Noir Urbanisms: Dystopic Images of the Modern City

By Gyan Prakash | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Sounds Like Hell:
Beyond Dystopian Noise

JAMES DONALD

Thousands of people in Britain and around the world are dying prematurely
from heart disease triggered by long-term exposure to excessive noise,
according to research by the World Health Organisation. Coronary heart
disease caused 101,000 deaths in the UK in 2006, and the study suggests that
3,030 of these are caused by chronic noise exposure, including to daytime
traffic
.

—Guardian online, August 23, 2007

For the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, in 1844, hell was the sound of whips cracking in the Nuremberg streets.

[T]he truly infernal cracking of whips in the narrow resounding
streets of a town must be denounced as the most unwarrantable and
disgraceful of all noises. It deprives life of all peace and sensibility.
Nothing gives me so clear a grasp of the stupidity and thoughtless-
ness of mankind as the tolerance of the cracking of whips. This sud-
den, sharp crack which paralyses the brain, destroys all meditation,
and murders thought, must cause pain to any one who has anything
like an idea in his head. Hence every crack must disturb a hundred
people applying their minds to some activity, however trivial it may
be; while it disjoints and renders painful the meditations of the
thinker; just like the executioner’s axe when it severs the head from
the body… . Hammering, the barking of dogs, and the screaming of
children are abominable; but it is only the cracking of a whip that is
the true murderer of thought. Its object is to destroy every favour-
able moment that one now and then may have for reflection.1

-31-

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