Georg Simmel’s Concluding Thoughts: Worlds, Lives, Fragments 303012990X, 9783030129903

This book draws upon the work of Georg Simmel to explore the limits, tensions and dynamism of social life through a clos

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Georg Simmel’s Concluding Thoughts: Worlds, Lives, Fragments
 303012990X,  9783030129903

Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-xvii
Introduction: Contextualising Simmel’s Thinking (David Beer)....Pages 1-22
Front Matter ....Pages 23-23
Lowering a Plumb Line (David Beer)....Pages 25-52
The Emerging Figure (David Beer)....Pages 53-75
Front Matter ....Pages 77-77
Life as Transcendence (David Beer)....Pages 79-98
The Turn Towards Ideas (David Beer)....Pages 99-123
Death and Immortality (David Beer)....Pages 125-144
The Law of the Individual (David Beer)....Pages 145-170
Conclusion: Working with and Using Simmel’s Ideas (David Beer)....Pages 171-194
Back Matter ....Pages 195-197

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Georg Simmel’s Concluding Thoughts Worlds, Lives, Fragments David Beer

Georg Simmel’s Concluding Thoughts

David Beer

Georg Simmel’s Concluding Thoughts Worlds, Lives, Fragments

David Beer Department of Sociology University of York York, UK

ISBN 978-3-030-12990-3 ISBN 978-3-030-12991-0  (eBook) Library of Congress Control Number: 2019931736 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2019 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, express or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover image: Drypoint of George Simmel by Lesley Shaw © Lesley Shaw This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland

For Martha


As it turns out, and this was not what I had anticipated, this is a book of questions. This particular property reflects the period of Simmel’s writings that I study here. Fully aware of his limited time, Simmel seems compelled to propose questions, as many questions as possible, as he toiled through his final years. From what remains of the remnants of his life, which have been damaged and dispersed by time and circumstance, Gianfranco Poggi suggests that a picture of Simmel’s character might still be found. There remain, in Poggi’s view, enough traces to start to piece together a picture of Georg Simmel, who, he claims: had a relentlessly questioning intellect, with a self-consciously cultivated taste for surprising transitions in the analysis of the very different themes to which it applied itself; a penchant for paradox and for striking formulations; and a distaste, or perhaps an incapacity, for systematic discourse. He was able to uncover the complexities of apparently simple phenomena… He had a self-consciously refined aesthetic sense.1

Simmel was a writer and thinker who sought to uncover, to question and to reveal. With an unquenchable impulse for challenging conceptions of social life, he opened-up simple phenomena, creating possibilities for seeing them anew. Elizabeth Goodstein, in her recent book on Simmel’s works, draws a similar description:




Simmel’s unusually public success as a philosopher was grounded in a cosmopolitan sensibility that resonated powerfully with his Berlin audiences. Skeptical, analytical, and highly sensitive, he experienced the modern world with visceral intensity – and strove to capture experience and make it intelligible in speech and writing.2

As such, the book aims to remain in keeping with the pursuit of questions and of possibilities typical of Simmel’s own outlook. It tries to locate and explore his sensitivities, his intensity and his scepticism. Cushman has remarked that the reader ‘feels Simmel as a person much more in this last work than in any other of his works’.3 This would suggest that by turning to Simmel’s late writings, as I do in this book, we have much to discover about his thinking and about the culmination of his ideas and approach. I hope that in this sense this book carries something of those late Simmel writings and perhaps also something of his inquisitive disposition. The idea of sticking to a comfort zone is not something that can be easily adhered to when reading or writing about Simmel. Reading Simmel is always an exercise in thinking. As I write this book, the moment is defined by tensions and unanswered questions. In some regards I was drawn to such a project by the broader sense of social, political and cultural turmoil. Along with the changes to the political scenery emerging over the last decade or so, there have also been technological and media changes that are reconfiguring what Simmel called ‘sociation’. As Coser has neatly put it, to Simmel ‘sociation always involves harmony and conflict, attraction and repulsion, love and hatred’.4 For Coser, Simmel’s sociology is about understanding the ‘ambivalence’ we hold to the world and the ambivalent nature of our connections with it. Sociation is almost always about tensions. It is for such reasons that Coser drew the simple but important conclusion that ‘Simmel never dreamed of a frictionless universe, of a society from which clashes and contentions among individuals and groups would be forever banned’.5 When we consider the social circumstances of today, it is hard not to share Simmel’s realism or his perspective on the tensions of social life. The sense of friction and tension and the pursuit of questions over easy answers seems fitting. With long and tangled roots, the political and technological shifts of the last decade seem to be calling for us to rethink and reimagine. One way to find such inspiration is to turn to older texts and to think about what they still might offer or how they might be developed to shed light on



the things we are seeing today. As I will explore, the act of translation across time and space is not simple and should not be achieved in overly reductive ways. You can’t just lift ideas from one time and transport them elsewhere, we need to be sensitive to what those concepts might achieve whilst also being attentive to their failings, blind-spots and limits—as well as acknowledging the problems we might create through their reuse. Ideas, intellectual spark and an eye for a question, that is what I think Simmel still has to offer us even as we pass the centenary of his death. York, UK

David Beer

Notes 1. Poggi, G., Money and the Modern Mind: Georg Simmel’s Philosophy of Money, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993, p. 55. 2. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 16. 3. Cushman, T., ‘Book Review: The View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms’, Journal of Classical Sociology 13(1), 2010, pp. 108–112, p. 112. 4.  Coser, L.A., ‘Introduction’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1965a, pp. 1–26, p. 11. 5.  Coser, L.A., ‘Introduction’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1965b, pp. 1–26, p. 12.


Thanks go to Gareth Millington for encouraging me to write about Simmel, and also to Joanna Latimer for her general enthusiasm for my work and her warm response to two blog posts I wrote on Simmel’s writings. Ruth Penfold-Mounce and Katy Sian have also been vastly encouraging along the way, many thanks go to them too. Without the input and enthusiasm of Gareth, Joanna, Katy and Ruth I don’t think I’d have found the confidence to write this book. I was also inspired by Florence Chiew’s visit to my department in 2018, we had a number of discussions about classical social theory that helped give my writing a bit of a boost. I’d like to send my gratitude to the editors at Palgrave Macmillan for their patience, especially Tamsine O’Riordan and Beth Farrow. The book went through a number of delays as I kept returning to the drawing-board and as I struggled with the direction I was taking, I appreciated them handling the twists and turns of the project with grace and skill. Amongst many things, Anne Akeroyd gave me one of her old Simmel books, I’d like to remember her here. Thanks go to Lesley Shaw who produced the wonderful artwork for the cover of the book. I’m hoping that some of Moses, Lennon and Nell’s formidable energy might have found its way into the pages of this book along with, hopefully, some of Joe and Maddie’s compassion and humour. Extra special thanks, as always, are reserved for Erik and Martha.



1 Introduction: Contextualising Simmel’s Thinking 1 Part I  The Pursuit of Inspiration 2 Lowering a Plumb Line 25 3 The Emerging Figure 53 Part II  The View of Life 4 Life as Transcendence 79 5 The Turn Towards Ideas 99 6 Death and Immortality 125 7 The Law of the Individual 145 8 Conclusion: Working with and Using Simmel’s Ideas 171 Index 195 xiii

Abbreviations of Books and Essays by Georg Simmel

For ease of use Simmel’s works are referred to by abbreviations. For in-text citations the abbreviation is followed by the page number. All texts by authors other than Simmel have been cited using endnotes. To give a greater sense of the chronology of the pieces I discuss, in the below listing the years in square brackets indicate the publication date of the original German version of that text (the dates were cross-checked with Thomas M. Kemple’s ‘A chronology of Simmel’s Works in English’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 317–323). BD BWY CC CF CH CMC DGS

‘Bridge and Door’, trans. Mark Ritter, Theory, Culture & Society 11(1), 1994 [1909], pp. 5–10 ‘Become what you are’, trans. Ulrich Teucher and Thomas M. Kemple, Theory, Culture & Society 24(7–8), 2007 [1915], pp. 57–60 ‘The Crisis of Culture’, Georg Simmel: Sociologist and European, ed. P.A. Lawrence, trans. D.E. Jenkinson, New York: Barnes & Noble, 1976 [1916], pp. 253–266 ‘The Change in Cultural Forms’, Simmel on Culture, eds. David Frisby and Mike Featherstone, trans. Mark Ritter, London: Sage, 1997 [1916], pp. 103–108 ‘The constitutive concepts of history’, Essays on Interpretation in Social Science, ed. and trans. Guy Oakes, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1980 [1917–18], pp. 145–197 ‘The Conflict in Modern Culture’, Georg Simmel: The Conflict in Modern Culture and Other Essays, ed. and trans. K. Peter Etzkorn, New York: Teachers College Press, 1968 [1918], pp. 11–26 ‘The Dialectic of the German Spirit’, trans. Austin Harrington, Theory, Culture & Society 24(7–8), 2007 [1916], pp. 61–65 xv


Abbreviations of Books and Essays by Georg Simmel


‘Europe and America in World History’, trans. Austin Harrington, European Journal of Social Theory 8(1), 2005 [1915], pp. 63–72 FPS ‘Fundamental Problems in Sociology: Individual and Society’, The Sociology of Georg Simmel, ed. and trans. Kurt H. Wolff, Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1950 [1917], pp. 3–57 GCR ‘Germanic and Classical Romanic Style’, trans. Austin Harrington, Theory, Culture & Society 24(7–8), 2007 [1918], pp. 47–52 GSG15 Gestamtausgabe Band 15: Suhrkamp taschenbuch wissenschaft. Goethe, Deutschlands innere Wandlung, Das Problem der historischen Zeit, Rembrandt, ed. Herausgegeben von Uta Kösser, Hans-Martin Kruckis and Otthein Rammstedt, Baden-Baden: Suhrkamp, 2003 [Rembrandt, 1916] GSG23 Gestamtausgabe Band 15: Suhrkamp taschenbuch wissenschaft: Briefe 1912–1918, Jugendbriefe, ed. Bearbeitet von Otthein, Herausgegeben von Otthein and Angela Rammstedt, Baden-Baden: Suhrkamp, 2008 [1912–1918] GY ‘Goethe and Youth’, trans. Ulrich Teucher and Thomas M. Kemple, Theory, Culture & Society 24(7–8), 2007 [1914], pp. 85–90 IE ‘The Idea of Europe’, Georg Simmel: Sociologist and European, ed. P.A. Lawrence, trans. D.E. Jenkinson, New York: Barnes & Noble, 1976 [1917], pp. 267–271 KG ‘Kant and Goethe: On the History of the Modern’, translated from the 1916 version of the text by Josef Bleicher, Theory, Culture & Society 24(6), 2007 [1916], pp. 159–191 LB Lebensanschauung: Vier Metaphysische Kapitel, London: Forgotten Books, 2015 [1918] NHU ‘On the nature of historical understanding’, Essays on Interpretation in Social Science, ed. and trans. Guy Oakes, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1980 [1918], pp. 97–126 OL ‘On Love (A Fragment)’, Georg Simmel: On Women, Sexuality, and Love, ed. and trans. Guy Oakes, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984 [1918], pp. 153–192 PF ‘The Picture Frame: An Aesthetic Study’, trans. Mark Ritter, Theory, Culture & Society 11(1), 1994 [1902], pp. 11–17 PHT ‘The problem of historical time’, Essays on Interpretation in Social Science, ed. and trans. Guy Oakes, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1980 [1916], pp. 127–144 PM The Philosophy of Money, ed. and trans. David Frisby, Routledge Classics Edition, London and New York: Routledge, 2011 [1907] RB Rembrandt: An essay in the philosophy of art, ed. and trans. Alan Scott and Helmut Staubmann (with assistance of K. Peter Etzkorn), New York and London: Routledge, 2005 [1916]

Abbreviations of Books and Essays by Georg Simmel    



Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, trans. Helmut Loiskandl, Deena Weinstein and Michael Weinstein, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986 [1907] The View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms, trans. John. A. Y. Andrews and Donald Levine, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010 [1918]


Introduction: Contextualising Simmel’s Thinking

To read the work of Georg Simmel is submerge yourself in a torrent of ideas. Some of these ideas fly, they trigger the imagination and provoke thoughts of how they might be applied or what they might reveal. Simmel undoubtedly had an unusual sensitivity and feeling for the sociology buried in the world around him. Other ideas, some of his more speculative leaps, fall flat. Perhaps this is an inevitable outcome of the range of insights he offered, the way he sought to stretch his analysis beyond the obvious and, of course, the passage of time. Simmel’s flights of analysis bring both insights and difficulties. There are bits that are hard to decipher, momentary ambiguities and even the occasional crass or crude generalisation. On Simmel’s speculative edge, Célestin Bouglé, writing around 1912, argued that: Even though Simmel’s formulations may not go beyond the realm of probability, they are profound and intricate, and they should definitely be codified, classified, and offered for examination. And it is beyond doubt that, had Simmel chosen to be a more objective sociologist, he would have found it much more difficult to be so suggestive a “moralist”.1

The message is clear, we can value the things that Simmel’s speculations offer whilst still being attentive to their limits and problems. The shortcomings of Simmel’s approach are perhaps obvious, but it seems that Bouglé was more interested in what those lines of thought provide the reader, in the threads, the ideas and the connections. By looking closely © The Author(s) 2019 D. Beer, Georg Simmel’s Concluding Thoughts,


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at Simmel’s later works, this book attempts to tap into the incisive and intricate accounts of social life contained within them. In the following pages I pick up on some of these threads, explore them and seek to bring to the surface the possibilities they offer for social analysis today. Putting the limitations to one side for the moment, there remains a richness to Simmel’s writings, they provoke a sense of possibility for the reader. The challenge within these texts is to locate those possibilities. This book is written with this ambition, to see how Simmel’s writings might be worked-with and explored to locate conceptual nuggets and to think through their possibilities and potentials.2 To make the project manageable, given both how prolific Simmel was and also the density and vibrancy of his works, a line needed to be drawn. Some artificial parameters were needed to afford the ideas space to breath. Here I focus most directly on the works published or written between 1914 and 1918, the final four years of Simmel’s life, with particularly close attention paid to what might be considered his last two major works: Rembrandt and The View of Life. To understand these choices and these writings, we should begin with some context. In a talk given in New York in January 1963 Albert Salomon described one of Simmel’s lectures, he paints a picture of a speaker with significant appeal: I attended in 1910 classes at the University of Berlin for the first time. I remember vividly the lecture course Simmel gave. In the widest classroom which stretched from the Southside of the university with a view to Unter den Linden to the Northside looking over the old chestnut trees to Dorotheenstreest, he lectured at the godless time from 2-3 pm in order to deter the hundreds of people who crowded his classes. He was disgusted with the fact that he was fashionable; but even at such an hour, there were hundreds of listeners in the largest classroom of Berlin University.3

This lively and energetic environment in which he was embedded as a key figure, with an interested and even adoring public, was a context that Simmel was soon to leave behind when he was to relocate his life and work away from Berlin. Salomon tellingly described Simmel, who appeared to be thriving in this vibrant context, as an ‘adventurer in ideas’.4 However uncomfortable he may have seemed with his relative fame, his upcoming move away from Berlin was still a physical and intellectual uprooting.



Simmel was born on the 1st of March 1858 at the corner of Leipzigerstrasse and Friedrichstrasse in the centre of Berlin,5 he went on to study, live, write and teach in the city until the latter years of his life. Drawing the curtain on his long Berlin residency, Simmel sent a letter to Otto Back on the 18th of January 1914 indicating his acceptance of his new post in Strasbourg (GSG23 280). As such, 1914–1918 was a time of personal change for Simmel, with his move from Berlin to take up, at the age of 56, a permanent chair of philosophy post Strasbourg.6 It was his first permanent academic post. Having not achieved such a permanent position until this point is evidence, for Levine, of the ‘institutional manifestation’ of Simmel’s ‘marginality’ in the academy even despite his profile—indeed, Simmel has been evocatively described as ‘the stranger in the academy’.7 It was also, obviously, a time of social unrest and turmoil in Europe with the raging of the First World War. Simmel’s move was part of a personal story of that period, set against both the war and prevailing prejudice. Simmel’s own views on the war changed significantly during this period.8 Elizabeth Goodstein describes the impact of the war on Simmel in the following terms: During the final years of Georg Simmel’s life, the Great War raged on seemingly without end. Exiled, as it were, from Berlin beginning in March 1914, he had landed, ironically, right back in the midst of things – in what almost immediately became the “citadel” (Festung) Strasbourg. Like so many others, Simmel was swept up in the patriotic fervor of August 1914. By early the next year, though, he was already – very publicly – expressing deep concern about the disastrous cultural consequences of the war for Europe as a whole.9

The war then was a significant part of Simmel’s final years, it would inevitably impact on his work and thinking. He was actually formally warned for what was perceived to be ‘unpatriotic’ thinking, which he did little to heed10—he also admitted to struggling to think of anything beyond the war.11 Goodstein, who seeks to read Simmel’s work as closely as possible to its context, argues that his later works and particularly his ‘mature philosophy of life must be read in this context – in a very real sense, a tragic one’.12 Simmel had, of course, long been interested in the modern and this war represented, Goodstein adds, the ‘fulfilment’ of its ‘darkest potentials’.13 As such, the importance of context is painfully obviously.

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Take for example Symons’ reflections on Simmel’s book on Rembrandt (which will be discussed in Chapters 2 and 3) in which he claims that ‘we see Simmel indulge in rich descriptions of the uniqueness and irreplaceability of every individual, while at the same time the first industrialized war in the history of humankind is wreaking its brutal and dis-individualising violence’.14 The forces of the time push their way, it would seem, into Simmel’s writings and, perhaps inevitably, into the interpretation of those writings. So even Simmel’s text on Rembrandt, which on the surface is a long essay on the philosophy of art, may be interpreted and understood in light of these violent circumstances. His reaction to the war may well be found implicitly as well as explicitly in the writings, it is not always clear. Although, we should still be cautious in making any direct connections, especially as, according to Wolff, Gertrud Simmel had indicated that in his final months Georg did not like to be distracted from his thoughts by the news and tended to avoid reading the newspaper.15 This is not to suggest that the context does not matter, but that we need to be careful in how the texts are situated. Goodstein’s key argument is that Simmel was responding to the ‘crisis of meaning in European life’, the lack of appeal of ‘transcendent truth’ and the ‘destruction of the cultural world that had given meaning to his life’.16 The consequence is a crisis of identity and meaning created by the these events and the changing culture that surrounded them. The times, according to Goodstein, had a profound impact upon his writings. She goes on to further elucidate this image of Simmel feeling the crushing pressures of a changing world. ‘In his final four years,’ Goodstein claims: working, not just under the globally terrible conditions of wartime, but in the acute circumstances of the garrison town, Simmel produced a series of essays and talks in which he strove publicly to convey that vision – a striving that culminates in the beautiful and profound work that he would call his “last word of wisdom”.17

The weight of the times, Goodstein is clear, were pressing on Simmel as both the social and cultural moment coincided with his illness. We know that Simmel was sensitive to the twists of modernity, so it is no surprise that he felt these particular horrors with sharp intensity. Along with the times, the importance of location for Simmel’s writing was not lost on another of his key interpreters, David Frisby, who has pointed to the importance of the Berlin setting for the type of work



that Simmel produced.18 The Berlin of the early 1900s up until the war was, according to Levine, ‘a congenial setting for the cultivated style of life and thought which Simmel followed’.19 His popularity, profile and standing in Berlin were clearly important factors in the work that he produced and in his style of communication.20 This apparently deep attachment to Berlin and its role in his work are crucial for understanding the relevance of his move to Strasbourg. Importantly, as well as considering the Berlin milieu, where Simmel had lived since his birth in 1958, Gianfranco Poggi also explores the backdrop of a changing nation and empire.21 Indeed, it is important not just to see the Berlin connection, which is undoubtedly important, but also to acknowledge the ‘imperial entanglements of discipline’, as George Steinmetz has put it.22 In addition to the time and place of his writings, Coser has also suggested that Simmel’s changing ambitions, expectations and sense of purpose fed into the materials he produced.23 Coser has provided an analysis of the outlets of Simmel’s publications, splitting his career into two large periods to show how his priorities changed. Coser points to the shifting combination of scholarly and non-scholarly publications across these two periods. Clearly this is not an easy line to draw, but it provided Coser the opportunity to broadly outline a move in Simmel’s writing. The table provided by Coser separates out Simmel’s pre- and post-1900 publications into scholarly and non-scholarly categories, finding that before 1900 the percentage split was roughly 50/50, changing substantially later to 28% scholarly and 72% non-scholarly outputs. Coser’s analysis of the table is that: At the start of his career Simmel apparently communicated with both scholarly and nonscholarly audiences; later he tended to publish more and more in nonscholarly publications. Earlier, he still attempted to live up to the expectations of the academy; in later years, while he was not unmindful of the academy, the nonacademic audience loomed larger.24

Simmel maintained an interest in writing for different audiences but seems to have moved toward an increasing focus on non-academic writing—perhaps reflecting that aforementioned sense of urgency around the changing times. A further issue here, as well as the separation between scholarly and non-scholarly, is the status given to publications in this analysis with, it is assumed, short pieces being given the same standing as longer works. In terms of volume and word length the weightings

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would have been quite different, of course, especially if Simmel’s books had been included. Coser suggests though that the same finding applies to Simmel’s books.25 This aside, the point Coser’s analysis is useful in suggesting is that not only were Simmel’s later writings being shaped by his personal circumstances, his move from Berlin to Strasbourg and the violence of war, his output may also have been shaped by his own changing ambitions, an alteration in his position in the academy and the emergence of a preferred audience. We find Simmel with changing personal circumstances in a new geographical and cultural scene, with a shifting attachment to the academy as well as a social and political backdrop of extreme uncertainty.

Working with Simmel’s Thoughts On the 11th of September 1918, not long before his death, Simmel wrote to Sabine Lepsius in reflective mood. He was glad to have completed his final book and saw this as reflecting the fact that his life was moving towards its conclusion, the book gave a sense of completion, yet he maintained a defiant tone, ‘life has not defeated me’ (GSG23 1015) he stated. This gives a sense of the moment and the quiet determination from which that final book emerges. A few weeks earlier, in August that same year, he had written to the philosopher Hermann von Keyserling expressing his concern to preserve his diminished energy so he might finish off that final book. He told him in that letter that he was putting all his energy into writing that final book, Lebensanschauung or The View of Life, before reading his friends new text (GSG23 996). Goodstein adds to this fleeting impression that ‘Simmel finished the book when he knew he was dying of liver cancer and was in considerable pain, refusing morphine until he had finished writing’.26 He wished to keep his head as clear as possible. In introducing that final book, Levine and Silver suggest that his impending death and pain can be found most directly addressed in the discussions of death and physiology in The View of Life27 (I discuss this in more detail in Chapter 6). He completed the writing of the book, according to Wolff’s account, in the Black Forest.28 This final book was published just a couple of weeks after his Death in 1918.29 In describing the outcome, Goodstein is taken by the way that Simmel keeps hope despite the tumultuous and difficult personal and social circumstances of its writing.30 There is something humbling and emotive in the reflections offered in those final couple of hundred



pages, especially when you read them in such a light. Of the book itself, Goodstein sets it in the following terms: His meditations on life’s transcendence disclose the possibility of meaning in mortality; his conception of the “individual law” locates ethical action within the very fragmentation of and disenchantment of post-theological existence; his vision of cultural life as self-overcoming creation of forms affirms human being in a world devoid of enduring standards of truth or value, where nihilism of instrumental reason and the vacuity of the forms of objectivity fostered by the money economy were becoming apparent.31

These cross-cutting comments from Goodstein represent themes that will be fleshed out in the following chapters and which, amongst other core concerns, are elaborated as this book unfolds. Indeed, a key point of this book is to try to come to terms with exactly what Simmel was arguing in these areas and what might be made of his final works. Using The View of Life to explore Simmel’s concluding thoughts, I also draw on other texts published or written during the last years of his life. This is an often overlooked period of Simmel’s work, which still has much to offer and which needs further analysis in order for its potential to be realised and the possibilities it offers for extending sociological thinking and analysis to be explored. In spite of his standing, Simmel’s late work is not particularly well-known outside of specialist circles, this book hopes to address this. As with his more well-known writings, this late work poses questions and offers ideas that still call for attention and still hold possibilities for enriching our thinking today. When I first started to write a book on Simmel’s work, I had a very different idea. The problem I faced actually revealed something to me about Simmel’s oeuvre. My original plan was for a book that aimed to explore a range of ways in which Simmel’s work might still be of use today and how his ideas may shed new light on various debates. I’ve since been struck, fairly hard, with the naivety of my original plan. What I found was that his writings are so dense with ideas, so replete with far-reaching insights, so ready to generate tangential thinking and provoke lateral applications, that a comprehensive book quickly became too sprawling. I couldn’t bring it together, and digging into his prose was making it impossible to really capture what he was trying to say on such a broad scale. The richness of Simmel’s work, which was the appeal of reading and writing about it, was also the cause of the problem. Simmel

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compresses his ideas in the pages of his works like dried flowers pressed between the pages of a heavy volume. Delicate but detailed, patterned but intricate, instant in a way the belies its depth. I simply needed more focus. The central concern with thinking about how we might work with Georg Simmel’s ideas today remained intact, but the focus narrowed. Narrowing my attention seemed the only way to really do justice to the wealth of insights that Simmel packs into his pages. The place to start seemed logical—Simmel’s last major work. His 1918 book Lebensanschauung, translated as The View of Life, has, despite Simmel’s profile, received much less attention than his earlier works, especially in sociology. Despite Simmel referring to this book as his ‘testament’,32 it has received little close scrutiny. Because of its focus and sheer ambition The View of Life is, for Lizardo, a ‘book like no other written by a classical theorist’.33 It is a book that acts as kind of full stop on Simmel’s work as well as an opening for future thinking. Simmel’s final book has a similar feel to Johnny Cash’s 2002 album The Man Comes Around, an album which was recorded not long before Cash died. They share the same conclusive and reflective quality, they seem liberated by the same resigned air—the knowing that this is a final trace. There is an implicit account of ageing in the pages of the book, a biographical tinge. Salomon predicted that this book, ‘written under the shadow of death’, is the book that ‘will remain when all others are forgotten’.34 With this in mind, its relative lack of attention, which may have been caused by the fact it was labelled as philosophy and was thus hemmed off from much social science, is still striking. Plus, as Lizardo has noted, it is not an easy book to read or work with—hence the need, I thought, for a study of its core ideas.35 Cushman has compared this trickiness with his other writings saying that this book is like his other works in that it has what he sees as Simmel’s trademark ‘sometimes dense prose style penetrated with bursts of clarity’.36 Simmel demands something of the reader, he requires of us a degree of thought and consideration. Some parts of The View of Life had been published in earlier forms by Simmel but, with the addition of the first chapter, had been reworked substantially for the final text.37 Levine and Silver discuss in detail the roots of the pieces that formed into The View of Life in their exceptional introductory essay to the book,38 so I will not discuss these again here. My focus instead will be upon using Simmel’s writings as a resource rather than on the genesis of his final volume. What is worth noting is that the full version of The View of Life was only translated into English



as recently as 2010 (a fairly wide range of Simmel’s other works remain untranslated including, notably, his book on Goethe). As told by the translators, the story of the translation of this final text goes as follows: The first English translation of the first essay was published as “The Transcendent Character of Life” in the volume Georg Simmel on Individuality and Social Forms: Selected Writings, edited with an introduction by Donald N. Levine (…). Building on the Levine translation, John A. Y. Andrews executed a complete translation of Lebensanschauung in 1998. Andrew’s manuscript lay dormant until 2007, when Levine enlisted a team of knowledgeable colleagues at the University of Chicago to review that translation: Monica Lee, Robert Moore, and Daniel Silver. Each team member took primary responsibility for carefully reviewing an essay, comparing it to the original text, and, through collaboration and consensus with Levine and Andrews, revising and honing the translation.39

This indicates how recently it is that the full text reached the stage of full translation into English. According to Tom Kemple’s valuable chronology of Simmel’s texts,40 reflecting Andrews and Levine’s account above, only one chapter of The View of Life, the first and shortest chapter, had previously been translated into English. Of the other three chapters, the second and third had not been translated but earlier preparatory pieces written by Simmel had been—although in one of these cases the earlier incarnation was only translated as late as 2012. The fourth chapter had similarly not been translated and there are no translated versions of any earlier attempts to work through the ideas it contains. It is well known that Simmel wrote on a wide variety of topics, partly because of his precarious working arrangements and partly out of his enthusiasm and engagement in cultural life, which was unanchored by any constraining disciplinary commitment—Goodstein’s argument is that Simmel’s work was informed by and demonstrates a ‘disciplinary imaginary’.41 Nevertheless, as has been argued by Henry Schermer and David Jary, there is some order underpinning the broad topics that caught Simmel’s interest.42 Reflecting on The View of Life, for instance, Levine and Silver conclude that despite Simmel’s essayistic style and the varied topics he covered, ‘his work was animated, often implicitly, by a set of core issues that beat like a pulse throughout his corpus’.43 For instance, this final book, Lewis Coser has identified, finally allowed Simmel to explore the ‘victory of life over form’ and over ‘stasis’.44 Focusing in on

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The View of Life, and the four essays that it is based around, enables these broader themes to be explored through a microcosm. It provides a window on to some of these themes, whilst also providing a platform for thinking about the relevance of those ideas today. According to Donald Levine and Daniel Silver: Lebensanschauung, rendered here as The View of Life, Stands as the last of Georg Simmel’s publications issued during his lifetime. Printed in December 1918 by Duncker und Humblot, the book’s four metaphysical essays seek to articulate, at the most basic level, what the world consists in when we approach it from “the view of life”.45

In terms of its genesis, they add that ‘Simmel began this work in 1914 with his move to Strasbourg from Berlin’.46 This is a book that is closely aligned with that move and with the wider circumstances already discussed. In their introduction to The View of Life, Levine and Silver write that they ‘believe it may open a door to a treasure of new insights in a wide array of fields – from aesthetics, ethics, and psychology to epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy, and theology’.47 It is implied that not only is this a book that is jammed with potential, it is also by its nature interdisciplinary in its scope. As we will go on to discuss in the following chapters, Simmel’s late works have a kind of boundless quality that seeks to disrupt form and to replicate the dynamism of individual and social life that it seeks to capture. The potential of the text is rooted, it seems, in the ideas it contains and the perspective it offers the reader. On the event of Simmel’s death Ferdinand Tönnies offered that the ‘meritorious achievement of Simmel is not confined to sociology alone…this insightful man will leave profound traces’.48 The traces do indeed seem profound, if flawed. That final book is a wellspring of ideas and insights. Of course, using Simmel’s work in this way brings exactly the problems you might expect of classical social theory—which, of course, is dominated by ‘malestream thought’.49 As would be expected, there are the usual and profound problems of gendered language, expression and ‘patriarchal discourses’.50 The process of making ‘invisible’, of eliminating, of conducting ‘vanishing acts’ in social theory, as Beverly Thiele has described it, is a crucial problem with these texts and is another reason, a fundamental reason, that the ideas cannot and should not be uncritically encountered or applied.51 The works need to be read with this as a serious caveat to their



use. When using sources such as those I am dealing with here, there is also the problem of replicating the issues of eurocentrism, coloniality and empire that are woven into these texts. As Gurminder Bhambra has argued, ‘from its inception, classical sociology was less interested in the delineations of understandings of the global than in examining what were understood to be the European origins of global processes’.52 Bhambra’s crucial point is that this classical theory brings with it these perspectives, they are written into it. The challenge, for Bhambra, is to produce more connected sociologies that see concepts and ideas within the frames and relational contexts of knowledge. She elaborates further, claiming that ‘in sum, global sociology…is best served by a sociology of connections that takes seriously the histories of interconnection that have enabled the world to emerge as a global space’.53 I write this book then with the hope of it being a part of this open and connected sociological project and a part of the reinvigoration of a sociological approach that is less closed to its own context, background and limits. I also write it in the awareness of the implicit issues of the ‘hegemonic sociological account of modernity’54 that the focal texts emerge out of. This book does not seek to reinforce the hierarchy or structures of meaning,55 but to approach these texts with that hierarchy having been rightly unsettled.

