Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf by Oliver Sacks

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“I actually think the deafness makes you see clearer. If you can’t hear, you somehow see” – David Hockney

The aforementioned quote encapsulates the theme and tenor of this magnificent book by the brilliant Dr.Oliver Sacks. Deafness in general and pre-lingual or congenital deafness is particular can have a devastating impact on the physical, mental and social psyche of the unfortunate individual. But the most jarring blow is the one dealt with by an unsympathetic and unaware society. The ostracism, isolation and neglect heaped upon a deaf person is more than adequate to inflict a trauma having the capability to scar and even wreck a pitiful life.

However, due to the stellar and noble efforts of mercurial geniuses such as William Stockoe (the pioneer of the American Sign Language (“ASL”), Laurent Clerc, a French teacher famously titled “The Apostle Of the Deaf”, giant strides have been and are being taken across the spectrum of the globe to bring more than just a glimmer of hope to the hearing impaired.

A classic case being – The Gallaudet University in USA – the only University in the world to offer the deaf a liberal arts curriculum. In this touching work, Dr.Sacks traces the arduous path from despondency staring a deaf person in the face to delights awaiting in the form of an aspiring future and a beautiful and fulfilling lifespan. An interesting aspect revealed by Dr.Sachs (relying on the treasure trove of a plethora of research findings) is the plasticity of the nervous system to ‘rearrange’ the auditory synapses to facilitate visual perception to compensate for auditory loss in a person bereft of hearing.

The real life examples in the book move, motivate and mellow down preconceptions and prejudicial notions. Slights such as “tone-deaf”; “mute”; “dumber’ etc would be relegated to the trash can once this book is done with. But the impact is sure to linger long after the covers have come down. So it should be!

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