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I See a Voice; Deafness: Language, and the Senses
     

I See a Voice; Deafness: Language, and the Senses

by Jonathan Ree
 

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A groundbreaking study of deafness, by a philosopher who combines the scientific erudition of Oliver Sacks with the historical flair of Simon Schama.

There is nothing more personal than the human voice, traditionally considered the expression of the innermost self. But what of those who have no voice of their own and cannot hear the voices of others?

In this

Overview

A groundbreaking study of deafness, by a philosopher who combines the scientific erudition of Oliver Sacks with the historical flair of Simon Schama.

There is nothing more personal than the human voice, traditionally considered the expression of the innermost self. But what of those who have no voice of their own and cannot hear the voices of others?

In this tour de force of historical narrative, Jonathan Rée tells the astonishing story of the deaf, from the sixteenth century to the present. Rée explores the great debates about deafness between those who believed the deaf should be made to speak and those who advocated non-oral communication. He traces the botched attempts to make language visible, through such exotic methods as picture writing, manual spellings, and vocal photography. And he charts the tortuous progress and final recognition of sign systems as natural languages in their own right.

I See a Voice escorts us on a vast and eventful intellectual journey,taking in voice machines and musical scales, shorthand and phonetics, Egyptian hieroglyphs, talking parrots, and silent films. A fascinating tale of goodwill subverted by bad science, I See a Voice is as learned and informative as it is delightful to read.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A superb achievement. An exceptional book." (Alain de Botton, author of How Proust Can Change Your Life)

"Brilliant. A joy to read." (Roy Porter, The Indepent (London))

Ian Hacking
We have [here] a caring account of the faltering but uplifting progress of an applied science, a pedagogy that changes the life of those born deaf. But we do not yet hear the face of a new way to do philosophy.
London Review of Books
The Independent
Brilliant. A joy to read. - Roy Porter
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
It has long been understood that the communicative gestures used by non-hearing people constitute more than a language--there is, in fact, a deaf culture, rich in evocation, style, meaning. R e (professor of philosophy at the University of Middlesex and editor of Radical Philosophy) brings us a stunning account of deafness from the 16th century to the present. His compelling chapters draw upon metaphysics, science, history and philosophy as they touch upon such areas as grammar, sound and the uncanny resonances of inarticulate human sounds; time, syntax and the language of nature; signs and primitive culture; and space, time and the aesthetic theory of art, among much else. Graphics from a variety of eras and cultures enrich this exceptionally comprehensive volume. R e (who is not deaf) uses everyday experiences to buttress what might be abstract points. He is equally adept at exploring the science of deaf culture: "The mere fact that signers can make different linguistic signs simultaneously with each hand, and possibly with other parts of the body as well, means that any Sign Language script will have to be written in more than one string of characters--more like polyphony than a single vocal line." Mixing the erudite with the experiential, R e gives the reader a new understanding of deafness as possibility. Though densely written, this is a book that rewards patient attention: it is both useful in the classroom and a passionate experience for the intellectual, curious reader. Illus. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
With an exhaustingly researched exploration of the history of deafness as its core, this muddled volume seems to deplore the importance Western philosophy has given to the five senses over the centuries and tries to point another way. Author Rée (philosophy/Univ. of Middlesex; literary editor, Radical Philosophy) examines the historical squabbles, from Socrates to Derrida, over which of the senses is more virtuous and valuable. Ree characterizes these arguments as "rather inane," arguing ultimately that it is not through the individual senses that our worlds are constructed, but through the whole of a person's experience. Looking at the obverse of one sense (in this case, deafness), Rée postulates, will teach us about how the absence of hearing, for instance, might affect the experience and development of a human being. From the days of the Greeks and Romans and before, deaf persons were often considered mentally defective. That conceit lasted until the middle of the 16th century, when a Spanish monk taught two young deaf aristocrats to read, write, and speak as well as lip-read. Advances were also being made in France and England, where the still-active argument between sign language and lip-reading and speech took root. Rée crosses the Atlantic, reporting advances in teaching and tools to help the deaf communicate, as well as studies in linguistics indicating that sign language is as rich and complex as any other language. In a concluding section, Rée ruminates on how the five senses continue to be seen as channels to experience, and how philosophers might strive to shed "metaphysical notions" and subscribe to phenomenology—describing the world as itis, and from there ascribing meaning to it. Some interesting historical background for students and teachers concerned with the deaf in society; the rest is best left to Prof. Rée's philosophy class, where they can question him directly about what he is trying to say. (73 black and white illus.)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780805062557
Publisher:
Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
11/01/2000
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
6.76(w) x 9.02(h) x 1.07(d)

What People are Saying About This

Alain de Botton
A superb achievement. An exceptional book. - author of How Proust Can Change Your Life

Meet the Author

Jonathan Rée teaches philosophy at the University of Middlesex. A reviewer for The Times Literary Supplement and The London Review of Books, he is also the author of Philosophical Tales and Heidegger. He lives in Oxford, England.

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