pay closer attention to trees: ‘The [zelkova] tree is clearly very old, easily four hundred years. On bright days it would spread its countless branches and let the sunlight scintillate its leaves, seemingly communicating something to her. Today, a day sodden and stupefied with rain, it is reticent, and keeps its thoughts unspoken’ (135). This disquieting image of a willful plant silence and indifference recurs in a later, even darker passage: [Thinking about her sister’s hallucination about undulating forests] There’s no way for In-hye to know what on earth those waves are saying. Or what those trees she’d seen … had been saying. Whatever it was, there had been no warmth in it. Whatever the words were, they hadn’t been words of comfort, words that would help her pick herself up. Instead, they were merciless, and the trees that had spoken them were a frighteningly chill form of life. … Some of the trees had refused to accept her. They’d just stood there, stubborn and solemn yet alive as animals, bearing up the weight of their own massive bodies. (169–70)



Writing about the turn toward geology in recent cultural research on climate change, Mark McGurl has noted that the figure of the stone is much less amenable to anthropomorphism than the tree, seeing that ‘[i]n its long-limbed, humanoid verticality, the tree has made a perfect poster child for “nature” in the discourse of liberal environmentalism’ (384). This conventional rosy picture is not entirely absent in Kang’s novel; as the protagonist observes to her sister, ‘all the trees of the world are like brothers and sisters’ (144). Mostly, however, Kang’s representation of an eerily silent and aloof vegetation is far from reassuringly warm and humanoid, as is shown by the fact that trees are actually upside down according to the story’s protagonist, who feels that she can only become plant-like by standing on her hands for dangerously long periods of time, inverting our familiar human verticality. As the inset quotation indicates, this darker plant imaginary trades the favorable comparison of trees with stones for an unfavorable comparison with animals, whose words and behaviors suddenly appear reassuringly familiar, and much more conducive to human interpretation and interspecies sympathy. As with the other examples in this chapter, we would need to examine Kang’s work in greater detail if we wanted to fully grasp its representation of plants. Caitlin E. Stobie has urged us to consider the book’s complex picture of patriarchal culture, mental illness, and ‘ethical eating’, for instance, not to mention its roots in Korean history and culture. If we bracket the symbolical work these plants are doing in the novel, however, and interpret them literally, it seems fair to say that The Vegetarian presents a more radical view of plant life, vegetal sounds, and cross-species communication than the one that emerges from the almost friction-free dialogue between Patricia and the majestic tree in All the Birds in the Sky. If the characters from Kang’s novel would be able to speak to plants directly, that would clearly require a markedly different form of language— if language would still be the word. Indeed, even the expansive, postlinguistic conception of communication outlined in Chap. 4 would break down here and encounter the limits of its usefulness. In fact, dreams of an interspecies dialogue seem downright dangerous here, rather than salutary. As the protagonist’s downward trajectory and the text’s references to plant indifference indicate, Kang’s novel resists as well as represents strong posthumanist agendas. Not unlike the contemporary work of ecohorror analyzed by Christy Tidwell, The Vegetarian suggests that connecting human and nonhuman life is both fruitful and dangerous; as in Tidwell’s case study, the events of Kang’s novel encourage us to stop seeing nature



‘simply as something out there’, but they also ask ‘what happens when those connections come at the cost of humanity, individuality, and/or consciousness’ (548). In marked contrast to reassuring, anthropocentric views of trees, and to soothing fantasies of interspecies communication, in other words, the sounds and silences ascribed to plants in The Vegetarian remind us of the enduring difference between human existence and vegetal flourishing. But that is not the full story. Within the confines of the fictional world, as I noted, the becoming-plant of Kang’s protagonist should probably be interpreted as a negative, fatal development, a symbolic expression of mental illness that is rooted in patriarchal culture and other forms of oppression. If we zoom out, however, and accentuate the story’s contribution to our changing environmental imagination, it can also be read as one of many attempts to take plants more seriously, to include them in our cultural narratives, and to explore parallels between human and other modes of living, moving, and communicating. In that sense, the character’s behavior is not unusual, but newly normal. When reading about this attempt to mimic plant behaviors by contorting the human body and adopting unusual poses, we can and should consider personal and historical traumas. But we may  also be reminded of Natasha Myers’s ethnographic work on plant scientists, which mentions surprisingly similar forms of becoming-vegetal. As Myers points out in a footnote, her background in dance and choreography convinced her to approach plants from a specific angle: ‘I enjoyed trying on plant movements to see how they felt propagating through my tissues. I visualized plant movement to explore how such imaginings could alter the contours of my morphological imaginary. … Becoming with and alongside plants, I kept acquiring newly vegetalized sensory dexterities’ (37, emphasis in original). Many of the scientists Myers interviews are wary of anthropomorphic language that overlooks the singular capacities of plant life, but they too adopt techniques of ‘phytomorphism’ to make sense of these other organisms. As she explains, one leading researcher ‘wants his students to be able to morph their bodies in such a way that they can begin to appreciate the nature of the vegetal sensorium. This means that his students actually have to physicalize vegetal embodiments by moving their own bodies to act out plant behaviors and sensing phenomena’ (59). Such observations show that weird movements and plant-like postures can be read as signs of posthuman attunement as well as mental derangement—and they suggest that the behavior of Kang’s protagonist not only challenges patriarchal culture, and the expectations



of husbands, artists, and doctors, but also subverts orthodox views of plants, forms of nonhuman life that fail to blend into the background in this novel and demand our attention. They do so in part via nonhuman sounds and silences, as we have seen, and these vegetal non-languages inspire the same sonic curiosity I have profiled in the other chapters of this book, and prompt similar acoustic descriptions, which again urge us to reimagine the anthropocentric parameters of our stories, communities, and listening practices. In thinking further about the multispecies soundscape, such observations on nonanimal life and the cultural meanings of plant sounds should be developed in more theoretical and literary detail. * * * As far as its limitations are concerned, the analysis of my previous chapters can and should be enriched by contemplating senses beyond hearing and sounds beyond animal life. In terms of broader implications, I have already noted that the novel’s nonhuman soundscape compels us to reconsider character and setting. In addition, its analysis participates in recent attempts to revalue literary description and to nurture more hopeful perspectives on environmental issues. The fact that early twenty-first-century novels represent the sounds of nonhuman animals in rich, often scientifically informed detail fits into a broader turn outlined by Sharon Marcus, Heather Love, and Stephen Best. These scholars admit that description has a bad reputation in the humanities and social sciences, as commentators judge that it ‘is impossible, because all knowledge is situated; … is ideological, because objectivity always masks interests; and … is insufficiently critical or even tautological, because it simply repeats what anyone can see or hear’ (4). Yet they feel that we should nevertheless attempt to build better descriptions in different media and disciplines, by embracing ‘observational precision’ and by ‘build[ing] the uncertainty of any attempt to describe into descriptions themselves’ (10), seeing that ‘[o]ften the very instability of things is what calls out for a descriptive vocabulary’ (12)—and the same is true of animal vocalizations and related sounds, surely. This descriptive turn is not limited to literary studies; just consider the work of anthropologist Anna Tsing, which performs what she calls ‘critical description’: ‘critical, because it asks urgent questions; and description, because it extends and disciplines curiosity about life’ (2013, 28). This is an appropriate method for mapping the damaged multispecies landscapes of Japanese satoyama forests,