The Final Years: Changing Times Simmel may have buzzed with productivity during these last four years, but his health was beginning to worsen. Frisby observes that: Despite this still impressive intellectual output, Simmel was increasingly both mentally and physically exhausted. His years in Strasbourg and the pressures of the war – he confessed to a friend in 1918 – ‘have had the effect of ageing me twice or three times what is normal (I was 60 years old some weeks ago)…’. In September of that same year after serious illness Simmel died of liver cancer.56

As we have already seen, and it is worth reiterating, The View of Life was being written and finalised in these circumstances. The difficulties that Simmel faced in securing a permanent post in Berlin, or elsewhere, have been widely discussed. After finally securing a chair, and reluctantly leaving Berlin, ‘Simmel spent four years at Strasbourg University from 1914 until his death in 1918’.57 He died on the 26th of September 1918.58

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David Frisby intuits a sense of disillusionment with the move permeating his correspondence.59 Despite his reservations about the intellectual and cultural environment he was to then immerse himself in, and despite the broader social turmoil of the time, Simmel had a productive last four years. Indeed, as Goodstein has acknowledged, his ‘departure did not spell the end of his intellectual influence; some of his most significant work was published in the four years that remained to him’.60 Frisby has Similarly noted that: in the Strasbourg years Simmel remained intellectually productive though not in the direction of sociology. He taught sociology only twice in the winter semesters of 1914/15 and 1917/18 and then only in one-hour classes and his last sociological work and only one of this period, the brief book Basic Questions of Sociology, was published in 1917. In the meantime, Simmel had again turned his attention to the philosophy of history and published a number of essays which were to constitute part of the revised editions of his Problems of the Philosophy of History, which he never completed. However, his study of Rembrandt appeared in 1916, his wartime essays The War and Intellectual Decisions in 1917, The Conflict in Modern Culture and his Interpretation of Life both in 1918.61

A strange mix of stability and adversity blended together in those final years. The above comments from Goodstein and Frisby give some sense of how prolific Simmel was despite these being his final years and despite his failing health.62 Describing the personal circumstances for what would be Simmel’s final book, Helle accounts that: ‘When he felt himself to be incurably ill, he asked his doctor: How long do I still have to live? He needed to know because his most important book still had to be finished. The doctor told him the truth and Simmel withdrew and completed: Perspectives on Life [Lebensanschauung]’.63 The slightly different translation of the book’s title can again be noted here,64 suggesting that its central thrust may also be interpreted in slightly different ways. If this account is accurate, then this was the condition in which the book was drafted and the kind of time pressure that Simmel was facing as he stretched himself to complete the book. A sad picture emerges here in which the personal story weighs on the book’s likely interpretation. Reading its passages we are drawn to imagine Simmel eager to complete the work. If indeed Simmel did see this final book as being his most important work, as Helle claims, then that in itself calls for us to



look closely at what he hoped to communicate in its pages and at the concluding thoughts that they offer. It is often thought that Simmel left Sociology behind after his major work on the discipline in 1908, yet is seems that Simmel was working across disciplinary boundaries in those final years. These latter works are the product of a thinker roaming at the intersections of different disciplines. Quite a bit has been made of whether Simmel’s work represents a coherent oeuvre or, on the contrary, if it represents a fragmented set of disjointed insights into modern life65—which are the properties that led Frisby to argue that Simmel was ‘the first sociologist of modernity’.66 This is a position that Frisby takes because of, he argues, Simmel’s ‘strong aesthetic interest in modernity…as well as his own mode of presentation of modern experience’—this is not a position that is uncontentious however67 and neither is the idea that his approach is indeed impressionistic.68 Pyyhtinen has similarly observed that Simmel’s key concern was with understanding modern experience.69 Likewise, Simmel’s texts, Goodstein reflects, ‘trace the fault lines of emergent forms of experience – modern existence coming into being’.70 The fault lines of experience is an interesting way of capturing Simmel’s core concerns. The argument made by Pyyhtinen is that Simmel seeks to understand this experience as part of the relations between the ‘social milieu’ and the ‘individual psyche’71—the interplay of the internal and the external. It is for this reason among others that Pyyhtinen speaks of Simmel’s alternative ‘scalar imaginary’72; although he is interested in experience, Pyyhtinen observes, the analysis of it takes him across different scales. Elsewhere, and again with this scalar dimensionality being implied, Darmon and Frade draw attention to Simmel’s interest in how the ‘world appears as constituted of different layers of experience’.73 This places experience, in these terms, at the points of contact between the individual and the social. Operating across scales, this ground is the analytical terrain that Simmel seeks to occupy.74 This book seeks to add to an already rich and energetic literature on Simmel’s works by offering an exploration of the ideas contained in one of his most important but relatively neglected texts.75 It interrogates Simmel’s final book alongside the writings that led up to it, asking what these might offer in terms of conceptual insights. It seeks to offer some direct insights into what might be thought of as Simmel’s concluding thoughts. It perhaps goes without saying that my choices here

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suggest that I think that Simmel still has much to offer to sociology and the social sciences, and that classical texts offer important resources for understanding both disciplines and the world today. I would add though that I don’t think we should be too deferential when handling such sources and nor should we see the texts from sociology’s history as offering the answers. Rather, we need to work closely with classical sociology to energise those ideas and to work with them. We can renew sociology by turning to its past, but that past needs to be reinterpreted, updated, and reshaped to allow us to use it to shed light on the social issues, questions and problems that we face. This book is written with this in mind. To be able to expand the analytical eye of sociology, we need to keep a focus on both its future and its past.76 There are resources across these two horizons that can inspire and provoke the sociological imagination in creative ways. I will connect with Simmel’s earlier works and the wider literature where it helps to enhance the discussion of The View of Life. The priority though is in exploring what can be obtained from that final text and those that immediately led up to it. I have kept Elizabeth Goodstein’s approach in mind here. Goodstein says that: In returning to his texts, it is just as crucial to ask what cannot or should not be appropriated as to discover what can. The pages that follow call for a return to Simmel, but by no means for an uncritical one. Indeed, aspects of his work that are of the greatest interest from a historical perspective – his conception of culture, his reflections on gender – underline the distance between his philosophical perspectives and contemporary points of departure.77

Goodstein advances this point by going as far as to suggest that ‘we may in fact have the most to learn from him where the distance is greatest’.78 This distance here is clearly opened up by the very different social, cultural and political circumstances in which Simmel’s texts were conceived, a distance that we need to acknowledge and also, Goodstein is proposing, use to further our understanding and analysis of these works. The greater the contrast the more potent the illumination, this is Goodstein’s claim. I’ve tried to think in these terms and to bring the problems to the surface along with the potentials. The Simmel discussed here is not one contained within certain labels or categories, and neither is it a version that is celebrated without flaws. Rather, this is an attempt to work with Simmel, to explore the



ambiguities and limitations as well as to bring the ideas and opportunities to the surface. The issues, tangles and problems in Simmel’s writings can also illuminate and might be useful in thinking through where his theories have more to offer. Perhaps the key difference between my own direction and that of Goodstein, is that I’m thinking a little less historically about the sources and more in terms of drawing upon them as a resource for inspiration. At the same time, it is important to heed Goodstein’s warning that ‘even if the encounter with his ideas can do much to clarify what is at stake today, neither his questions nor his answers can finally be ours’.79 We cannot simply transpose theory across time and space and apply it without reflection and without some critical take on the theory and on the distance it resides from the world we now occupy. Perhaps though, despite this warning, with care we can still see, as Goodstein also does, the value in such resources for thinking and knowing today. The structure of this book is very straightforward. The book is split into two parts. The first part of the book, which includes Chapters 2 and 3, explores the development of Simmel’s ideas, drawing centrally upon his book on Rembrandt as well as his letters and other texts covering the final four years of his life. That first part is concerned with the development of the ideas and in particular with the way that Simmel draws on Rembrandt’s paintings as a source of inspiration for expanding and enriching his thinking. The chapters included in Part I are intended to work together, but in general terms Chapter 2 deals with Simmel’s approach and Chapter 3 looks at how he develops his position on individuality. The second part of the book is dedicated to exploring Simmel’s final major work The View of Life. The View of Life is built around four essays, the second half of this book reflect the structure of Simmel’s text—with a chapter written on each of the four essays that Simmel collected together in his final work. As with Simmel’s text, the first chapter of Part II is on ‘Life as Transcendence’, the second on ‘The Turn Towards Ideas’, the third is on ‘Death and Immortality’ and the fourth is on ‘The Law of the Individual’. This structure will hopefully then enable the reader to use this book as a companion to Simmel’s work, reading across the texts more easily. It also means that this book echoes the essayistic approach that Simmel himself used, with Chapters 4–7 offering short pieces exploring each of the four distinct areas of focus in The View of Life. These need to be explored initially in isolation in order to then see the connections emerge. To this

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end, unlike Simmel, I have added introductory, contextual and conclusion chapters. The conclusion will look to draw together the themes and to reflect on a selection of the conceptual ideas and resources that we might obtain from reading Simmel’s last major work. Simmel rarely dwells on any idea for very long, his texts always seem vital and urgent, I hope that I manage to capture some of that vitality whilst also opening-up possibilities for paused reflection. This is a book that explores how we might encounter, work alongside and think with him. In concluding their introduction to The View of Life, Levine and Silver pointed out that: To read this short, daunting masterpiece – no less than to translate it! – puts uncommon demands on the patience, care, and imagination of the reader. The reward is indeed a cornucopia of wisdom, one that offers a searching account of how the pinnacles of human thought – all the great systems of cultural symbolism; human reflections on death, destiny, and immortality; and the form and content of the moral law – come into being in virtue of a single grand source: the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.80

The patience of the reader does indeed bring its rewards. There are depths to Simmel’s book that mean that it can be interpreted and, more importantly, used in numerous ways. Even a short book like The View of Life requires a great deal of attention to mine it for all its insights. The ideas spring out and make it a challenging and dense text, these are the properties that make it both a difficult read and a rich resource for thinking. As Levine and Silver have put it, ‘it requires patient and careful reading in order to fathom it’.81 It is in this approach, in trying to think of Simmel’s text as a resource for thinking, that I hope to use the pages of this book to make a contribution. The book will develop lines of argument for applying Simmel’s ideas, whilst also exploring what else reader’s might get from his work. Given the demands, density and richness of Simmel’s text, I felt it deserved this dedicated treatment, especially as sources for thinking about the changing world seem so pressing at the moment. Before moving my focus to The View of Life, the book turns now to Simmel’s pursuit of inspiration and to the ideas that he was wrestling with as he crafted his concluding thoughts.




1. Bouglé, C., ‘The Sociology of Georg Simmel’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 58–63, p. 63. 2. In writing this book I have primarily referred to the English translations of Simmel’s texts. However, I have also drawn upon the original German versions of his last two major works in order to cross check some of the points, concepts and ideas. In this process I focused centrally upon checking particular phrases, concepts and terminology that directly impacted upon the theoretical framing of the passage. I worked first from the English translation checking back where necessary to the German. I have also made frequent use of Simmel’s letters in this book. These letters have not been translated into English, so I have worked on my own translations in order to include these references. I should acknowledge that the conceptual ideas contained here are inevitably a product of the choices made in the various translations used. Concepts and theories have a life of their own, a life that goes beyond their intention and genesis, and this is often, of course, partly shaped by the translation. The conceptual explorations in this book are written with this issue in mind but without wishing it to prevent or curtail an engagement with the ideas. The focus here is not just on what Simmel meant, but on what his insights and concepts might be used to do. 3. Salomon, A., ‘Georg Simmel Reconsidered’ (edited and introduced by Jaworski, G.D.), International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society 8(3), 1995, pp. 361–378, p. 362. 4. Salomon, A., ‘Georg Simmel Reconsidered’ (edited and introduced by Jaworski, G.D.), International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society 8(3), 1995, pp. 361–378, p. 363. 5.  Coser, L.A., ‘Introduction’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 1–26, p. 1; Salomon, A., ‘Georg Simmel Reconsidered’ (edited and introduced by Jaworski, G.D.), International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society 8(3), 1995, pp. 361–378, p. 363. 6. Frisby, D., Sociological Impressionism: A Reassessment of Georg Simmel’s Social Theory, Second Edition, London: Routledge, 1992, p. 28. 7. Coser, L.A., ‘The Stranger in the Academy’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 29–39. Of course, Simmel’s outside position within the academy along with the reasons for his position have been widely discussed. Largely because of their extensive discussion elsewhere I don’t revisit the details here. The key texts, many of which I have referred to in these pages, can be used

18  D. BEER to explore this in more detail. Yet it is Simmel’s ‘stranger in the academy’ status that inevitably impacted upon his decision, in 1914, to take up the post at Strasbourg—so in this way this is important for understanding the personal circumstances that shaped his final years and his writings. 8. Frisby, D., Sociological Impressionism: A Reassessment of Georg Simmel’s Social Theory, Second Edition, London: Routledge, 1992, p. 163; Pietilä, K., Reason of Sociology: Georg Simmel and Beyond, London: Sage, 2011, see pages 91–102. 9. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 337. 10. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 338. 11. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 339. 12. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 339. 13. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 339. 14. Symons, S., More Than Life: Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin on Art, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2017, p. 43. 15. Wolff, K.H., ‘Introduction’, in Wolff, K.H. (ed.) The Sociology of Georg Simmel, Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1950, pp. xvii–lxiv, p. xxii. 16. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 340. 17. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p 340. 18. Frisby, D., Sociological Impressionism: A Reassessment of Georg Simmel’s Social Theory, Second Edition, London: Routledge, 1992, p. 181. 19. Levine, D.N., ‘Introduction’, in Levine, D.N. (ed.) Georg Simmel: On Individuality and Social Forms, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971, pp. ix–lxv. 20. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 19. 21. There is more evidence of the importance of this political and city context in Simmel’s previous works provided by Gianfranco Poggi’s attempts to situate Simmel’s The Philosophy of Money, see Poggi, G., Money and the Modern Mind: Georg Simmel’s Philosophy of Money, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993, see pages 1–37. 22. Steinmetz, G. (ed.), Sociology & Empire: The Imperial Entanglements of a Discipline, Durham: Duke University Press, 2013. 23. Coser, L.A., ‘The Stranger in the Academy’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 29–39, p. 35.



24. Coser, L.A., ‘The Stranger in the Academy’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 29–39, p. 36. 25. Coser, L.A., ‘The Stranger in the Academy’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 29–39, p. 35 n. 21. 26. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 339. 27. Levine, D.N., & Silver, D., ‘Introduction’, in Simmel, G. (ed.) A View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010, pp. ix–xxxii, see pages xviii–xix. 28. Wolff, K.H., ‘Introduction’, in Wolff, K.H. (ed.) The Sociology of Georg Simmel, Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1950, pp. xvii–lxiv, p. xxiii. 29. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 102. 30. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 339. 31. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 339. 32. Levine, D.N., & Silver, D., ‘Introduction’, in Simmel, G. (ed.) A View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010, pp. ix–xxxii, p. x. 33.  Lizardo, O., ‘The Resilience of Life: On Simmel’s Last Testament’, Contemporary Sociology 41(3), 2012, pp. 302–304, p. 302. 34. Salomon, A., ‘Georg Simmel Reconsidered’ (edited and introduced by Jaworski, G.D.), International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society 8(3), 1995, pp. 361–378, p. 364. 35.  Lizardo, O., ‘The Resilience of Life: On Simmel’s Last Testament’, Contemporary Sociology 41(3), 2012, pp. 302–304, p. 303. 36. Cushman, T., ‘Book Review: The View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms’, Journal of Classical Sociology 13(1), 2010, pp. 108–112, p. 108. 37. Pyyhtinen, O., Simmel and ‘The Social’, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, p. 123 n. 1. 38. Levine, D.N., & Silver, D., ‘Introduction’, in Simmel, G. (ed.) A View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010, pp. ix–xxxii. 39. Andrews, J.A.Y., & Donald Levine, D.N., ‘Note on the Translation’, in Simmel, G. (ed.) A View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010, p. xxxiii. 40.  Kemple, T., ‘A Chronology of Simmel’s Works in English’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 317–323. 41. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017.

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42. Schermer, H., & Jary, D., Form and Dialectic in Georg Simmel’s Sociology: A New Interpretation, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2013. 43. Levine, D.N., & Silver, D., ‘Introduction’, in Simmel, G. (ed.) A View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010, pp. ix–xxxii, p. ix. 44.  Coser, L.A., ‘Introduction’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 1–26. 45. Levine, D.N., & Silver, D., ‘Introduction’, in Simmel, G. (ed.) A View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010, pp. ix–xxxii, p. ix. 46. Levine, D.N., & Silver, D., ‘Introduction’, in Simmel, G. (ed.) A View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010, pp. ix–xxxii, p. ix. 47. Levine, D.N., & Silver, D., ‘Introduction’, in Simmel, G. (ed.) A View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010, pp. ix–xxxii, p. xxvii. 48. Tönnies, F., ‘Simmel as Sociologist’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 50–52, p. 52. 49. Pateman, C., ‘Introduction: The Theoretical Subversiveness of Feminism’, in Pateman, C., & Gross, E. (ed.) Feminist Challenges: Social and Political Theory, New York: Routledge, 2013, pp. 1–10, p. 2. 50. Gross, E., ‘Conclusion: What Is Feminist Theory?’, in Pateman, C., & Gross, E. (ed.) Feminist Challenges: Social and Political Theory, New York: Routledge, 2013, pp. 190–204, p. 193. 51. Thiele, B., ‘Vanishing Acts in Social and Political Thought: Tricks of the Trade’, in Pateman, C., & Gross, E. (ed.) Feminist Challenges: Social and Political Theory, New York: Routledge, 2013, pp. 30–43. 52. Bhambra, G.K., Connected Sociologies, London: Bloomsbury, 2014, p. 6. 53. Bhambra, G.K., Connected Sociologies, London: Bloomsbury, 2014, p. 155. 54. Bhambra, G.K., Connected Sociologies, London: Bloomsbury, 2014, p. 13. 55. Bhambra, G.K., Connected Sociologies, London: Bloomsbury, 2014, p. 156. 56.  Frisby, D., ‘General Commentary’, in Frisby, D. (ed.) Georg Simmel: Critical Assessments, London: Routledge, 1994, pp. xi–xix; see also Frisby, D., Georg Simmel, Revised Edition, London: Routledge, 2002, p. 34. 57.  Frisby, D., ‘General Commentary’, in Frisby, D. (ed.) Georg Simmel: Critical Assessments, London: Routledge, 1994, pp. xi–xix, p. xviii; Frisby, D., Georg Simmel, Revised Edition, London: Routledge, 2002, p. 33. 58. Helle, H.J., Messages from Georg Simmel, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013, p. 181; Helle, H.J., The Social Thought of Georg Simmel, London: Sage, 2015, p. 11.



59. Frisby, D., Georg Simmel, Revised Edition, London: Routledge, 2002, p. 33. 60. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 24. 61.  Frisby, D., ‘General Commentary’, in Frisby, D. (ed.) Georg Simmel: Critical Assessments, London: Routledge, 1994, pp. xi–xix, p. xviii. 62. It is assumed that the reference to the work Interpretation of Life was Frisby’s translation of Lebensanschauung. 63. Helle, H.J., Messages from Georg Simmel, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013, p. 187. 64.  See also the point made about the potential various translations by Schermer, H., & Jary, D., Form and Dialectic in Georg Simmel’s Sociology: A New Interpretation, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2013, p. 300. 65. Frisby, D., Sociological Impressionism: A Reassessment of Georg Simmel’s Social Theory, Second Edition, London: Routledge, 1992, p. 11. 66. Frisby, D., Fragments of Modernity, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1985, p. 39. 67. Featherstone, M., ‘Georg Simmel: An Introduction’, Theory, Culture & Society 8(1), 1991, pp. 1–16, p. 3. 68. Levine, D.N., & Silver, D., ‘Introduction’, in Simmel, G. (ed.) A View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010, pp. ix–xxxii, see pages x–xi. 69. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 50. 70. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 51. 71. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 51. 72. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p 47. 73.  Darmon, I., & Frade, C., ‘Beneath and Beyond the Fragments: The Charms of Simmel’s Philosophical Path for Contemporary Subjectivities’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 197–271, p. 211. 74. The debates about the coherence of Simmel’s work, which spread beyond David Frisby’s work, and are discussed in detail in Schermer, H., & Jary, D., Form and Dialectic in Georg Simmel’s Sociology: A New Interpretation, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2013. These debates are important and illustrate something of the properties of Simmel’s work and also its uneven reception as discussed in the second half of Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018. 75.  An aspect of Simmel’s writings that Harrington and Kemple suggest is particularly overlooked, see Harrington, A., & Kemple, T.M., ‘Introduction: Georg Simmel’s “Sociological Metaphysics”, Money,

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Sociality, and Precarious Life’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 7–25, p. 8. 76. I was even surprised to see Simmel, in the essay on ‘The Crisis in Culture’ reflecting on futurism, which he argues is an attempt to control future outcomes (CC 257). Simmel, it would seem, did not want his writing to be a fossil. 77. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 11. 78. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 11. 79. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 11. 80. Levine, D.N., & Silver, D., ‘Introduction’, in Simmel, G. (ed.) A View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010, pp. ix–xxxii, p. xxix. 81. Levine, D.N., & Silver, D., ‘Introduction’, in Simmel, G. (ed.) A View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010, pp. ix–xxxii, p. xi.


The Pursuit of Inspiration


Lowering a Plumb Line

Both analysing its intricacies and inspired by its forms, Simmel had an interesting reciprocal relationship with culture. In his essay ‘The Conflict in Modern Culture’ (CMC 15), which was first published in 1918,1 Simmel reflects on the role and performance of culture. He argues that ‘we speak of culture whenever life produces certain forms in which it expresses and realizes itself: works of art, religions, sciences, technologies, laws, and innumerable others’ (CMC 11). The idea that culture is an expression and realisation of life is something that we will see echoing across this and the following chapter. In framing that essay Simmel also suggests that these forms of culture ‘encompass the flow of life and provide it with content and form, freedom and order’ (CMC 11). Immediately we can see that Simmel’s aim was to explore the relationship between life and culture—as well as between life and form—to see how culture shapes life, experience and understanding. Yet, he observes, ‘although these forms arise out of the life process, because of their unique constellation they do not share the restless rhythm of life, its ascent and descent, its constant renewal, its incessant divisions and reunifications’ (CMC 11). Life and culture should not then be conflated, but they have an interesting set of relations that Simmel is concerned with. Simmel’s position is one in which culture and life relate but do not take on identical properties. Culture is part of the ‘pulse of life’ (CMC 12), but it does not necessarily capture all of life’s properties. Life, Simmel argues, is ‘formless’ and culture is part of how it ‘incessantly generates forms for itself’—he even goes as far as to say that the problem of his © The Author(s) 2019 D. Beer, Georg Simmel’s Concluding Thoughts,


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time was a new struggle of life against the ‘principle of form’ (CMC 12; see also CF 103–107). It seems that he was thinking about the way that life and form compete and how life can seek to be formless, breaking boundaries and constraints. It is worth recognizing at this juncture that Pyyhtinen identifies ‘form’ as an ‘organizing principle’ that runs across Simmel’s work, not least in his late work2 (as I will discuss in Chapter 8). It is this process of form-making that permeates across much of Simmel’s later works, as we will see. In seeking to address and understand these relations between life and culture and between life and form he turns for inspiration to the art of Rembrandt. Simmel’s book-length treatment of Rembrandt’s art was published in 1916 and, despite being published during the First World War, had the largest sales during his lifetime of any of his books.3 Over the previous years Rembrandt’s works had come to occupy Simmel’s i­magination— there are quite a few mentions of Rembrandt in his letters from the period and the artist also had a passing mention in his 1907 book Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (SN 179). Simmel was quite taken with the works of Rembrandt and started to reflect on what they might be used to explore. On the 4th of May 1913, three years prior to the publication of his book, he wrote to his friend the poet and essayist Margarete von Bendemann about the ‘magnificent Rembrandt’s’ he had seen (GSG23 180). He followed this up with a letter the following month that indicated he was still reflecting on the paintings (GSG23 190). Illustrating the ongoing shared interest these correspondents had, he was also quick to ask if she wanted to discuss the book with him after its publication in 1916 (GSG23 711). These encounters and correspondence clearly stimulated his thinking. The questions percolated and started to take shape over the following months. There are traces of the approach that he would take in his book Rembrandt in his letters. His stated aim was to explore and draw upon Rembrandt’s work in order to think about the depiction and understanding of the individual. In a letter to Salomon Friedlaender, sent on the 26th of October 1914, he indicates that it is not so much a question of art history that he is posing but is rather ‘the problem of life in art’ (GSG23 441). The implications are distinct, his book-length essay is not intended simply as an attempt to understand the art, it is an attempt to use the art to understand life.4 It is this realisation that encapsulates the direction that Simmel would take. Indeed, according to Symons the Rembrandt book is ‘a pathway into Simmel’s more overarching theories and conceptions’.5 I’m minded to agree. So, what



on the surface may look like a detour into the world of art is actually Simmel using the art to help him to think about the sociological and philosophical questions that he was already considering. Simmel’s attempts to think about and conceptualise life brought him to a particular engagement with culture. It seems he may have been encouraged toward this approach by his reading of Goethe in particular (KG 164). Scott and Staubmann note that Simmel’s book on Goethe, published in 1913, along with his encounters with the Lebensphilosophie movement, can be seen as a turning point in his thinking.6 Indeed, when sending an excerpt of his writing on Rembrandt to Herman Graf von Keyserling in April 1914 he wrote in the accompanying letter that it ‘continues some of Goethe’s motifs’ (GSG23 312). In that same letter he indicated that he was going to take on a bigger project on Rembrandt but wasn’t quite sure if he dared to do it. He was still expressing some doubts even when the book was completed. In a letter to Anna Jastrow in early January 1916 he suggested he might even hold it back until after the war and expressed concern that the book was ‘wrapped up in itself ’ (or spun or cocooned in itself) and wouldn’t be accessible to people (GSG23 597). The unusual and experimental nature of the book seemed to be causing Simmel to hesitate. By the April of 1916 he had overcome these concerns and in a letter to his publisher confirmed that he was now ready to proceed with the book and was ready to sign a contract (GSG23 635). By May they were discussing the financial arrangements (GSG23 655), the number of illustrations (GSG23 668 and 680) and, by June, even the thickness of the paper was a focus of their exchanges (GSG23 678). Simmel’s eye for aesthetics was also focused closely on the form that the final published book would take. As further evidence of the amount of thought that went into the book, in a later correspondence he went on to reflect on a chapter he might have added had he had more time (GSG23 825). In a letter to Margarete von Bendemann in late December 1916 (GSG23 721), he expressed his astonishment that the book was doing quite well—he notes in the letter that after four weeks the publisher had printed up to five thousand copies. The promising sales figures for the first few months are also captured in a later letter from his publisher (see GSG23 761). It seems that he had his concerns with the project, his nerves were quickly eased. The unusual nature of the endeavour seems to have drawn some attention to its content as well as provoking uncertainty in its author.

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This might make us wonder what was so unusual about this particular book. Here, in his work on Rembrandt, Simmel uses art to breathe vitality into his conceptualisation of life—something that he also attempted to do briefly in his ‘The Conflict in Modern Culture’ essay (CMC 16). The art helped to animate the theory. An interesting dynamic emerges. This we can think of, I’d suggest, as Simmel in Pursuit of Inspiration. Simmel is looking around for resources to help him to think through the problems he was turning over. It is this open approach and this attempt to think about life and culture that this chapter now seeks to explore. It both situates the ideas Simmel would develop in his final work whilst also seeing what unique perspectives and concepts emerge from that book on Rembrandt and his other writings from 1914 up to The View of Life. This chapter, as well as the chapter that immediate follows it, is an attempt to flesh out the points that fed into The View of Life, whilst also attempting to tackle the particular ideas that Simmel developed in his encounters with art and culture. This chapter focuses upon exploring some of the key ideas that emerge from a reading of his 1916 book Rembrandt— which can be seen as his last major work prior to The View of Life. I draw on his other writings but take this text as my central focus. As well as being an amazing stand-alone work that deserves more attention in its own right—with its many ideas for sociological thinking—Rembrandt is a key milestone that provides some useful context and a sense of lineage for the ideas that he developed in his final work (which I will discuss in detail in the later chapters). In Rembrandt Simmel looked to art to open-up the ideas he would later expand upon in The View of Life. Rembrandt, as a crucial book, can be understood to be the space in which Simmel’s concluding thoughts were being formulated and where his interest in culture provided a platform and inspiration for The View of Life. This is a sparky period in Simmel’s writings, the various pieces are packed with insight and possibility. In short, in the pages of Rembrandt we find Simmel actively in the pursuit of inspiration.

