Inner and Outer Sancta: Earplugs and Hospitals

Hillel Schwartz

in The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780195388947
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Inner and Outer Sancta: Earplugs and Hospitals


This article explores the inner and outer sancta of noise, focusing on the hospital setting as the outer, and earplugs as the inner sancta. Hospitals were sanctuaries from the noise of the world. Earplugs were sentries' thrust into the meatus, inelegant guardians of an elegant labyrinth, an inner sanctum that was sound's lymphatic burrow and rebirth. The study relates to the experiences of patients in hospitals as self-testimonies or case records. It suggests that despite cautious efforts to keep hospitals noiseless, quiet zones around hospitals could not suppress noises arising from within. As a result, hospitals had to make private rooms and install monitors, call buttons and alarms, compounding the cacophony at and around nurses' stations. As embodiments of two distinct modes of dealing with noise, the individual and the institutional, earplugs and hospitals meet up time and again at precisely that intersection at which Kafka put his hapless heroes, subject to the perpetual buzzing of The Castle and an ominous, indefinable whistling.

Keywords: inner sancta; outer sancta; earplugs; hospitals; case records

Article.  10020 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Sound Studies ; Applied Music

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