home to prized matsutake mushrooms, for example, because even though our access to such nonhuman assemblages is restricted by definition, a sensitive ‘multispecies story’ is able to uncover how the worlds and trajectories of humans and nonhumans remain independent even when they are entangled (36). But this turn to description is relevant for literary studies too, as it is central to the work of Heather Love I discussed in Chap. 4 and to arguments by scholars like Joanna Stalnaker and Benjamin Morgan. Stalnaker has reminded us of the fluid definitions of description, science, and literature in eighteenth-century France, devoting special attention to the genre of descriptive poetry, in which ‘the poet emulates a model of scientific description that explicitly eschews imagination and even style’ (80), resulting in a ‘decentering’ of the human perspective that chimes with early twenty-first-century pleas for ‘a new kind of literature that relinquishes its obsessive focus on the human’ (86). In his turn, Morgan has scrutinized descriptions that seem but mere data and therefore appear to resist cultural analysis. Working on texts written by Arctic explorers, he finds that their stories are filled with seemingly objective tables, diagrams, and data, and wonders if we can develop new reading protocols that would allow us to discuss these boring, paratactic observations alongside more exciting narrative passages, and would simultaneously illuminate the history, politics, and ‘aesthetics of data’ (11). Other critics are paying renewed attention to hope rather than description, taking issue with the alarmist, apocalyptic rhetoric that is widespread in environmental thought. Promoting a positive approach by locating ‘[f]igures of hope … in the wreckage of catastrophic disasters, within landscapes that have been blasted by capitalism and militarism’ (296), Eben Kirksey has gathered illustrations of ‘collaborative action’, ‘hopeful events’, and ‘concrete victories’ (299), noting how the failure to care for charismatic birds covered in oil after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, for instance, was partly offset by initiatives to help smaller animals like ‘the hermit crab’ (298). The topic of hope has been put on the agenda of literary studies too, by scholars like Teresa Shewry and Ursula Heise, and with good reason. For Matthew Schneider-Mayerson’s survey of the impact of climate fiction on real-life audiences provides evidence for the claim that ‘the psychological tendency to avoid stories that deliver negative emotions means that well-intentioned authors who vividly depict the catastrophic consequences of climate change may actually be hindering their goal of heightening environmental consciousness’ (490). We might be able to develop productive alliances, moreover,



between research on description and on hope. This is suggested, at least, by the publications of David James, which claim that certain contemporary writers are making use of description and consolation in newly productive ways. The regional environmentalism of authors like John Burnside, for example, offers an imaginative version of cultural geography, James holds, by mixing realist immediacy and lyric mystery, ‘descriptive agility’ alongside a ‘certain resistance to description’, ‘confirm[ing] the indispensability of novelistic description as a means of conveying the kind of phenomenological approach to place that we might assume is incompatible with, and irreducible to, textual representation’ (2012, 609). Such descriptions yield a form of consolation, even in devastating novels by W.G. Sebald and Kazuo Ishiguro, James explains elsewhere. For they supply a mode of solace that should not immediately be dismissed as ‘distraction, appeasement, and soothing repair’ (2016, 501), as it is ‘forever aware of its own intimacy with loss’ (484) and is occasionally able to produce ‘a sense of discursive uplift, whose pathos revolves around the prediction of consolation’s own brevity’ (497). What makes James’s argument even more pertinent here is that his examples often engage environmental themes, and that his analyses regularly highlight the sonic qualities of the novels in question, as when he details a description’s ‘phonetic elements’ (2012, 603) or explains the consoling effect of a novel’s ‘verbal soundscape’ (2016, 483). As these remarks imply, we should continue to experiment with literature’s potential for both description and consolation—especially in the context of environmental concerns and multispecies contact zones. The fact that my case studies feature numerous descriptive passages about nonhuman audio should not just be interpreted as a defeatist project of proleptic mourning that anticipates the disappearance of other species, in other words, but also and perhaps primarily as a mode of cultural labor that nourishes sonic curiosity alongside a cautious form of environmental hope. Indeed, my argument implicitly treats literary history as a database filled with responses to more-than-human encounters—descriptive passages that constitute a form of data too, about human experiences of sound if not about animal behaviors and biosemiotics per se. To return to the paper by Andrew Whitehouse mentioned in Chap. 2, I have argued in this book that novels offer valuable insights into the ways in which people experience nonhuman audio. In that sense, the conception of the genre adopted here departs from traditional definitions in terms of human plots and imaginative invention, and suggests that novels at times approximate



nonfiction projects like Cordelia Stanwood’s bird notebooks from the first half of the twentieth century. Studying these notebooks, Martha Werner observes that ‘[a]lthough Stanwood’s life intersected with the lives of early … field recorders whose habitat recordings were originally released on gramophone discs, she never had access to the new emerging sound technologies’ and had to take recourse to writing ‘to make manifest the irreducible positivity of sounds’ (1290). Her observations resulted in lists and paratactic observations of birds, nests, and sounds, and these disclose the disappearance of animals in our age of extinction, as Werner shows, but also the adjacent lives of species experiencing distinct Umwelts and the shared vulnerability of all living creatures—yielding a real-life archive akin to the collections of the female recordists discussed by Rachel Mundy and Heidi Sopinka, and to the inventory of nonhuman sounds I have assembled from my other case studies. In line with this database aesthetic, one abandoned idea for the present book was to include a paratactic catalogue of sonic descriptions drawn from novels without explicit commentary, not unlike the ‘sound-centered memories’ listed at the start of J. Martin Daughtry’s analysis of the soundscape of wartime Iraq (see pp. 1–3). One of the scenes I had in mind is taken from Roy Scranton’s War Porn (2016), and represents the sounds and mistakes of Operation Enduring Freedom in a way that again foregrounds an animal character, a braying donkey scared of loud Humvees: Up ahead a donkey cart stood against the wall with a donkey tied to it. … Just past the donkey, the road swung left around an angle of wall. The donkey brayed: ahhhhhweeyhornk-yhornk. ‘Can you get by?’ … I passed the cart, feeling the dirt at the edge of the ditch crumble under the truck’s wheels, and slid along slowly, closer and closer to the donkey now backing against the wall, panic flashing black in his eyes. The truck’s front bumper brushed his trembling flank. Ahhweeyhornk! ‘We got people! I mean contacts!’ Sergeant Chandler shouted. … ‘Watch the men, Sergeant! Wilson, watch that donkey!’ Ahhweeeeyhornk-a-yhornk-a-yhornk! I edged the truck forward, brushing against the donkey’s ribs. … I watched the mirror, the back tires, the BC’s hand signals, the wall on my left, the front bumper of the truck, and the increasingly freaked-out donkey all at once. The beast hopped up and down, … hooves stamping furiously. …