The Depths of Life The preface to the first edition of Rembrandt is particularly instructive in giving a sense of what Simmel was attempting to do with the book and the approach he was taking. It is worth looking at that preface closely for it is quite revealing not just of the themes of Rembrandt but of the questions that were preoccupying him more generally. In this case, the artwork



becomes one means for addressing and exploring the ongoing questions that were on his mind. The broader ideas that he was working on are then elaborated as he encounters the way an artwork can be analysed and how an artwork captures the features of the characters depicted. He starts by reflecting on how artworks tend to be analysed and what he thinks may be missing. He opens with the claim that ‘scholarly attempts to interpret and evaluate a work of art must choose between two paths’ (RB 1). He separates these two paths with a focus on experience, adding that the ‘point at which these two paths diverge is the experience of art; the primary, indivisible fact that the work is present and exercises direct effect upon the recipient’ (RB 1). It is this experience, he points out, that divides the different types of analyses of the art form. This divergence is something that he uses to differentiate his own direction from the usual approaches taken to art. He also takes this as an early opportunity to outline the particular importance of Rembrandt’s paintings. Simmel claims that: From here on, the analytic direction, so to speak, takes the low road. It seeks, on the one hand, the historical conditions that allow the work to be classified intelligibly in terms of the history of art. On the other hand, it draws out from the work of art its specific effective forces: the degree of rigidity or relaxation of the form, the schema of the composition, the use of spatial dimensions, the application of color, the selection of subject matter, and much else. (RB 1)

On one side the history and the conditions of the production of the artwork, on the other the form and composition. In this opening juncture it is worth noting that the question of form is something which migrates across art and life in Simmel’s work.7 Although criticisms concerning the lack of clarity around these two key concepts of form and content has been raised in the criticism of Simmel’s method provided by Sorokin.8 Yet Rembrandt’s artwork affords Simmel an opportunity to give these two concepts a very material and tangible presence in this book. Returning to what the above passage reveals about Simmel’s approach to art, Simmel is interested in pursuing a path that both explores the experience of the art alongisde the way that the art captures experience. The experiential and the relational, as we might expect from Simmel, are brought to the fore in this analytic focus. This is further developed as he moves on to reflect on what he refers to as the ‘felt value’ of the art. Simmel suggests that:

30  D. BEER The reason why we are interested in the historical development of the art of Rembrandt, rather than that of any odd botcher, obviously cannot be deduced from the [historical] development itself; rather, it is grounded in the felt value [Wertempfindungen] we associate with his art as such, quite independently of the conditions of its coming into being. The aesthetic analysis to which I have referred, however, focuses upon the work of art as it exists or came to be. (RB 1)

Wertempfindungen, translated as ‘felt value’ in the translation of the book, could also, I’d suggest, possibly be translated as sensations or feelings of worth (LB 307). This gives a sense of the conceptual position Simmel is taking here, he is pointing toward the way art is felt and the sensations it brings, which might be seen in terms of a kind of value or worth. As we will see later in this chapter and in Chapter 3, he is also interested in the way the art captures the feeling and value of the individual being depicted. In this one opening page, in typical Simmel style, a number of ideas are crammed into a few lines, each of which feels somehow crucial to the positioning of the book as a whole. In the later discussion of The View of Life I will look at how Simmel depicts the relations between the bits and the whole and how this difficult problem was a focus of his analysis. It is not uncommon for him to turn to art metaphors when elaborating on such complex points (for another example see also CH 145). Working with the art as inspiration, emerging in the Rembrandt book is a notion of the unity of elements— which is a preoccupation that can also be traced back to his major work The Philosophy of Money (PM 115). As Weinstein and Weinstein have put it, this is about foregrounding ‘expression’ with, they add, the aim of ‘understanding under the conditions of detotalization’.9 The relations between the whole and the parts is something Simmel had already explored in an earlier piece he wrote on the picture frame, which also contained some discussion of the interpretation of art and its unity within the boundaries of the frame (PF 11–12). In particular, in his reflections on Rembrandt, Simmel makes an observation about the possibility of ‘splitting’ impressions, which he explains with the claim that: no more than a living being can be animated from the dismembered limbs on a dissection bench can a work of art, reassembled out of such elements, be recreated and thereby rendered intelligible. The work of art corresponds neither to the spatial juxtaposition of aesthetic elements, nor to the



historic sequence from which it derives, because that which is decisive is something quite different, namely the creative unity that perhaps makes use of such elements as a means, or perhaps attains its tangible, analytically describable surface via them. (RB 2)

The work of art, for Simmel, cannot be split into constituent bits in order to be understood, it should not be dismembered to be appreciated. This is a thread he picks up from his earlier reflections on the writings of Goethe, where Simmel draws on Goethe to warn against going too far with ‘dismembering’ in our analysis (KG 177). On this issue Simmel amusingly notes Goethe’s ‘dislike of reading glasses’, which he did not care for as he was not comfortable with ‘pulling-apart what appears in front of our eyes’ (KG 177). Taking detail over the wider picture was the fear. Already he was opening up some of the issues about the balance of detail and totality in this concern for the competing analytical problems of looking too closely or scoping from too far a distance. It is the way that those parts come together in the artwork that is important, what Simmel refers to as a ‘creative unity’ or ‘die schöpferische Einheit’ (GSG15 8) that is important in these opening lines and in the arguments that follow. It is the analysis of that unity that Simmel sees as being most fruitful. This poses the question of why this unity is of such importance to him. The answer seems to relate to the broader concerns with relationality that Olli Pyyhtinen has found in Simmel’s works.10 Simmel proposes that it is not ‘the case that the impression of the work of art is equivalent to the sum of the impressions of all the aspects and qualities that analytical aesthetics renders prominent’ (RB 2). His point here is that something more relational is going on between those parts. As a consequence he pushes toward a more holistic take, an understanding of the whole, as illustrated by the point that instead of the sum of the parts: what is decisive is again something quite holistic emerging out of, or standing above, that singular impression. Any psychological analysis of how this or that color, or color contrast, works, how easy or difficult it is for us to grasp particular forms, what we associate with particular given realities, and the like, simply leaves out the central inner effect that is specific to each artistic experience as such. (RB 2)

The focus on the parts or even the sum of the parts is likely to overlook the important ‘inner effect’, the way that the particular combination

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of features are experienced together. This, Simmel is claiming, requires something more holistic that captures what emerges from the art rather than the individual parts. In attempting to understand this, Simmel intimates toward a closer analysis of the emotional responses to the art as means of understanding it. His key point in this regard is that ‘the experience exists only in the mode of immediate emotional response, and that we must, as it were, leave standing there untouched’ (RB 2). It is here, he reiterates, where ‘experience forms the watershed on which the two directions of knowledge of art divide’ (RB 2). This draws Simmel back to a critique of artistic analysis where, he argues, it often makes the mistake of leaving out the experiential, the emotional and the relative. The problems come, for Simmel, when the analysis happens ‘in front of’ the art, in which the analysis is of the conditions and context of production take priority, or ‘behind’ the art, where paintings are picked apart by philosophers (RB 2). What matters is the artwork, the unity of it and the reaction it provokes. In short, what is absent in the approaches he seeks to criticise is the important middle ground of experience. He goes further to suggest that this creates barriers and analytical unknowns. This front and back-end type analysis demarcates a ‘limit of the discussions that throw no light on the work of art historically, technically, or aesthetically, but seek philosophically that which one might refer to as its meaning’ (RB 3). Simmel is arguing that such limits of understanding are created by existing forms of knowledge, these limits restrict what can be known about art and about life. In short, front and back end approaches miss the relational properties of the artwork. Simmel is calling for us to focus on the feeling and emotional response generated by the art and not to disregard this by looking only in-front or behind the artwork. All of this is in keeping with his last major work that specifically deals with sociology, ‘Fundamental Problems in Sociology’, which was written at around the same time as the book on Rembrandt’s art. The discussion of sociology has some notable resemblance to the arguments made in Rembrandt. These similarities are too extensive to explore in full, but this way of understanding the individual in totality is a particularly notable parallel. Simmel’s suggestion is that in sociology it is important to balance between detail and distance (FPS 8). His argument is that individuals are not the atoms or elements of the social world, at least that is not how to approach them to understand their reality, he claims (FPS 6). He similarly argues against arbitrarily separating out features to look at the individual as a ‘composite of single qualities’ (FPS 7)—nor should



we simply see the social as a composite of individuals, he adds. Again, Simmel is suggesting that we seek to find the balance between close-up analysis and distance, with the overall impression being much more important to him than dissected detail. Central to this, as we might have come to expect, are the interactions, connections and relations rather than individual elements (FPS 9), hence Simmel argues that we should think of ‘sociation’ instead of a more fixed idea of a composite society (FPS 10). He defines sociation as ‘the form in which individuals grow together’, with the addition that these ‘interests, whether they are sensuous or ideal, momentary or lasting, conscious or unconscious, causal or teleological, form the basis of human societies’ (FPS 41). There are notable parallels in this between Simmel’s take on sociology and his interpretations of Rembrandt’s art. This, of course, poses the question of how Simmel thinks we should approach art. He reflects on the purpose of disciplines such as philosophy and sociology to begin to address this. Simmel argues that ‘what has always seemed…the essential task of philosophy – to lower a plumb line through the immediate singular, the simply given, into the depths of ultimate intellectual meanings – will now be attempted on the phenomenon of Rembrandt.’ (RB 3). The ‘scalar imaginary’11 discussed in Chapter 1 is articulated here in the plumb-line dropping into the depths. Simmel evokes the metaphor of the plumb line to assert that the analysis needs to go beyond such limits, to look beneath and to question the ideas and given perspectives we are confronted with. This is not to dissect but to look into these depths. In that comment resides the objective of his book on Rembrandt. Attempting to differentiate this work from previous philosophy of art, Simmel seeks to allow the artwork to be ‘enveloped by the network of lines that mediate its connection to the realm of ideas’ (RB 3). It is such a focus that allows an understanding, he adds, of the ‘experience of a work of art’, that Simmel wishes to argue is ‘indissoluble and primary’ (RB 3). This is an argument for analysis at the level of experience and connection. These experiences and connections cannot be broken down into bits or reduced to something else. It is both the depiction of experience and the experience of consumption that Simmel seems eager to blend. Art cannot be shoehorned, from Simmel’s perspective, into a system of thinking. It is interesting though that Simmel ends his preface on a note that may reveal something of his own uncertainty, which is something we witnessed in the previous discussion of his correspondence. He closes this crucial preface by saying that he has made his

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position clear ‘in order, at the outset, to limit expectations and reduce disappointment’ (RB 3). It seems he hadn’t quite fully shaken his concerns when working on the final draft of the manuscript.

The Expression of Life Following the preface’s framings, Simmel enters into a more detailed account of his aims and approach. He switches his attention between life and art from the outset. In particular, Simmel uses a focus upon the expression of life within artworks to outline his project and to introduce the ideas central to the book. He begins with the observation that it is uncommon to find depictions of life that capture its flow or pulse. We have already seen this interest in the pulse of life, which Simmel discusses in various places and in various forms, it is this pulse that he was seeking to try to find ways to capture and understand. In the conclusion to his essay on Kant and Goethe, written in 1906 and updated in 1916, he argues that it is not just important to place life, or Leben, at the centre of the analysis, but that we also look at the tensions and rhythms of ‘pulsating Leben’ (KG 190). This is because, Simmel observes, ‘practical necessities and the division of labor between our receptive and productive forces seldom allow us to experience life in its unity and totality, rather than in its individual contents, fates, culminations: the fragments and parts of which compose the whole’ (RB 5). It is more common for the parts to be dissected than for cultural forms to develop that capture unity or totality of life. On this point David Frisby suggests that Simmel’s later works are urging us to think about how ‘the aesthetic totality may itself exist as a fragment’.12 Frisby is suggesting here that the fragment operates on the level of the totality, and that each totality can be seen as a fragment. This may not solve what is happening here, but Frisby’s point does act to pose the question that Simmel seems to be pondering, which is the relation between the fragment and the totality. Frisby seems to be suggesting that Simmel is reversing the way we might usually conceive of these relations. As such, Simmel instead adds, ‘the contents…beside being aligned in a life course, can also be classified into some other sequences: logical, technical, ideal’ (RB 5). He also speaks about the problems of discrete sequencing of this type in his reflections on the conceptualisation of life and history (CH 148). In understanding life it should not, he is suggesting, be separated into stages or steps.



The problem here, for Simmel, is that this means we see life as an accumulation of such representations of the bits, as he explains: Insofar as these discretely emphasized contents count as “the life,” the latter appears to be their accumulation, as if they had divided its character and dynamics among themselves. This notion of life as the sum of all sequentially occurring moments, however, cannot be articulated within the continuous flow of real life. (RB 5)

This is a problematic view of life based upon the representation of the bits which feed into a sum. The relationality of the parts is crucial, so viewing life in unity is what Simmel sees as being the key problem here. Separating them out and then adding them together misses that relationality and how these parts connect together in the individual and in their conception of life (we will see how he develops this idea later in Chapter 5). It is the nature of the connections and interactions of the parts that matters rather than the parts themselves, and so separating them out would reveal little. Simmel further explains that such a view ‘replaces life with the sum of those contents of life that can be described according to substantive concepts; that is to say, contents that do not count as life, but as ideal or material configurations that have somehow become fixed’ (RB 5). This is understanding life as the accumulation of bits, as the sum of its parts, but recognising the combinations of the fragments produces the particularity of the whole. Some parts are seemingly fixed in place as a result of the way that they are depicted and conceptualised—which is something we will go on to discuss further in a moment and which will remerge in the discussion of The View of Life that follows (see Chapter 4). Simmel develops his perspective on life as a starting point before really moving into his analysis of Rembrandt—which again emphasises that this is as much a book about sociology and philosophy as it is about art. He reveals here that it is a perspective on life that he is seeking to develop and which has led him to write about Rembrandt. Crucial here, and in keeping with Simmel’s ideas, is the notion of the pulse, the pulse beat or the ‘Pulsschläge’ (GSG15 314). As Simmel goes on to explain: Yet I still believe in another possible perspective on life: one that does not separate the whole and the parts in this fashion, one for which the category of the whole and parts is not applicable to life at all but that takes that life to be a unified process whose nature it is to exist only in moments that can be differentiated by their qualities or contents. (RB 6)

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The question, for Simmel, concerns the relations between the parts and the whole, or the way that the components of life form unities. Such themes are scattered in his works. In a sperate essay on the concepts of history, to pick an example, Simmel provides an admittedly crude analysis of how the mental state of the individual should be seen as a whole that is indivisible to its parts or moments (CH 151). The problem is in not trying to grasp, or understand or conceptualise the whole itself, but in trying to do this simply by seeing the parts and analysing them in accumulation or in sum. This is important, for Simmel, because nothing is experienced outside of the relations of the parts of life—in fact, more than this, it is those very relations that matter for understanding life. Or, as he puts it, ‘this is because the production of changing contents taking place within human subjective experience is the way life is lived. Life does not reserve somehow separable “purity” and being for itself beyond the beats of its pulse’ (RB 6). The ‘beats of its pulse’, Simmel indicates, are what need to be analysed. As is not untypical of Simmel, he shows an interest in relations and rhythms as well as components. As such, the need is for attempts to see that unity, rather than separating out bits and seeing them as pure or discrete. It is how the bits combine into a total— the arrangements, linkages and networks—that is the important thing to acknowledge. Elsewhere, reflecting on Kant and Goethe, Simmel suggests that when it comes to experience we can look for a ‘unity that does not in any way detract from their contrariness but realises itself through them’ (KG 190). So, to look at the unity of the parts is not to polish over difference but to locate it. In this case, the tensions and differences of experience do not disrupt unity, instead it is created in these experiences. They enforce and facilitate that sense of unity rather than disrupting it. This is a theme that will echo through the remaining chapters of my book, as will Simmel’s attempt to think about how the disruptive and uneven properties of life relate to its form. He regards this as a requirement of making an attempt at ‘overcoming the opposition between plurality and unity’ (RB 6). His position is simply that life is ‘an absolute continuity in which there is no assembly of fragments or parts’ (RB 6), to which he adds that ‘Life, moreover, is a unity, but one that at any moment expresses itself as a whole in distinct forms’ (RB 6). The continuity of life shouldn’t, he indicates, be separated into bits for the purpose of analysis. Herein lies a parallel between the analyses of art and of life. Hence, this demonstrates, the need to explore the relation of the bits



rather than the bits themselves—returning us to the previous discussion of the problems raised with breaking apart or dissecting the detail of a painting. Which is also why, he further contends, ‘every moment of life is the form in which the whole life of the subject is real’ (RB 6). If looking at the unity, then each moment contains properties of that unity or total life. Perhaps this can be seen as part of the endeavour that Darmon and Frade describe as Simmel’s attempts to move ‘beneath and beyond the fragments’13—although in Simmel’s later works, if we look back at the previous discussion of the preface to his book on Rembrandt, he is perhaps also considering how the fragments may be understood in relation to all others. There are some of the foundations in the above of the kind of perspective that Simmel develops and which I will explore in Part II of this book. Undoubtedly, I would say, his work on Rembrandt is foundational in the perspectives he goes on to develop. It is at this point, following this brief exploration of the need to analyse life through unity, that Simmel starts to introduce art to help to think this through. At this juncture, in particular, Simmel’s theoretical perspective finds a source of inspiration in portraiture. The analysis of movement in art is his starting point for offering a rationale for focusing his analysis on Rembrandt. He argues that: whereas in classical and, in the narrower sense, stylizing art, the depiction of a movement is achieved via a sort of abstraction in that the viewing of a certain moment is torn out of its prior and concurrent stream of life and crystallizes into a self-sufficient form, with Rembrandt the depicted moment appears to contain the whole living impulse directed toward it; it tells the story of this life course. (RB 6)

Rembrandt, Simmel argues, does not tear the moment out of the stream or streaming of life, the ‘fortströmenden Leben’ (GSG15 315), instead his art situates those moments within that stream (the ‘stream of life’ is also discussed in relation to emotion in his late essay ‘On Love’, see OL 171). In Rembrandt Simmel captures this flow, stream or lifecourse in phrases like ‘Lebensreihe’ (GSG15 313; and also LB 56) or life-series, and as ‘Lebensströmung’ (GSG15 315), which could be life-current. The sequencing, mobility and temporality is clear in both phrases. Simmel’s concern is with finding ways of knowing that do not simply tear out the bits. In a separate essay Simmel concludes something

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similar when reflecting on the composition of the whole, contending that ‘the moments of life are interrelated in a real continuity’ (CH 153). Rembrandt captured the moment, Simmel suggests, seizing something of the whole that has shaped it. This then fits with the understanding of life that Simmel is developing. As such, there is a kind of parallel in the types of knowledge and perspective between Simmel’s social theory and Rembrandt’s art. Adding to this point, in an essay drafted at around the same time, he reiterates this idea about moments and the stream of life: From the perspective of its own meaning and its own motive forces, there is no sense in which it follows that life itself must be a fragment. It does not even follow that the contents of the individual segments of life are fragments. This is because these segments are – as this might be expressed – suspended in the stream of life. The stream of life defines their form in an a priori fashion. Even from this perspective, however, it cannot be denied that life still retains its fragmentary character. From the standpoint of its transtemporal idea, the whole of life has this fragmentary character. (CH 158)

The suspension of the fragment in the stream of life is a notion that provides Simmel with a rhetorical framing for the inseparability of the fragments and their immovable context. Despite this flowing of the stream, life can retain is fragmentary character, its feeling of being in bits that the individual acts to impose order or narrative upon. It is here that the ideas about the flow of life and how life takes form, as identified in the 1925 study by Skypman,14 is reiterated and further developed. The way in which the moment relates to the whole or to the flow or stream of life that Simmel wishes to explore, is, of course, about the relation of the past with the present moment. For Simmel this is about how the past, and particularly a biographical past, is woven into the here and now. With life depicted in a particular moment, Simmel is claiming: Rembrandt collects its past into this here and now, not so much a fruitful moment but a moment of harvesting. Just as it is the nature of life to be at every moment there as a totality, since its totality is not a mechanical summation of singular moments but a continuous and continuously form changing flowing, so it is the nature of Rembrandt’s movement of expression to let us feel the whole sequence of its moments in a single movement – overcoming its partition into separated sequential moments. (RB 7)



These are not left as singular moments. Simmel’s observation is that Rembrandt’s art captures the continuity of life. Captures the totality in the moment. These moments are impressions of a whole lifecourse. Something that Harrington notes as being of particular interest to Simmel is expressionism and the ability to capture the whole in the artwork.15 Perhaps rather than a ‘sociological impressionism’,16 Simmel was seeking a sociological expressionism in his later works. Simmel indicates here how Rembrandt captures in his art the type of conceptualisation of life that he himself sought to propose. The two forms of knowledge work here in a kind of dialogue. This is not a fixed snapshot then, but with Rembrandt, Simmel observes, ‘the impulse of movement…seems to form the basis’ (RB 7). There is movement there that captures the ongoing flow of life and which calls upon the past in informing the sense of a more complete vision of that life. Simmel puts this succinctly, claiming that ‘it contains from the outset the dynamic of the whole act concentrated into a unity’ (RB 7). It is a dynamic, moving representation of life, rather than depicting only an isolated part. It may be a momentary image but, for Simmel, it carries the full sense of the individual. Simmel is a little concerned though that he might be overstating his case, and it is worth noting these concerns in order to have a full sense of his perspective. For instance, Simmel adds the corrective that: Naturally, that does not mean that there is an absolute difference between Rembrandt and all other artists. We are dealing with differences of principle. As principles, they are diametrically opposed, but empirical phenomena represent a greater or lesser degree of participation in both principles. (RB 8)

Simmel is not then suggesting that Rembrandt is alone in capturing life in this dynamic way, rather it seems that Simmel is drawn to Rembrandt’s work because he recognised it as a particularly compelling and articulate form of life painting with prominent properties of this vision of life that he was seeking to grasp. In many cases though, Simmel suggests, there are differences in principle in art that means that many take an approach that does not seek the unity but some feature of the life to focus upon (or, as we will see later, paints people as types rather than as individuals). This gives a sense of the direction that Simmel takes on Rembrandt’s work and how he is not just seeking to analyse Rembrandt but to use his art as inspiration for developing his own perspective on life. As such,

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his interest in Rembrandt can be seen as a kind of pursuit of inspiration, as an attempt to seek out sources that might aid in thinking through the ideas he sought to develop and the theoretical perspectives that he was already working upon. This is not the only instance of Simmel seeking inspiration in this way.17 Simmel was a social thinker seeking dialogue with different forms of art and writing in order to cultivate and articulate his perspectives and analytical angles.

A Portrait of Life Many of the ideas that Simmel explores in Rembrandt reappear or are extended in different form in The View of Life. There are a number of themes in the earlier work that continue into the latter. We can take this as an opportunity to begin to build a genealogy of some of the points. The ideas discussed in the later chapters might be seen in a new light when we consider their emergence from Simmel’s encounters and interest in Rembrandt’s art. The perspective on life is the shared terrain upon which Simmel reflects on Rembrandt and where the ideas begin to merge. In this vein, as we will see in the later chapters, the relationship between the parts and the whole—the ‘wholeness of life’ (KG 159) as Simmel puts in an essay on Kant and Goethe—are crucial in the analysis. For instance, Simmel indicates that ‘the same formula that governs the relationship between the representation of a moment of motion and of the expressed whole inner event determines Rembrandt’s fashioning of the portrait as such’ (RB 8). Framed by dynamism, the moment and the whole are captured in these pieces, at least that is his claim. For Simmel this is the beauty of Rembrandt’s art—which also poses a question about whether capturing the wholeness of life remained possible in the tumultuous cultural circumstances in which Simmel found himself.18 This portraiture of the type and tradition in which Simmel places Rembrandt is discussed in some detail by Simmel, he uses this to compare and contrast the art. Simmel further observes, from the metaphysics of classical Greece, that with such art ‘the meaning and value of things lies in their being, in their clearly circumscribed essence as expressed in their timeless concept’ (RB 8–9). Being is crucial in the intention of such art. In this being it is the life course that seeks to be represented, rather than the moment. Simmel’s reading is that ‘in the physiognomies of Rembrandt’s portraits we feel very clearly that the course of a life, heaping fate on fate,



creates this present image’ (RB 9). Fate on fate: the features of the life are depicted in the moment captured. Thus the life course, or an impression of it, becomes a property of that image. This gives the viewer perspective over that lifecourse, Simmel argued, for it ‘elevates us, as it were, to a certain height from which we can view the ascending path toward that point, even though none of the content of its past could be naturalistically stated in the way that portraits with a psychological slant might seek to suggest’ (RB 9–10). The painting lifts us to a position from which we can look across the life course through that painting, it elevates us to a level at which a broader perspective is acquired. This perspective is different, Simmel is arguing, from more psychological perspectives on the individual. It would seem that Rembrandt’s art is, for Simmel, more sociological or philosophical in the perspective it provides. Simmel continues with this disciplinary exploration of the art adding that: ‘Miraculously, Rembrandt transposes into the fixed uniqueness of the gaze all the movements of the life that led up to it: the formal rhythm, mood, and coloring of fate, as it were, of the vital process’ (RB 10). As such, life is encapsulated rather than dissected. In that fixed image, Simmel infers, Rembrandt was able to capture what had come before and the course that life had taken. It was all there, the tone of the life in the colour and mood of the image. This is where this type of image, Simmel argues, diverges from a more psychological take, for: A psychological orientation always results in a particularization, and thereby a certain solidification that distinguishes itself from the present, but continuously fluid, totality of life within each moment. In Rembrandt, the portrayal of a human being is filled with inner life to the highest degree, but is not psychological. This is a difference of far reaching consequences that can easily be overlooked if one is not aware of life as a totality at all times, and as a continuously changing form as opposed to each isolated locally determinable individual quality. For only this dynamic of life, but not its content of character describable in terms of individual concepts, is the architect of our traits. (RB 10)

From Simmel’s perspective the totality is vital in the depiction of life (this is a particular feature of Simmel’s argument that was observed by Raymond Aron19). A more psychological perspective can lose this sense of the whole. The Architecture of Our Traits is the term that evokes what might be lost if we break the pieces apart to analyse them. To do

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so would be to lose a sense of the construction, of the assemblage and of the structure. A psychological take explores the particular, Simmel sees this as being at the expense of the totality of life that Rembrandt is able to portray. Simmel finds this portrayal of the life-course more satisfactory as a perspective on life than the focus on particular features, it is also a perspective that is less likely to lose that important relationality. As this intimates, he sees Rembrandt’s art as an alternative to a more psychological way of exploring the subject but which also, as we will see, does not become too abstract or distanced.

Timelessness and Ageing Tackling the same issue again, but from a different angle, Simmel raises the problem of timelessness—which is something he picks up in a discussion of the painting styles of different regions and eras elsewhere (GCR 48). Being timeless, Simmel observes, is to disconnect the art from its location in history, but the bigger issue he notes is that art can be timeless in the way that it prevents us from seeing the ‘ordering of its moments’ (RB 11) or what he refers to as ‘immanent timelessness’. Simmel’s point is that Rembrandt’s portraits escape this problem of timelessness, situating the individual in a location whilst also leaving the order of life events in place. Pyyhtinen has in fact outlined the importance of the event and what he calls ‘event dynamics’ to Simmel’s understanding of life.20 The event, Pyyhtinen observed, is also important to Simmel’s notion of society.21 The above observation about Rembrandt’s ordering of life events and the representation of these event dynamics leads Simmel to pause on the question of age. It is this ability to overcome timelessness and to situate the moment within the life course that means ‘therefore, the richest and most moving portraits of Rembrandt are those of old people, since in them we can see a maximum of lived life’ (RB 11). The longer the life, the greater the opportunity to avoid timelessness and to add the richness of the life course. Conversely, for Simmel, Rembrandt found this more difficult to achieve when depicting younger people. On this point he argues that ‘in portraits of young people he achieved this only in a few depictions…by garnering to a degree the future life with its developments and fates, and by making visible the future succession of events in the present, just as, in the former case, the succession of past events is made visible’ (RB 11). To capture the



life course in the portraits of younger people, Rembrandt had to stretch further into an imagined future than with his older figures. The difficulty is in how the past and future are combined in the becoming of the individual in these portraits.22 Rembrandt’s drawings vary, for Simmel, in that they have ‘something characteristically unfinished about them’ (RB 12). In a separate short piece on Germanic painting Simmel concludes that ‘where classicism seeks to present form in the appearance of life, Rembrandt sought to present life through the appearance of form’ (GCR 49). We will see how important life and form are to Simmel in the later chapters, for the moment we can at least note how he thought Rembrandt was able to capture form, that is to say he captured totalities, dynamism and limits. The problem of the relations between the past and the future persist. Simmel reflects on the series of portraits of individuals that Rembrandt produced, which do not just capture life movements in the individual picture, but capture and recapture this across a series of pictures. This is a double layering of continuity in Rembrandt’s works, within and across portraits, something that Simmel reflects on as being indicative of Rembrandt’s aims. On these portrait series Simmel’s point is that in these multiple depictions the: continuity of the flowing totality of life, as focused in a single portrait, extends beyond it and is expressed, as real and symbolic, in Rembrandt’s evident inclination to capture in painting the same individual at various stages of life. Here on a larger scale we feel once more that life cannot be captured in a single moment of its formation. (RB 11)

These series or portraits of particular individuals both reveal Rembrandt’s inclination toward avoiding the momentary capturing of the subject and the fact that life cannot really be entirely captured in a single image. Yet it is this latter problem that Simmel understands Rembrandt’s work to be closest to resolving. The series of pictures provided by Rembrandt come even closer than the single image to depicting the continuities and total qualities of life. Simmel elaborates further: But, as in Rembrandt, just as the whole life flows into each moment that is represented as a picture, so it also flows further into the next painting – dissolving, as it were, into an uninterrupted life in which the paintings rarely denote a pause. It never is; it is always becoming. (RB 11)

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The particular quality and approach that Rembrandt brings to the depiction of life is that the image is never complete, it is instead built upon the principle of becoming or of life still unfolding. As Simmel puts it here, it never is, rather, it is always becoming (see also NHU 116). As such it captures something of what Simmel calls the ‘secret of life’, which, he writes, is ‘that the whole of life is in each moment, and yet each moment is unmistakably different from any other’ (RB 12). This is a perspective that not only permeates through his study of Rembrandt, it also leaks outwards into his other writings and is pursued in detail in The View of Life (as I will discuss in Part II). Part of what Simmel is arguing for is a view, understanding and representation of life that somehow bypasses analysis and traditional conceptualisation. He is pursuing a dynamic account of life that captures its flows and stream. It seems that he is seeking to get as close as possible to what might be seen as non-dissected and pre-analytic account of life. This is why portraiture captures Simmel’s imagination, it is a form that ‘speaks through artistic creations and not in theoretical concepts’ (RB 12). This is the direction implicitly taken when Simmel tries to avoid approaches in which life and ideas are ‘being damned up’ (RB 12). This it seems is the problem Simmel has encountered, the problem of overly solidifying life in its depiction, and why he turns to art and to Rembrandt for inspiration in thinking beyond such blockages. In their introduction to the translation of Rembrandt, Scott and Staubmann suggested that the art was like a ‘treasure trove’ for Simmel’s ‘theoretical concerns’.23 As such, his analysis of Rembrandt is in part the realisation and a source of provocation for the ideas he goes on to develop in his final works, as I will explore in detail in the following chapters. Simmel’s view of life is at least in part formed in dialogue with the art of Rembrandt.

Openness The interest in using art to further his thinking is indicative of the kind of open perspective and lateral approach to ideas formation that Simmel was engaging with. It is an approach that is not dissimilar to that offered by Howard Becker in his book Telling About Society, in which Becker explores how sources of art and culture can provide inspiration and insights for the sociological imagination to learn from and work with.24 This is an openness of thinking demonstrated by Simmel that at the same



time aims to see the openness of life—a thinking without barriers that seeks to see its object of study without limits. Simmel never did seem particularly wary of such ground clearing or of reaching across established disciplinary or theoretical fixities. As Goodstein has discussed, one of the values of Simmel’s work is in facilitating thinking outside of disciplinary limits.25 One particular limit that Simmel pushes at, as we have seen above, is timelessness. Whereas other art might seek ‘pure’ perspective on life typified by the attempt to capture characters ‘timelessly’ (RB 13), Rembrandt’s work, Simmel concludes, is ­‘incomparably vibrant’ (RB 14). In fact, he surmises, ‘the effect of Rembrandt’s paintings is just the opposite’, reasoning that ‘his figures appear to us as though shaken out of the depths of life, interwoven with long-running strands of fate’ (RB 13). The impression of fate, of where the life-course has been and where it might go, is etched onto these figures faces and bodies. Things hidden in the shadowy depths are brought to the surface. As with the lowering of the plumb line in the early pages of Rembrandt, the idea of depth is introduced here as part of the pursuit of something beyond the superficial. As well as analysing the paintings Simmel is at least in part a fan of Rembrandt’s works, he is clearly really taken with the qualities of the paintings. This enthusiasm for the paintings is often found traced onto the points Simmel makes, such as the claim that: Rembrandt’s intricate conception of the human being, which is richer in elements and apparently less clarified, makes the sequence of developments and fates of the inner life that shaped the present appearance emotionally more accessible within, and empathic with, this appearance, and thus more intelligible from within. (RB 14)

When Simmel compares Rembrandt to other painters or genres, he almost invariably finds Rembrandt to be more satisfactory and more revealing. By not seeking to clarify the microscopic detail of the life, Simmel points out, Rembrandt’s art is richer and allows us to engage with the emotional state of the figure and life depicted. Simmel is venerating an approach based on bringing something from below the surface or hidden in the background of life and allowing it to be seen in the portrait. He suggests that in Rembrandt’s portraits the ‘visible elements (besides their immediate relation to each other) are shaped as though from a point lying behind them’ (RB 14). What might be thought of as a vanishing point of the individual is brought

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to the surface, something that Simmel was already attuned to in his earlier works but which he subsequently found a way to rearticulate in his encounter with Rembrandt. Indeed, Simmel takes us back to the sensory as our interface with the social. The painting enables us, through our senses, to ‘witness the dynamics of life and fate that forged the elements’ (RB 14). The thing that is brought to the surface is the past biography but it also seems to be suggestive of how that biography is a product of the way that the individual relates to social forces—this is emphasized by Simmel’s repeated assertion that Rembrandt is avoiding a purely psychological approach in his works. This occurs by layering or ordering the past into the depths of the painting through which, Simmel goes on to suggest, ‘the present is brought into effective contact with the stream of life by the stratification of the past, which somehow loses itself in the dark’ (RB 14). This leaves an impression of life in which, according to Simmel, ‘the Rembrandt portrait seems to us to interpret its own puzzles because it emerges out of life that is always becoming and subjected to the fate of time – to that which it nevertheless continues to adhere’ (RB 15). These paintings show the complexities, the questions, whilst also revealing some responses to those questions at the same time. Hence he refers to how those portraits are about both ‘being’ and ‘coming into being’ (RB 15). Rather than leaving the bits of the jigsaw, he is arguing here, Rembrandt leaves the picture of life in one piece. He doesn’t solve the puzzle as such, but leaves it unboxed for us. These are pictures of life that are becoming, that are developing from those linkages to the past, to biography and to social forces. It is from this that Simmel begins to satisfy the pursuit of inspiration that led him to this detailed discussion of Rembrandt’s art.

The Circle Vanishes It is not just representation that Simmel is concerned with, he also begins to think about the feedback loops and connections that play out in the interpretation as well as the depictions of art. He introduces the notion of ‘the circle’ to explore this. He is interested in how this circle varies depending on the art form. On the one side we have the relation between the past and present in the image, which he speaks of as being part of the circle (RB 16). This past and present feeds into how that life is understood through the art—although elsewhere Simmel is at pains to make clear that we cannot know the mind or thinking of someone from



such a perspective, not without imposing our own thinking upon them (NHU 105). In particular, one position he offers here is that we ‘perceive’ the physical but we ‘deduce’ the ‘inner life’ (RB 17). He separates out perception from deduction in this. Where we perceive the physical body in the image, we then use that to deduce or infer conclusions about the life depicted. In this case, ‘the circle whereby the inner life must be comprehended from out of the body, and the body, in turn, out of the inner life, is a consequence and a proof of the unity of the phenomenon’ (RB 18). The circular process is suggestive of the type of position Simmel takes on the way art becomes part of life as well as the way life becomes art. The interpretive loop outlined here is where we comprehend the life from the body depicted, but the depiction of the body is also an attempt to capture the inner life. Thus some complex spiralling arguments begin to emerge. We frequently move from perceiving the portrait to making deductions about the life depicted. We can see here why Simmel is drawn to the idea of the circle as a way of capturing this. As this circle plays out, Simmel further argues, art breaks down the boundary between the ‘physical and the inner conception’ or between ‘perception and interpretation’ (RB 18). The ‘circle vanishes’, Simmel contends, most readily in portraits, where the life and the body are interwoven. Simmel declares that the circle vanishes because this type of portrait, of the sort created by Rembrandt, are, Simmel is arguing, preanalytic. As he explains: only art, whose objectifications preserve the closest relationships to the subjective immediacy of experience, seems to succeed in relatively unrefracted reflections of that unity; not a reunification – a synthesis in which the seams never disappear – but rather the reflection of an original inseparability that is presynthetic because it is preanalytical. (RB 18)

In this argument it is the unrefracted, the unsplit, depiction of life where this circle vanishes and where art is closest to capturing the unity and totality of life. Rather than putting the bits of life together, joining the seams, these portraits capture the fact that the bits cannot be separated. Hence it is presynthetic, ‘die vor-synthetisch’ (GSG15 331), for Simmel, which is to say that the bits of life haven’t been analysed and brought together, but that they were never disconnected in the first place. As Simmel adds, ‘this does not mean the synthesis of the body and

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soul, but rather their indivisibility’ (RB 20). Simmel is orientated toward the idea that Rembrandt has done a better job of grasping this than many theorists of life. On this point, Simmel again expresses his belief that Rembrandt would reject a more psychological approach to the subject and instead insists that ‘he simply wanted to paint a human being the way they appeared – more precisely, his vision of this appearance – but for him, in his artistry, “appearance” had not yet divided into body and soul’ (RB 19). The point, the key idea, is that these parts aren’t separated or refracted, they are seen whole and captured that way. The life is not divided in order to be understood, nor is it reconstituted or synthesized, it is captured as it is, as a relational totality. Simmel argues that ‘that which his portraits represented was no longer a corporeality abstracted out of a whole life, but rather his vision was from the start this whole life in the unity, or as the unity, of all its elements’ (RB 27). No longer a body abstracted from the flow of life, in Simmel’s terms, but the life is situated and the elements are left bound together. Illustrating this point further, Simmel suggests that this is also connected to the key issue of ‘animation’ (RB 21–22). The portrait can give a sense of this animated life in a way that the photograph, for example, is not able— the photo is instead much more of a fixed moment for Simmel. It is the inclusion of animation that enables the dynamism of the totality to be inferred. As we will see, it is the attempt to capture the animation of the individual that Simmel sees as being one of the important qualities in these portraits and in the view of life they provide.

