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Seeing Voices by Oliver Sacks

Seeing Voices (original 1989; edition 2000)

by Oliver Sacks

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1,017138,361 (3.73)10
Title:Seeing Voices
Authors:Oliver Sacks
Info:Vintage (2000), Paperback, 240 pages
Collections:Your library, To read, Bethesda

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Seeing Voices by Oliver Sacks (1989)

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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. ( )
  Evalangui | Aug 22, 2014 |
This book is 25 years old, and while I'm certain there are more recent books on the topic of deafness, this one is still worth reading. It's not just about deafness, but about language, and how language shapes our brains, and how important language is to developing as a person. In just 150 pages, Oliver Sacks managed to blow my mind with things which had never occurred to me before. ( )
  BrookeAshley | Mar 5, 2014 |
I enjoyed this, as I enjoy all Sacks, and it's not his best. It's light on neurology. Given its 1989 publication, it's quite out of date. It predates baby sign language and both behind-the-ear speech processors and fully implantable cochlear implants. In addition (and since I read it as an audiobook, I can't easily double-check this), Sacks makes two errors of a sort I don't usually see from him. First, he treats Kaspar Hauser is a viable example of late language attainment. I believe that by the time he was writing, it was reasonably well-agreed that Hauser was a fraud. Second, he seems to believe that the "dumb" of "deaf and dumb" refers to intellect, when a cursory look at etymology shows that this is incorrect. "Dumb" means "silent" in this context ("dumbwaiter," "struck dumb").

Sacks provides an interesting history of education for the deaf (or lack thereof), the development of sign, and the cultural and political struggles around sign. I found the third section, on the 1988 student protests at Gallaudet University, most interesting, probably because I remember it well.

Edited to add: The reader on the Audible version only reads some of the footnotes. To see them all, you'll need to use Google Books or a hard copy. ( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
First of all I have to mention the footnotes. They are extensive and take up half the page in some instances. This was very distracting, and I felt almost as if I were reading two books at once.

There were several things here that struck me. I picked up the book as sign language has always interested me, more so after working my last job, where some of the children were not able to hear, and some unable to speak in other ways. This book was interesting and informative and a very quick read.

There was mention early on how one young man, who had lost his hearing after seven years. He would hear the voice of his mother in his head even after his hearing was gone. This made me think of how I and possibly you, do this with books. I hear the voices of well known and loved characters in my head as I read. This was defined by the author as an "illusory" type of hearing.

This book explores the options given to the patents of non hearing children as far as signing and lip reading are concerned. There is mention of how som who live in the deaf community choose to Live without trying any extreme measures to give them at least some hearing. I think this is a perfectly good choice for an adult to make.
For an adult to make it for a child, at least as far as not exposing them to different learning settings and options, is in my opinion a mistake. All of us have ways of learning that suit us better than others, and when it comes to parents of a child who faces difficulty from the outset, the choices must be quite stressful. Finding what works best for your child can be difficult without any added obstacles.

We have all heard the horror stories from the past where of children grew to adulthood having been labeled as "slow" or "feeble minded" or worse, when their only issue was lack of hearing, and thus lack of ability to communicate. I have no reason to believe that things have changed enough over the years to keep this from happening now.

My reason for reading this book is that there was a girl I will call V in the classroom where I worked. She was brought in as a 4 year old who had not had any prior intervention, aside from the implantation of a cochlear implant. There was little training for her after the initial few weeks, as she didn't seem to like having the magnet near her head. I believe that if she had been sent to an appropriate school where profoundly deaf children were top priority and the the staff was trained and equipped for that particular challenge, her chances of acieving some learning would have been much better.

At one point she was taken out of school for three years, with no intervention or teaching at all, and then sent back to the same place. By that time she was an adolescent trapped in a world of silence and low vision. I read this book because of her and because I always believed that she would have been capable of so much more, were she given the chance. What I read affirmed that belief for me. ( )
2 vote mckait | Dec 2, 2012 |
Deafness and sign language are used in this book to comment on language, culture and humanity. A very interesting read, even when you're not particularly interested in deafness in itself. ( )
  wester | May 1, 2012 |
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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)

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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)

(summary from another edition)

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