I went ahead until the brush guard rubbed the donkey’s ribs. Awheeeeeeyhornk-a-yhornk-yhornk! Four more times, tight back and forth, the back end sinking, the donkey braying, and at last we got the truck turned around. (65–7)

Suffering the consequences of poor military organization, this donkey is not scenery, nor is its sound mere background noise, as both my account and Scranton’s novel imply. How would our picture of this novel and this geopolitical conflict change if we paid more attention to such scenes and linked them to the real-life donkeys and other animal presences in the Iraq War Logs mentioned by Daughtry (213)? Similar questions might be asked of the novel more generally and addressed by scanning the literary archive in search of such animal sounds and silences. An intriguing experiment in this respect is Yedda Morrison’s Darkness (2012), a literary work that reproduces the text of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) but only retains those words that refer to the natural world, leaving a denuded story in which the environmental scenery occupies center stage, and animals, plants, and their voices resound more clearly—the ‘steady buzz’ of ‘flies’ (30), the ‘murmur’ of ‘magpies’ (86), the shaking and rustling of ‘twigs’ (75) and ‘bushes’ (100)—while the text continues to register the devastating impact of the human thirst for ivory and Belgian colonial rule. In analyzing the multispecies soundscape further, I venture, we should reread literary and cultural history through a similar lens and tune out other aspects so as to listen more attentively to braying donkeys, buzzing flies, rustling trees—and ominous silences. Yet in thinking of literary history as an archive of ecologically relevant data, we should bear in mind the warning of Anahid Nersessian. Taking the pulse of recent scholarship, she finds that the combined efforts of Bruno Latour and similar thinkers have installed a consensus which ‘encourages literary and cultural critics to abandon their totemic belief that reality is a linguistic construct and to apply themselves to imaginative but still veridical descriptions of hard facts, not least of all ecological ones’ (341–2). But she wants ‘to make the modest proposal that it not be the only kind of work that counts as ecologically minded’ (355), for two interrelated reasons, namely that environmental science is far from simple and transparent (remember Heise’s comments on extinction), and that literary studies is adept at ‘defending non-specific, counter-informative, hypothetical, conjectural, provisory, and moving-target entities as the perfectly legitimate objects of perfectly cogent study’ (356). Rather than redefine



literary studies along the lines of what is taken to be scientific description, it might therefore be wiser to consider the parallels between practices like close reading and mathematics, which are both really ‘treating unknown quantities as intelligence-bearing terms’ (354). I believe more attention to description might still be salutary, though Nersessian is absolutely right in stressing that we should recognize the dynamic, provisional character of the descriptions we find inside as well as outside of literary texts. When we examine the literary archive for traces of sound and listening, as I have done throughout this book, we should never forget that these acoustic descriptions yield factual knowledge not about nonhuman animals and their sound worlds but about the dynamic cultural meanings that are assigned to them by human communities. At issue here are conjectural representations and imagined ecologies, not simple external realities. My last point does not involve vibrant settings, talking plants, or hopeful data, but organic machines. For a nagging concern is that my survey of the multispecies soundscape has privileged the beautiful, lively character of animal sounds at the expense of its more repetitive, mechanical qualities. That does not do justice to the full range of possibilities. As Marc Shell has documented, nonhuman creatures are habitually represented as stutterers in popular culture, and the speech of human stutterers, conversely, is often viciously dismissed as animal-like. From a more philosophical angle, David Wills invites us to reflect on the weird, seemingly inanimate repetitions of all animal sounds. He suggests that we should not just attend to the machine in the garden, to recall the title of Leo Marx’s classic study, but to the fact that the garden is the machine. In his book Inanimation (2016), Wills inspects the work of Descartes, Derrida, Deleuze, and other thinkers and artists to argue that life and the living are ‘not … able to escape “contamination” by the nonliving’ (17), seeing that what he variously calls the inanimate, the automatic, and the machinic operates as ‘an uncanny force across the divide that supposedly protects and defines life’ (6). This force subverts orthodox understandings of and boundaries between the human, the animal, the plant, and the machine—two privileged forms of this hybrid ‘inanimate life’ being language (xii) and textuality (13), as they are shot through with repetitions and exhibit the iterability famously theorized by Derrida (remember the argument of Christopher Peterson, which I discussed in Chap. 4). Crucial here is that Wills applies this general lesson explicitly to animal sounds and birdsong. For the more general tension between what are considered to be ‘animate life’ and ‘inanimate machines’ also manifests itself in toys that emit real



animal vocalizations, originally recorded by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, when squeezed by human users. Pushing these toys while pondering relevant philosophical arguments, Wills alerts us to the repetitive, machinic quality of animal as well as human life and sound. He notes, for instance, how a single push of these toys triggers a sequence of notes that is immediately repeated: ‘You squeeze once, but they always sing their song twice they always sing their song twice’ (258). This raises the question of what constitutes a single (and double) bird call and uncovers ‘an automaticity in the heart of animal life in general’ (259). Reinforcing that point, he critically reflects on the fact that bird calls are often interpreted in terms of creative improvisation despite the fact that these territorial and courtship signals tend to exhibit recognizable, repetitive refrains, at least for some species (267). What is more, Wills interrogates the famous distinction between (merely) animal reactions and (properly) human responses by reminding us of the automatic, reactive qualities of human behavior, which is likewise shaped by instinct, the body, and the unconscious—qualities that are also manifested in what you are doing now, dear reader: ‘[a]ny reading functions automatically, … by definition, like a mechanical semantic reaction or echo. As we read, we produce a somehow visual, somehow aural, somehow cerebral, eventually perhaps intellectual, repetition of what we read’ (277). So even seemingly organic, authentic animal sounds and allegedly rational human behaviors and texts have a repetitive, inanimate quality, and this means that we should reconfigure neat distinctions between actual birds and mechanical toys, human speech and nonhuman sounds—and add yet another cultural meaning to the list of connotations I have charted in the present book. Like Wills’s other examples, after all, the case of birdsong reveals ‘an enlivening of the inanimate, and encroachments of the automatic or inorganic upon the animate’ (ix). If Donna Haraway programmatically writes ‘Woof’ at a certain point in When Species Meet (2008, 7), Wills might hence respond—or react—by repeating her bark, twice: ‘Woof Woof’. * * *