Dissolving Temporalities: Subjectivity, Objectivity and the ‘Extension’ of Life’s Past and Present From the discussion of abstraction and animation, Simmel veers towards another ‘aspect of artistic creation’, this he describes as ‘the extension’. As he explains: Every work of art has some form of extension in space or time in which its parts – coloured or formed pieces of material, words, movements, tones – range themselves with or alongside each other and form a unity. This unity must somehow be there from the beginning and determine the creation, otherwise it would be inconceivable on which basis the artist should be able to gather together the individual materials as something that fits together and forms a totality. (RB 27–28)



The work of art, he claims, extends outwards into time and space, connecting that moment to other moments and to biographical and social detail. Simmel’s additional point here is that the intention of the artist, in Rembrandt’s case, is to capture unity from the outset. Indeed, he claims that the portrait can only capture that whole life if this is the aim and intention from the outset. In making a similar point he turns to melody as an illustrative metaphor, adding that ‘a melody is not a series of tones following each other, but rather a unity in its own right that is not demonstrable in this temporal diversity as such, but that nonetheless determines it’ (RB 29). It is worth noting that Simmel was writing separately on methodological questions in history at around the same time, so these issues were demonstrably on his mind (PHT 127–128). We can also add to this that Simmel was reflecting in his previous works on the abstraction of the social, as Lechner has pointed out, in which social life is lived at a distance.26 The idea of the ‘extension’ was something that held his thoughts. The artists who is able to capture life is engaged in this extension, linking that moment to the life and times of the character depicted. His observation here is that, ‘with Rembrandt…it is as though he traced back the appearance of the person to a unified trans-phenomenal intuition of essence that he then entrusted to its concentrated driving forces out of which the forms’ spatial extension unfolded in free organic growth’ (RB 29). This process of tracing back, of extending form in that moment, requires intuition on the part of the artist to both infer that past and to then represent it in the image. Again the notion of the extension from the particular is used to evoke this practice and aim. It is also this process that Simmel is drawn towards in terms of understanding life in a kind of pre-analytic state. Simmel runs with this point writing that ‘this appears to me to be the real creativity in the art of portraiture: for the artist the examination of the model is only a conceiving, a fertilization, and he procreates the appearance anew’ (RB 29). The appearance, which he notes in Rembrandt may not necessarily be a perfect likeness, nevertheless it can still capture or express something beyond the appearance of the figure. Simmel is interested in how this ‘extension’ leads Rembrandt to mix together the subjective and objective in his work. He argues that the individual depicted is both subject and object in these visual accounts (the issue of the subject and object distinction is also discussed in more philosophical terms in his contemporaneous discussion of Kant and Goethe, see KG 160). He uses this observation to reflect on how the

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division of subjective and objective knowledge may prevent full and more complete accounts of life from being formulated. This set of relations between the subjective and objective is something that Frisby has noted gave Simmel various difficulties in his thought.27 For Matthias Gross these relations, and the struggles he encountered, can be understood through Simmel’s concept of ‘non-knowledge’28 (see Chapter 5). This is a term intended to grasp the difficulty of this very integration of the objective and the subjective. Along with the past and present, Simmel seeks to understand the convergence of the objective and subjective. As these temporalities and boundaries dissolve in Rembrandt’s portraits, Simmel turns his attention to understanding how individuality is maintained and preserved in these emergent figures.


1. Though according to a passage in the essay it was written in 1914. 2. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 99. 3. Symons, S., More Than Life: Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin on Art, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2017, p. 43; Scott, A., & Staubmann, H., ‘Editor’s Introduction: Georg Simmel on Rembrandt: Understanding the Human Beyond Naturalism and Conventionalism’, in Scott, A., & Staubmann, H. (ed.) Georg Simmel: Rembrandt: An Essay in the Philosophy of Art, London: Routledge, 2005, pp. xi–xix, p. xi. 4. A few years earlier, in 1907, Simmel had written a chapter on ‘the metaphysics of art’ for his book Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (see SN 75–104). Clearly there is a line of development in his thought running from that earlier publication, which also adds further weight to the influence that Nietzsche had on his later works and, possibly, on his later encounter with Rembrandt’s art. 5. Symons, S., More Than Life: Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin on Art, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2017, p. 43. 6.  Scott, A., & Staubmann, H., ‘Editor’s Introduction: Georg Simmel on Rembrandt: Understanding the Human Beyond Naturalism and Conventionalism’, in Scott, A., & Staubmann, H. (ed.) Georg Simmel: Rembrandt: An Essay in the Philosophy of Art, London: Routledge, 2005, pp. xi–xix, p. xi. 7. (Levine, 1971: xv; Heberle, 1965: 116) Levine, D.N., ‘Introduction’, in Levine, D.N. (ed.) Georg Simmel: On Individuality and Social Forms, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971, pp. ix–lxv, p. xv;



Heberle, R., ‘Simmel’s Method’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 116–121, p. 116. 8. Sorokin, P., ‘A Critique of Simmel’s Method’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 142–153, p. 146. 9. Weinstein, D., & Weinstein, M.A., Postmodern(ized) Simmel, London: Routledge, 1993, p. 13. 10. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018. 11. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 47. 12. Frisby, D., Fragments of Modernity, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1985, p. 50. 13.  Darmon, I., & Frade, C., ‘Beneath and Beyond the Fragments: The Charms of Simmel’s Philosophical Path for Contemporary Subjectivities’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 197–271, p. 197. 14. Spykman, N.J., The Social Theory of Georg Simmel, New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2004, p. 20. 15. Harrington, A., Art and Social Theory: Sociological Arguments in Aesthetics, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004, p. 152. 16. Frisby, D., Sociological Impressionism: A Reassessment of Georg Simmel’s Social Theory, Second Edition, London: Routledge, 1992. 17. In an earlier essay, revised at around the same time as this book was being developed, Simmel spoke of Goethe as an artist (see KG 163). 18.  See Harrington, A., Art and Social Theory: Sociological Arguments in Aesthetics, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004, p. 153. 19.  Aron, R., ‘Culture and Life’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 138–141, p. 140. 20.  Pyyhtinen, O., ‘Even Dynamics: The Eventalization of Society in the Sociology of Georg Simmel’, Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory 8(2), 2007, pp. 111–132, p. 111. 21.  Pyyhtinen, O., ‘Even Dynamics: The Eventalization of Society in the Sociology of Georg Simmel’, Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory 8(2), 2007, pp. 111–132, p. 123. 22.  As discussed in Harrington, A., Art and Social Theory: Sociological Arguments in Aesthetics, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004, see pp. 152– 153; Symons, S., More Than Life: Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin on Art, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2017, p. 44. 23.  Scott, A., & Staubmann, H., ‘Editor’s Introduction: Georg Simmel on Rembrandt: Understanding the Human Beyond Naturalism and Conventionalism’, in Scott, A., & Staubmann, H. (ed.) Georg Simmel: Rembrandt: An Essay in the Philosophy of Art, London: Routledge, 2005, pp. xi–xix, p. xii.

52  D. BEER 24. Becker, H., Telling About Society, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007. 25. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 31. 26. Lechner, F.J., ‘Simmel on Social Space’, Theory, Culture & Society 8(1), 1991, pp. 195–201, p. 200. 27. Frisby, D., Fragments of Modernity, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1985, p. 108. 28. Gross, M., ‘“Objective Culture” and the Development of Nonknowledge: Georg Simmel and the Reverse Side of Knowing’, Cultural Sociology 6(4), 2012, pp. 422–437, p. 430.


The Emerging Figure

The previous chapter outlined the type of approach that Simmel took, lowering the plumb line as he called it, and the arguments he developed concerning the depiction of a dynamic life. It also looked at how Simmel sought to avoid dissecting life to the point of being unable to see its unique combination of properties. His interest in how Rembrandt captures the animation of pulsating life was one central tenet within those arguments. This chapter continues to explore the arguments that Simmel went on to develop in his study of Rembrandt, in this case looking very directly at the way that those portraits dealt with individuality, character and the notion of life itself. Alongside an attempt to reshape notions of the subjective and objective, as discussed in the previous chapter, Rembrandt’s portraits also pushed Simmel to reflect on the question of individuality and how individuality is preserved in the portrait. Again this is not an isolated individualism that he is speaking of, but something that is intricately meshed into its context. Simmel’s position here is that ‘the turning away in Rembrandt’s art from the “general” in human appearances, its maximal carving out of the individual, appears to be one of the inner paths on which the overcoming of the spiritual/corporeal dualism is accomplished; or better, in following this path an overcoming in the strict sense is a priori unnecessary’ (RB 32; see also KG 161). Here Simmel directly explores how Rembrandt’s art might challenge established conceptual ideas or dualisms. The art, he is suggesting, shows how such a dualism can be broken down into the flow of life whilst remaining observable. © The Author(s) 2019 D. Beer, Georg Simmel’s Concluding Thoughts,


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The individual, it should also be noted, becomes something that is more readily and more directly understood in such artworks, this is especially the case where the individual is seen in distinctive ways amongst the general rather than simply being seen as an instance or example of broader and more general types or features.1 This is where Simmel is interested in how Rembrandt avoids painting people as types. He is attracted by this way of seeing the individual characteristics without simply reducing them to the typical or to patterns of general properties. It is here that Simmel is drawn toward the combination of the subjective and the objective and how the art enables the individual life to be seen in relational terms whilst also being distinct.

Preserving Individuality Simmel wonders, perhaps unnecessarily given the layering of the arguments he offers, if what he has said to this point is able to tell us something of what he calls ‘the specific achievement of Rembrandt’. It would seem that Simmel was concerned that the complexity of what he was trying to express was not reaching his reader, further evidence perhaps of that hesitation mentioned earlier in Chapter 2. The above discussion shows some of the complex layers underpinning the position he was wrestling to articulate. Rembrandt’s achievement, Simmel seeks to further clarify, is the ‘making visible of the past in the person’s present’ (RB 32). Again, Simmel seeks to emphasise the central point concerning the way that the individual’s past inhabits the representation of their present. Extending this further, he highlights the breaking apart of certain established forms of knowledge about life and the aim of avoiding the superficial. His contention is that: What must be overcome is the obvious but vapid idea that a sensory present is given, out of which the inner past is reconstructed through an intellectual method, and/or is projected into it. In fact, art has specific means available (which become particularly evident in Rembrandt’s later portraits) with which to free itself from this rationalist necessity. (RB 33)

We are left to wonder here if the subtext is that art can work as an inspiration for escaping the rationalist necessity in other forms of knowledge. Again, Simmel pursues the idea that social theory and philosophy might broaden or challenge its understandings through art. Indeed, his



central interest in Rembrandt is built around the vision of life offered in his paintings and also how this body of knowledge might create questions for established conceptions. In particular, the property that might move forward philosophical and theoretical debates, he seems to claim, is intuition. As is suggested by Simmel’s conclusion that ‘as a real experience of intuition, the phenomenon of a human being is a totality that somehow transcends the moment – something standing beyond the contrast between present and past, and perhaps even future’ (RB 33). The result in Rembrandt’s work, Simmel is arguing, is that the whole life is being captured from the outset and that ‘Rembrandt’s depiction of persons allows us in each case to view the totality of the life despite the fact that this as concept and as external reality is formed in the sequence of past and present’ (RB 34). Despite being momentary it seizes upon the flow. It brings past and present together and, as a result ‘we see the whole person and not a moment of his life from which we deduced earlier moments’ (RB 34). This is not life as deduced just from those earlier moments, but is where the past and present intersect with a potential future (see also RB 106). Simmel, it would seem, is trying to open up the horizon of social thought and to see how the individual life might be viewed differently; escaping both generalities on one hand and a forensic dissection of parts on the other, instead thinking in terms of the way these connect in the individual life in biographical and therefore temporal terms. This is not simply a middle ground or mid-range theory type of argument. This is about seeing the parts of the life together whilst also thinking of the life course within those formulations. This is perhaps why Simmel is interested in the pulse, beats and rhythms of life—there is an animated dynamism and an ongoing temporal dimension that he wishes to venerate in Rembrandt’s art. This is perhaps where the source of inspiration for his late arguments emerges; culminating in a view that, as Poggi has put it, ‘emphasized life’s inherent, irrational tendency to transcend all the forms, material, social and cultural in which life itself unavoidably finds expression’.2 This ongoing beat returns repeatedly but in different guises. One way this is developed is where Simmel imagines the reverse, in which we try to freeze life in a snapshot or cross-section in order to understand it—Frisby has previously argued that Simmel always tried to look beyond social snapshots in order to see their significance.3 In this case, ‘where we perceive life, and not a frozen cross-section that only offers the content

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but not the function of a life as such, we constantly perceive a becoming’ (RB 35). We can then see life not as being, or as fixed, but as something becoming, something unfolding. Within this unfolding, the sequencing of temporal features is important for Simmel, he repeatedly reiterates that this sequencing is not something that can be reduced to simple life stages that discreetly sit into a series of moments (he also tackles the problem of the analysis of stages of development in his related essay on historical understanding, see NHU 116–126). Again, he turns to the art to further his point and to argue that ‘Rembrandt has the ability to extend such a temporal sequence, which despite keeping this form, is still one act of viewing within us into an undeterminable distant time, or, more exactly: to allow the one to emerge out of the other’ (RB 35). Rembrandt, it is claimed, does not reduce the sequencing to discrete life stages. It is notable that temporal sequencing is important for Simmel in understanding how the flow of the individual life might be understood, how the life-stream unfolds, but breaking life into steps or stages is something he sees as a potential error. On this point he adds that: One must not give into the lure of the concept of temporal sequence as though individual stations, as it were, determined by contents were built one after the other. This is because temporality would then only be the external form of an arrangement of clear-cut factual contents of life, while here we are dealing precisely with a stream of becoming in which the self-sufficient meaning…of the single moments (…) is dissolved absolutely. (RB 35–36)

Simmel is interested in the temporality but his warning here, which he suggests Rembrandt’s art escapes, is the understanding of the temporal sequencing of life in terms of clear steps or, as he puts it, individual stations (this is something we will return to in the discussion of life goals in Chapter 4). It is not a series of steps built one on top of the other, for Simmel. To imagine it in this way, as life stages, is to impose something from outside that is not there. Instead, drawing on Rembrandt, he is arguing for the need to observe something more continuous in its form, a kind of ‘stream of becoming’. In a separate essay on artistic style Simmel reiterates this point with the claim that this is a ‘way of depicting the human figure through the feeling of an unbroken moving tide of life’ (GCR 50). The boundaries between moments in this sequencing then dissolves.



Finding Vitality, Movement and Individuality The figures in Rembrandt’s paintings take, for Simmel, a crucial and distinctive form. It is in this flow of becoming, where the life is seen in more total terms and form which the figure emerges. According to Simmel, ‘each figure is viewed as having emerged from, or emerging out of, the fleeting rhythm of life, fate, development’ (RB 36). As such, the figure, Simmel is claiming, is situated in that context from which it emerges. The figure is not disconnected from the rhythms of life but is pictured as it emerges from it. This lends the figure certain properties that Simmel is keen to promote in his own perspective on life. In particular, it is Rembrandt’s ability to capture the whole life that Simmel is particularly struck by. ‘It is, so to speak, not the form in its current state that Rembrandt presents, but, rather, precisely the whole life that has been lived up to, and viewed from, the perspective of this moment’ (RB 36), Simmel goes on to observe. As such, Rembrandt is taking that moment as a vista for looking across that life, rather than isolating it outside of the life context. This figure is emerging from the context and that sense of movement and of life-course travels in the image. In this case, one thing Simmel does is to suggest that Rembrandt is taking the opposite approach to Kant. Partyga seems to suggest that there is a dialogue or subtext in The View of Life in which Simmel is drawing on Nietzsche to help him to move away from Kant,4 perhaps we can also see Simmel using Rembrandt in a similar way here. It is worth noting that Levine suggests that it is Kant who is Simmel’s key interlocuter throughout his writings; stretching back to his 1881 dissertation on Kant.5 Rembrandt’s portraits do not uniformly achieve this type of vision of totality, Simmel cautions, it is most visible in certain works. Indeed, he adds, it is ‘in his most profound portraits, the essence of persons appears in a unity that does not emerge at a point of development that is at last reached, but rather combines the totality of a steady development’ (RB 36). The moment of capture is not then seen as an endpoint in this development, instead it looks at it as part of that ongoing emergence. This is the particular quality that Simmel admires most in what he sees as Rembrandt’s most affective works. It is not a fixed point that the portrait depicts, but the development of that life. As already discussed, at play here is a kind of temporal dimension, or perhaps a temporal extension

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across that life along with a sense of animation and movement. The capture of such a feeling of time, animation and movement are rare qualities for Simmel. On this point, crucially, Simmel reflects: With respect to each “represented movement” the question arises above all as to why the one, frozen, temporally nonextended moment presented by the painting can make visible a temporally extended movement. This is not achieved by the lesser artist, where the figure rather appears in its posture as though frozen stiff. This is also the case with the snapshot. (RB 37)

Movement, or a sense of movement, are fundamental in the type of account of life that Simmel is seeking here. This type of temporality and motion is not achieved, Simmel notes, by what he refers to as ‘lesser artists’. In such lesser works he claims that this movement and animation are lost, in their place is something more static, fixed or frozen. Which, given the arguments of his book, would also make us wonder if he is reflecting here also on how sociological and philosophical works sometimes leave the figures ‘frozen stiff’. It seems contentious and may be a product of the photography of the time, but he also argues that the snapshot has the same problem, in that it removes animation and a sense of temporality from the individual. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this discussion leaves Simmel to wonder: ‘What is it that moves within the picture?’ (RB 38). He offers some detailed reflections on this question whilst trying to avoid picking the features of the portraits apart—which would fall into the trap that he discussed in the opening pages of his book concerning the understanding of art in analytic terms. His wanderings lead him to the conclusion that ‘the movement is immanent to the gesture’ (RB 39). The movement is not actually there but is implied in the properties of the figure. The fixed image gives a sense of where the figure has come from and where they are going. It is the ability of the artist to include movement that means that the painting is closer to the reality we perceive, he argues, than the snapshot. We get this sense of movement, and of biographical horizons, when encountering people and the painting, according to Simmel, can replicate that sensation. Building on this point he adds that this is why ‘the work of art offers much more “truth” than does the photographic snapshot’ (RB 39). Simmel works at some length in the book to explain exactly how Rembrandt captures movement and what that movement is. Without delving too far into those many details, it is evident that



Simmel is pursuing the idea that any view of life that is to be successful and reflect the realities of individual life and the social, will need to also be able to capture the emergent animated figure. We can draw such a conclusion from various pointers in the text, including the idea that ‘it is out of the essence of life, for whose sake the static brush stroke becomes perceivable as movement, that the history of the personality becomes visible in the fixed physiognomy of the most perfect Rembrandt portraits’ (RB 41). Simmel is clearly taken with Rembrandt’s mode of work and with the way he approaches and depicts life, there is plenty of evidence of this littered across the book. The perspective Rembrandt offers, the way he ‘seeks the coming into being [das Gewordensein], of the person’ (RB 41), is quite a source of inspiration and insight for Simmel. Indeed, it is hard then to separate out his own ideas from the properties that he finds in Rembrandt’s works. It seems that this encounter is foundational for the view of life that he expounds throughout these various later works (as I will discuss in more detail in the following chapters). Similarly, Simmel, by reflecting on Rembrandt’s group paintings, seems to see something in how the individual and the social are depicted together—with the f­ormer remaining distinctive whilst the later takes form. Earlier I focused upon the way that Rembrandt avoided painting types, this is a thread that Simmel returns to again. Such a focus also echoes Simmel’s ongoing interest, I would argue, in how the individual becomes social and his ongoing insights into the tension between being a part of things whilst remaining individual.6 It also reflects his call for a focus on ‘sociation’ within sociology as a way of understanding individuals not as separate entities but as part of group associations and interactions (FPS 10 and 21–22).7 For instance, he turns to Rembrandt’s famous group painting The Night Watch (RB 44–45) and reflects on the interaction of characters within it. Again, rather than fixing the moment or the characters, Simmel’s reading is that the picture captures the ‘rhythmic life’ (RB 46)—something Simmel himself had long been interested in understanding. His praise is specifically reserved for the way that the figures form together as a unity, whilst each individual figure also remains a unity in itself. The individuals in the crowd retain their own distinctive features, and so the painting captures the group and the individual in combination. He observes that Rembrandt, ‘gathers any number and arrangement of individual figures into a unity’ (RB 46). The crucial thing, for Simmel, is that these gathered figures remain individuals within the

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group being depicted. Rembrandt, Simmel restates, resists the temptation to paint the figures as types. Simmel’s interest in the interaction of groups has been referred to by Mills as an attempt to grapple with the ‘symbolic mechanisms’ of the group.8 In Rembrandt’s group paintings, Simmel describes, can be located the ‘higher stage in which purely individualized objects of life converge into a unity without needing classical geometrical formal structure’ (RB 46). As opposed to the flatter and relatively depthless pictures of collective figures of the time, in which the relationality was less notable, for Simmel at least, these higher stage paintings of Rembrandt captured something of the depth of the relations. The social is captured without the eradication or erosion of the individual (Simmel returns to this later to reiterate the point, see RB 123). Instead Rembrandt’s work reflects and embraces the ‘unevenness’ of life (RB 48) and of these social relations—which reflects his discussion of group and individual power in his contemporaneous work on the practice of sociology as a discipline (FPS 20). The figures remain individuals but there is a unity in the collective, it captures both the individuals and how they relate to each other in this situation. As such, it captures the unity of the whole without losing a sense of the unity of each individual. This could be regarded as being representative of the relational approach to the social that Simmel adopted9 and also as indicative of his ‘scalar’ approach (as discussed in Chapter 1). The discussion of group paintings provides Simmel an opportunity to reflect on the relations between individuals and groups. Within this he points to what he describes as ‘the profound relation to the principle of individuality’, this principle, he adds, is that ‘individuality is that structure whose form is absolutely bound to its reality and cannot be abstracted from this reality under the condition of or in order to gain an autonomous meaning’ (RB 47). In other words, we cannot understand the individual out of context of both their own biographies and their relations to others. The problem posed by this is how such a view is conjured. It is here that group paintings provide Simmel with an opportunity to explore how to conceive of this principle of individuality, especially because Rembrandt’s The Night Watch ‘weaves together out of individuals’ (RB 49). As we might expect from Simmel, the question of individuality becomes prominent, especially where it is understood in situated and relational terms (see also GCR 49). On this question, Simmel explores the way that detail is used to create a sense of the individual.



Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, Simmel argues that it is the way that Rembrandt holds back on the minute details that allows him to bring out the uniqueness of the character. Instead of being in the detail, he writes, ‘real individuality is that which reaches us as the most general’ (RB 50). We are returned here to Simmel’s mention of Goethe’s dislike of glasses and the importance of not getting lost in the detail (see Chapter 2). Elaborating this point, Simmel draws the conclusion that this is because the ‘more we go into details, the more we find traits that we also encounter in others’ (RB 50). Seeing the general features of the individual together, in other words, is much more likely to capture their individuality. Focusing in on specific details is more likely to lead us to find features that others share. By isolating specific small details we do not find individuality, we bypass it. Focusing on details loses the combination of features that afford individuality, instead it leads us to look at specific features that are often shared and thus a sense of individuality is lost. Absence of exact details is, for Simmel, how Rembrandt manages to balance unity and individuality within his group paintings. This means that individuality resides in the impressions that are built. All of this is why, for Simmel, ‘the commonly border-blurring, vibrant, and unclear in Rembrandt’s way of painting can become the conveyor of his tendency toward individualization’ (RB 51). The border-blurring allows the individual properties to merge into an impression of that individual. Rembrandt, Simmel adds, ‘seeks form via life’ (RB 54). This leads Simmel toward a point that then resonates into his later work concerning the blurring of the boundaries around the edges of life, arguing that ‘life is that which at all points wants to go beyond itself, reaching out beyond itself’ (RB 57). This reaching out beyond boundaries is something that we shall see as a key feature in the opening essay in Simmel’s The View of Life, which I will discuss in detail in Chapter 4. For the moment, it is the way that Simmel contrasts this with the mechanical that is interesting, as it implies something organic is captured where we look across and blur the features together rather than mechanistically taking them apart to see how they work in isolation from the whole. We might wonder what this observation means for how sociological work is conducted. The subtext of Simmel’s Rembrandt poses a methodological question for the social sciences, a question about how we can know and depict the social. These same types of methodological questions about analytical distance reappeared elsewhere at around the same time, such as in his essay ‘On the Nature of Historical Understanding’ (see, for example, NHU 108 and

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PHT 127–128). The overarching point is that too narrow a focus on detail loses the combinations and relations of parts and leads away from a clarity of understanding of the specific, replacing it instead with a misguided sense of the generality of shared detail (thus reiterating the earlier points discussed in Chapter 2). The interest in how Rembrandt captures individuality persists in Simmel’s book. In a later passage he contrasts Rembrandts ability to ‘give the impression of individual uniqueness’ with Renaissance art’s figures that remain ‘somehow typical’ (RB 61). This is to juxtapose the way that the individual is understood through the impression of their uniqueness with the approach of turning that individual into a type that is then presented as being in-keeping with that category.10 Simmel explores how Rembrandt stands against positions in which existing concepts, general categories or types are applied in understanding life. Rembrandt, Simmel argues, makes ‘personality comprehensible’ but he does not develop this knowledge by drawing on concepts he has brought with him. Simmel had written elsewhere of the constitutive power of concepts and had thought in some detail about how concepts have the power to shape analysis (see, for example, CH 145–148). This avoidance, for Simmel, is what makes Rembrandt’s account of the individual compelling and different to something like ‘scientific psychological knowledge’ (RB 66). He talks instead of how Rembrandt’s knowing is based upon a high level of sensitivity to first impressions and what they reveal. This sensitivity is something that Simmel claims ‘Rembrandt must have possessed…to an astounding degree’ (RB 67). He draws this conclusion because, in Simmel’s view, ‘out of his portraits shines above all essentially that which we know about a person at first sight, as something completely inexpressible, as the unity of his existence’ (RB 67). His point is, as he puts it, that ‘all individual characteristics are generalities’ (RB 67). One of the strengths that Simmel draws out here is what he describes as the inclusion in the portraits of a ‘plurality of generalities’ (RB 67). Simmel’s overarching point, which he reiterates a number of times, is that: With Rembrandt, we are not dealing with a total life that dissolves forms and is still in some way exterior to them, but rather with purely individual life. Forms do not disappear in the unity of cosmic life like the particular in the general, but the individual life dissolves form from within. This is now the general and disappears as such (in the opposite direction to the former case) in individuality. (RB 70)



So, Simmel adds, Rembrandt does not dissolve the form of life in bringing out its totality, but uses the broader impression to bring out its uniqueness. As such, the form of life is not lost, it is maintained as an impression. It dissolves the boundaries within the life, allowing the parts to connect together. As Weinstein and Weinstein have surmised, individuals themselves are boundaries.11 Elsewhere, riffing on the same theme, Simmel speaks in more musical terms about not singling out a ‘­melody within the symphony of life’ but instead thinking about the ‘tonality within which the whole work is performed’ (CMC 23). Like art and music, life’s components, Simmel reiterates again here, make little sense and lack distinction when viewed in isolation. Here we also see how Simmel walks back again over his previous points to add more detail and to layer a more philosophical take on the argument he makes. Simmel, like the painter he is occupied with, liked to layer his statements.

Shades of Mortality: Shades of Character For what are perhaps obvious reasons given the personal and social context (see Chapter 1), Simmel’s interest in understanding the relations between life and death is something of a preoccupation in his later work (which will be discussed in detail in Chapter 6). His book on Rembrandt is no exception. It would perhaps be a little reductive to assume that this interest is motivated purely by biography, yet the interest does seem to at least be partly connected to the moment in which these texts were written (see Chapter 1). Putting this to one side for the moment, as it is something we will return to (in Chapter 6), Simmel’s exploration of Rembrandt almost inevitably leads him to questions of mortality and to the future of the characters evoked in the portraits. On this point he returns to the problems of timelessness that he noted as limiting the depiction of life in some art, but which is a problem Rembrandt was able, he suggests, to overcome. As well as making the past of the individual perceptible in the features of the portrait, Simmel also suggests that future outcomes or fate are also rendered visible.12 Indeed, Simmel was interested in the way that death is inherent in the lives depicted by Rembrandt. This is a perspective on the relations between life and death that Simmel went on to develop in detail in one of the four essays in The View of Life (as discussed later in Chapter 6). As well as capturing the past, this means that these portraits also have a sense of the future. With the individuality in these portraits, Simmel

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argues that ‘one future moment, which after all makes life into a totality precisely by breaking it off, inhabits all Rembrandt portraits: death’ (RB 70). Death is inherent in these portraits. Simmel argues here that all of Rembrandt’s portraits carry a sense of the end point of that life. Of course, such an argument is likely to be a little too speculative and subjective for many, but Simmel is attempting to build an understanding of what these images are able to achieve. Rembrandt, Simmel claims, has a ‘certain sensibility toward the relationship of life and death’ (RB 71). It would seem that Simmel finds much here to enable him to develop his own thinking on the subject through these portraits. He is likely to at least in part be projecting his own objectives onto these paintings. Chapter 6 will explore further the point made about death being inherent in life which reappears in The View of Life. Indeed, many of the ideas about death inspired by his discussion of Rembrandt are then developed in more detail in The View of Life. Most notable here is the idea that the form of life is shaped by the inevitability of death and that this makes death a presence within life from the outset (see RB 71–72). Schermer and Jary remark that, for Simmel, ‘death provides form for life’.13 As such, death gives life some form or limits in which it operates (I return to this issue in more detail in Chapter 6). As a painter of Form, as Simmel has labelled him, Rembrandt captures this set of relations. Rather than placing death in the future, Simmel sees value in Rembrandt’s depiction of it within all of life’s moments. According to Simmel, it is Rembrandt’s grasp of the individual that enables him to evoke the future and the mortality of that figure. As is then demonstrated by the argument that ‘the perceptibility of death in the greatest Rembrandt portraits corresponds to the extent to which they adopt the absolute individuality of the person as their object’ (RB 77). The greater the impression of individuality, the greater the exposure of the mortality of that figure. It is this heightened sense of the individual that allows this aspect of life to be incorporated. Simmel explains that ‘the more individual, therefore, a person is, the more “mortal” he is, because the unique is simply irreplaceable, and its disappearance is therefore all the more definitive the more unique it is’ (RB 77). It is the revelation of the uniqueness that adds a sense of mortality to the life, which, in turn, allows life to be represented as it is, which for Simmel is that it is infused with its own mortality. The depiction of the individual it would seem, from Simmel’s perspective, also allows for death to be immanent to life. It can be pictured in



the position in which Simmel seeks to place it, on the inside. As this concluding statement in the section on death would indicate: Thus, if one grasps death not as a violent creature waiting outside – as a fate coming upon us at a certain moment – if one moreover comprehends its insoluble, deep immanence in life itself, then the death secretly casting its shadow out of so many Rembrandt portraits is only a symptom of how unconditionally, in his art, precisely the principle of life connects itself to that of individuality. (RB 79)

Death is insoluble within life rather than a fixed future moment on its outside. Simmel’s contention is that Rembrandt captures this feature of life in his portraits and in his subtle grasp of the individual. Simmel reiterates though that the individual here is not founded in an attempt to dig into specific features but in capturing an impression of the whole (RB 79). Instead such specifics become part of the flow (RB 79). Death, like the other features in the paintings, are ‘immersed into the bed of life’ (RB 79). In attempting to reiterate this point, Simmel infers that these images have a kind of ‘characterless’ quality, which is achieved because Rembrandt does not seek to turn the individual into the general in a reductive sense, it is achieved because he is not dealing with types (RB 81). Alongside wishes to avoid turning the individual into a type, Simmel also claims that Rembrandt was not seeking beauty in the paintings or in the figures depicted (see also GCR 51). Because of the nature of the paintings, he concludes that ‘therefore, beauty cannot be Rembrandt’s ultimate intention: for him the point of individuality is decisive for the human phenomenon, and he develops this out of the flowing liveliness of the whole personality’ (RB 87). Beauty, for Simmel, in what is not the clearest definition of what he means by the term, is to abstract certain properties and to foreground those over others—thus breaking with the need to see these in relation to one another. As such, in these portraits there is an avoidance of types, characters and beauty, along with the inclusion of a sense of mortality. In counterdistinction, Simmel argues that Renaissance portraits rely on categories that ‘creates the impression of typicality’, whereas Rembrandt, on the other hand, ‘creates the impression of individuality’ (RB 87). On this point he draws a direct comparison with a literary master in order to emphasise what is at stake:

66  D. BEER The work of Shakespeare and of Rembrandt, however, elects the greatness and depth, the miracle of individuality and the beauty of life remaining within itself. This decision does not weaken but confirms the power of their works that weave in all fate, all that happens, all clarity of the things and forces around us. (RB 108)

Rembrandt, like Shakespeare, captures this individuality without resorting to general typifications. What Simmel is taken with in both cases, is the ability to preserve the individual and to also bring the context to life in them—to depict the individual whilst showing how they and their lives are a product of the forces around them. It is an approach that seeks to include the whole individual rather than either resort to the very general or dissect the minute dismembered details. Again, this is suggestive of ways of doing social research and social theory, especially as Simmel seeks inspiration for understanding individual and social life.

