I SEE A VOICE by Jonathan Rée


Deafness, Language and the Senses--A Philosophical History
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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 RÇe (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), RÇe 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. RÇe 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, RÇe 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 phenomenology—describing 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. RÇe’s philosophy class, where they can question him directly about what he is trying to say. (73 black and white illus.)

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1999
ISBN: 0-8050-6254-8
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1999