Listening to Plants #3 While Wills’s observations have a broader philosophical resonance and affect all sounds and texts equally, this inanimate, mechanical quality of the animal (and human) voice can be amplified or downplayed by literary



texts. If we apply some interpretive pressure, we might be able to interpret the repetitive warning calls Patricia hears at the end of Anders’s All the Birds in the Sky in this light, for instance. But this particular quality of the multispecies soundscape is illustrated most forcefully, in my view, in a poetry collection about plants, Amanda Ackerman’s The Book of Feral Flora. As she explains at the end of this remarkable volume, some of its poems are the result of a creative acoustic contact zone involving humans, machines, and vegetal life: I sent sound recordings of myself reading a selection of texts to programming poet Dan Richert [who] created the technologies that allowed the plants to rewrite the pieces by responding to the sound frequencies of my voice. In his home, in gardens, and in the city, Dan hooked up sensors to various plants in order to record their compositions. In other words, through their electrical impulses, the plants autonomously wrote their own version of the texts, given the sensory capacities that were available to them. (198)

As a result of this more-than-human procedure, several pages from Ackerman’s collection recycle earlier compositions but in a form that is distorted and dehumanized, as the original has been modified in line with the plant impulses recorded by these sensors—and the fact that these plants have ‘written’ distinct new poems starting from the same text implies that they did not simply ‘react’ automatically to this unchanged stimulus, as it were, but ‘responded’ more creatively if no less repetitively. Consider the following excerpts, the first of which was taken from the poem ‘Structure’, authored by Ackerman, and the second from one of its subsequent ‘plant’ versions: STRUCTURE When my mother was driving back and forth in between the homes of husband A and husband B, what do you think she did in the interim? If you, iris/irises were at the helm, how would the world adopt to suit your—not your needs—but your longings? Architectural harmony, says. … Everything else, says. If I wished the world to be well, it would be well. My bare arms would appear with fists of flowers. Trumpeting petals. … Then that which you fear was over. It ended abruptly. The irises bent a little. There are passages to and from other worlds. (54) STRUCTURE written by Iris what was bare it well, else, world says. wished says. says. Everything earth, Everything else, says. … If would the well. well. A Sunset-peace, Architectural



petals. … not to how iris/irises the she you husband the the forth back STRUCTURE worlds. from and and other from from STRUCTURE worlds. worlds. worlds. worlds. from from and There irises abruptly. over. bent over. you you that which fear over. … When was worlds. When STRUCTURE other to from and worlds. ended ended It It It ended of ended. (59)

While this second text is still shaped by human expectations and technologies (recall the question format used to interpret Odo’s enigmatic ape vocalization in Chap. 4), it undeniably attempts to make room for plant ‘voices’ and to establish a collaborative quasi-dialogue between human and nonhuman speakers—voices that are compatible, arguably, with the disturbing plant aesthetics and soundscape of Han Kang, and even more so with David Wills’s interest in the repetitive, inorganic qualities of lifedeath, and of nonhuman as well as human sound. Bearing in mind my discussion of sonic charisma in Chap. 2, you might say that these texts invite us to experience something like the charisma of repetitions. We could begin to analyze this poem and its nonhuman automaticity, but the point I want to conclude with is less that we manage to secure some form of meaning from this fragmented text and more that we begin to retool our conceptions of sound, of writing, and of life—in line with the basic argument of my book. Perhaps we should approach these plant writings as defamiliarizing data rather than meaningful documents. As Jeffrey Nealon has asserted, in an article on  Kenneth Goldsmith’s The Weather (2005), we should consider ‘displacing the entire apparatus of poetics from any vestige of the category of meaning, either as a rare and valuable commodity or a kind of value-added quality of interestingness’ (127–8), seeing that the challenge posed by certain texts to their readers is ‘to learn how to take the banality of statements seriously, as a series of productive practices, without translating the banal everyday into the breathless fatality of meaning’ (132)—or, adapting these observations to my purposes here, we need to learn how to take the banality of nonhuman life and sound seriously, without instantly translating its inanimate repetitions into creatively organic meanings or ear-opening songs. Furthermore, we should learn to embrace the fact that reading too is at least in part a mechanical procedure, which enlivens us, paradoxically, by repeating things in inanimate fashion. Reading can be binaural and visceral, as we saw in Chaps. 2 and 5, but it



can be ‘vegetative’ too—and my point here is not that we should reach for an impossible form of posthumanist experience, even when reading the seemingly mindless texts of Ackerman or of Chap. 4, but that we should recognize the fact that our conceptions of life and of enlivening reading are mixed up with features too often discarded or disparaged for being merely animal-like, plant-like, machine-like. In destabilizing such entrenched views via uncanny repetitions, contemporary writing once again invites us to become more attentive reader-listeners. Once  more,  its multispecies soundscape generates sonic curiosity and hope even in the midst of our current, disquieting circumstances. We may reimagine nonhuman sound by attending to the tapaculo rather than the nightingale, as I mentioned in the introduction, but we can also turn to the ‘answering machine’ (278), as Wills puts it, that is the animal toy, the real nightingale, and the all-tooinanimate human. As I have tried to articulate in this book, literature and the contemporary novel provide a rich archive of responses to nonhuman sonorities, which help us to better understand human-animal relations, distinct types and communities of listeners, and the cultural meanings of creaturely sounds, vocalizations, and communication systems. Of course, these novels do not directly transform inattentive readers into upstanding citizens of a more convivial community, nor does my analysis of these soundscapes and contact zones solve the plight of nonhuman creatures, be they wild, farm, captive, or domesticated animals. But these novels and readings are nevertheless valuable, in my view, as they ask us to participate in a series of thought experiments that reimagine the way we use language, and imagine communities as well as ecologies. They force us to discard easy answers and to dwell consciously and conscientiously in the entangled mess that is life on our crowded, clamorous planet. If read closely, these multispecies stories and their vibrant settings stoke the fire of our acoustic and ethical curiosity, urging us to become more ‘response-able’ as we ‘stay with the trouble’, to use the terminology of Donna Haraway (2016, 20). Why do we not follow their lead and become better listeners, and better readers? Who knows what we might hear when we listen otherwise? Who knows what we might hear here?