The Abstract and the Empirical As is to be expected, Simmel dedicates a reasonable chunk of his book on Rembrandt to religion. This provides him with an opportunity to further explore the ideas he has already begun to develop in the book. The focus on religion enables Simmel to emphasise the human and individual aspects of Rembrandt’s works—especially as these are maintained despite the spiritual subject matter, something that struck Simmel as being unusual in this type of art. In some ways the abstract element of religion acts to highlight the characteristics of Rembrandt’s works that Simmel was already focusing his attention upon. He notes how Rembrandt’s works maintain an empirical quality even when focusing on religious themes. The religious paintings maintain, Simmel notes, the interest in the depiction of the individual. With Rembrandt, Simmel contends, in ‘all his religious paintings, etchings, and drawings have a single theme: the religious person’ (RB 113). For Simmel, this stands apart from most art that deals with religious themes, in that the person remains the central focus as does their lived connection with religion. The point of connection between the individual and religion, the kind of relations they have with religion are captured in the way that, Simmel infers, Rembrandt captures all aspects of that character. In this case, more specifically, the relations with religion are captured in the form of ‘piety’ (RB 114). Yet the central point is an extension of his earlier arguments, with the individual



features taking the focus in these portraits, which Simmel contrasts to much other religious painting. Rembrandt, Simmel continues to observe, also uses the depiction of the piety of the individual as a point of connection between groups (RB 123). It is piety that enables Rembrandt, Simmel adds, to explore not only the individual relations with religion but also the types of social relations that it might afford. As with the previous discussion of types and generalities, in this case too Simmel argues that Rembrandt’s ‘figures are pious in their own right and not because they are placed within a preexisting transcendental order’ (RB 118). They take on their own version of piety and it becomes part of the impression of their lived experience. As such, according to Simmel, Rembrandt ‘left undisturbed the phenomenon in its relation to the earthly; let the earthly remain as reality, but he displayed the dedication, the absolute value that it possessed through the immanent moment of piety’ (RB 118). Echoing the earlier points, this piety is an immanent moment, part of life rather than extracted from it. Simmel goes on to argue that Rembrandt explored the experiential relations to religion rather than objectifying that relationship. Part of how he gives such an impression is through the use of what Simmel describes as an ‘earthly’ light (RB 135) that emanates not just from light sources but sometimes also from the individual, enabling a depiction of it as part of the inner experience, Simmel adds. This focus on religion provides the reader with a sense of how the individual and the social converge in these images, with the individual providing a lens through which the wider conceptions of the world and wider forces are presented. It is about how these wider conceptions and forces are embodied in the individual life. Simmel’s turn to Rembrandt’s religious works creates for him a number of further opportunities to extend and cement the ideas from the earlier sections of his book as well as bringing together the ideas from his other writings of the time. The comparisons between the religious works and the portraits provides just such a set of opportunities. For instance, Simmel reiterates the idea that ‘instead of the substantial content of life that are congealed into solid components, the life process itself has become the essence and the intention of Rembrandt’s art’ (RB 120). The flow rather than the component features of life are the objective of this art, according to Simmel. Directly comparing Rembrandt’s varying outputs Simmel remarks that ‘in the case of the portraits, this concerned the individual qualities, characters, temporal or atemporal persistent

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appearances into which the life process of the personality crystallized, and which Rembrandt’s human representations display as though dissolved in the fluctuations of precisely this process’ (RB 120–121). This is effectively an attempt to refine the earlier points about the features of the individual that Rembrandt’s art captures. He suggests the religious paintings subtly diverge from this to produce a slightly different effect, in which the individual is more directly connected into the focus of the religious theme, giving a slightly narrower focus in the depiction of the individual—focusing itself upon piety—and downplaying aspects of individuality as a result. For instance, Simmel argues that: Just as individuality is not grasped in the portrait as a timeless quality, but as the particular form of a living movement [Lebensbewegtheit] that is not to be separated, even ideally, from it, so the religious here is a way in which life is lived; in no way, however, something that could be represented in a state outside its process. (RB 121)

The living movement remains and it adapted to show how religion is part of the way that the individual life is lived and experienced. This suggests something to Simmel, which is about the possibility of understanding how wider forces are experienced by the individual without losing a sense of the individual to the depiction of wider forces. Instead this is to see the wider forces in the individual figure, depicted in the impression of that life and of that character. The lesson that Simmel seems to want to extract here is in how Rembrandt ‘grasps religious life in a prior inner stage…whether or not they are, in historical-psychological development, already required as stimuli and signposts’ (RB 121). This then is about the wider social forces but depicted as an inner experience. Here it seems Simmel has not left behind his sociological interests in how the individual and the social relate, and is posing further methodological questions for the reader about how best to capture and explain those forces as they shape the individual. The question of empiricism is left hanging.

Towards a View of Life When reflecting on Rembrandt’s depiction of old age, echoing some earlier remarks on ‘Goethe and Youth’ (GY 90), Simmel cautions that ‘we must not search for Rembrandt in these pictures according to the substance of his life, or such moods that may happen to the present, which, from the outset, falls within another realm’ (RB 97). Which is perhaps a



warning from Simmel that we similarly should not look to find Simmel within his own writings. Yet, as Scott and Staubmann have articulated, it is hard to escape the idea that Rembrandt’s painting of life and of old age did not speak to Simmel in that particular biographical moment.14 Yet Simmel is telling us here, we might infer, not to look for him in his works but to focus on what those works might tell us, what they might reveal or what they offer to us as a source of ideas. Not least, his occasional mention of the sociology of the paintings (for an example, see RB 89 and 122), particularly the group paintings, hints at how he sees these art sources as providing insights into the individual within the social, which also connects with Simmel’s analysis of larger groups and crowds.15 The crucial issue at play at the centre of this work is the balance of detail and unity. This is a depiction of life that stays close enough to have a clear impression, whilst also not delving into the depth of detail and losing a sense of the whole. In Simmel’s book on Rembrandt, if we look across this and the previous chapter, many of the key ideas are reiterated in spirals, with more detail being added each time the argument circles back on itself. As such, many of the key ideas from the book occur in the first 30 pages or so, only to be layered into the textures of the later pages. It is a book that is built out of these swooping arguments that go back and around, getting closer to the reader with each circuit. He adds readings of specific paintings and what they individually might reveal for how we perceive of life. As such, much more detail could have been added to the first part of the book and to the discussion of the ideas Simmel develops and the type of inspiration he drew from Rembrandt. Indeed, the density of the ideas, as is typical with Simmel, means that a full book, at the very least, would be needed to fully interpret and explore his ideas on Rembrandt. Not least, it is a text that sets up the foundational idea that social thinkers and theorists can readily turn to eclectic, unusual and cultural resources for rethinking their practice and perspectives. In reflecting on Simmel’s theory of forms, Guy Oakes suggests that in his work on Rembrandt, as with some other comparable earlier books, Simmel seems ‘to create a new intellectual or style of thought: the metaphysical biography, which explores the unique individuality of a specific mode of existence and its expression in a particular person’.16 This kind of style of thought, as Oakes indicates, is premised upon the exploration of the existence and expression of the notion of the individual in a specific person.

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Discussing Simmel’s method, Rudolf Heberle outlines how he often produced or opened ‘a new angle of perception’.17 In Chapter 2 and this chapter I have looked at how Simmel used a particular artistic resource to try to help him to achieve this. The short conclusion that Simmel provides in his book on Rembrandt has methodological overtones. He makes a distinction, which he then goes on to problematise later on, between the ‘capacity to create’ and the ‘capacity to fashion’ (RB 155). The former is geared toward building on the existing materials and seeking something new. The latter is based upon reshaping what is already there. The difference between creating a guitar riff and sampling one perhaps, or between creating a theory and applying one. In terms of the history of ideas, he concludes that ‘there is no activity and work of the mind that does not presuppose some intellectual material or other’ (RB 155). In this we might conclude that his own thinking responds, in some way, to Rembrandt’s art, with the artwork enabling possibilities for thinking about the issues Simmel was concerned with. So, putting the ideas about the understanding of life to one side, this book on Rembrandt is also methodological in its approach, it could be understood as an early attempt at what has recently been described by Les Back and Nirmal Puwar as ‘live methods’ perhaps.18 Heberle suggests that with Simmel it is his ‘method and procedure’, more so than the content, which represent his ‘unique and lasting’ contribution.19 I wouldn’t go as far as this, but the book on Rembrandt can open up the possibilities of method as well as providing substantive insights.20 Rembrandt is certainly a book that calls on the reader to reflect on their disciplinary conventions and boundaries. It does not provide much in the way of an analysis of the historical context of the paintings or a discussion of Rembrandt himself, as Scott and Staubmann have acknowledged it is about the ‘object before us’ and the question that object raises for knowledge.21 Simmel seems intent on pursuing inspiration wherever he can find it and wherever it leads him, irrelevant of the fences constructed around types of knowledge. Nor does he seek to stick to any particular or obvious disciplinary conventions. Simmel’s work in his book on Rembrandt as well as the other pieces from around that period create questions for how knowledge of the social world might be created and communicated across different disciplines. He asks difficult questions about how life and the individual can be understood as a whole rather than dissected into their component features. Posed in numerous different ways, we will see how Simmel himself attempted to address this in



his final book (see Part II). Returning to Simmel’s book on Rembrandt may not provide specific answers on how to capture life outside of its artistic representation, but it does unsettle some of our ideas about how individual and social life can be understood. Breaking it into bits is, for Simmel, where things might start to go wrong, not least because apart from losing the sense of the whole or turning the figure into parts, we are also likely to lose what it is that makes each case distinctive. Breaking something apart and focusing on the components is likely only to lead us to find general features that do not tell us of uniqueness and which lose a sense of relationality. Enveloped in his book on Rembrandt, which is a work of social thought as much as a piece of art criticism or art philosophy, are some challenging questions about how we can know and understand individuals and their relations to the social. He seems to be cautioning us about the limitations of what he considered fixed and established approaches, concepts and ideas about those life-worlds and life courses, instead arguing for an approach that captures life’s flows. Above all else, I would argue that Rembrandt can be read as a methodological book. In advance of fully working through his ideas in The View of Life, as I will explore in the following chapters, Simmel was tackling the question of how life can be captured, represented or described. This is difficult, because his position on art is that the more it is analysed the ‘further removed’ we are from it and the less we can really understand it, as Scott and Staubmann have already pointed out.22 In his essay on conflict in culture, reflecting on the forms of life of the times, he concluded that ‘we gaze into an abyss of unformed life beneath our feet… perhaps this formlessness is itself the appropriate form for contemporary life’ (CMC 25; a point he returns to in relation to national identity, DGS 62; BWY 60; CF 106). This lack of form and solidity is a shift he saw as defining his times, it is also a passage that might well resonate today. There is also an interest in ‘worlds’ in his discussions of these artworks that remerges, as we will see in Chapters 4 and 5, in The View of Life.23 Rembrandt in particular provided Simmel with the means for exploring how life might be depicted in unity and in animation with its past and future, but also gave him pause to consider how the current times in which he was writing were defined by an increased formlessness. Before moving on, there is one final conclusion that might be drawn at this juncture. Escaping the dissection of the bits in favour of a more relational understanding of the whole, we have seen that this is the

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feature that drew Simmel into Rembrandt’s art. Scott and Staubmann conclude that the ‘fascination’ for Simmel was with Rembrandt as the painter of ‘life, of movement, of flow’24—all things that Simmel himself continued to be concerned with. As such, Rembrandt’s work satisfied Simmel’s pursuit of inspiration for the ideas that he was working upon and also gave him a foundation for thinking about the animation of life. He offers an analysis of Rembrandt’s work, but the real purpose, as is revealed by the opening pages of his book, is in trying to use those sources to reflect on the analytical lessons that might be learned from those artistic materials. We are returned to the idea of lowering the plumb line (as discussed in Chapter 2). The book that Simmel produced suggests that he saw a great deal in those paintings, they spoke to the conceptual framing and approach that he was developing particularly around the relations of life and form and the dynamism and tension of life. Here we have a lesson in how sources from outside of the disciplines in which we work may come to provide ideas and perspectives for furthering social thought. Simmel’s openness and attentiveness created such an opportunity, the type of intellectual creativity it sparked is interesting and revealing in its own right. Alongside this, of course, we have the actual arguments that Simmel makes in the book. Frisby has claimed that Simmel was seeking to develop a major intervention in the philosophy of art, to which, he argues, the Rembrandt book is a precursor whilst also being an indicator of Simmel’s long held aesthetic viewpoint.25 No doubt contentious in places, both for those with an interest in Rembrandt and for those who are interested in taking a sociological or philosophical view of everyday life, the book still provides a rich source for seeing how Simmel’s ideas were developing and for thinking about how these questions of everyday life might be approached. Kant’s work is clearly a philosophical source of ideas, as is evidenced by the relatively frequent citations, but it is Rembrandt that helps Simmel to carve out his position in relation to philosophical debates. Finally, it would seem that Simmel found great resource in Rembrandt’s work and saw these pictures as providing a view of life, individuality, biography and embodied social context that was to be aspired to. We might easily forget that a thinker of Simmel’s standing was actually performing social theory, sociology, philosophy or whatever we might call it, in ways that do not readily fit with what we understand now to be disciplinary conventions. Amongst everything else, we might do well to acknowledge the intellectual curiosity that is



driving Simmel’s work here. Simmel did not hesitate in working beyond expectations and in looking to stretch his own analytic imagination. For Simmel, disciplinary boundaries are much like the boundaries of life, they are there to be stretched over. As we will see as we move to look at The View of Life in detail, the work that Simmel did with Rembrandt was far from being a distraction, it was actually foundational and provocative in the emergence of his later thoughts. Many of the points raised through his analysis of Rembrandt, as we will see, are developed and honed in the four essays that make up The View of Life. Apart from the more substantive insights that this and the previous chapter have highlighted, they also indicate the importance of thinking beyond convention in the pursuit of inspiration. As we will go on to see, many of the ideas that Simmel found or developed in his analysis of Rembrandt’s work reappear or are elaborated in his final book. It is to that final book that I now turn.


1.  As discussed in more general terms in Simmel’s works by Spykman, N.J., The Social Theory of Georg Simmel, New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2004, see particularly pages 198–200. 2. Poggi, G., Money and the Modern Mind: Georg Simmel’s Philosophy of Money, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993, p. 54; Symons, S., More Than Life: Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin on Art, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2017, p. 45. 3. Frisby, D., Sociological Impressionism: A Reassessment of Georg Simmel’s Social Theory, Second Edition, London: Routledge, 1992. 4.  Partyga, D., ‘Simmel’s Reading of Nietzsche: The Promise of “Philosophical Sociology”’, Journal of Classical Sociology 16(4), 2016, pp. 414–437, p. 427. 5.  Levine, D.N., ‘Soziologie and Lebensanschauung: Two Approaches to Synthesizing “Kant” and “Goethe” in Simmel’s Work’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 26–52, p. 29. 6.  Coser, L.A., ‘Introduction’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 1–26, p. 11. 7. For a discussion of sociation as a concept, see Frisby, D., Georg Simmel, Revised Edition, London: Routledge, 2002, see pages 98–101; Frisby, D., Simmel and Since: Essays on Georg Simmel’s Social Theory, London: Routledge, 1992, see pages 12–13.

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8. Mills, T.M., ‘Some Hypotheses on Small Groups from Simmel’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 157–170, p. 161. 9.  As described in Pyyhtinen, O., Simmel and ‘The Social’, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010; as well as more recently in Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018. 10. Elsewhere, on the other hand, Simmel was wondering about the pursuit of uniqueness or being original, particularly amongst young people who, he sees, as attempting to become a ‘sensation’ (CMC 19). It is worth noting in that instance and in the passage from Rembrandt discussed here, that Simmel made a direct connection to the way that individuals were treated as types in his own time. 11. Weinstein, D., & Weinstein, M.A., Postmodern(ized) Simmel, London: Routledge, 1993, see pages 103–104. 12. See also Symons, S., More Than Life: Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin on Art, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2017, see pages 58–59. 13. Schermer, H., & Jary, D., Form and Dialectic in Georg Simmel’s Sociology: A New Interpretation, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2013, p. 194. 14.  Scott, A., & Staubmann, H., ‘Editor’s Introduction: Georg Simmel on Rembrandt—Understanding the Human Beyond Naturalism and Conventionalism’, in Scott, A., & Staubmann, H. (ed.) Georg Simmel: Rembrandt—An Essay in the Philosophy of Art, London: Routledge, 2005, pp. xi–xix, p. xix. 15.  See Borch, C., ‘Between Destructiveness and Vitalism: Simmel’s Sociology of Crowds’, Conserveries Mémorielles: Revue Transdisciplinaire de Jeunes Chercheurs 8, 2010, pp. 1–18, see pages 4–5. 16. Oakes, G., ‘Introduction’, in Oakes, G. (ed) Essays on Interpretation in Social Science, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1980, pp. 3–94, p. 9. 17.  Heberle, R., ‘Simmel’s Method’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 116–121, p. 117. 18. Back, L., & Puwar, N., ‘A Manifesto for Live Methods: Provocations and Capacities’, Sociological Review 60(Supplement 1), 2012, pp. 6–17. 19.  Heberle, R., ‘Simmel’s Method’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 116–121, p. 121. 20. There have, of course, been criticisms raised regarding Simmel’s methods, see Sorokin, P., ‘A Critique of Simmel’s Method’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 142–153. 21.  Scott, A., & Staubmann, H., ‘Editor’s Introduction: Georg Simmel on Rembrandt—Understanding the Human Beyond Naturalism and Conventionalism’, in Scott, A., & Staubmann, H. (ed.) Georg Simmel: Rembrandt—An Essay in the Philosophy of Art, London: Routledge, 2005, pp. xi–xix, p. xii.



22.  Scott, A., & Staubmann, H., ‘Editor’s Introduction: Georg Simmel on Rembrandt—Understanding the Human Beyond Naturalism and Conventionalism’, in Scott, A., & Staubmann, H. (ed.) Georg Simmel: Rembrandt—An Essay in the Philosophy of Art, London: Routledge, 2005, pp. xi–xix, p. xvii. 23. See also the discussion of this in Levine, D.N., ‘Introduction’, in Levine, D.N. (ed.) Georg Simmel: On Individuality and Social Forms, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971, pp. ix–lxv, p. xvii. 24.  Scott, A., & Staubmann, H., ‘Editor’s Introduction: Georg Simmel on Rembrandt—Understanding the Human Beyond Naturalism and Conventionalism’, in Scott, A., & Staubmann, H. (ed.) Georg Simmel: Rembrandt—An Essay in the Philosophy of Art, London: Routledge, 2005, pp. xi–xix, p. xix. 25. Frisby, D., Georg Simmel, Revised Edition, London: Routledge, 2002, p. 26; plus this is developed in detail in Frisby, D., Simmel and Since: Essays on Georg Simmel’s Social Theory, London: Routledge, 1992, see pages 135–152; For further discussion, see also Schermer, H., & Jary, D., Form and Dialectic in Georg Simmel’s Sociology: A New Interpretation, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2013, particularly on pages 33–34.


The View of Life


Life as Transcendence

The title of the opening chapter of The View of Life gives a flavour of its startling ambition and scope: ‘life as transcendence’. Far reaching in its scope and provocative in its unrestrained mode of reasoning, as well as being jam packed with ideas, the opening chapter does not hesitate in advancing a sociological vision of social life. As well as exercising ambition, that opening chapter also points to the book’s potential ambiguities. In earlier works Simmel is often found gazing in wonder at the intricacies of the social world. He picks up some feature or other and rotates it until it reveals some sort of insight into the underpinning social properties that are embodied in that microcosm. His vision is in close-up to allow the scene to unfold, he uses the power of observation to see the presence of social ordering, connections and divisions as they play out in the everyday. The lens has shifted here. Possibly liberated by a sense of the limited time he had left, this is Simmel in widescreen mode. Here Simmel is working in a broader register from the outset. Yet, that interest in how life is ordered seems to remain a key presence in the ideas he is formulating. He opens the chapters in just such a vein with some thoughts on the boundaries that our lives are always lived within. The implicit question in The View of Life’s opening chapter is liminality: it concerns the ordering of social life and the enclosures within which life is experienced and performed. Simmel wants to know what happens when we become aware of those limits. We live, he claims, ‘at every moment between two boundaries’ (VL 1). The vision here is of social life lived in oscillation between such © The Author(s) 2019 D. Beer, Georg Simmel’s Concluding Thoughts,


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boundaries. Yet, this statement is slightly misleading in terms of framing what follows, for it seems that there are far more than two boundaries. Instead it seems that we are living in a series or matrix of spectrums and boundaries. These boundaries cannot be escaped. For Simmel: The boundary, above and below, is our means for finding direction in the infinite space of our worlds. Along with the fact that we have boundaries always and everywhere, so also we are boundaries. For insofar as every content of life – every feeling, experience, deed, or thought – possesses a specific intensity, a specific hue, a specific quality, and a specific position in some order of things, there proceeds from each content a continuum in two directions, towards its two poles; content itself thus participates in each of these two continua, which collide in it and which it delimits. (VL 1)

Simmel’s suggestion is that boundaries make the world manageable by giving it order. We live life across these continua but within those bounded limits. We are constantly exposed to such boundaries and even come to embody them—as Simmel puts it here, we have and we are boundaries. All aspects of social and personal life, Simmel is claiming, occur within those boundaries. They contain the social and give it order. Boundaries of this sort provide the edges of social life, individuals are positioned in different places in the continuum. In his opening chapter, Simmel develops some ideas about the role of boundaries in social life. Indeed, the role of boundaries and thresholds takes on a particular importance in how he understands the movements and shifts of life. He scythes through the undergrowth with some direct and cutting statements about the way that we work with and around boundaries. Indeed, he works at attempting to conceptualise the role of boundaries in everyday life, and how the perception of boundaries can be shaped and reshaped. The attention shifts first to the determinacy of boundaries. Simmel attempts to think about the potential invisibility of boundaries whilst also reflecting on how we become aware of the boundaries that act upon us and how, sometimes, we cross them. These boundaries take all sorts of material, corporeal and temporal forms in Simmel’s account. He begins by arguing that there is: a this-side and a that-side of our here and now, may well be obscure and fragmentary; but it gives life two complementary, if also often colliding, values: richness and determinacy. For these continua by which we are



bounded and whose segments we ourselves bound form a sort of coordinate system through which, as it were, the locus of every part and content of our life is identified. (VL 2)

These boundaries provide us with, what he calls, ‘a this-side and a thatside of our here and now’ (VL 1). The moment, the here and now, becomes a boundary with sides. This forms a kind of system through which life is identified. And this is why Simmel speaks of the richness and determinacy of the boundary. As with Simmel’s other work, he attempts to think about the tensions and collisions at such boundaries. Boundaries form lines with various continua, which can be drawn and redrawn and which are held in a kind of tension by different forces. Simmel’s point is that the combination of various boundaries that act on us, and on which we act, form a system of coordinates that organise and order life. These various boundaries and continua locate our lives and give them orientation. As we might expect, Simmel sees the boundary as being crucial to understanding how power and ordering operate within the context of everyday life, and how wider forces shape individual experiences. This, Simmel suggests, is just the starting point; a way into understanding the bounded nature of life. He claims, in addition, that: For the most decisive meaning of the constitution of our existence through boundaries, however, this property of determinacy forms only the point of departure. For although the boundary as such is necessary, yet every single specific boundary can be stepped over, every fixity can be displaced, every enclosure can be burst, and every such act, of course, finds or creates a new boundary. (VL 2)

So, although determinacy, the setting or determining of the edges or limits of life, is crucial to understanding boundaries, for Simmel it is only a starting point for the analysis. Simmel is keen to ensure that the approach taken is not one in which boundaries are seen to be fixed, rigid or unbreachable. The boundary is crucial for understanding how the ordinary is ordered, but it is not to say that life is entirely contained and controlled by them. As Simmel points out above, new boundaries can be created where old boundaries or enclosures are disturbed, broken or challenged. They can be ‘displaced’, ‘stepped over’, or ‘burst’. Boundaries, for Simmel, are powerful but are also permeable and open to challenge and redrawing.

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This focus on the ability to break and redraft boundaries puts such limits into more of a dialectic set of relations with everyday life. So, for instance, Simmel proposes that ‘the boundary is unconditional in that its existence is constitutive of our given position in the world, but that no boundary is unconditional since every one can in principle be altered, reached over, gotten around’ (VL 2). This idea of reaching over or across boundaries is something that appears in other texts of the time, such as in his comparison of life and national boundaries when discussing the ‘idea of Europe’ (IE 270; see also BWY 60). This was something that I also explored in Chapters 2 and 3 in relation to the depiction of life in the artwork. In this case, the boundary might have the effect of holding together social life, it leads to the ‘inner unity of vital action’ (VL 2), yet the boundary remains unconditional in the sense that it can be shifted. The boundary then is responsible for structuring positionality, whilst also being open to being altered. According to Simmel, we can get around boundaries and find ways over or around them. Boundaries condition us but can also be reconditioned themselves. They are the site of tension.

Foresight and the Game Simmel evokes a game metaphor to explore this conditionality and positionality in more detail—which is something he also explores in a separate treatment of sociological problems, ‘social games’ (FPS 49–50) and the role of play in sociability (FPS 55). In this vision Simmel imagines that: ‘We are like the chess player in this regard: if he did not know with a reasonable degree of probability what consequences would result from a certain move, the game would be impossible; but it would also be impossible if his foresight extended indefinitely’ (VL 2). As with playing a game of chess, we make our current move based upon some sense of the moves that are yet to come. We position ourselves in line with the likely outcomes of those moves. This requires a sense of the boundaries of possibility and the rules within which moves are made. It also requires some foresight. Simmel’s point here is that foresight becomes part of the way we make decisions, with the projection of the future being part of a given moment. However, this is not unbound or unconstrained foresight into an unending future. The game demands foresight of the near future only (he makes a similar point about mortality later in his book, as I discuss in Chapter 6). It is foresight at the right type of distance. Decision making and movements require some sense of possible future



outcomes, but not too much, largely because it would become paralysing in its scope of possibilities. We can only look so many moves ahead. We require future points of focus for the game to work, yet seeing into an open unending future does not give the focus that allows moves to be made in the present. Simmel appears to suggest that we require a managed and contained foresight to give the present moment some context and direction, as well as facilitating moves. Such foresight, of course, requires the knowledge of potential moves and a grasp of the rules and boundaries within which moves are made. This is where knowledge is important and where the lack of fixity of boundaries might be exposed. The boundary that Simmel outlines here resides at such an intersection, foresight is between knowledge and ignorance. As Simmel goes on to then claim, ‘it is not only the fact that we stand on this border between knowledge and ignorance that makes our life what we know it to be; life would be completely different if the boundary were definitive in each instance’ (VL 2). We stand at another continuum in this account, running across from what is known to what is not known. This is both a boundary in itself and is the framework from which we know and understand the other boundaries within which we move. This means that the boundary of knowledge itself is not fixed, but changes as our knowledge changes—whilst this also has a knock-on effect on what we know of other boundaries and how they might be crossed. In this sense, and returning to the earlier point about the alteration of boundaries, Simmel, in one quite tricky passage, argues that ‘the inherent displaceability and displacement of our boundaries means that we are able to express our essence with a paradox: we are bounded in every direction, and we are bounded in no direction’ (VL 2). As our knowledge of social orders and organisation, as well as the edges of social life, are transformed we can explore how we are bounded by all sorts of constructed boundaries whilst also, it would seem, becoming aware that they are socially constructed and thus open to being reconstructed. Such potential fluidity of social ordering though does not mean that these boundaries are necessarily weak. It is this potential fluidity and lack of fixity of boundaries that Simmel turns to on this point. He is interested here in how us coming to know our boundaries in turn changes our relations with them. He adds: Yet the essential fluidity of our boundaries immediately implies or signifies something further: that we also know our boundaries as such – first the

84  D. BEER particular boundaries and then the general ones. For only someone who stands outside his boundary in some sense knows that he stands within it; that is, knows it as a boundary at all. (VL 2)

The issue that Simmel focuses on here is the knowability of boundaries or the visibility that comes when we become conscious of them. The fluidity of boundaries reveals that we are able to become aware of them. We can know our boundaries, our awareness comes, often, from standing outside of them. Simmel claims that we may not even realise that a boundary is there until we cross it. To illustrate this point he gives the example of Kasper Hauser, a reputed lost prince who is alleged to have grown up in captivity in the early 19th Century (VL 3: n1), who, Simmel observes, ‘did not know that he was in prison until he came into the open and could see the walls from without’ (VL 2–3). A story reminiscent of the film The Truman Show (1998), in which the lead protagonist has grown up in a TV show and so is unaware of that fact until he sees past the studio boundaries. This would suggest that boundaries become more visible or even move to being a conscious presence when they are crossed or directly encountered. Most of the time they remain invisible or outside of conscious knowledge. If we do not realise that a boundary is there, it acts upon us without challenge and without entering our understanding of how our lives are being ordered.

