I See a Voice: Deafness, Language and the Senses--A Philosophical History

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9780805062557: I See a Voice: Deafness, Language and the Senses--A Philosophical History

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.

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About 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.

From 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 Re (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), Re 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. Re 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, Re 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 phenomenologydescribing the world as it is, 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. Re's philosophy class, where they can question him directly about what he is trying to say. (73 black and white illus.) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Jonathan Rée
Editorial: Holt Paperbacks (2000)
ISBN 10: 0805062556 ISBN 13: 9780805062557
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Rée, Jonathan
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