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A Abberley, Will, 137, 139, 141 Ableism, 271 Ackerman, Amanda, 261, 285, 287 Acousmatic, 27, 188 Acoustemology, 15, 16, 20, 36 Adams, Carol J., 275 Agency, 14, 16, 22, 189, 206, 208, 211, 212, 228, 233, 248, 264, 273 Ahuja, Neel, 173, 174 Alaimo, Stacy, 187, 250, 251, 255 Alkemeyer, Bryan, 141, 155 Alworth, David, 264 Ambient, 82, 83, 87, 89 Anders, Charlie Jane, 261, 266, 285 Anderson, Benedict, 17 Animality, 12, 14, 101, 129, 200, 208, 211, 215 Animal studies, 4, 12, 16, 21, 22, 28, 40, 185 Anthropocene, 28, 48, 64, 65, 70, 120, 223, 246, 249–251, 254

Anthropocentrism, 3, 13, 14, 17, 29, 30, 39, 48, 94, 97, 100, 103, 124, 127, 128, 130, 134, 139, 149, 150, 155, 156, 163, 166, 170, 172, 184, 185, 193, 205, 213, 225, 247, 255, 263, 270, 274, 277, 278 Anthropology, 8, 48, 100, 278 Anthropomorphism, 11, 14, 17, 40, 57, 60, 67, 68, 107, 136, 144, 148, 150, 151, 155, 157, 162, 169, 179, 194, 263, 276, 277 Anxiety, 4, 18, 39, 48, 49, 51, 64, 72, 82, 93, 261, 262 Arata, Stephen D., 200 Aristotle, 108 Arsić, Branka, 264, 265 Attridge, Derek, 101 Atwood, Margaret, 69 Aubry, Timothy, 83, 89 Audile techniques, 15, 186, 193, 196, 205, 213, 228, 229, 231

© The Author(s) 2020 B. De Bruyn, The Novel and the Multispecies Soundscape, Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature,




B Bakhtin, Mikhail, 39, 94, 96, 101, 108, 110, 114, 116, 215 Barthes, Roland, 100 Beckett, Samuel, 161, 170, 230 Behaviorism, 136, 157, 161, 162 Benjamin, Walter, 110, 111 Bennett, Jane, 17, 268 Benson, Etienne, 77 Benson, Stephen, 100 Best, Stephen, 278 Binaural reading, 80, 81, 90, 236, 286 Bioacoustics, 3, 4, 10, 12, 25, 38, 48, 58, 273 Biodiversity, 4, 10, 17, 18, 38, 47–90, 93, 183, 262, 273 Biopolitics, 14, 66, 123, 129, 202, 208 Biopower, 200 Bioprospecting, 66, 73 Biosemiotics, 3, 8, 9, 114, 135, 139, 213, 280 Blair, Kirstie, 190, 199 Blue humanities, 40, 228 Blum, Hester, 228 Bodies, 152, 168, 184, 187, 188, 192, 193, 196, 198, 200, 202, 203, 205, 206, 208, 211–215, 251, 254, 262, 271 Body language, 15, 136, 145, 155, 161, 162, 166, 167, 170, 171, 270, 275 Boggs, Colleen Glenney, 14 Boltanski, Christian, 185, 214 Bond, Lucy, 5 Bonneuil, Christophe, 223, 257 Bordwell, David, 160 Boutin, Aimée, 82 Boxall, Peter, 28 Braverman, Irus, 78, 79 Brilmyer, Pearl, 190 Broglio, Ron, 121

Bruckner, Anton, 253 Brumm, Henrik, 5 Bruyn, Ben De, 12, 223, 233, 257 Bruyninckx, Joeri, 22, 23, 25, 50 Buell, Lawrence, 17, 240, 252 Buff, Joe, 226, 231, 248–250, 255 Bull, Michael, 125 Burnside, John, 280 C Calarco, Matthew, 164, 165, 167 Capitalism, 73 Captivity, 97, 137, 143, 156, 173, 174, 262, 287 Carson, Rachel, 50 Cassidy, Angela, 185 Character, 35, 94–96, 98, 99, 101, 103, 129, 130, 157, 161, 172, 198, 206, 225, 261, 264, 265, 267, 268, 274, 278 Charisma, 19–21, 34, 41, 48, 63–69, 72–74, 76, 80, 81, 88, 90, 93, 104, 117, 119, 198, 262, 265, 279, 286 Choi, Myung-Ae, 240 Chomsky, Noam, 159 City, 63, 64, 71, 95, 112 Clancy, Tom, 185, 214, 226, 231, 233, 236, 238, 239, 242, 245, 246, 248, 250, 255 Clark, Timothy, 16 Class, 97 Climate change, 228, 249, 266, 276 Coates, Peter, 23 Coetzee, J.M., 39, 93, 101, 103, 113, 115, 121, 127, 128, 130, 263 Cohen, Margaret, 17, 33, 228 Cohen, Matt, 76 Cold War, 24, 174, 223, 226, 230, 232, 236, 238–242, 246, 257, 262


Comedy, 69, 70, 78 Companion animals, 55, 98, 175, 191, 210 Companion species, 13, 187, 204 Connor, Steven, 105–106, 112, 113, 115, 118 Conrad, Joseph, 32, 98, 282 Contact zone, 13, 18, 20, 22, 38, 119, 121, 126, 137, 140, 144, 156, 185, 220, 225, 246, 253, 258, 262, 263, 271, 285, 287 Contemporary literature, 22, 28, 47, 56, 115, 137, 254, 268, 287 Creature, 14, 40, 93, 97, 102, 103, 108, 111–113, 115, 116, 121–124, 126, 175, 184, 187, 189, 196, 198, 200, 203, 205, 207, 208, 210–215, 251–253, 281, 287 Creature-system, 129, 210, 266 Cultural meanings, 7, 10, 42, 47, 64, 84, 137, 188, 189, 191, 220, 225, 262, 263, 270, 283, 287 Curiosity, 48, 68, 70, 71, 79, 81, 90, 93, 100, 185, 261–287 Cyborg, 122, 125, 126, 228, 233, 235, 237–239, 241, 272 D Dark ecology, 17, 81 Darwin, Charles, 30, 136, 137, 157, 159, 180 Daston, Lorraine, 57 Daughtry, J. Martin, 16, 228, 230, 233, 234, 281, 282 Dawson, Paul, 116 Deafness, 258, 271 Defoe, Daniel, 140 Deleuze, Gilles, 283 Delgado, Celeste Fraser, 233, 235


DeLillo, Don, 40, 184, 205, 215 DeLoughrey, Elizabeth, 228, 251 Delville, Michel, 215 Democracy, 39, 62, 89, 93, 97, 103, 108, 115, 116, 128, 172, 262 Derrida, Jacques, 12, 32, 134, 140, 283 Descartes, 108, 283 Description, 17, 23–25, 33, 53, 57, 59–62, 67, 68, 72, 75, 80, 95, 96, 98, 106, 114, 119, 126, 145, 147, 150, 160–162, 170, 177, 196, 198, 202, 203, 206, 207, 233, 237, 248, 250, 258, 261, 270, 278–280, 282 Despret, Vinciane, 24 Dijck, José van, 213 Dimock, Wai Chee, 48, 105 Distant reading, 96, 130 Dooren, Thom van, 18, 79, 173 Dostoevsky, Fyodor, 94 E Earphones, 38, 52, 53, 268 Earplugs, 85, 86, 103, 229, 271 Ecocriticism, 16, 29, 227, 263 Eco-historicism, 17, 18, 39, 41, 148, 179, 262, 263 Ecomimesis, 54 Eco-sonic media, 23, 26, 28, 230, 246, 262, 269 Edwards, Paul, 232, 239 Eisenman, Stephen F., 22, 109 Elegy, 47, 52, 69, 70, 72, 75, 76, 79, 81 Eliot, George, 184, 190 Eno, Brian, 82 Environmental history, 18, 23 Environmental humanities, 3, 16, 18, 64, 187, 263