Knowledge and the Imagination Given Simmel’s position on the importance and transformative potential of an awareness of boundaries, the reader is left in little doubt that he did not see boundaries as being determinate. Rather they are powerful but might potentially be crossed or broken. The role of the imagination becomes important in defining the boundedness of life—he also saw it as being an important part of how notions of community, nationality and belonging are cultivated (IE 268–269; which is also discussed in relation to pointless conflict and ego in one of his pieces on the politics of his times, EAW 71–72). A combination of experience and imagination merge to shape what we know of the various limits and borders within which we operate. As Simmel then explains: our direct experience and our introspective imaginative representations can only identify graduated phenomena within certain magnitudes. Beyond a certain degree, speed and slowness are not actually conceivable for us; we



have no real picture of the speed of light or of the slowness with which a stalactite grows because we cannot project ourselves into such a tempi; nor can we effectively imagine temperatures of 1,000 degrees or absolute zero; what lies beyond red and violet in the solar spectrum is not optically accessible to us all; and so forth. (VL 3)

The subtlety of the boundaries is what makes them largely imperceptible. This is about the features that make boundaries imperceptible or inconceivable. In some cases the limit of perception is a product of being so gradual that it goes unnoticed, in other instances it is a product of the more extreme pressures and forces that go beyond the limits of our imagination. The limits of our sensory capacities are also then the limits of our conscious boundedness. What we cannot imagine stays outside of what we perceive. The implication is that boundaries can be active without us being aware or able to challenge them. Our imagination then comes to define what we know of our boundaries and thus delimits the spaces in which we are able to act. In one striking passage Simmel argues that: Our imagination and primary apprehension stake out areas from the infinite fullness of reality and the infinite modes of apprehending it, probably so that the magnitude of stimuli that thereby delimited suffices as a basis for our practical conduct. But this very reference to such boundaries shows that we can somehow step over them, that we have stepped over them. Concept and speculation, construction and calculation induce us to move beyond the world to us as bounded, by enabling us to look at its boundaries from the outside. (VL 3)

In this vision, it is our senses that demarcate what we know of the boundaries that act on us. Stepping over the boundaries shows an awareness of them. Looking at the boundaries from the outside renders these limits open to being potentially reshaped or breached. For Simmel, it is the imagination that stakes out the spaces of social life and which defines whether boundaries might be crossed. It requires theories and concepts to enable us to see boundaries and to envision their exteriors. All of this places social life between lots of competing fences. We live in the spaces between boundaries. We live in enclosures of different types. ‘Our concrete, immediate life’, Simmel adds, ‘posits an area that lies between an upper and a lower boundary; but consciousness of this account depends on the fact that life has become more abstract and

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more advanced, thus transcending its boundary, and thereby confirming the reality of a boundary’ (VL 3). We live in the ordered areas between boundaries—upper and lower boundaries are described in this passage but the vision appears more in line with the idea that these limits are multi-layered and varied than this phrase might suggest. Where boundaries are transcended they can also be reinforced or made more material. Conversely, where we are aware of them we may also become more constrained by their presence than before, awareness does not necessarily lead to boundaries being malleable. Tellingly, given the interest in the sensory changes brought about by modernity elsewhere in Simmel’s work, Simmel notes here that our consciousness of boundaries and the scale of those boundaries has changed as life has become more ‘abstract and advanced’. It would seem that this refers to the detachment of life from nature and heritage, as well as the increase of knowledge and mechanisation produced by the industry of modernity. We are increasingly aware whilst also being increasingly bound by the obstacles and edges that we can now see. Though I hasten to add that Simmel is not exactly clear on exactly how the processes of modernity are shaping either our understanding or everyday experiences or the confines of the social.

Technological Changes and the Rise of the Known Unknown In pursuing this point about the changing relations we have with boundaries, Simmel does not explore the social changes that were afoot, as such, rather he narrows his interests to try to open up the changing social limitations. Rather than continuing this by further examining the points concerning the changes to social structures of modernity, Simmel instead focuses his attention on the changing sensory experiences of boundaries and the technological alteration of perception. He explains this point a little further by looking at how the telescope and microscope are attempts to go beyond boundaries of perception. These types of technological advances resulted in the ‘broadening of our sensible world’ (VL 3). Before such inventions the world was, Simmel claims, ‘defined and limited by the natural use of the senses’ (VL 4). Before such inventions the senses delineated the world, but once those senses are prostheticized, and not just by the microscope and telescope, liminality alters in its form, composition and presence. According to Simmel, in a separate piece from 1917 on ‘The Crisis of Culture’, the fragmentariness



of culture is increased by technological developments. These technological developments are, he also notes, becoming both ‘more extensive and more intensive’ (CC 253). Simmel later argues that the crisis of culture that he was observing around 1915 was a product of regarding means as ends (CC 264; see also PM 245). Frisby has concluded, from Simmel’s earlier work on money, that Simmel was specifically interested in what he describes as the ‘inversion of the teleology of means and ends.’1 In other words, the means taking prescience over the ends in social life and thus complicating or obscuring social objectives. Technologies like the telescope and microscope, by allowing us to step outside and see the boundaries of perception, have disturbed such ‘harmony’, Simmel suggests. He adds that ‘since we have built eyes which see at billions of kilometres what we normally observe only at very short distances, and others which disclose the finest structures of objects at an enlargement that would have no place in our n ­atural perception of space, this harmony has been disrupted’ (VL 4). With the changes in sensory perception have come changes in how we perceive the world, our place in it and the boundaries that constrain us. Simmel, at this point, refers to someone he simply and intriguingly labels a ‘thoughtful biologist’ to illustrate the point on the disruption to perception. The point is that as we see and experience the world differently, our knowledge changes and boundaries become more visible and enter our consciousness in different ways. Boundaries that we may not have been conscious of are visible once such technologies enable us to step outside of them. With modernity’s technological and scientific shifts in knowledge, the nature of the relations with the boundaries of social life change. Yet it is worth remembering that Simmel was reflecting on a very different technological time and very different cultural issues. Despite this, the presence of intermediation and the other themes highlighted in the argument associated with technological change seem to have maintained some analytical value today. For Simmel, with these technological changes ‘we have thus transcended the compass of our natural being in certain directions; that is, the adaptation between our total organization and our world of perception’ (VL 4). The visibility that this new knowledge has brought transcends boundaries but only, as Simmel puts it, in certain directions. Perception is being reconfigured all the time by such changes. This is what Simmel seems to be implying, with modernity and its changes seen as a process of re-carving aspects of perception and of our consciousness

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of boundaries. Changes in the technological adaptation of our senses then brings with it a change in how the social world is organized and ordered, not least because it impacts upon the boundaries that we perceive, especially as we start to see those boundaries that we did not know existed until they were crossed (or seen from the outside). This becomes a pressing point today when we consider the many prosthetics to our senses, most notably in the form of connected devices, social media, data analysis dashboards, Global positioning, Google earth, integrated and converging devices for audio and visual consumption as well as the developments in scientific sensing along the lines of which Simmel was more directly referring. These media have obviously advanced greatly in the last century. In other words, modernity has seen an escalation in the type of sensory disruption to which Simmel is referring, the impact upon our perception of boundaries and limits is inevitable. The question then becomes what this means for our perception of the boundaries in which we live. The result of all of this technologically afforded knowledge, Simmel implies, is that our boundaries are being reconfigured and pushed ­outwards—something he saw as being particularly notable at the time he was writing (see CF 103). His point is that once we become aware of boundaries they are much more likely to be shoved outwards. In one telling description he refers to the new spaces that this opens up: As we push our boundaries out into the realm of the measureless, our relations to such vast spaces and times press us back in our consciousness to the magnitude boundary of an infinitesimal point. A similar situation applies with respect to the overall structure of our cognition. If we assume that the determination of truth depends on the fact that a priori categories form the given material of the world into objects of knowledge, what is “given” must nevertheless be able to be formed by these categories. (VL 4)

We push out from the areas in which we have come to measure the social and natural world and this takes us into what Simmel intriguingly calls the ‘real of the measureless’, or a kind of unchartered terrain beyond the previous boundaries, a space where new orders have to be reset. Along with this, Simmel points to the changes to the very way that we are thinking, the knowledge we hold and what we make of it. In the fissures that are opened-up, and the new realms we can see into beyond our more familiar boundaries, there are changes, he claims to both cognition



and categories. How we think and how we order the world are transformed into new constellations of ideas and new ways of thinking. The imagination resurfaces in this but in a new form that is stimulated by the technological breaching of boundary lines. The result of this expanded knowledge is that we move into less limited spaces that require imaginative engagement and which open up the possibilities for imaginative thought—hence the boundaries are altered in line with these processes of imaginative, cognitive and classificatory engagement with these spaces. This all changes how the social is organized and also changes the structure of thinking and cognition. It changes how thoughts are organized and structured. As such, the changes in boundaries are linked to changes in the imagination. Simmel interjects that ‘we can imagine that there might be a given something in the world that we simply cannot think of – this represents a movement of the mental life beyond itself’ (VL 5). The changes to what is perceivable are also then changes to the limits of imagination. This change in technologies of perception, he suggested, meant that people became aware that there might be things that they cannot think of, in other words, there might be things that cannot be fully imagined. The revelations of such technologies, Simmel seems to suggest here, provokes the imagination by making clear that we do not know everything of the world—which provokes thoughts on what else we are yet to be conscious of. The result is that we know that there are things that we do not yet know. Suddenly, the realisation from these advances is that ‘we ourselves know our knowing and not-knowing, and that we again know this more embracing knowledge, and its infinite potential’ (VL 5). For Simmel, realising that we do not know for certain has a potential to open-up the possibilities and provokes the imagination. The advancement of knowledge, it would seem, stimulates curiosity. These new insights do not only change what we know, they also change how we think. It means that we can perceive the gaps in our knowledge, or at least imagine what fills the gaps that we know that we have in our knowledge, especially as boundaries are breached and we enter into spaces of which we know very little. We know those spaces and gaps in knowledge are there but do not yet know how they can be understood. We can observe and theorise what we do not know or what we think cannot be known. In this formulation, the lines around knowledge are drawn but are then seen beyond, even if we are unsure what is there or what exists beyond the orders, structures and limits in which we live.

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Time Limits To try to develop some of these themes and ideas, Simmel narrows his focus to time and temporality (a concern that was ongoing in his late works, see PHT 127; this was also covered in Chapters 2 and 3). More specifically, Simmel moves to the question of temporal boundaries and how they are managed, organized and understood (VL 6). The exploration of time takes Simmel back to some of the core ideas with which his book began. For instance, with regards to temporal boundaries he argues that the present ‘denotes exclusively the collision of past and future, which alone make up amounts of time; that is, time as such. But since the one is no longer, and the other not yet, reality adheres to the present alone; this means that reality is not at all something temporal’ (VL 6). In his other writings of the time he had been considering the relation between the past and future in particular temporal points in history (PHT 134–135), and we have already seen how the temporality of the life course and of sequencings was important in his analysis of Rembrandt’s works (see Chapters 2 and 3). This interest in the temporal boundaries of the present also leads to some difficult reflection on the notion or conceptualisation of reality. The style of the writing becomes a little more elusive and aphoristic in these moments, with declarations such as: ‘Time is not in reality, and reality is not time’ (VL 6). Underlying what might seem like a circular interjection is Simmel’s attempt to think about how the present moment is experienced and how attached we are in those moments (or what it is that we are attached to). This is where Simmel reflects on the segmentation of the parts of social life. In this sense time, he claims, is experienced in ‘bits’. The ideas about fragmentation play out in terms of the temporal fracturing that breaks apart the flow of time. The present is understood to always contain ‘a bit of the past and a somewhat smaller bit of the future’, to which he adds that ‘these “bits” vary greatly in size according to whether the present in question is of a personal or political, cultural or geological nature’ (VL 6). Simmel then goes on, in an attempt to think about how the structures of the past shape experiences of time, to compare how the past shapes the mechanical and the organic in different ways. Here the carryovers of the past merge into the present as they become embodied or as they linger in the designs and materials of machines and technologies. The result is that Simmel returns himself to the relations between the past and the present but with a more specific cant towards the



experiences of time and how the past moves into the present. In this case the word ‘hineinleben’ (LB 10), which is perhaps a little awkward to translate but could mean ‘into life’, is used to think of how the past, as it is translated, becomes a protrusion into the present. He remarks that the ‘protrusion [Hineinleben] of the past into the present first appears in full purity, however, when life has reached the stage of consciousness [Geist]’ (VL 7). The past can work its way into the present in two forms, Simmel argues, it becomes objectified in ‘concepts’ and in ‘structures’ (VL 7). So the past is to be found in the present because it is part of the material objects, institutions and infrastructures in which we live. The past also seeps into the present in the very ideas that we hold and the conceptual notions that structure and order the social world. At this point the depth of the discussion begins to take on a different register and the arguments become a little more ambiguous. In these passages Simmel attempts to unravel just how we might understand the relations between past, present and future and how they might be understood from different conceptual perspectives. With regards to the relations between past and future Simmel clarifies his position writing that: Of course, the past as such does not thereby rise from the grave; but because we comprehend an experience not as a present thing, but rather as one that is attached to some moment in the past, our present is not focused on one point, as is that of a mechanical existence, but is, so to speak, extended backward. At such instances we live beyond the moment back into the past. (VL 7)

This would indicate that Simmel is not suggesting that the past suddenly reappears now and then, from nowhere, rather his argument is that the present and the past are attached and relational. We comprehend the present in its network relations with moments from the past (as discussed in Chapter 2). There are moments that have a strong relation to the past, in these moments the present extends backwards to that past. The past finds its way into the present, projected forward in different forms into the current moment. Simmel also reflects on how the future is rolled into the present—showing how the present mixes together bounded notions of the past and the future. He is interested in exploring the relations between the past and the future as they are experienced and lived in the present (see Chapter 3).

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It is at this point that he reflects on the similar attachments that the present has with the future—meaning that we live in moments that are always related, connected and attached to the past and to the future. As he puts it: It is similar with our relation to the future, which is in no way adequately characterized by defining man as the “goal-setting” being. The s­omehow remote “goal” appears as a fixed point, discontinuous with the p ­ resent, whereas what is decisive is the immediate carryover [Heneinleben] of ­present will – and feeling and thought – into the future: the living present consists in the fact that it transcends the present. (VL 7)

The crucial feature of life that enables these attachments between the present and the future is the goal. The present is orientated around such goals, and thus they bring the future into the present, attaching them together in the lived moment. The future life goal gives the impression of a fixed point in the future, towards which life can be aimed even if that goal is never ultimately to be achieved. This echoes themes discussed in Chapters 2 and 3 concerning the relations between the past, present and future in Rembrandt’s portraits. The goal brings the future directly into the present. A future threshold is then created and acts to provide some continuous focal point, which lends life some form. The importance of the concept of the ‘goal’ and the role of ‘goal-setting’, which might also be understood as purpose-setting or ‘zwecksetzenden’ (LB 9), is in bringing the future into the present and using that future to order and organize current activities and aims. The goal is clearly important in the temporal boundaries of everyday life that Simmel is attempting to describe. Yet, Simmel says that the relation with the future cannot be simply defined in the terms of fixed goals, but is more about the way that our will is carried into the future. Goals, or life-goals, provide future points that anchor future trajectories of the life course and make sense of the present, but they are a product of a sense of will or direction to life that is more continuous. On this point we should note the use of the idea of the ‘carryover’, or as it was earlier cited, ‘protrusion’, both of which are translated from hineinleben and hint at how the future shapes the present. There are traces here of the development of an argument that was at least in part initiated in his earlier reading of Nietzsche’s work, in which Simmel argued that in Nietzsche’s perspective goals and values are only significant in relation to subjectivity (SN 161).



The goal then becomes a kind of portal or threshold in the relations between the present and the future. Simmel’s explanation of this takes the following terms: With every exertion of the will in the here and now, we demonstrate that a threshold between “now” and the “future” is just not real, and that as soon as we assume such a threshold, we stand at once on this side and on the other side of it. The concept of the “goal” permits the continuous movement of life to coalesce about one point (whereby it manages to satisfy most of the demands of rationalism and of practice); it swallows up the stretch of uninterrupted temporal life between “now” and “later,” and thereby it creates a gap on whose respective sides the present point and the goal-point stand firmly fixed. (VL 7)

When we notice the boundary or threshold we stand across it. The goal becomes fixed and the present orientates to that future point. Those future goals have a powerful ordering potential in which the future as imagined shapes the current moment. The goal provides order and reason to the chaos of life, they also bridge across or create thresholds for continuity. So, despite goals being discontinuous, it is the pursuit of them that enables a continuous life flow. The goal also provides some sense of a mapping or a pathway of the unchartered future. As such, Simmel proposes, ‘the future does not lie ahead of us like some untrodden land that is separated from the present by a sharp boundary line, but rather we live continually in a border region that belongs as much to the future as to the present’ (VL 7–8). The future then is built around goals, meaning that it is not entirely untrodden. We live, it is suggested, in a constant border region in which the future and the present play out together rather than apart. Simmel suggests that we are always living in a ‘border region’, as he puts it, between the past and the future, or in a space where these structure the present (the discussion of fate in Chapter 6 picks up on these themes). Simmel is interested in the way that goals give life direction or, at least, a sense of direction. It is the goal, it seems, that establishes ‘the direction in which life must move further’ (VL 8). It is in such goals that a kind of unity can be achieved, as it gives the focal points so that the ‘present forms a unity with the “not-yet” of the future’ (VL 8). So the current moment is fused with a sense of what is to come, they are not separable. As Simmel goes on to articulate, the separation of the past,

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present and future into discrete concepts ‘does not hold’ (VL 8). He is calling then for a significant reimagining of the limits, thresholds and boundaries of everyday life and the way they are understood and conceptualised. Instead of junking concepts, Simmel suggests a rethinking of how they are deployed and what we use them for. He comments that ‘if we retain the concept and fact of the present at all, as we are both justified and indeed compelled to do, then this essential structure of life signifies a continual reaching out beyond itself as something in the present’ (VL 8). Old concepts aren’t easy to replace, but Simmel suggests, as we saw earlier in the chapter, that this concept is a kind of boundary that can be altered. Simmel returns as well to the way that our conceptualisations shape what happens, or carves out the understanding and limits of reality and thus shapes how it is experienced and lived. As Simmel puts it, ‘this reaching out nevertheless shapes its actuality’, and adds that such a concept is not ‘merely tagged to life’ (VL 8). Instead, these ideas are at the centre of how life is experienced and lived. As Simmel summarises, ‘its past actually exists into its present, and its present actually exists out into its future’ (VL 8). Given that Simmel is calling for a reimaging of life, he reflects a little further on how it is currently conceived. To do this he reflects not just on the life of the individual, but on how that individual life is contextualized in terms of generations and social transformation. On this point, one key observation is that: We conceive of life as a continuous stream proceeding through successive generations. Yet the bearers of this process (i.e., not those who have it, but those who are it) are individuals (i.e., closed, self-centred, unambiguously distinct beings). Although the stream of life flows through – or more accurately, as – these individuals, it nevertheless dams up in each of them and becomes a sharply outlined form. Each individual then asserts itself as a complete entity, both against other individuals of its kind and against the total environment with all its contents, and it does not tolerate any blurring of its periphery. (VL 9)

It is this idea of continuity that Simmel seems keen to explore. How this conception is maintained and how life is given a logic or points through which it can flow. Simmel also discussed the conception of a worldview in his earlier essay on Kant and Goethe (KG 161–162). The goal seems important in joining the streams together and in allowing the conception



of the constant stream in defining life. In terms of the generation of flows of life, these goals are anchor points. As with much of Simmel’s other work, the relations between the individual and society takes on a presence here. As he put it in his earlier essay on the picture frame, which he saw as separating and connecting art to its surroundings, ‘the individual and society wear one another down’ (PF 17; see also FPS 28). The idea that on the larger scale we see life as a continuous flow across generations is then challenged by the idea that this flow gets blocked in the individual. From a distance, generational change seems continuous, but it wells up in the individual, making it discontinuous and staggered, held up within each dam—this happens where the individual seeks to be demarcated as an individual and separate entity and resists the pull of social imitation. Simmel explains that, ‘wherever something with a definite form is experienced, life is caught up as it were in a blind alley, or feels its streaming crystallized in and given form by that something; it is bounded’ (VL 8). The blockages serve a purpose, Simmel seems to quite tentatively suggest at this point (VL 9), by giving us something to reachover and therefore reinforcing the notion of life flows and unstoppable continuity. At this point Simmel returns to his central argument about the way that life is both bound and unbound. The vision repeats some of the earlier impressions provided by Simmel, with the dominant idea that ‘life is at once flux without pause and yet something enclosed in its ­bearers and contents, formed about individualized midpoints, and ­contrarily it is therefore always a bounded form that continually oversteps its bounds; that is, its essence’ (VL 9). This time though, Simmel begins to develop another conceptual angle on this question—illustrating again how he builds layers onto arguments as they develop. He does this first by suggesting that breaking through boundaries and reaching-out across conceptual borderlands is actually a component of lived experience. He argues that ‘insofar as life’s essence goes, transcendence is immanent to it, (it is not something that might be added to its being, but instead is constitutive of its being)’ (VL 9). Transcending the moment, bringing the past and future into the threshold of the present, is an integral part of lived experience. The transcendence of boundaries is not peripheral or external, it is central and active. This notion of immanence is important, because it makes such acts a component part of social life and gives it a constitutive presence. To explain this Simmel turns to what he describes as the ‘simplest and most fundamental instance of what is

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meant here…self-awareness’ (VL 9). Self-awareness is illustrative of this, Simmel impresses, because it is here that the self is seen in relation to those boundaries and flows. It is the idea of self-awareness that brings a kind of reflective angle on self-knowledge, it is about knowing the limits of our own understandings of the self. This reflection is articulated in the idea that ‘I know not only that I know, but also know that I know this’ (VL 10). The importance of self-knowledge in life assuming form is what this suggests. As is also captured in the vision that it is ‘as if the “I” were so to speak always chasing after itself, without ever being able to overtake itself’ (VL 10). In this second articulation Simmel returns us to the hinterland in which we are always pursuing but never quite reaching completeness of the self—and maybe never quite reaching the next life goal. It is the pursuit and flow that is important for Simmel, the direction that is crucial. Life goals might give a sense of meaning, but Simmel seeks to look at the direction that underpins those meanings. Ambitiously Simmel wants to say something about the ‘essence’ of life. In particular he attempts to draw some conclusions about how limits play out in life, with the point that the ‘innermost essence of life is its capacity to go out beyond itself, to set limits by reaching out beyond them; that is, beyond itself’ (VL 10). The limits exist to be breached, which then reaffirms the new limits. From this point, as the final arguments above might already suggest, much of the rest of Simmel’s opening essay reiterates and expands a little on the arguments and ideas covered so far. In some cases these get reworked a little and expanded. Simmel makes some points about notions of freedom and will (VL 10–11), which he then follows with some rather bizarre claims about the expression of individuality and how this is connected to fertility. Simmel attempts, very crudely, to associate rising individuality with declining fertility. In support of this he makes the claim that the limited numbers of offspring produced by the ‘­greatest geniuses’, which he sees as representing the height of individualism, is evidence of how these two things correlate. In an even more bizarre turn, he also discusses the ‘declining fertility’ of women as further evidence. Simmel is prone to be tripped up by his own speculations. This strange and uncomfortable passage aside, Simmel appears to be w ­ orking back and forth through the ideas expressed early on in the essay in its closing pages, adding notions of synthesis and stratum to advance the earlier points about transcendence and limits. We continue to hear more on the unifying potential of ‘building and breaking through



life’s boundaries’ (VL 13). The emphasis again is upon the continuous ‘dualism’ of ‘flux’ and closure (VL 13). Simmel repeatedly reiterates this central argument, which indicates its importance to his position and to the rest of his book. One notable addition in these later paragraphs is the dual concept of ‘more-life’ and ‘more-than-life’ (VL 13; and further developed on pages 14–15). Again, this is an attempt to try to solidify the earlier arguments. The vital forms of ongoing life captured in the notion of ‘morelife’, which is about the way life is experienced in motion and flow and the way it stretches into the unknown distance. This is aligned with the second concept, ‘more-than-life’, which is concerned with the ideas of reaching out and carrying over that we have already discussed. Simmel associated this second concept with creativity and imagination, the way we think beyond edges and limits. Having developed these two concepts in relation to his earlier points, Simmel closes this opening essay by trying to resituate this conception of life within the context of the changes associated with modernity. As elsewhere, Simmel attempts to think about the conceptual in relation to the changes to social structures (which takes us back to some of the descriptions of Simmel as a sociologist of modernity as covered in Chapter 1). Towards the close of the first essay of The View of Life Simmel observes that: One of the ultimate concerns of the modern worldview can be thus characterized. Man has always been aware of certain realities and values, certain objects of belief and validities, for which there is no room in his seemingly strictly circumscribed space, because he feels the latter to be filled up by his immediately distinctive, self-centred substance. (VL 17)

The worldview of modernity brings boundaries and an awareness of boundaries. It calls for individuals to look beyond those boundaries. Illustrating this as a theme in his work, elsewhere ‘worldview’ was also a concept he used to try to understand the limits of historical knowledge (CH 165). By adding or identifying limits and boundaries, Simmel argues, we draw attention to what might be beyond them. With modernity, the subject is delimited as an individual in more pronounced ways than prior to those changes, this is what Simmel appears to be intimating. With this increasing individuality comes a delineation of the subject that at once bounds that subject whilst also highlighting that there are spaces beyond those limits. Simmel argues that:

98  D. BEER with this delimitation of the subject he has in fact made himself dependent on the idea of the beyond, and that it is only in and from this beyond that the boundary could take shape in which life was caught and busied itself in the unbreakable circle of the self. Hence, the attempt is made here to conceive of life as something that constantly reaches beyond the bounds of its beyond and which finds its essence in this reaching beyond. (VL 17)

Modernity itself reshapes and alters boundaries, which brings those boundaries into the newly delimited lives of individuals. It also brings with it conceptions of what resides beyond those limits. As a result, Simmel is contending, we are presented with and constrained more by bound­ aries but our awareness and capacity to cross those boundaries is also heightened. Wrapped in what Simmel calls the ‘unbreakable circle of the self’, modernity brings this change in our understanding of limits whilst also bringing about a self-awareness and a feel for the limits that define individual and collective lives. This is a ‘constantly reaching’ individual, he suggests. An individual looking beyond the modern self is always reaching beyond, there is a self-pursuing expansion of limits. This is a process based upon, Simmel concludes, both ‘more-life’ and ‘more-thanlife’. This is an early attempt to understand the role of self-knowledge in modernity. There is, after all, unlikely to be anything more defining of modern life than something like the presence of life goals. As he ­finishes his final paragraph of the essay he acknowledges the many ‘logical difficulties’ with what he has argued, and in so doing frames what he has said as a provocation and an incomplete set of ideas about how we might conceptualise everyday life, how we might understand its ordering and how those orders are disturbed and reshaped by the social transformations and perspectives associated with modern living.

Note 1. Frisby, D., Fragments of Modernity, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1985, p. 103.


The Turn Towards Ideas

Switching in scale, Simmel starts his second essay by reflecting on the concept of the ‘world’. The opening section of the chapter looks at how the conception of the world relates to the fragments within individual lives. This means that the opening section works on three interrelated scales: worlds, individuals, fragments. Starting with worlds, Simmel reflects on how unity is created from parts and how the known and unknown are brought together to make a coherent vision possible. Before commencing he opens by reflecting on what the conception of the world brings: With the word “world” in its broadest, most complete sense, popular consciousness thinks it apprehends the sum of all things and events that are at all real, whether comprehensible to us or not. In fact, it apprehends something else altogether: even if the entire infinity of world contents were given to us piece by piece, we would only have one and another and yet another – that together these pieces comprise “a world,” though, is something added to this mere existence of many particulars, a form in which they must be apprehended. (VL 19)

Conceptions of the world allow individuals to feel that they can grasp the world. We cannot know the world in full, according to Simmel, yet we imagine it as a concept. Simmel points out, simply, that the magnitude and complexity mean that even if try to grasp the world piece by piece we would only be assembling them to suit the concept of world. © The Author(s) 2019 D. Beer, Georg Simmel’s Concluding Thoughts,


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What is more common is for us to have a conceptualisation of the world with which we work and within which we fit what is known – meaning that large parts remain inaccessible but do not divert us from our notion of the whole. Simmel adds that: When we speak of “world,” we mean an entire range, of whose contents only a miniscule portion is accessible to us. This can only be clarified by saying that we are somehow in possession of a formula that allows even the unknown to attach to the known and to combine with it into the unity of one world. (VL 19)

The world, Simmel claims, is a ‘sum of contents’ that adds up to a total. A concept of the world means that we do not see each piece in isolation, but that each piece can be ‘brought into a unitary coherence, into a form that is capable of including known and unknown’ (VL 20). Part of the process of bringing the parts into a whole or into some unity, is that we have to also bring parts together of which we have no knowledge. This returns us to a point about the relations between the known and the unknown discussed in Chapter 4. Here the realisation of the existence of things that we do not know allows the whole impression of the world to form. In this unity the known and unknown exist together, Simmel proposes, within the overall conception of the world. This makes for a fragile concept that needs work to be done to hold it together. It needs a ‘specifiable principle’ or an ‘understandable sense’ that is able to tie it together and bind it in place. Such a conception of the world needs a series of ‘unity-creating principles’ (VL 20). As such, religions, spiritual formations and other metanarrative ideas—and even philosophical ideas—of the world offer some such principles for creating unity. Without principles to tie the parts or elements together, Simmel points out that we would only have ‘particular things, but not one world, and thus not a world’ (VL 20). We wouldn’t, it seems, be able to frame the fragments. Of course, conceptions of the world vary. Some of these conceptions are incompatible. These worlds are, Simmel contends: mutually incapable of any mixture, any overlap, any intersection, because each already expresses the entire stuff of the world in its special language, though obviously in any particular case boundary uncertainties arise, and a bit of the world formed by one category may be assimilated into the other and there treated anew as raw material. (VL 21)



Because notions of the world by their nature are comprehensive, they leave no space for alternatives or for combinations. This does not mean though that the boundaries are fixed, they can begin to merge, Simmel allows here, so that assimilation and boundary movement can occur. These categories of the world may be obdurate, but, for Simmel, that does not mean that the edges are certain. Concepts of unity can be recalibrated, if reluctantly. They are seldom free from tensions. Simmel looks at notions of ‘totality’ and ‘continuity’ to extend his analysis. The interest is in how things can cohere and how the ‘stuff’ of the ‘worlds’ combine, it is an interest in how individuals ‘form this stuff into totalities’ (VL 22). Even, Simmel reflects, if these totalities are not reached but stretch into ‘infinity’—again placing the future into the present—they still enable a sense of the whole. Crucial to this forming of stuff into worlds is continuity, some sense of repetition and predictability is required to allow the parts to cohere. Simmel argues that ‘continuity is indispensable for the concept of the world: that which stands in no relationship at all, immediate or nonimmediate, does not belong in one world’ (VL 22). There needs to be some binding points to anchor or some threads that weave through to hold this ‘stuff’ of life together. It is finding continuity that enables the formation and maintenance of the world level perspective. Continuity is how things are fitted into the concept of the world and how it remains relatively stable. It is on this point about the role of continuity and the holding of stuff into a coherent conceptualisation of the world that Simmel refers to the part played by religion and art. Both of which, he writes, are able to ‘form an absolutely complete world according to its idea’ (VL 23). These formations of knowledge bring packaged and complete concepts of the world, ready to be adopted. This, perhaps unsurprisingly, takes Simmel back to the question of reality and to an exploration of notions of ‘the “real” world’ and the ‘category of reality’ (VL 23). Cultivating conceptions of the world, especially a singular world, plays into such categories and can produce obdurate ideas of how things connect and the lines of continuity that they hold. Simmel refers to the ‘hypothetically world-scale completeness’ that then causes its own difficulties because it requires the acceptance of a great level of unknowns in its conception. This, it would seem, is an attempt by Simmel to analyse not just the creation of worlds but also their differences, their composition of continuity and the difficulties that they may face in their maintenance. These are, after all, conceptions of worlds. Simmel continues by recalling that ‘we are

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dealing only with the fact that these worlds exists ideally, whether necessarily or not, and that as worlds they are coordinated with that of actuality’ (VL 24). The conception of worlds deployed comes to coordinate with actuality—they shape each other. These are concepts that, Simmel acknowledges, may have different purposes and may be necessary, but they remain based on ideals of different types. They are conducted and composed, coordinated as Simmel puts it, visions yet they play out in material ways, they become actual in the way that social and individual life are organised and lived through them. In a contemporaneous essay on the question of historical understanding, Simmel reiterates the difference between the concepts and categories that individuals use to make sense of their own lives as opposed to the concepts and categories that are used to analyse those lives (NHU 97). He adds that ‘there is a sense in which each of us is always his own autobiographer in embryo’ (NHU 98). We produce life stories. We are seeking to add narrative to our lives to make sense of them and to add meanings to events. Concepts of the world assist in shaping those narratives. When thinking about how worlds are conceived, it is perhaps inevitable that the analysis becomes an exploration of the way that the individual and society relate. This is, clearly, about how the world is imagined and perceived, and so it deals directly with the relations between individuals and the social. It also deals with the way that conceptions of things might transfer into actuality. The argument made here is that: the individually lived life has a peculiar relationship to these world-entireties which lie in an imaginary pattern around us, and which we seem with every spiritual productivity more to discover and conquer than to create. Every objective of consciousness belongs, by its content and meaning, in one of these worlds. (VL 24)

Simmel pauses here to consider the type of relations individuals have with worlds and the combination of entities that make up those worlds. As life is framed by a concept of world, so the imaginary patterning of those entities is important for understanding the world and also the individual. The individual comes to slot everything into the conception of the world they are attached to. Each piece or bit of everyday experience fits into this conception of the whole. Simmel goes as far as to say that, ‘actually all of our thought-contents are accompanied by the more or less distinct feeling that each one belongs somewhere’ (VL 24). Because



the world encompasses the whole, we have to find a place for everything within it. All of the contents and experiences, or ‘psychic contents’, are ‘fragments of worlds’ (VL 24)—especially as, revisiting the relations of the known and the unknown, ‘we all know that our knowing is piecemeal’ (VL 24). As all content is placed into the concept of the world, so too everything can be understood as fragments of those worlds. It should be emphasised that Simmel acknowledges that individuals are aware of their incomplete knowledge yet that doesn’t prevent them from deploying a more complete conception of the world. Given that worlds are made up of coordinated fragments—which means that material experience can be imagined into ideal formulas— Simmel refers to the ‘fragmentary character of life’. He explains that: the fragmentary character of our life-contents is brought home to us by a claim applying to all and transcending all. But this fragmentary character of our life also exists, if less obtrusively, in all other cases – each demonstrable content is drawn from a total context (in whose logic it has a definite and necessary place) into the vital flux, which springs from its own source and transcends those worlds. Thus above all the ever-present “fragmentariness” of life seems to me to present a world-view-like meaning that is beyond mere elegiac contemplation. (VL 25)

It is in this formula that worlds are formed from fragments. The fragmentary character of life is held together by a concept of the world. As such, each fragment is given some sort of context and is placed within these broader impressions. So, according to Simmel, life has this fragmentary character and is in flux whilst it is also held-together and narrated by a particular world-view. The bits of life, Simmel is suggesting, are put in their place. The pieces ‘are united in the dynamic of the life process like waves of a stream; it is in each case one life that produces them as its pulse-beats, and because they are inseparable from it they are not ultimately distinguishable from one another’ (VL 25). Because the fragments are understood in context they have the feel of waves in a stream, or are part of an ongoing direction or current—Simmel goes on to use the term ‘Lebensstrom’ (LB 56) or life-stream. As such, they are comprehended and organized to give a sense of unyielding direction and flow. They become indispensable beats within a rhythm. Each of those parts, each fragment, because it is rationalised and imagined in this way becomes part of that whole. As the bits slot together it is misleading to

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see the parts in isolation or outside of the imaginary that is being cultivated. The depiction of life and worlds in Simmel’s work draws for its inspirations upon what he regards to be the complete impression of life provided by Rembrandt’s portraits (see Part I).

