Social Sciences Jonathan Rée I See a Voice

ISBN 13: 9780002557931

I See a Voice

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9780002557931: I See a Voice

I See a Voice is the stunning debut of Jonathan Rée, the Simon Schama of philosophy.

What is so special about the human voice?

The relationship between the ear and the voice is unique among the senses. While we cannot emit light or smell or flavour at will, we control, unconsciously or consciously, the sounds that come from our mouths.

Many thinkers, most notably Freud, have seen the voice as the outward expression of the soul. Careful listening to the voices of others, it was felt, would lay bare your innermost fears and desires.

Given such an intimate connection between hearing and speaking, what has been the fate of those born deaf? How have they found ways of communicating? Rée’s book uses fable and anecdote to examine the extraordinary treatment through the ages of the mute in Western culture.

In doing so he uncovers some wonderful stories: the conflict between those who used sign language and who sought a deaf homeland and the ‘oralists’ of Britain and Germany, who believed that the deaf should be integrated into society by being taught how to speak.

Rée spins these observations and stories into a rich fabric to create a new genre: philosophical history, which is neither a philosophy of what history is, nor a history of ideas. Rather, it attempts to write history from an accessibly philosophical point of view. Rée succeeds in this endeavour beautifully.

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Review:

With a remarkable breadth of reference, Jonathan Ree takes a lucid look at the philosophical history of our understanding of deafness and the senses. The deaf have never had an easy time. The ancient Greeks abandoned deaf babies. Jewish and Roman law prohibited the deaf from owning property. It was widely assumed that the deaf were also dumb. A change occurred in the 17th century when more attention was paid to the deaf, though it was felt that they would not be able to understand the concept of a "sin" and therefore risked losing their place in heaven. Cleric abbé de l' Epée first realised that deaf people everywhere always developed a fairly sophisticated language of their own--signing. Intellectuals were fascinated and speculated on whether certain signs were influenced by gender and class. In Germany and Britain, however, the "oralists" dominated the debate, arguing the deaf should be taught to speak so that they could be integrated into society. Ree quotes from the great philosophers, but includes fables and anecdote. An absorbing and provocative read.

From the Publisher:

SELECTION FROM THE REVIEWS
‘A joy to read: bold, crisp in style, effortlessly erudite, slyly humorous, passionate and humane.’ ROY PORTER, Independent

‘An unquestionable triumph. Rée writes beautifully, orchestrating a scarcely credible range of historical, philosophical and literary references into a narrative that fairly jumps off the page.’ DAVID PAPINEAU, Independent on Sunday

‘Some philosophers take difficulty and try to make it simple, but Rée takes what is apparently mundane and undeniably everyday and makes it hard and wonderful. Rewriting the history of the treatment of the deaf, he scrutinises the everyday and commonplace, charging them with significance. Psychoanalysis and Freud’s writings flood into his text, along with Wordsworth, Proust and his own poignant memories of things past. His writing’s melancholy richness soaks up the culture of the late twentieth century: its emphasis on subjectivity and uncertainty; its sense of the individual; its receptivity to other forms; its confessionalism and belief in self scrutiny... in a passionate, philosophical history of language, deafness and the senses.’ NICCI GERRARD, Observer

‘A fascinating, original, deeply suggestive work, written with haunting power and beauty.’ BEN ROGERS, Financial Times

‘[Many stories, each] dazzling in its implications, entrancing in itself, sizzle through I SEE A VOICE. By the end, as well as knowing more about the history of deaf education, the reader will know why sign language is a real language, how Dickens used to mark up his texts to give his extraordinary readings, how historical etymology began, but more than this, the book transmits the intoxicating fever of philosophy, of wondering why along with everyone who has wondered why.’ VICTORIA NEUMARK, TES

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