Epic, 69, 105 Ethnographic, 3, 144, 173, 277 Ethology, 4, 12, 25, 135, 140, 146, 159, 162, 262 Evolution, 8, 15, 25, 27, 137, 157, 262 Extinctions, 4, 19, 27, 38, 39, 47, 49, 55, 56, 58, 60, 64, 65, 69–73, 76, 79, 80, 82, 90, 101, 115, 127, 129, 179, 228, 231, 249–251, 254, 255, 262, 273, 281, 282 F Feld, Steven, 15, 16 Ferguson, Christine, 138, 139, 151 Film, 16, 72, 146, 147, 160, 165, 170, 172, 188, 214, 215, 231, 242, 269 Ford, Richard, 195 Foster, Charles, 1, 2, 34, 35 Fowler, Karen Joy, 39, 136, 156, 160, 164, 167, 168, 170–172, 175, 178, 179, 263 Fressoz, Jean-Baptiste, 223, 257 Friendship, 100, 130, 272 G Galison, Peter, 57 Gang, Joshua, 161 Gannon, Thomas C., 11 Garner, Richard, 157 Garrard, Greg, 16 Geertz, Clifford, 161 Gender, 13, 61, 163, 192, 198, 203, 245, 257, 271 Genette, Gérard, 161 Genre, 3, 6, 29, 41, 93, 105, 138, 150, 151, 203, 213, 225, 226, 228, 249, 257, 262, 267, 269

Ghosh, Amitav, 18, 32, 34–36, 38, 42, 65, 143, 255, 263, 274 Goffman, Erving, 161 GoGwilt, Christopher, 22 Goldsmith, Kenneth, 286 Gómez-Barris, Macarena, 35, 38, 227 Gowdy, Barbara, 39, 136, 143, 148–150, 153, 155, 156, 160, 165, 172, 179 GPS, 36–38, 255 Graham, T. Austin, 31 Gramophone, 32, 105, 189, 281 Grebowicz, Margret, 221, 222 Greve, Julius, 212 Gruen, Sara, 163, 173, 175 Grusin, Richard, 32, 100, 213 Gustafson, Sid, 191, 192, 195, 196, 207, 213 H Haddon, Mark, 99 Halberstam, J., 200 Hale, Benjamin, 163 Hamblin, Jacob Darwin, 223, 256 Haraway, Donna, 13, 15, 18, 81, 103, 107, 122, 233, 284, 287 Harris, Anna, 184, 208 Harrison, Robert Pogue, 63 Haruki, Murakami, 82 Haskell, David George, 272 Hawhee, Debra, 22 Headphones, 24, 53, 55, 56, 60, 64, 70, 75, 86, 90, 147, 152, 183, 232, 235, 238, 253 Heidegger, Martin, 134 Heise, Ursula, 10, 18, 19, 29, 47, 64, 68, 69, 71, 72, 78, 81, 82, 240, 272, 279, 282 Helmreich, Stefan, 221, 228, 240


Hemingway, Ernest, 161 Herman, David, 18, 29, 30, 35, 72, 88, 100–102, 145, 164, 170 Herriot, James, 191, 195 Hockett, Charles, 159 Hope, 17, 49, 53, 63, 71, 173, 179, 244, 261, 267, 278–280, 287 Horwitz, Joshua, 222, 251, 252, 263 Houser, Heather, 116, 187 Hsu, Hsuan L., 270 Hua, Julietta, 173, 174 Huehls, Mitchum, 28 Huggan, Graham, 19, 148, 150 Hume, David, 108 Hungerford, Amy, 191, 209 Hyde, Emily, 28 Hydrophone, 52, 230, 232 I Infrasound, 136, 142, 144, 145, 147, 151, 154–156, 160 Intermedial, 31, 38, 41, 171, 255 iPhone, 106 iPod, 32, 39, 89, 124–126, 229 Ishiguro, Kazuo, 280 J James, David, 58, 150, 152, 280 James, Erin, 29, 37, 273 James, Tania, 39, 136, 143, 144, 146, 155, 156, 179, 263 Jones, Cynan, 213 Jones, Susan D., 191 K Kafka, Franz, 110, 111, 113, 164 Kane, Brian, 15 Kang, Han, 261, 274, 286


Kaplan, Caren, 38 Karlin, Daniel, 6, 11 Katsma, Holst, 94–96, 101, 114, 130 Keenleyside, Heather, 204 Kelly, Adam, 28 Kennedy, Meegan, 199, 202, 210 Kennedy, Rosanne, 5 Kessels, Marie, 39, 47, 64, 82–84, 88, 93, 128, 263 King, Daniel, 206 Kirksey, Eben, 279 Kittler, Friedrich, 32, 200 Koch, Ludwig, 50, 60 Kohn, Eduardo, 8–10, 100, 140, 274 Kolbert, Elizabeth, 4 Koldau, Linda Maria, 231 Korte, Barbara, 160, 162 Krause, Bernie, 47, 49–51, 53, 55, 56, 61, 63, 64, 68–70, 72, 75, 81, 86, 88, 93, 109, 128, 142, 263 Kreilkamp, Ivan, 32, 129, 213 L Lab animals, 175 Laennec, René, 184, 185 Language, 8–10, 15, 39, 56, 57, 60, 63, 94, 100, 101, 108, 133, 134, 137, 140–142, 145, 148–150, 152, 153, 155–157, 159, 162, 165, 167, 169, 171–173, 175–177, 179, 183, 255, 257, 261, 269, 273, 274, 276, 283 Latour, Bruno, 100, 237, 264, 282 Ledgard, J.M., 214, 226, 231, 249–254, 257, 263 Leigh, Julia, 38–39, 47, 64, 72, 75, 78, 79, 81, 84, 87, 88, 236, 263, 265 LeMenager, Stephanie, 26, 112 Levinas, Emmanuel, 225 Lilly, John, 241



Lin, Maya, 5 Lingis, Alphonso, 214 Linguistic humanism, 138, 139, 141, 156, 165, 172 Linguistic posthumanism, 140, 141, 151, 157, 163 Listening, 9, 21, 24, 48, 51, 60, 61, 69, 76, 83, 86, 101, 104, 111, 114, 117, 122, 128, 189, 197, 201, 207, 211, 215, 220, 221, 228–230, 234, 240, 243, 246, 257, 262, 263, 271 Literary history, 5, 8, 29, 94, 185, 200, 206, 280, 282 Literary studies, 4, 8, 95, 264, 279, 282 Locke, Piers, 143–145 Lorimer, Jamie, 64, 65, 67–70, 78, 81, 82, 88, 89 Love, Heather, 161, 170, 278 Lovecraft, H.P., 28 Lundblad, Michael, 14 M Macdonald, Helen, 23, 24 Machine, 27, 53, 57, 77, 97, 113, 121–123, 142, 145, 147, 184, 188, 201, 232, 233, 237, 261, 263, 283, 287 Magical realism, 174, 175, 178, 179 Malewitz, Raymond, 206, 208 Manes, Christopher, 6 Marcus, Sharon, 278 Marder, Michael, 272, 274 Marler, Peter, 157, 158 Marshall, Kate, 120, 206, 209, 212, 249 Martel, Yann, 39, 135–137, 156, 160, 172, 174, 175, 178, 179 Marx, John, 143