A Larger Unity and a Sense of Purpose Having established some core ideas, Simmel then shifts his focus to think about how we might understand world formation in terms of forces beyond the individual. He orientates this line of thinking with the observation that: So far, the discussion has treated ideal worlds as given phenomena without inquiring about their psychological-historical or analogic genesis, or about the larger unity in which, for all their transcendence of life and reality, they are still intimately entwined with life. This, though, is my real task. (VL 25)

This shift is from ideal worlds as being entirely given, to think about how they form and adapt in response to everyday experience and wider forces. It is by making this move that Simmel aims at understanding how broader world conceptions become embodied in the life of the individual. This is also about attempting to understand how ideals are actualised and how that actualisation reinforces ideals: After all, it is evident that those realms emerge as wholes from lived human life, even though in life’s immediacy they appear in an entirely different, embryonic form, emerging and vanishing under different conceptual names and with accidental and empirical causes. Or, better expressed: the same thing occurs here in the form of life as exists there in the form of ideality in a world of its own. (VL 25)

Simmel pushes here to try to articulate the formation of ideals in relation to individual lives. The ideals emerge from human life rather than simply being imposed upon them. This is the basic starting point, but he goes further. In attempting to understand these relations between ideals and experience, which appear to become cyclic or circulatory in his accounts, Simmel outlines a two stage process to highlight this interdependence. First, he points at the materiality of the everyday from which



ideas emerge. Although it should be added that he was cautious of the reductionist tendencies of materialism (KG 160). As he puts it, ‘first of all there are products of life, like all of its other manifestations, subordinated to and serving it’ (VL 25). This depicts a kind of building of ideals within the context of life which then comes to spread and contextualise more broadly. The second stage builds on this with a kind of circulatory system or a spiralling of meaning: Then comes the great transformation through which the realms of the idea rise for us: the forms or functions that life has brought forth, for its own sake and out of its own dynamic, become so autonomous and definitive that life in turn comes to serve them, subordinating its contents to them. (VL 25)

Taken together these two stages represent a description of emergence and then domination. With the ideals merging from the materiality of life and then the materiality of life being shaped, channelled and produced in response to the ideals within which it is imagined. There is a subtlety here in Simmel’s accounts. The dominating ideals of the world still need to make sense to those who hold them and they still need to continue to adapt to experiences and material outcomes. Thus they are able to ‘modify’ their form in response to the need to maintain their coherence (VL 25). Yet, he also emphasises the power of these ideals, especially as they become productive of life and as they dominate—life can be shaped to fit those conceptions when they are particularly powerful. In some cases the ideals may ‘yield’ a little to life, but, it is implied, life more often ‘yields’ to dominant ideas. This line of thinking takes Simmel into some very challenging conceptual ground, especially as he pursues a set of relations between purposiveness, freedom and teleology (this extends upon a long established interest in purpose and sequencing, see, for example, PM 219). One articulation of these relations takes the form of a dismissal of what he describes as the ‘means-ends’. On this front he argues that: the turning which marks the rise of ideal constructs stands outside the means-ends category altogether. Insight into this possibility (…) requires another thought: that the means-end category overall has a much narrower significance at the deepest layer of human existence than we tend to ascribe to it, misled as we are by its role in superficial praxis. (VL 27)

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The bundling together of means an ends, for Simmel, misses the emergence of ideals and the way that a sense of purpose and an already established sense of direction fall into a range of tensions and fraught difficulties (see Chapter 2). His point here is a little ambiguous in the formulations he provides, but his concern is with understanding the role played by purpose. For instance, he also contrasts humans with other ‘creatures’ to show how purposiveness can be understood. The breaking of boundaries was discussed in Chapter 1, Simmel provides a similar analysis in this instance, with purposiveness becoming something which can potentially be broken. His point here is that humans, as potentially ‘nonpurposive creatures’ (VL 28) are not purely controlled by purposiveness nor are they trapped in teleological lines of development. Simmel’s argument gets particularly tricky on this point, the suggestion appears to be that it is the dislocation from a kind of natural order that brings purpose. Instead humans create a new sense of purpose in its place. Simmel returns to the discussion of goals (see Chapter 4). Goals are understood by Simmel to be a solidification of purpose. Goals, according to Simmel, lend purpose beyond those demanded by survival in the natural world. He remarks that, ‘certainly if we understand “goal-setting” as the consciously rational form of purpose and of the arbitrarily extended sequence of means, then only man is a goal-setting creature’ (VL 29). It is the act of goal-setting that is crucial to understanding purpose and therefore for understanding freedom—which he defines as the ability to break with purpose and adapt it. It is also a kind of purposiveness, he adds, that is ‘in the middle range of human existence, precisely as it occupies the middle range between intention and result within a particular action-series’ (VL 29). Here we are back in the borderlands described in the previous chapter. Because of this, he claims, ‘viewed overall, man is the least teleological creature’ (VL 29). Simmel is placing goal setting at the centre of culture. Individuals need not follow lines of purpose already set, but can break and become contained by the act of goal-setting—which can then restrict freedom, with the ‘antithesis of freedom’ being ‘purposiveness’ (VL 29). This type of goal-setting purpose brings then a feeling of freedom even if this is circumscribed and limited by the generation of the goals and the frameworks used to inform those goals. Or as Simmel offers by way of a parting gesture to this line of argument, ‘from this comes the impression of freedom in art, science, morality, and real religiosity; from it also comes its utter absence of contradiction with causality’ (VL 30). As purpose is freed from telos, where it no longer fits a particular order, it establishes new lines of flight and as such gives



the impression of freedom and makes it look as though it is unanchored. These are undoubtedly difficult lines of argument to follow though, and Simmel ends up only sketching out what are far reaching and complex positions here. As the above suggests, the reader is left to do some substantial work in decoding these particular points. The ambiguity means that they are very much open to different interpretations.

The Entanglements of Emancipation In trying to examine the way that emancipation is achieved and how purpose is redrafted, Simmel looks at how pleasure and pain shape behaviour. His opening position here is fairly predictable: pleasure promotes or induces behaviours and, on the other hand, pain deters. He quite cautiously suggests that ‘while this connection exists even for man, it has also slackened here and there for him’ (VL 30). Simmel seems to be arguing here that the way that pleasure and pain shape behaviour is being redrawn. The illustrative point offered is that ‘he can seek pleasure that is destructive to his own wellbeing and that of the species’ (VL 30). It seems that Simmel immediately spots the potential flaw with the way that he has juxtaposed humans with an animal other, for he begins to try to explain the features that are more pronounced in humans than in animals. He notes the problems of anthropomorphism which then seemingly leads him to take the opposing position and get caught up in this separation. In response, he argues that an advanced and even singular pursuit of pleasure may only be possible in humans, especially on the occasions where they place ‘the totality of life at the service of pleasure’ (VL 30). Yet, Simmel goes on to explain, it takes an altogether more practical form in the pursuit of happiness. Striving towards happiness is one of those markers that provides a sense of purpose. This is a pursuit that comes unanchored from pleasure and even becomes a kind of goal in itself. Simmel makes the point that: Happiness lacks the particularization of pleasurable feeling through which the latter becomes a mere element of the life-context. As soon as we call ourselves “happy,” this life-context in its entirety shows instead a coloration that cannot be localized at all; the characteristic emotional tension of pleasure has to a certain extent left its place in the interaction of life-moments and has become, as happiness, a terminus toward which these moments must collaborate. (VL 31)

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Happiness then is unanchored from the moment and becomes a kind of concept or a terminus that is used to situate, to make sense of such moments and to orientate life. Simmel refers then to the way that happiness ‘befalls us like rain and sunshine’ (VL 31), suggesting that it is a background condition for life. He also looks at the limits of happiness through the elaboration of a notion of bliss, which he equates with enhanced visions of heightened happiness. Similarly, for pain, Simmel reflects on its extremes in the form of suffering. As with happiness, he argues that pain is not rooted in particular moments but also moves through into life purposes, pointing out that the ‘occurrence of pain within life has thereby broken away from its localization and broadened into a coloration of life on whose basis alone life again experiences immanent teleological or dysteleological events’ (VL 31). It is not that happiness and pain are not also felt, but they also take on a conceptual presence in shaping purpose and in informing the direction of the flow of life. Simmel explores the erotic with a similar focus and by way of exemplifying some of these points further— especially with regard to what he describes as a ‘purposive relation’ (VL 32). Echoing some of the allusions around shifts in scientific knowledge from the first essay in The View of Life, Simmel turns to a biological perspective on life to further these ideas (something he wasn’t averse to doing for comparisons sake, see CH 156–157). The inextricability of life with its environmental conditions is the concern here. The argument made is that, ‘if we regard our life as a biological process, it is interwoven no differently into the reality of the world than plants are, and all of its functions proceed in their purposiveness like the breathing of a sleeper’ (VL 35). The purposes of life are then entangled into the biological and to impulses of sorts—which echoes some of Simmel’s earlier ideas in his sociology of the meal and the way that physiological acts become social acts. There is something here about the idea of life as relational and as being interwoven in different ways with the social and with social purposes. The result is a kind of sense of direction that is elaborated in the relations between the individual and the social. Returning to the ideas of inevitability and direction, Simmel adds that ‘the river of life dominating and dominated, runs through them as through every other of its elements; the categories in which the conscious image of things is



produced are mere tools within the vital context’ (VL 35). Two things emerge here, with the social running through the individual on one hand, and the use of categories as tools on the other. Categories, as tools of understanding of the social, become the means by which the social acts upon individual impulses, actions and senses of purpose. They define and shape. One such category is truth. Returning to the earlier arguments about the powerful framing notions of worlds, Simmel begins to explore how the concept of world is wrapped into the social. He argues that: Once we have acquired and processed a complete cognitive world as our possession, things can certainly proceed in reverse. For our empirical everyday usage there first exists a fixed truth that we must adopt and to which we must adjust our actions: here, what is true is that which is useful. (VL 36)

The reverse he refers to appears to be the way that the concept of the world acts backwards, no longer being just a concept but also impacting upon notions of truth. Thus the concept we hold of worlds acts backwards into facilitating what is seen as true. We adopt a truth, he argues, which becomes fixed and to which we react. The boundaries around truth fit into, Simmel is claiming, notions of usefulness. He adds, for instance, ‘that only what is useful is true’ (VL 36). There is a utility in truth, it would seem. Although, Simmel is less clear on what he means by usefulness in defining truth. Underpinning his position is the interest in exploring the management of social relations, understandings and concepts of the world. This is to do with the way that our experiences of the social and material are managed and negotiated. This is further illustrated by the claim that the ‘diversity of his sense-impressions and his surfaces of contact with the world of his concerns require a concentration of their influences, and a preparation for his reaction, that happen via concept-formations and categorical forms’ (VL 36). Again, the role of categories is noted here—with vast sensory experiences needing to be managed through categorisation. The conclusion seems to be that we need categories and concepts to manage those sense-impressions. The way these are categorised is important, Simmel is claiming, for understanding the relational properties of the social and individual.

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Truth Worlds The title of this second essay in The View of Life, ‘the turn to ideas’, connects into a number of the arguments that started rolling earlier in the book. The essay argues that ideas, theories and concepts link the world and the self. Simmel’s position is that, ‘as intellectual forms construct the world for our practical life around us, they make possible the factual connection between the contents of the world and ourselves’ (VL 36). The practical world that we encounter is presented to us through the lens of the intellectual forms we have engaged with. The relations between actuality and ideas of the world are where Simmel focuses his attention, he is particularly focused on how they shape one another and the tensions that exist between them. This seems to go beyond a simple argument about socialisation and into something more specific. Simmel is directly attempting to think about the relations between individuals and worlds. The argument returns here to how concepts of worlds are forged. This is an arrangement in which, as Simmel puts it, ‘the contents are of interest exclusively insofar as they comply with the forms of knowing’ (VL 37). Simmel uses the term ‘Erkennens’ (LB 55), which might also be thought of as recognition as well as knowing. The content encountered is prioritised to match with what is known, what is recognised and what is seen as most interesting, especially where it complies, matches or neatly meshes into what the individual already thinks of the world. This is a position that resonates with recent debates and developments in social media and how content can be selected to reinforce versions of the world. Simmel attempts to break this difficult iteration into stages by suggesting that, ‘expressed psychologically: at first men know in order to live, but then there are men who live in order to know. Which content is selected to fulfil that demand is truly accidental and depends upon historical-psychological constellations’ (VL 37). This is all about the selection of content that fits into what is known: we know based on the selections which are made in line with what we know. There is a seemingly cyclic process occurring here, a cycle that an individual’s knowledge of the world becomes locked into. This is no dead-end however, such boundaries can be broken where there is a change in perception, as we saw with Simmel’s earlier discussion of scientific knowledge and technologies. The way we know and think are crucial here, as are the ways that knowledge and understanding are shaped by our encounters. This is a condition in which, Simmel proposes, value is reinforced by the choice



and selection of what matters and what is valued. The emphasis is upon ‘the possibility of applying the forms of cognition, now seen as values in themselves, to the contents’ (VL 37). A picture of a self-reinforcing knowledge and conception of the world is painted in these arguments. To develop these ideas it is perhaps not surprising that Simmel turns to questions of truth, knowledge and science in the first instance, before latter reflecting on art. Each of these focal points in some way connect into his interest in understanding conceptions of the world on one hand and the breaching of boundaries on the other. One of the bridges that Simmel identifies between individuals and worlds is the notion of truth—or it could also be read that truth is what facilitates conceptions of world to be seen as authentic and thus reinforces and maintains them. Clearly science and religion are bound up in conceptions of worlds, it is here that Simmel focuses initially on understanding how truths are created and deployed. Truths, Simmel writes, ‘must first be released from the line of life in order to be science; that is, to belong to the ideally prescribed domain of the merely-true, whose contents are designated and connected only by the fact that they satisfy the norms of cognition’ (VL 38). Effectively this argument begins by suggesting that science moves truth out of the ontological, what he calls the line of life, and into the realm of objective knowing. Truth here becomes part of a set of detached facts that fit into recognisable norms. In this setting, certain facts are pursued to fit into cognitive norms, creating a cycle, in which, he contends, ‘every proof for the authentic existence of the principle of truth leads here to a circle’ (VL 38). Simmel is arguing that there is a self-reinforcement of norms and of truths, which are maintained and reified through the selective way that the world is encountered. This scientific pursuit of truth requires bits to be abstracted from the world and tested, thus locating bits that can be proven but without wholes factoring into the equation. It is a selective proof of those truths Simmel observes rather than an encounter with totality. Simmel’s argument here is that, ‘in the self-sufficient form of science truth is a floating complex, within which particulars can certainly be proven true by other particulars, but which is obviously incapable of such proof as a whole’ (VL 38). Here, in this knowledge, truth is a free-floating complex, or a ‘freischwebender Komplex’ (LB 57), being claimed by authentic voices. Thus, Simmel claims, science is a knowledge of fragments and the pursuit of small truths. It is this world of bits of truths that, he adds, is the

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‘the world that arises as a totality (according to its idea) under the category of scientific knowledge’ (VL 38). This is different, as he later discusses, from the kinds of truths (and worlds) offered by religion and art. Simmel is building a picture of the types of knowledge that feed into the conceptions of the world that individuals hold, he is exploring how these different sources vary in their form, type and approach. These observations lead to some reflections on how truth and knowledge might be formulated in a variety of ways. Central to this are the relations between knowledge and life, which is again a concern with how conceptions and actualities play off one another. On this point Simmel argues that ‘knowledge, insofar as it is a pulse-beat or a meditation of conscious practical life, does not originate from distinctive creativity of pure intellectual forms at all; it is borne instead by the dynamic of life that weaves our reality into itself, together with the reality of the world’ (VL 39). As we had in the earlier discussion of the book on Rembrandt (see Chapter 2), there is the evocation of the pulse-beat or ‘Pulsschlag’ (LB 59) for capturing this living vision of life and the social. This is a form of knowledge referred to here that emerges out of the rhythms of practice—thus it is knowledge that connects realties into coherent wholes as it binds together the fragments of those experiences and practices. These are experienced, it is claimed, as ‘quite disjointed pieces of its ideal conditions’ (VL 39). They are experienced as bits of a conjured whole. They are encountered in parts but are finessed into an ideal. Crucially in differentiating the different types of knowledge at play here, Simmel offers the following distinction: ‘One could say: life invents, science discovers’ (VL 39). It is in the practice of life that knowledge is invented as part of a whole, whereas science extracts bits to test and experiment upon, thus discovering things about the world that are folded into life—social science might well be understood to be part of such a sense of discovery amongst life’s inventions. It is the notion of the fact that is important in this separation of different types of knowledge made by Simmel, for it is ‘the fact that distinguishes science in its separation from life’ (VL 40). Science is premised upon discovering facts in the pursuit of knowledge, whereas facts are not necessarily present in the weaving of realities in lived experience. Facts are linked to discovery by Simmel, not to invention. The argument that Simmel develops here is of importance to his general point, because he seeks to explain the role of different types of knowledge in how the world is conceived and also in how those conceptions can solidify or be disrupted.



Simmel continues further with these comparisons about the nature of knowledge by switching to contrast art and science. He does this through a focus upon objectification and the related questions of empiricism (which again connects back to the first essay in his book, as discussed in Chapter 4). At one point he claims that ‘it is established that the realm of empirically practical visual perception provides us a view of the world constructed differently in principle than the one that science induces us to recognize as objective’ (VL 40). Here Simmel compares art to science on the knowledge of life that they offer. These different forms of knowledge give us different versions of the world. The difference is to do with how they are bound up with lived experience or are based on the abstraction of facts into more objective ideals. Simmel adds, for instance, that ‘we see to live, the artist lives to see’ (VL 42). Seeing becomes not just a way of doing but a way of knowing, a pursuit in itself rather than something functional. It is also, with art, about attempting to see the totality rather than just the bits. Echoing his claims about Rembrandt, he argues that the artist sees beyond that moment. Art, for Simmel, represents a more transcendent view of life. Simmel makes the point, accordingly, that ‘with the creative artist a greater sum of life passes into his seeing, the totality of life more willingly allows itself to be channelled in this direction’ (VL 42). This is a view of life that attempts to see across the fragments. This argument has echoes of those made in his book on Rembrandt concerning the way that his portraits captured a kind of total vision of the individual (as discussed in Chapter 2). When Simmel talks about art though, he is not necessarily limiting this to the professional artist. Rather, he suggests that we all bring something of this attempt to see across the fragments when approaching life. Simmel says that in the way we approach and see the world we are all ‘embryonic painters’ (VL 43) and that we are all ‘preexistential poets’ (VL 46). This appears to be a reworking of his earlier argument that we are the storytellers of our own lives (see Chapter 4). He also adds to this list that, conversely, we are also amateur scientists (VL 43). This is quite a combination. It indicates though, despite this potentially problematic blend, that Simmel is centrally interested in how we create and engage with knowledge about our own lives and the context of which they are a part. As such, he does not segregate out these forms of knowledge as demarcated and belonging only to artists. Rather, individuals

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carry a kind of lay version of the vision of the poet or artist, attempting to see across and make sense of the fragments and seeking to see beyond the immediate—as well as, in some cases, being amateur scientists analysing the features of life.

Perceiving Fragments At the centre of these various knowledge formations is the question of how individuals perceive the fragments that they encounter. Simmel places this perception of fragments at the centre of these comparisons of knowledge and more broadly at the centre of how the social world is approached and understood. To further demonstrate this importance, he goes on to argue that: In practical contexts the thing perceived is perhaps fused with the totality of life and is as little a fragment of it as a living member is a “fragment” of its living body; but here, evaluated purely as perception, it is a pure fragment, brought into existence by a selection from the possible totality of all ways it may be regarded. (VL 44)

This is in art, where the fragment is viewed from different perspectives within the whole. A part of a whole—like a part of a body. Elsewhere Simmel has bemoaned the problems created by the separation of mind and body into a dichotomy (NHU 102). This again returns to Simmel’s arguments about the fragments of life in some way being laced with the whole of which they are a part (see Chapter 4). Thus the fragments can be compiled to fit within the perspective being exercised upon them. Those fragments can be regarded in different ways, but the lack of totality allows that they be viewed in ways that that then fit into the conceptual limits of those regarding them. Here Simmel uses the comparison with art to think about the different ways that fragments are approached. This comparison continues as Simmel reflects on how knowledge is entwined with life: I will now elaborate, in connection with a remote and difficult case, the radical character of the turn from the real, life-entwined image to the artistic image, a turn that allows the reality-view as lived to serve precisely the pure form of viewing (i.e. its inner laws and impulses), and that thus produces the artwork as such in the first place. (VL 45)



Art, it is suggested, is an attempt at a pure kind of viewing or seeing in which life is captured. This view is not of reality itself. Rather it is a representation of life as entwined with the imagination. Art, like science, requires the vision of life to be lifted out of practical experience. Simmel’s argument is that ‘the artwork arises through emancipation of the visual image from practical life, an emancipation that becomes productive in forming a new creation, but one now subservient to the function of seeing’ (VL 46). It is in the lifting out of the image that the purpose changes to one of seeing and making visible—something new is then created in this abstraction from the lived experience. This explains, in some ways, Simmel’s approach to art (see Chapter 2). Artistic visions then reflect back into how life and the world are understood—so they are extracted and then get folded back into the way these things are seen. As Simmel goes on to explain: If this is indeed, the case, then it clarifies the oft-heard paradox that nature appears for each respective epoch as it is depicted in the art of that epoch’s artists, and that we regard reality now “objectively” but with the eyes of the artist. Whether or not this is the whole truth, it is part of the truth at least. Yet the possibility that art defines our way of seeing lies in the fact that seeing has defined art. (VL 46)

For Simmel, art is powerful in shaping conceptions of worlds. It doesn’t create worlds alone, but it might shape those conceptions of both worlds and truths. One of Simmel’s arguments is that art can define our way of seeing. Art can, as Simmel puts it, create ‘life as a fragment rounded off to completeness’ (VL 48). Art can take the jagged edges off experience and polish it into coherence, or at least it is capable of removing some jagged edges. The position he seems to take here is that art captures life but then, like other forms of knowledge, changes the way that life is conceived, experienced and lived.

The Fragment and the Whole The ongoing issue, from this book and his other contemporaneous work, concerns the fragments and the totality. Simmel explores how art, religion and science offer both knowledge of life and conceptualisations of worlds. He also touches upon law. In his discussions of life, science and art, what seems to underpin Simmel’s explorations is an interest in

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understanding the relation between the parts and the whole. There is an undercurrent concerning the way that parts and wholes are perceived, and how knowledge about them is folded-back into their form. One additional point Simmel makes here is about how we fill in the gaps and round off the edges to make a coherent and polished whole: Unavoidably we regard the reality of the person confronting us (and perhaps even our own as well) in such a way that we flesh out the particular traits (which alone are given) into a whole image; we project the sequentially developing aspect of its being onto the simultaneity of a “character” or a “temperament”; and we ultimately translate the qualitatively incomplete, garbled and undeveloped, and merely suggested aspects of his personality into a certain absoluteness. (VL 49)

We take the mess and chaos of social life and experience and try to impose some order or completeness. His claim is that we project properties onto the fragments and fill in the gaps. We flesh out, we project, we turn gaps into the absolute. Within this, Simmel argues that individuals are also themselves social fragments. He is working with the fragments of experience in the individual life as well as the individual as a fragment of the social. He suggests that: We are all fragments, not only of a social type, not only of a psychic type describable with general concepts, but even, as it were, of the type that only we ourselves are. And the other’s glance fleshes out all this fragmentary material almost automatically into that which we never wholly and purely are. (VL 50)

Individuals, in this formulation, are fragmentary parts of the whole. We might fit into categories or groups, but Simmel is suggesting something beyond this. His point is that we are part of the whole even in our differences—but that when viewed we are placed into categories and groups. Simmel is focusing upon how the view of life encompasses fragments. It is in this kind of sense making and fleshing out of the fragments that Simmel places forms of knowledge like art, science and religion. These forms of knowledge provide the means to manage the fragments. One way that Simmel explores this is by thinking about how fragments are connected to the whole in the form of generalisations.



Simmel makes the distinction in these types of knowledge, further to those differences already described above, by looking at the different approaches that are taken to generalisation: In a sociological and psychological perspective, generalizations create the conditions on which communication and understanding arise; that perfected image of individuality serves us to a degree as a schema into which we weave the empirical traits and actions of the personality (…), a schema that brings them into connection and that first makes the person into a firm factor for our calculations and our demands. (VL 50)

Generalisations produce opportunities for understanding beyond the individual case, object or thing. They also become opportunities to shape the way the individual is seen and how they fit into that logic. Schema are created that become powerful in how individuals or things are viewed and what is seen in them. They also dictate what traits are noticed and what is projected onto them. This is how science operates, according to Simmel, through such schema. Whereas, he continues, ‘the artistic image, however, emerges by a complete axial rotation: the main point now is no longer to make the other adaptable to our life-course through the operation of these categorizations; instead, the artistic intention aims to give these forms to a human character, to a possibility of being human’ (VL 50). These forms of knowledge work, he suggests, in different directions. One creates schema that can be applied and from which meaning can be made, whereas artistic knowledge aims to give the schema human character rather than remove it. Art, he claims, gives character to the concepts, categories and schema that we live by. These are complex arguments that Simmel does not entirely develop and which are left hanging a little in the chapter. Yet the key point in the differences he outlines appears to be that of ‘intention’ (VL 52); the intention of the knowledge being created is quite different even when generalisation might be common. Simmel seems to hit the buffers a little in comparing how different forms of knowledge rely upon generalisations, it is not entirely clear what he intended in these distinctions. He seems most at ease when reflecting on the role that art plays and the type of knowledge it produces, especially with regard to the way it manages specifics and the general. For instance, he claims ‘that in a great work of art we are always aware of

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more than the mere artwork’ (VL 53). This then is a kind of transcendent account or view from which more than that fragment can be seen. Instead the artwork highlights how that fragment is connected and how it is part of the general in some way (replicating some of the points made in Rembrandt, as discussed in Chapter 2). This property Simmel describes as the ‘more-than-art’ or ‘Das Mehr-als-Kunst’ (LB 82). As Simmel explains, ‘the “more-than-art” that every great art reveals flows from the same source from which it has sprung, now as a purely ideal construction, free of life’ (VL 53). This more-than-art emphasises how art operates beyond the fragment, capturing something of the whole. These properties of the artwork, the things that the artwork captures, emerge from life and then are presented back to reveal something of the general and the relatable. Thus it makes the life, as fragmentary and as a fragment of the social, visible in different ways. It becomes evident here just how much Simmel’s work on Rembrandt (see Chapters 2 and 3) fed into this particular set of arguments. We might wonder what these various comparisons and insights reveal about the central argument that Simmel is developing. He returns to where he started: I began these considerations with the observation that “world” is a form through which we assemble the whole of the given – actual or potential – into a unity. Depending upon the ultimate concept directing this unification, multiple worlds arise out of the same material: the world of knowledge, the artistic, the religious. (VL 55)

The notion of the world, he recalls, was the basis upon which we assemble the fragments into something that makes sense. The pursuit of unity or of a kind of life-unity or ‘Lebenseinheit’ (LB 75) was central to his thinking here. The notion of the world provides the framing for the bits to be placed into something coherent. This is the general argument being made. The same fragments can be assembled to support very different views of the world. So it is the concept of the world that is held by individuals that is important in how they piece together the shards of social experience. The material that we encounter can be organised to suit the view of the world that we hold—especially, we might imagine, as the social becomes more fragmented with greater possibilities for assembling multiple worlds from the same sources. The world can be given to us in art, religion and other knowledge, which then shapes how we



select fragments to reinforce those worlds. This is a compelling argument when we reflect on social media and the kind of conflicts around truth and possibility that we see today. It is in the ‘totality’ they offer ‘that an ultimate concept performs the function of integration in them’ (VL 55). Totality affords integration of the bits and of individuals into the world. This integration happens in the back and forth between life and the concept of the world, or, according to Simmel, in the ‘axial rotation between life and idea’ (VL 55). The visions of the world that circulate, as the above would imply, become powerful in their own right. Visions or conceptions of worlds take on a life of their own, they become vital. They are not the preserve of individuals but become a kind of social presence, defining how life is understood and how the bits are actively compiled by individuals. These worlds, Simmel claims, ‘free themselves from this significance; they attain a value that is relative only to themselves and whose ultimate authority is their own meaning; and now, as they pulsate in the rest of the life, they take on powers and contents’ (VL 56). The concept of the world can become self-reinforcing. They produce their own authority, especially as individuals compile the fragments to support that vision. They become entangled in individual and social life, and become part of its rhythms and pulses. The concept of the world, for Simmel, takes on a power and accumulates content to support that power. Before concluding his argument, Simmel develops this vision of worlds as taking on authority, a pulsating beat and a life of their own. One way he does this is to reflect on economic worlds or the ‘the domains of the economy’ (VL 58). The economic can come to define worlds and can develop a life of its own in terms of setting laws, practices and understanding. This culminates with the claim that ‘the fact that the economy and its mediating values, especially money, can thereby grow psychologically into definitive, particular purposes signifies, as already emphasized, no change in principle whatever’ (VL 58). Money grows into purpose, taking on intentionality and becoming a driving force (we are returned to the layering of means at the expense of ends discussed in Chapter 2; see also PM 245). In his essay reflecting on crisis in culture, he concludes something similar stating his concern with the idea that ‘everything has its price’. He bemoans the associated problems with ‘the evaluation of things purely in terms of monetary value’ as well as the presence of ‘scepticism regarding any values that cannot be expressed in terms of money’

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(CC 261). This is perhaps most obviously an extension of his earlier arguments about the way that money can objectify people and relations. In such circumstances money becomes the defining property of the world, and therefore shapes how the fragments of life are composed to fit a certain logic and direction. The economy becomes a world, more than that it becomes a concept of world that takes on a life of its own and imposes its own logic. As Simmel explains: the economy really becomes a world unto itself…as soon as it becomes a process occurring according to purely objective, material-technical regularities and forms, a process for which living persons are only bearers, agents of the norms immanent to it and necessary on its account; and the owner and manager are, no different from the laborers and errand-boys, slaves of the production process. (VL 59)

People become bearers or followers of the norms set in the economic worlds being generated and perpetuated. People become the carriers of that economic world. The idea that the economy becomes a world that is self-referential, a world unto itself, is notable here. It is again this self-reinforcing property that allows this concept of the world to escalate in its reach—something that Simmel seems to suggest is particularly the case where economic concepts and money are prominent in conceptions of worlds. Economic norms are perpetuated and expand as this self-reinforcing process of interaction between practice and concepts unfolds. All actors are then encompassed into these particularly powerful conceptions of world. Rather than the economy being shaped to individual lives, the result is that, according to Simmel, ‘the economy now goes its necessary way, entirely as though men were there for its sake, but not it for the sake of man’ (VL 59). People then adapt to that powerful and unbending vision of the world. Individuals are subservient to the economic. Simmel hints again at the question of purpose and purposiveness. The purpose shifts to being about serving the concept of world that economic reason provides. Here the interplay between ideas and practice becomes dominated by the ideas, the result is that the concept of the world dictates to life. This is a kind of ‘axial rotation’ (VL 59) or ‘Achsendrehung’ (LB 91) of life and worlds. This type of reversal is something that we see Simmel returning to again here, it would seem he was interested in exploring how such processes are happening in reverse order to how they might be



imagined. It also shows him attempting to grasp the tensions and power dynamics of life and worlds. Simmel clearly thinks that the economic conception of the world has taken too much control and has warped relations between individuals and their immediate experiences and practices. He points out, for instance, that the modern economy stands ‘in opposition to the real meaning and genuine demands of life with such a ruthless objectivity, with such demonic violence – as the modern economy’ (VL 59). There is a ruthlessness in the mutations of life that this framing notion of world presents. This economically inclined version of the world commits a kind of violence upon people, objectifying and making demands. This distracts, to Simmel’s apparent disgust, from the genuine aspects of life. It would seem that here the concept of world has become detached from life itself, and now sets the agenda for how life is lived without the type of interplay that could keep such concepts in check. Rather the power of these concepts of world come to dominate the conduct of life and how the world is understood and responded to. Worlds come to ‘regulate the behaviour of the individual’ (VL 57). This message concerning the power of economic conceptions of the world is supported by an aphorism that was published after Simmel’s death: Money is the only cultural formation that is pure power, that has fully eliminated material supports from itself, in that it is absolutely pure symbol. To this degree it is the most characteristic among all of the phenomena of our time, when dynamism has gained command of all theory and practice. The fact that it is a pure relationship (and thus likewise characteristic of our time) without including any of the content of the relationship does not contradict this. For in reality, power is nothing but a relationship. (VL 186)

This economic concept of the world, Simmel argues, is particularly powerful and compelling. It is also likely to take on a life of its own and dominate through its logic. Money operates within relations and exercises power directly on us in this way—echoing some of Simmel’s discussions of money and the objectifying of relations and individuals in economic exchange. ‘As though around an axle,’ according to Simmel, ‘life tends to be turned, so that those forms exist as an autocratic idea, and of themselves define life and its value’ (VL 60). The autocratic or dominant and dogmatic ideas associated with money and

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economic reason come to completely define life and value. These things are then defined only in relation to dominant concepts of world associated with the economy. As is fitting with the general turn to ideas, again Simmel evokes a change of direction, an axial shift, a winding, a turning of life around a handle. As is suggested above, power is nothing but a relationship.

