Sep 23

Seeing Voices

Posted by Soliloquy in Adults with disabilities | Hearing Impaired


In this work, Sacks explores all facets of the deaf world–he meets with deaf people and their families and visits schools for the deaf, spending a good deal of time at Gallaudet University. As he writes, “I had now to see them in a new, ‘ethnic light,’ as people with a distinctive language, sensibility, and culture of their own.”

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5 Responses

  • C. Middleton says:

    Review by C. Middleton for Seeing Voices
    In this extraordinary study, Dr. Sacks gives the general reader a penetrating insight into the world of the deaf. In his acclaimed “The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat”, as a practicing neurologist, he brought his readers into the bizarre world of terrible brain related illnesses, presenting twenty-four cases of individuals afflicted with such diseases as agnosia or prosopagnosia, where “normal” reality is turned inside out, and how some of these diseases are treated and how the patients cope with their condition. In “Seeing Voices”, he permits us entry into the silent, at times strange, though culturally rich world of the congenitally and pre-lingually deaf.

    As someone who has had no previous experience or knowledge in this area, for me this text opened a whole new area of culture and history that is continually growing and developing.

    Sacks’ explores the nature of language, touching upon Noam Chomsky’s paradigm-shifting studies, “Syntactic Structures”, “Cartesian Linguistics” and Language of Mind”, where he proposes his theory that language is innate, lying dormant until it is made active through human interaction and culture. Sacks connects these theories to the pre-lingual deaf and its implications and manifestations.

    We are also given a history lesson on the language of SIGN, how it has developed, why it was jettisoned, out of ignorant prejudice, in the late nineteenth century, and its miraculous come back in the twentieth century. Through Sacks’ concise and straightforward prose, he connects us to the foreign world of another language not depended on speech, its intricacies and its wonder, and how those of us who have the ability to hear and to verbalize, all too often take language for granted. He also makes clear the sophistication of Sign as a form of legitimate communication, its grammatical foundations and its many nuances, and how, in some ways, it is a superior form of active exchange between people.

    In chapter three, Sacks tells us about the cultural breakthrough at Gallaudet University in March 1988, where after massive student protest, the school literally closed down, the first ever deaf president of the university was appointed. Sacks witnessed this social changing event first hand, which in the end affected him more than he realized,

    “I had to see this all for myself before I could be moved from my previous “medical” view of deafness (as a condition, a deficit, that had to be “treated”) to a “cultural” view of the deaf as forming a community with a complete language and culture of its own.” (P.129-30)

    Indeed this entire text has changed my view that deafness is not simply a condition or human deficit, but another way of being in the world. In fact the deaf, with their shared language are forming a world community and culture crossing all barriers. And as Dr. Sacks points out, in this way, “…the deaf have something to teach us.” (P. 167)

  • Peter Castaldi says:

    Review by Peter Castaldi for Seeing Voices
    Seeing Voices gives a clear answer to the question, “Which comes first? Language or thought.” The answer, “Language.” As Sacks retells stories of the profoundly deaf deprived of “language” into early adulthood, the pattern emerges: Without language there is no abstraction, no ability to achieve love or communication, and all life becomes an inarticulate groaning to have basic needs met immediately. There is no sense of time – life becomes an eternal present. The discovery of language leads to intense sadness as one realizes the lonely prison they have been in. In a long life of reading, this is the first book I immediately re-read on completing it the first time.

  • Anonymous says:

    Review by for Seeing Voices
    I have to admit, I was “forced” to read Sacks’ book for my Cognition class in university this past year. However, once I started getting into the book, it actually became a joy to read as Sacks poured his enthusiasm and wonder about the world of the deaf onto every page. I was soon finished and looking forward to the paper I was required to write on the book. However, as noted in many other comments, the long footnotes were incredibly distracting, many of them turning over for three pages, after which it was necesaary to go back and re-read everything you’d just finished looking at in the main article. His repetition at the beginning and end of the book also got annoying. On the whole, though, I quite enjoyed Oliver Sacks’ book and am interested in reading more of his works now.

  • Robert Carlberg says:

    Review by Robert Carlberg for Seeing Voices
    I concur with my colleague Kex86, this is an excellent mediation on what it means to think. Sacks acknowledges the substantial Deaf (with a capital ‘D’) political movement that feels deafness is not a disability, but a completely different way to experience the world. The unsurpassed richness of Sign — and the thought patterns supported by it — will cause many a “deafness-impaired” hearing person to give consideration to this view.As always, Oliver is erudite, compassionate, witty and insightful. A delightful and thought-provoking book — in ANY language.

  • Anonymous says:

    Review by for Seeing Voices
    Oliver Sacks, the author of Awakenings, presents an overview of deafness and deaf culture. The book is written in three parts. Part 1 covers a history of deafness with the first deaf schools in France. The history examines the controversy between the oral method and sign language.Part 2 extensively looks at sign as a distinct language with its own syntax and grammar.Part 3 is an excellent synopsis of the 1988 uprising at Gallaudet University over the selection of a new president.This book offers a fascinating overview of deaf culture by a talented writer.



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