Marx, Leo, 283 Mathison, Hamish, 232, 247 May, Leila S., 200 McCarthy, Cormac, 40, 184, 185, 191, 205, 206, 209, 211–213, 263 McGurl, Mark, 29, 70, 191, 276 McHugh, Susan, 14, 178, 191 McKay, Robert, 14 McLean, Steven, 139 Medical humanities, 185 Melville, Herman, 238 Medium, 2, 4, 12, 14, 23, 24, 26, 30–33, 37, 42, 56, 57, 60, 62, 66, 67, 76, 86, 94, 96, 106, 109, 125, 142, 147, 152, 159, 171, 180, 183, 185, 188, 190, 200, 213, 214, 228, 238, 254, 266, 270, 271 Memory, 5 Menely, Tobias, 22, 106, 107, 109–111, 113, 119, 127, 137, 262 Mentz, Steve, 227 Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 134 Messiaen, Olivier, 118, 120 Microphone, 23, 32, 41, 42, 52, 56, 189, 258 Microscope, 190 Military, 17, 74, 219, 220, 223–231, 233, 235–238, 240, 241, 245–247, 249, 253, 255, 257, 258, 262, 272, 282 Miller, D.A., 203 Millet, Lydia, 69 Mobile listening, 125, 126, 262 Montaigne, Michel de, 108 Monteverdi, Claudio, 127 Morgan, Benjamin, 279 Morrison, Toni, 162 Morrison, Yedda, 282 Morton, Timothy, 17, 54, 66, 81


Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, 244 Mukherjee, Pablo, 18, 37 Müller, F. Max, 157, 159 Multilingualism, 133–180, 255 Multimedial, 262 Multimodal, 30, 31, 136, 137, 159, 180, 270 Multispecies, 13, 18, 20, 26, 30, 39, 50, 64, 66, 68, 70, 82, 93, 104, 108, 127, 128, 130, 133–180, 220, 228, 238, 251, 253, 255, 261, 262, 272, 280 Multispecies ethnography, 18, 65, 263 Multispecies narratives, 28, 29, 39, 41, 170, 244, 262, 263, 279, 287 Multispecies soundscape, 2, 4, 12, 14, 16, 21, 28, 31, 38, 41, 70, 79, 89, 93, 94, 98, 100, 112, 130, 144, 171, 183, 212, 221, 225–226, 247, 261, 262, 269, 272, 273, 278, 282, 283, 285, 287 Mundy, Rachel, 22, 24, 25, 57, 61, 281 Münster, Ursula, 143, 145 Music, 10, 31, 39, 50, 51, 55, 57, 61, 69, 88, 89, 93–97, 101, 103, 105, 109, 114, 115, 117–120, 124, 126–128, 133, 183, 222, 225, 226, 229, 235, 238, 241, 243, 246, 253, 261, 262, 273 Myers, Natasha, 277 N Narratology, 29, 30, 34, 72, 100, 130, 264 Nature writing, 2, 17 Nealon, Jeffrey, 28, 272, 286 Neoliberalism, 66 Nersessian, Anahid, 282 Neruda, Pablo, 7


Newman, Michael Z., 160, 170 Nixon, Rob, 17 Noise, 5, 49–51, 55, 63, 82–84, 86, 87, 89, 90, 95, 96, 114, 144, 145, 147, 219, 220, 222, 225, 226, 245, 249, 251, 252 Nonfiction, 1, 2, 47, 49, 61, 70, 93, 222, 251, 263, 272, 281 Nonhuman, 97, 100, 101, 111, 112, 127, 130, 140, 206, 209, 250 Nonverbal communication, 40, 135, 151, 154, 155, 160, 162, 168, 169, 172, 178 Nostalgia, 54, 56, 65, 68, 69, 73, 184, 215 Novel, 3, 34–36, 42, 93, 94, 97, 104, 211, 249, 261, 263, 270 O Objectivity, 57 Onomatopoeia, 9, 57, 100, 126, 197 Ontology, 11, 30, 65, 212, 228, 251, 257 Opera, 101–105, 119, 128 Oreskes, Naomi, 227 Orpheus, 108, 109, 127, 130 Ozick, Cynthia, 58 P Parry, Catherine, 156, 165 Pastoral, 81, 103, 148, 227, 263 Payne, Katy, 142, 145–148, 151, 152, 158, 159, 165, 263 Payne, Roger, 243 Peirce, Charles Sanders, 9 Perkins, David, 98 Peterson, Christopher, 140, 141, 283 Pettman, Dominic, 22, 26, 27, 121, 127, 188, 189, 204, 262 Phillips, Dana, 17, 149, 155



Phonograph, 23, 25, 32, 105, 158, 159, 185, 200–202, 271 Pick, Anat, 14, 187, 208, 210, 212, 272 Picker, John, 82, 84, 89, 95, 189, 190 Plant, 10, 65, 261, 266, 270, 272–276, 282, 283, 285–287 Poe, Edgar Allan, 7, 28, 190, 198, 265 Poetry, 6, 53, 98, 109, 113, 171, 190, 261, 279, 285 Pollution, 86 Polyphony, 22, 26, 39, 93–130, 225, 263 Population, 48, 65, 76, 79, 81, 123, 129, 265 Postcolonial, 18, 29, 70, 82, 103, 121, 143, 149, 240 Posthumanism, 13–15, 28, 29, 63, 70, 100, 120, 141, 151, 163, 165, 172, 180, 255, 263, 272, 276, 277, 287 Powers, Richard, 39, 93, 113, 115, 119, 121, 122, 127, 128, 130, 263, 272 Pratt, Mary Louise, 121 Price, Rachel, 227 Proulx, Annie, 272 Proust, Marcel, 28 R Racism, 25, 89, 158, 159, 224, 257, 271 Radick, Gregory, 22, 157–159, 164, 262 Ralston, Glory, 184, 185, 191, 192, 195, 198, 207, 213 Rancière, Jacques, 5, 108 Ray, Sarah Jaquette, 271 Reading, 16, 30, 72, 100, 286, 287

