The writer Christopher Hitchens has throat cancer, and as often happens in such cases, the hardship is generating some profound writing. In this month’s Vanity Fair, Hitchens writes about losing his voice, and the meaning of it. He doesn’t have to tell oral communication specialists how profound a loss it is, but he tells it so well ….
In the medical literature, the vocal “cord” is a mere “fold,” a piece of gristle that strives to reach out and touch its twin, thus producing the possibility of sound effects. But I feel that there must be a deep relationship with the word “chord”: the resonant vibration that can stir memory, produce music, evoke love, bring tears, move crowds to pity and mobs to passion. We may not be, as we used to boast, the only animals capable of speech. But we are the only ones who can deploy vocal communication for sheer pleasure and recreation, combining it with our two other boasts of reason and humor to produce higher syntheses. To lose this ability is to be deprived of an entire range of faculty: it is assuredly to die more than a little.