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Seeing Voices by Oliver Sacks

Seeing Voices (1989)

by Oliver Sacks

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Not done yet, so this is a temp. The subject is facinating (to me) and important (to everyone) and Sacks has that greatly excited tone of his that makes you think, probably rightly, that everything about the human mind is so *facinating*. The difficulty with this book is formating. In the edition I'm reading, there are footnotes (I love me the foot-notes, don't get it twisted) that take up as much as half the page, often running into the feet of subsequent pages. So lots of tangents and flipping back and forth that could have been prevented with a larger page and smaller foot-note font. Otherwise a great introduction to deaf topics with plenty of references to other works for follow up (though I'm sure the last 19 years have produced much in the way of deaf and sign books). ( )
  Eoin | Jun 3, 2019 |
This book was very informative. What impressed me most was how important it is that deaf people not be pushed to vocal communication, but rather use Sign. I was surprised to learn that American Sign is a very rich language and is much more useful than signed English. Oliver Sacks goes into a lot of detail with his wonderful sensitivity shining through. ( )
  ajlewis2 | Jul 11, 2018 |
In this book, Oliver Sacks explores the Deaf culture and the acquisition and development of Sign language. It is told in three parts. The first part I really liked, and it gave me some more books to add to (or move up) the TBR. The second part got rather technical and I lost interest. The third part I didn't get around to reading because of the lost momentum.

I wouldn't totally discourage anyone from reading this, despite my low rating; however, there may be more up-to-date books on Deaf culture and Sign available for readers to gain an understanding of this world. ( )
  rabbitprincess | May 7, 2017 |
The first two sections are a bit of a slog. Sacks goes into the history of educating deaf people, and he veers off all over the place into footnotes that are neither amusing nor informative. Despite that, he does manage to put the history of Sign and boarding schools for the deaf into both a historical and international context. To summarize, having successfully educated many people with Sign, demonstrating that deaf does not equal dumb in any sense, that hundred years of success was completely dismantled in favor of speech and language-focused education which returned deaf people into a second-class of people who were, truly disabled by the people supposed to be teaching them. Then, in the third section, you get people actually studying Sign, recognizing that they are real languages with real grammar and everything, and a deaf rights activism that results in the student takeover at Gallaudet. That part is interesting, not least because the recognition of a language really seems to lead to recognition of culture in both the ethnic sense (Welch or Gaelic, say) and in the human-rights sense (reclamation of the words "gay" and "black" as part of an ongoing battle to receive the full human status to which all people are entitled.

There is also some interesting stuff on accommodation and mainstreaming which parallels more recent educational efforts demanded by people with autism. I really wish there had been some sort of update, though, because the book was published in 1989. Fortunately, the Internets were able to bring me up-to-date.

Library copy. ( )
  Kaethe | Oct 16, 2016 |
Published June 1989, the year after the Gallaudet University revolution.

Interesting but pretty basic. Good for me since I haven’t read much on the topic at all and it references other material (David Wright’s autobiography, for example) and gives enough of a basic history to give a casual reader a basic understanding. I’m quite sorry to have listened to the audio version since it skips most of the footnotes, which are the most interesting part of the book for me! It’s a short-book in any case (64.000 words) and Sacks is a very readable writer.

The pathos is a bit too obvious, although undoubtedly the situation was (and sometimes is) quite dire for deaf people and it made me all teary eyed anyway. Still, it might well be that old cochlear implants were pretty much useless to make a deaf person into a hearing one, unlike current ones. See my review of Sound and Fury for more on that.

Another criticism to be made is that Sacks, like all Usian writers, is pretty USA-centric. Although there are appropriate comparisons to other countries and some history of the French tradition from which the Usian tradition originated with Clerc and Gallaudet and in the footnotes I did read interesting references to the very advanced organization of education for the deaf in countries like Venezuela and Uruguay (check the quotes) so it is possible that there is more about other countries in the ones I have not read but the bibliography is pretty much all Usian (I’m including it here, too).

I find it a bit confusing how there’s proof that every sign language is a separate language and the level of intelligibility is so high that two random signers of any language will get by with each other and be able to have conversations in a couple weeks. ( )
  askajnaiman | Jun 14, 2016 |
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[Sign language] is, in the hands of its masters, a most beautiful and expressive language, for which, in their intercourse with each other and as a means of easily and quickly reaching the minds of the deaf, neither nature nor art has given them a satisfactory substitute.
It is impossible for those who do not understand it to comprehend its possibilities with the deaf, its powerful influence on the moral and social happiness of those deprived of hearing, and its wonderful power of carrying thought to intellects which would otherwise be in perpetual darkness. Nor can they appreciate the hold it has upon the deaf. So long as there are two deaf people upon the face of the earth and they get together, so long will signs be in use.
--J. Schuyler Long
Head teacher, Iowa School for the Deaf
The Sign Language (1910)
For Isabelle Rapin, Bob Johnson, Bob Silvers, and Kate Edgar
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We are remarkably ignorant about deafness, which Dr. Johnson called "one of the most desperate of human calamities"--much more ignorant than an educated man would have been in 1886, or 1786.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375704078, Paperback)

Like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, this is a fascinating voyage into a strange and wonderful land, a provocative meditation on communication, biology, adaptation, and culture.  In Seeing Voices, Oliver Sacks turns his attention to the subject of deafness, and the result is a deeply felt portrait of a minority struggling for recognition and respect--a minority with its own rich, sometimes astonishing, culture and unique visual language, an extraordinary mode of communication that tells us much about the basis of language in hearing people as well. Seeing Voices is, as Studs Terkel has written, "an exquisite, as well as revelatory, work."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:20 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Provides a history of deaf people in the U.S., looking at the ways in which they have been seen and treated in the past and their ongoing struggle for acceptance; examines Sign, the visual language of the deaf; and discusses the uniquely human gift of language.… (more)

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