Realism, 96, 129, 163, 190, 206, 215, 269, 280 Rendell, Luke, 220 Richter, Virginia, 156, 163–165, 175 Ritts, Max, 221, 230, 241 Robles, Mario Ortiz, 5, 6, 11, 200, 201 Rohman, Carrie, 58, 102 Romanticism, 11 Roquet, Paul, 82–84, 89 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 108 Rubery, Matthew, 31, 98 Ruskin, John, 265 S Saint-Amour, Paul, 32, 189, 233 Samuels, David W., 16 Sanctuary, 173 Scale, 114, 117, 119, 129 Schafer, R. Murray, 16, 50, 95 Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew, 279 Schweighauser, Philipp, 82, 95, 97 Science fiction, 70, 73, 233, 261 Scranton, Roy, 281 Searls, Hank, 226, 231, 238, 239, 241, 242, 245, 246, 248, 255 Sebald, W.G., 280 Sensibility, 93, 106, 107, 262 Sentimentalism, 39, 67, 93, 104, 107, 121, 127, 129, 136, 192, 240, 266 Serenity, 20, 39, 48, 51, 62, 64, 82, 118, 222, 262 Serres, Michel, 112 Seshagiri, Urmila, 58 Setting, 17, 33, 35, 76, 78, 81, 93, 130, 196, 239, 261, 264, 266, 268, 278, 287 Shakespeare, William, 13 Shannon, Laurie, 12 Shell, Marc, 283


Shelley, Mary, 198 Shewry, Teresa, 279 Shiga, John, 228, 230, 235, 241, 255 Shukin, Nicole, 215 Slobodchikoff, Con, 135 Smell, 14, 76, 135, 144, 146, 147, 179, 270 Smith, Jacob, 22, 23, 26, 28, 230, 262 Sonar, 17, 32, 40, 183, 219, 220, 223–226, 228–230, 232, 234–236, 238, 243, 245, 247–249, 251–255, 257, 262, 268 Sopinka, Heidi, 38, 47, 55–57, 59, 61–64, 68, 70, 81, 82, 84, 87, 281 Sound pollution, 47, 48, 50, 71, 82, 86, 87, 245, 247, 249, 257, 262, 273 Soundscape, 5, 7, 11, 16, 22, 24, 27, 29–31, 33, 47–51, 53, 56, 62–64, 71, 72, 74, 81, 82, 84, 87, 90, 93, 95, 97, 98, 103, 104, 112, 114, 119, 121, 125, 141, 145, 183, 185, 189, 212, 220, 221, 226, 228, 238, 241, 246, 247, 257, 263, 265, 270, 272, 274, 278, 280, 281, 286, 287 Sound studies, 4, 12, 15, 16, 22, 26, 183, 185, 228, 273 Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS), 232, 233, 235, 236, 240, 241, 247, 248, 250 Southgate, Martha, 219, 222–224, 247, 249, 257 Space, 174, 175 Speciesism, 89, 151, 155, 163 Spectrograms, 23, 26, 52, 54, 56, 60, 61, 152, 158, 159, 183 Stalnaker, Joanna, 279 Stanwood, Cordelia, 281 Starosielski, Nicole, 227, 236 St Clair, Justin, 95, 96, 114 Steinlight, Emily, 264, 265


Steinwand, Jonathan, 240 Stereotype, 13, 17, 25, 55, 63, 86, 87, 154, 203, 206, 222, 228, 268, 269 Sterne, Jonathan, 15, 52, 185, 187–189, 201, 202, 228, 271 Sterne, Laurence, 110, 111 Stethoscope, 32, 40, 183–185, 187, 188, 190–193, 195, 196, 198, 201, 202, 205, 207, 209–215, 220, 228, 229, 262, 268 Stoker, Bram, 40, 184, 185, 191, 199, 201, 202, 204, 213 Stravinsky, Igor, 59 Sublime, 67, 68, 75, 79, 236, 238, 240 Sympathy, 35, 39, 67, 69, 94, 108, 111, 113, 116, 122, 127, 139, 183, 185, 204, 258, 261, 263, 272, 276 T Tazudeen, Rasheed, 134 Telepathy, 35, 105, 151–154, 244, 268 Telephone, 39, 115, 121, 123, 127, 185, 219, 224, 227, 253, 271 Thanatocene, 73, 223, 228, 236, 241, 257 Therapy, 48, 63, 82–84, 89 Thomson, James, 109 Thoreau, Henry David, 28 Thorpe, William, 23 Tiffin, Helen, 19, 149, 150 Tinnitus, 113, 114, 224, 271 Tóibín, Colm, 58 Touch, 14, 178, 184, 202, 215, 270 Trauma, 277 Tsing, Anna, 112, 263, 272, 278 Turits, Meredith, 144 TV, 244, 253 Tyler, Tom, 13, 15, 17



U Urban, 17, 39, 47, 50, 65, 66, 82, 86, 87, 89, 97 V Vadde, Aarthi, 191 Vallee, Mickey, 48, 79 Vermeule, Blakey, 167 Vermeulen, Pieter, 249, 250 Verne, Jules, 158 Veterinarian, 123, 146, 185, 186, 188, 191–196, 198, 205, 210, 213–215, 262 Viney, William, 185 Visceral reading, 184, 204, 213–215, 286 Vivisection, 25, 139, 210, 213 Voice, 15, 16, 21, 26, 27, 55, 94, 95, 97, 101, 103, 107, 113, 116, 121, 124, 127, 129, 156, 188, 189, 263, 265, 270, 274, 282, 286 Vorda, Allan, 127 Vox mundi, 27, 127, 189, 262 Vulnerability, 5, 14, 40, 109, 111, 118, 122, 128, 164, 175, 184, 187, 194, 196, 198, 203–206, 208, 210, 211, 213–215, 220, 251, 253, 262, 281 W Walkman, 83, 125 War on Terror, 247 Wasserman, Sarah, 28 Watt, Ian, 110 Wells, H.G., 139 Werner, Martha, 281

Westling, Louise, 8, 133, 134 Wheeler, Wendy, 8 Whitehead, Hal, 220 Whitehouse, Andrew, 48, 63, 72, 280 Whitman, Walt, 8 Wicke, Jennifer, 201 Wierschem, Markus, 212 Wild, 48, 49, 54–56, 58, 62–64, 71, 76, 77, 81, 84, 90, 98, 117–119, 143, 146, 149, 174, 204, 206, 210, 262, 287 Wilderness, 47, 50, 63, 64, 70, 76, 77, 81, 88, 271 Wildlife, 17, 39, 55, 56, 64, 65, 67, 68, 70, 73, 76, 78, 81, 84, 88, 90, 137, 148, 262 Wills, David, 283, 284, 286, 287 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 2 Wohlleben, Peter, 272 Wolfe, Cary, 13, 28, 63, 194, 204 Woloch, Alex, 129, 264 Wood, Gillen D’Arcy, 17 Woolf, Virginia, 133, 137 Wylie, Dan, 150, 239 X Xenakis, Iannis, 87, 113–115, 118 Y Yates, Julian, 272 Youatt, William, 186 Z Zelko, Frank, 240 Zink, Nell, 32, 71