Concluding the Turn In a short conclusion to the essay, Simmel attempted to bring together the wide-ranging and disorientating range of themes covered in his analysis of the turn to ideas. He concludes that ‘the ultimate meaning of the theme brought forth here, pursued in its most far-reaching case, is the establishment of an organic relationship between psychology and logic’ (VL 60). Simmel seeks to understand how wider logics become part of individual thinking. He reflects in this short set of conclusions on the interdependence and iterative relations of life and worlds. It is this set of relations between life and worlds that is a central concern of The View of Life. Undoubtedly these iterations take Simmel into some difficult terrain, but in his conclusions he attempts again to clarify these iterative processes with the clam that ‘life draws objective meanings, consequences, and norms into itself again and forms itself according to what has been formed by it’ (VL 61). Ideas of the world emerge from life—in some cases becoming detached, dominant or mutated—and those ideas then feedback and are applied to establish norms and expectations. Life then forms in response to those concepts, ideas and notions whilst also reinforcing them. Simmel seems concerned with how norms and ideas emerge and solidify, and how they then come to shape social life, practices and ordering. He seeks to avoid the idea that such ideas about the world solely come from outside to become part of life, but that they are also immanent to it. As is suggested when he adds that ‘in a relativistic process, there arises an objective character and truth, norm and absolute over the subjective psychological event, and independent of it’ (VL 61). This is further emphasised by the vision that ‘the life often wounds itself upon the structures it has externalized from itself as strictly objective’ (VL 61). Structures become external to life, such as the economy or religion, but then life can be dictated to or at least winds itself around those



concepts, bending to the ideas as they become abstracted. The different types of worlds discussed by Simmel across this section are intended to work together to expose an underlying process: What I have put forward here are only several cases of the objectification of life, a demonstration of several points in which it produces what confronts it and in whose autonomous meaning, independent of real life, the metaphysical – not the psychological – character of creative life becomes visible. (VL 61)

This reveals that the type of knowledge and concepts of worlds that Simmel explores are all concerned with the objectification of life, as such. Life becomes the object of the concept it is lived in relation to. These concepts or ideas present life back to us, shaping how it is lived. These concepts are produced by life but then develop their own status and independent meaning. Simmel reveals an ambitious agenda in these concluding points—aimed at understanding the metaphysical character of life. Despite his attempts to summarise, one thing that is left undeveloped in Simmel’s explorations of worlds and the knowledge that underpins them is how these different worlds might sit together or compete. It is hard to see in this account how science and religion compete to define people’s worlds, for instance, or then how these powerful economic worlds and norms might compete with those in art say. One unanswered question is how worlds can become dominant, or why it is that certain conceptions of the world take hold or take prominence in individual lives.


Death and Immortality

There is something inevitable about the third essay in The View of Life. In reflecting on the perspective on life discussed in the previous two chapters, Simmel is unavoidably drawn toward thinking about the ­relations between life and death. This is something that we have already seen permeating through his book Rembrandt, especially with his arguments about the immanence of death in the portraits he examined (see Chapter 3). Simmel draws together an analysis of the role of death in the understanding and practice of life. This analysis plays out in a series of explorations of how something seemingly outside of life becomes immanent to it. Simmel opens with the body, and by ­contrasting what he refers to as the inorganic and organic body: The inorganic body is distinguished from the living one above all by this: the form that defines it is determined from outside – whether in the most extreme sense that it ends because another body begins, by reacting against its expansion, bending or breaking it; or through molecular, chemical, or physical influences, as when rocks form through weathering or lava through solidification. (VL 63)

Simmel begins to explore how the body is defined in different ways, by its internal and external properties, articulated in this distinction between the organic and inorganic body. The process of solidification is one point Simmel uses to draw a comparison. This relationship between the internal and external is something that he touches upon elsewhere © The Author(s) 2019 D. Beer, Georg Simmel’s Concluding Thoughts,


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in reflecting upon Goethe, which is likely to have fed into his thinking here (KG 169). The above distinction between the organic and inorganic body appears at first to be a clear distinction, yet it starts to unravel and blur as the passages unfold. The inorganic is defined from the outside, Simmel explains, as this is where it is understood in relation to other bodies and objects and where the external acts upon its surfaces. This inorganic body is placed in distinction to the organic body: The organic body, however, produces its form from within; it stops growing when its innate formative energies have reached their limits, and these continuously define the particular manner of its extent. The conditions of its overall existence are the same as the conditions of its manifest form, whereas for the inorganic body the conditions of its form reside in itself. (VL 63)

The organic body is defined by its inner workings. It reaches it limits and works within them. The body has an inside and outside which is defined by the limits of its organic form, it would seem. Returning to his interest in boundaries, the limit of the body is important here for Simmel, even where the notion of the organic may be a little slippy in his formulations. This slipperiness is something that Simmel acknowledged when he pointed out that ‘the mystery of organic form lies in the fact that it is limit: it is as once the thing itself and the cessation of the thing, the domain in which the being and the no-more-being of the thing are one’ (VL 63). The distinction between the organic and inorganic body is all about trying to understand how limits are understood in bounding the body. This limit he places under the heading of a mystery. It is about how the limit defines the endpoint of the body, about how the limit separates the inside from the outside. Simmel uses this understanding of the body as the foundation for thinking about the limits to life—setting the limits of the body comes before he goes on to pursue the limits of life. These limits of the body are both spatial and temporal, Simmel argued. With the organic being ‘its boundary is not merely spatial, but also temporal’, to which he adds that it ‘is by virtue of the fact that what is living dies – that dying is bound up with its very nature (whether or not from understood or not yet understood necessity) – that its life receives a form.’ (VL 63). Death provides a limit that gives the organic being some form. Spatial and temporal limits operate together to lend form. These limits mesh together in his analysis, but it is the temporal limits of



life that carries his attention most prominently. The focus on temporal limits of being becomes the basis of Simmel’s discussion of death and immortality. Aside from bodily limits, there is one other framing point that is important in understanding the direction of argument taken by Simmel from the outset of his essay on mortality. The step he makes is not unsurprising in that he wants to escape the notion of fate. As this chapter will go on to show, Simmel’s position on fate is crucial to his take on mortality and its relations with lived experience. The problem of fate, as he explains, is that it is: as though at a particular moment the life-thread, spun forth until then as life (and exclusively as life), were suddenly “cut off”; as though death set bounds for life in the same sense that an inorganic body ends spatially where another (with which it has essentially nothing to do) thrusts against it and defines its form as the “cessation” of its being. The proper symbol of this mechanistic view is the skeleton approaching the living being from without. (VL 63–64)

Simmel is interested in limits, but not in the notion that the limits are somehow fixed. Rather they are impressions that act upon us, particularly in relation to temporal boundaries. It is not fate, but notions of death that set the boundaries that then become integrated into notions of fate and into the direction of the life course. Chapter 3 showed how Simmel explored the idea of fate and of the future life of individuals in his discussion of Rembrandt’s portraits, in the discussion of that art he also explored how death was immanent in life. It is this argument about the immanence of death that is central to his essay on mortality. ‘To most people,’ Simmel reflects, ‘death seems like a dark prophecy hovering over their life’ (VL 64). This is how it might be imagined, but Simmel’s key point is that ‘death is bound up with life from the start and from within’ (VL 64). It doesn’t hover outside or act upon life, it is part of it, shaping it and influencing it.

Death in Life As the above indicates, and it is worth reiterating from the outset, Simmel attempts to argue that death is immanent to life rather than an external or an opposite. He starts with the biological, pointing out that

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‘one mechanistically minded biologist has described death as a physical agent, the material antithesis of life’. We are back to the unnamed biologists, although a different figure is evoked, this time in place of the ‘thoughtful’ biologist (see Chapter 4) is someone more rigid in their thinking. Simmel’s sees things differently, arguing that ‘this antithesis of life, though, originates from nowhere else than life! Life itself has produced it and includes it’ (VL 64). There is no citation with this point so it is not obvious if this is a particular biologist whom Simmel is referring to here, or if this is just a more general point—it does seem he had someone in mind in this comment. Either way, Simmel argues against a kind of mechanistic approach in which death is the opposite or binary to life. It is not the antithesis of life, he argues. Rather, life produces death as an outcome and, more than this, life includes death. This is a key argument of the chapter that is central to the way he conceptualises death. Further than this, this chapter also shows the type of boundaries and limits that he referred to in the earlier chapters. The point he makes is that death remains central to how life is conceived and understood, especially in relation to life’s limits. Hence the claim that death is inside of life. Perhaps the urgency and spectre like presence of death that Simmel describes here could be influenced in part by his own biographical moment (see Chapter 1). Death, for Simmel, is an inescapable presence. It is inherent in life. He illustrates this point by claiming that ‘in every single moment of life we are beings that will die, and each moment would be otherwise if this were not our innate condition, somehow operative within it’ (VL 64). Death is operative within life, it is active in how life is experienced. It is a constant always active presence. Simmel even argues that life would be entirely different without death’s ongoing presence. Death, it is suggested, is form-giving, it shapes life rather than being its opposite. Simmel speaks, for instance, of ‘the form-giving meaning of death’ (VL 65). By providing limits, death acts to give shape or form to life, it contains it and gives it parameters and edges. This form-giving property of death is not only, Simmel contends, something that is active when an individual is close to death, but offers form to life throughout: It does not bound (i.e. form) our life only in the hour of our death, but is a formal moment of it that colours all its contents: the boundedness of the whole of life by death influences each of its contents and instants beforehand; the quality and form of each would be different if it could extend beyond its immanent boundary. (VL 65)



Death colours, or shapes, the whole of life, according to Simmel. It is not something that exists outside of it, but is innate in how life is formed. It does not only offer boundaries at the end of life, Simmel is arguing, it is an influence that acts upon life before that moment. The way Simmel argues this point is by suggesting that life would be a completely different and even unimaginable thing without the presence of death. It is this unimaginability that illustrates the ongoing influence it has and how it colours life. Clearly for Simmel it is in the formulation of boundaries and limits that death acts upon the conception of life. This takes the discussion of mortality back to questions of spatial and temporal limits. The way that life-moments are organized within these limits again resurfaces, but this time in relation to the overall boundaries that contain life. The coherence of the succession of life-moments, Simmel reflects, depends on spatial and temporal boundaries. Simmel even turns to Shakespeare’s tragic figures to develop this particular point and extends this to explore how the interrupted life, a life in which death comes early, lacks form. Yet this is only part of the broader argument that life is planned and acted within the limits of death. Death is active in life in the way that life is planned and how its relations and responsibilities are approached. The boundary then is not just placed at the edge of life, but acts within its performance. The nub of this argument is held in the claim that: ‘We hold our plans and actions, duties and interpersonal relations (obviously not by conscious consideration, but instinctively and traditionally) from the outset within bounds proportioned to a death-delimited life’ (VL 66). The experience of life always occurs in a way that is demarcated by death. Death is more than an endpoint for Simmel, it is an active part of how the activities and actions of life are formulated and conducted. How we organise things, how we interact, how we relate, how we plan: all of these things are approached from within the context of a delimited life. To pursue this boundedness, Simmel reflects on the way that death shapes our choices. He uses this to think about the type of limit that is acting upon life and how it might be conceived, especially in its rigidity and distance. The important issue here is what we know of the questions of whether and when. For instance, it is suggested that ‘we are absolutely certain about the “whether” of the end, we are nevertheless absolutely uncertain about its “when”’ (VL 66). We know that it is inevitable, hence we know whether, but the limits provided by death are based on an uncertainty about when. To explore this further, Simmel reflects on

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what it would mean if life were not to have the boundary of death acting upon it. His simple conclusion is that we can’t imagine an unbound life. As Simmel explains, ‘the life-arrangement of an earthly immortal being would be utterly inconceivable to us; but even that of beings certain of their future death as well as the year and day of its arrival would differ, in a scarcely less inconceivable degree, from the life-disposition familiar to us’ (VL 66). The way that life is arranged is inconceivable if the boundary of death were to be removed, for it wouldn’t just change the endpoint, it would change the whole of life itself and how it is conducted. Simmel suggests that we cannot even really conceive of how that life would unfold—thus demonstrating his point about death acting upon life throughout. This observation is then extended to think about the nature of the boundary death provides and how this is actually temporally fluid. As the above passage indicates, for Simmel the life with a certain endpoint of which an individual is aware is also hard to imagine. A life in which death will not occur or where it is a fixed and known point in the future would, Simmel is suggesting, radically reshape life itself— illustrating, for him, the role and influence that death has over life. He goes on to imagine knowing exactly when life will end and the pressure and anxiety that that would unleash. When it comes to this question of knowing, Simmel demarcates a space in which ‘we are confined between knowing and not knowing’ (VL 67). This reflects his earlier discussion of the chess player’s need for a sense of the future in order to be able to play effectively. As such, we know something but not the detail, which gives a kind of uncertain limit to life. Yet this combination of knowing and not knowing is crucial Simmel is arguing, for it is this particular combination that is shape forming and which gives us an uncertain but ever-present limit to life. Plus, he adds, ‘we could not lead the life of an empirical person if we had either a much wider or a much narrower knowledge than we actually do’ (VL 67). It is a particular form of knowledge that balances out between these possibilities. The result is that life is only really imaginable with this particular combination of knowledge. However, Simmel then acknowledges that this knowledge of life and death is not fixed, but can shift and thus can change how life is perceived and lived. As he puts it: ‘how much of what now is unquestionable “knowledge” for us will, over the short or long term, offer the same fate!’ (VL 67). Knowledge, as indicated here, is not necessarily unquestionable or stable. As our knowledge changes so too do the limits it brings. This echoes his earlier point about how



knowledge, resulting from science or technology for instance, can enable boundaries to be breached or changed. Perhaps we can think about how things like scientific and medical knowledge of disease or population metrics around life expectancy bring this kind of change of knowledge that is then accompanied by a change to the view of life.

Impressions of Life It is again the knowledge of life and how this intervenes in experiences and understandings that Simmel is exploring, in this case relating to knowledge and lack of knowledge about mortality. Simmel links this discussion into the broader arguments of the book. For example, he draws in these broader arguments in the claim that ‘the entire psychic and practical attitude of man implies that…he only perceives in his environment things that correspond to his convictions and, in ways often fully incomprehensible at a later time, simply ignores counterinstances, however glaring’ (VL 67). We are returned here to conceptions of life in knowledge and understanding, and how worlds are reinforced through selective engagements with events and information. Instances that do not fit or which contradict the fixed ideas of the way the world is are rejected or ignored. Even those highly visible bits of information that challenge or create questions for that held view are sidelined. It is worth noting here that Simmel, in his discussion of the crisis in culture, includes the ‘quantitative vastness’ of culture available which leads to ‘the feeling of being overwhelmed by this immense quantity of culture’ (CC 254; which is an argument that has roots in his earlier work on the city and on the senses). The problem is what to do to manage this cultural deluge, for Simmel the answer is to be found in how we assemble selected bits. Though he does point out that we can ‘neither inwardly assimilate nor simply reject’ (CC 254), there is something else going on it would seem. The argument in this third essay in The View of Life is that the shifting knowledge about life is built out of combinations of ideas in which, he adds, ‘the mass of just-adopted truths is only just balanced by the mass of just-destroyed errors’ (VL 67). Truth and error are adopted and destroyed in the processes of world affirmation. The earlier chapters have covered this in detail, but it is interesting to note that Simmel wanted to approach death and immortality within the broader arguments of the book as a whole, with ideas of death becoming a part of the tapestry of components and boundaries that reinforce conceptions of life and

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worlds. Amongst the ideas that are powerful in their activity within life, Simmel notes that it is ‘knowledge and non-knowledge of death’ which he says ‘belongs as perhaps the most striking phenomenon’ (VL 67). In this essay he uses death as a way then of illustrating the overarching points he seeks to make across the book, with knowledge of death being a key component in the ideas that shape life. The questions of whether and when never move too far from Simmel’s gaze. He reasserts that ‘life is only possible precisely on this basis of knowledge of the fact and non-knowledge of its time-point’ (VL 68). It can be concluded that he sees knowledge and a lack of knowledge combining to be of particular importance. It is a question that this chapter can’t quite escape from, it hovers over the pages. Reiterating this point allows Simmel’s core argument to be extended a little with the claim, in an important passage, that: This further shows…how unconditionally form-defining death is for life; how it inhabits life, with what is known of it as with what is unknown, consciousness and fully fluid, and because every change in the one as in the other would instantly transform the whole of life into something unimaginable, death appears as the seeming “outside” of life that in truth is its “within,” forming every element of this “within” as only we know it. (VL 68)

Death, he reiterates, inhabits life—it seems like it is outside but it is within. Simmel is pulled back by the weight he gives to the argument that death has a formative power within life. Death touches every component part, every element of life. This formative power is based in this combination of the known and the unknown, and the changing relations between them as things are discovered or revealed or as ideas change. Every change in death, he restates, is also a change in life. When he talks of death here he is of course talking about understandings of death rather than death itself. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Simmel’s biographical circumstances do not play some part in the direction that his discussion of death takes, particularly when he turns to talk of hopelessness and ageing. Life, he concludes, ‘as it advances, makes us generally hopeless, not always in thoughts, but in being’ (VL 69). He continues, ‘in old age we no longer believe in the possibility of great changes: it seems somehow illusory to us that we can still accomplish them’ (VL 69). There is



a feeling here of somehow being out of time. There is a sense, a tangible subtext, of an endpoint on the near horizon (see Chapter 1). As we move through the life course conceptions of possibility shift, he seems to be arguing. A realisation emerges in this, a realisation that drives a sense of hopelessness. It is also a realisation that change is seemingly impossible. Simmel acknowledges though that this sense can be mitigated by some conceptions of the world. So, for example, it is suggested that ‘for the religious person there is always time yet, because in the eyes or, better, in the being of the Eternal, twenty or seventy years signify no difference at all’ (VL 69). Religion here brings a different conception of time and of possibility by removing the idea of finality or of ending, thus changing how life is experienced and how ageing and hope relate to possibility and change. Simmel is not though finished with sentiments of hopelessness, ­moving his argument in a different direction he instead includes disillusionment in the mix. As with hopelessness, he starts with disillusionment in life first and then talks of the opposite. The position he formulates here is concerned with the tensions of disillusionment and satisfaction. He is specifically and sometimes quite bafflingly interested in questions of Ego. If we put that aside for the moment, he talks first of the disillusioned before arguing that: Our attitude toward art presents the counter phenomenon. It is relatively easy for an artwork to satisfy us because all the demands that we can make upon it encounter us first from the work itself: it refuses all problems and obligations imposed from without, and what we want from it is determined only by the work itself. (VL 72)

The point here is about how life’s limits are tied into satisfaction and disaffection. Returning to art allows for this to be explored (Chapter 3 showed the importance of art to Simmel’s ideas on mortality). The type of levels and possibilities of satisfaction are presented as being of particular import. The inner properties of the artwork elide the confusing fragments that are outside of its frame. The artwork occupies the vision, and the inner coherence of the artwork can provide satisfaction that reveals something, for Simmel, of the way that problems and obligations imposed upon people clutter social life. Simmel’s interest in satisfaction and disillusionment is explored in relation to the imported concept of the Ego. Simmel’s use of the

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concept of Ego is perhaps a little loose and makes some of the points raised more ambiguous than the earlier arguments in this essay. Simmel seems to struggle with the question of Ego over a number of pages. These pages are not easy to follow or interpret. It is a little difficult to see exactly what Simmel is using this concept of Ego to achieve, nevertheless we do see a continuation of the broader themes of his theory emerging in these attempts to locate the relevance of Ego. Take, for instance, the contention that: The psychic life process highlights ever more clearly and strongly the formation [Gebilde] that can be called the Ego – not only in the discrepancies just emphasized, but also in its growing overall development. I am speaking here of the essence and the value, of the rhythm and, so to speak, the inner sense that pertain to our existence as this special piece of the world, of those things that we truly are from the outset but in the full sense are not yet. (VL 73)

There is a sense of becoming in this excerpt. There is also the impression of a constant shifting in the development of the self. The concept of Ego is evoked here to capture how we regard ourselves as pieces of the social world of which we are a part. It is by looking at the process of seeing ourselves as unique parts of that world that some of the broader forces and phenomena that Simmel is outlining can be witnessed in action. This separation is a kind of marking out of the ego, setting boundaries and using these to formulate and make sense—experiences accumulate and allow this solidification. For Simmel, ‘the more we have experienced, the more decidedly the ego marks itself off as the one and continuing things in all pendulum swings of fate and conditions of the world’ (VL 74). The ego solidifies or crystalizes through experiences. It becomes demarcated and ‘is elaborated out of all the fleeting accidents of experienced contents, and is developed ever more surely and independently from those contents into its own sense and idea’ (VL 74). Fleeting moments combine to mark out and take on a presence. It is by looking at this on an individual level that we can witness where conceptions of the world become materially and psychological embedded in the individual and the formation of self. How the individual sees themselves as an individual within the social is a crucial part of this process—highlighting again Simmel’s typical interdisciplinary and multiscalar focus (as discussed in Chapters 1 and 2).



The Immortal To try to clarify his position, Simmel uses an imaginative engagement with immortality. This provides him with an opportunity to highlight his points through a series of comparisons. Immortality is the question that persists for Simmel, especially where it intersects with the demarcation of the self. For, he proposes, ‘just as (…) death allows life to founder so as to permit the timelessness of its contents, as it were, to become free, so now, on the other side of the dividing line, death terminates the series of experiences of particular contents without thereby cutting off the ego’s demand to perfect itself’ (VL 74). Death then becomes the termination of the accumulated experiences, as such it is the cessation of the formation of the self and Ego. Again the idea of the limit feeds-back into life itself, with the dividing line forming an end point. Simmel ponders on how this endpoint or dividing line is approached in terms of what it means for the ego or for the soul—reiterating again that the way that the endpoint is understood comes to shape life itself. This is a position that builds upon the depiction of life and soulfulness that Simmel found in Rembrandt’s paintings (as discussed in Chapter 3). One idea he explores is of the longing, embodied in the Ego, to escape the confines of life and mortality. In more recent times this question has been articulated very directly in ideas that we can live on in software code, with our consciousness downloaded into computerised systems. This is an idea that has been widely debated over the last couple of decades and has reached into the popular imagination, such as in the 2014 film Transcendence, when a dyeing scientist uploads his consciousness into a computer cloud. Simmel’s question though is about what happens to life if the notion of its endpoint changes. Some of the reflections offered in this particular essay are highly contextual, it would seem, in terms of the debates Simmel was exposed to. For instance, he observes that ‘the present sense of immortality, as that situation in which the soul experiences nothing more; in which its sense thus no longer attached to a content existing, in some sense or other, outside itself’ (VL 74). In this Simmel is tapping into some contempo­ raneous debate in which he wishes to intervene, without actually making clear who this was a response to. These debates and senses of­ mortality feed into Simmel’s elaboration of ideas around the ego and the soul, and their connection to the body. The separation reflected upon here is associated with immortality. Again, this takes us into some quite

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unclear waters. Despite this, Simmel returns to his point that ‘in the thought of immortality, we always bump into something no longer properly thinkable’ (VL 75). Simmel suggests that even though notions of immortality might be considered and may even be embedded in life, it is never actually fully imagined, as it is not possible to see how it would completely transform the entirety of life. The broader point Simmel is making is about the multifarious ways that life can form in response to ideas like mortality and death, as well as the other fragments and experiences that are encountered. In all this: Of these innumerable lines of potential life-formation only a single one is ever actualized; we change into ourselves as the only reality in the shadow-realm of unresolved possibilities of ourselves, possibilities that simply have not come to words, but are by no means nothing. Our narrow reality is perhaps shot through with the feeling of these unbounded tensions and potential directions, and equipped with the intimation of an intensive endlessness that is projected in the time-dimension as immortality. (VL 76)

The innumerable life-formations present themselves, with a single line pursued. There are shadows of other potential selves left behind. One set of possibilities is actualized. The potential for other alternative directions remain part of how life is conceived. This is the case even where the end-point takes different forms in the conception of the individual. The potential surprise here is that Simmel talks of there being unlimited possibilities and directions that life can take, which might jar with understandings of how the social world denies opportunities and limits choice. Yet, the line of argument continues, with Simmel claiming that ‘for a singularly defined reality to emerge from our unlimited possibilities, though, obviously requires the developmental stimulus that the surrounding world, likewise singularly defined at any given time, imposes upon us’ (VL 77). Simmel adds an element of imposition here. It is how those choices are shaped by the pursuit or ‘the hope of immortality’ (VL 77). And, he continues, ‘in this environment alone can our existence become a definite life, in fact one modified by it’ (VL 77). Simmel appears to be pointing toward some iterative relations in which conceptions of what is possible may not match with what is actually possible. What happens at the end of life to the formed ego or soul is part of the way life is limited, it can even be limited and shaped by the very idea that it is unbound.



The Concept of Fate Simmel turns back to the concept of fate to explore the sense of life having a direction or a fixed set of outcomes. The engagement with fate is a crucial part of the argument developed in this essay. It especially meshes into his earlier arguments about purpose and direction (see Chapter 4). He uses fate as a concept that is deployed to give some sense of inevitability or boundedness to life. So, not only is the sense of the end of life apparent, there is also a sense that a particular destination is coded into the life course and how it is imagined to, again, have purpose. Simmel moves to explore the way that intentionality, direction and telos are projected onto life. By focusing on the concept of fate, Simmel is able to explore how life and death mingle and how meaning is imposed upon mortality and life itself. The question of fate is also a question of meaning, which then percolates as Simmel reflects on how such meanings are generated. Simmel turns to the way that contingency and purpose come together: Meanwhile, we must not neglect the fact that this contingent character of life together with its compensation in belief is not the only possible way one can look at the problem of the meaning of life. An entirely different way results when life is regarded under the concept of fate. (VL 78)

Life viewed through the lens of fate is imbued with meaning and looks less contingent in its formations. Simmel reflects then on how this concept functions in the context of lived experience. He identifies, for instance, that this concept is based on what he describes as a ‘double postulate’. The concept of fate first ‘presumes a subject that contains or represents a meaning, an inner tendency, a demand – of itself and to that degree independent of every “event”’ (VL 78). The first then is about the self and the idea that the self is driven by tendencies or inner meanings and that these are then taken to the events that happen and are experienced. These are events that fit within the idea of fate that is being applied (echoing his earlier arguments about the formation of worlds, see Chapters 4 and 5). The second dimension is about those events. Second, Simmel argues: alongside this self-direction of the subject, however, certain phenomena arise and run their course, phenomena which although lacking any genetic

138  D. BEER connection to it, nonetheless behave toward it in ways that either advance or inhabit it, interrupts its course or connect it with what is distant, accentuate particular points in it or determine its entirety. (VL 78)

The discontinuity of other events and outcomes also then gets folded into the concept of fate. Things that escape the meanings of fate are later drawn-back into it. So some events might remain contingent, which is to say that ‘what causes them and their unfolding series of events have nothing to do with the subject’s own meaning, which they affect and determine’ (VL 78). So the events come to determine the notion of fate, which is ultimately malleable, it would seem. The collisions between life and fate create meaning. Simmel indicates that ‘they collide with the subjective life and thus acquire a meaning within it. This meaning does not even have to be a “rational” one, graspable by an idea or even positively teleological; it can be shocking, destructive, or incomprehensible’ (VL 78). The meanings that are generated in relation to fate then can be hard to fully understand or comprehend, they seem to spin out from under the potential contradictions faced in the everyday. It is evident that Simmel is trying to understand fate as an active concept that constitutes and shapes the everyday and which, rather than being fixed, can be forged and reshaped as part of the processes of making meaning. The direction of the life-course, it would seem, is used to feedback into an understanding of how we got there. This is quite a difficult position to fully grasp, it entails understanding fate as suggesting fixed outcomes whilst it is actually used in contingent ways to find meaning. From this position Simmel then argues that: The specific character of “fate” thus emerges: that a sequence of objective occurrences, proceeding purely causally, is woven into the subjective sequence of a life determined in other respects from within, and by favouring or violating the direction and destiny of this life, it acquires a meaning from it, a relevance to the subject – as though the more or less external occurrence, operating according to its own causality, were nonetheless somehow aimed at connection to our life. (VL 78)

Life events, unfolding in sequence, are drawn together, woven, into subjectivity. Meanings are then derived from how life follows or diverts from the expected path of imagined fate. The imagined external forces of fate come to act internally on the individual’s life, yet it is an internal process with an imagined external force.



This takes Simmel into more familiar terrain in which he explores the relations between the individual and the social. Some earlier themes in his work, about how the individual comes to be absorbed into the social, underpin some of the conclusions he reaches around fate. For example, in one key passage he suggests that: ‘Human life, though, stands under a double aspect: on the one side we are held hostage to and ordered by cosmic dynamics, but on the other side we feel and lead our individual existence from a personal center, as self-responsibility and somehow in self-enclosed form. By regarding something as fate, we remove the pure contingency between the two.’ (VL 79)

The focus on fate, for Simmel, can be used to reveal the way that, through fate, life can be imagined as following an externally determined path, whilst this is in tension with the notion of individual existence, choice and responsibility. This tension is revealed through the analysis of the concept of fate. This tension, between externally determined outcome and the individual decision, is then explored in terms of activity and passivity. As he puts it, ‘the activity and passivity of life in its course have become, in the concept of fate, a single fact’ (VL 79). The activity and passivity of the individual, and the tension between the two, is captured or wrapped up in the concept of fate. To conclude the analysis of fate, Simmel returns to think about the notion of the direction of life (forged in this activity and passivity). The point he arrives at is one in which events bounce off our conception of life and its direction. He claims that ‘innumerable events certainly graze the outer layers of our actual life, but do not affect its individually meaningful directedness’ (VL 79). Given that they even ‘graze’ at those ‘outer layers’, a threshold is required in which events either impact or run-off life’s surface. Simmel says here that we ‘could speak of a threshold of fate’, this is the point at which meanings are disrupted and the limits are breached, ‘beyond which they promote or inhabit the idea of our life, so to speak’ (VL 79). We might wonder where this leaves Simmel. The discussion of fate echoes some of the earlier discussions about how life-flow and notions of a direction to life are cultivated. Simmel’s point is that fate emerges from life experience but is used as part of the meaning making processes within it—whilst also facilitating and situating a pre-determined end-point. Simmel’s conclusion on fate, in which he adds some further explanation to this position, is that:

140  D. BEER From all this the consequence becomes evident: the directedness of the inner life-flow decides what is fate for us and what is not; it makes a selection, so to speak, among the events affecting us, and only those able to adapt to its natural oscillations (and even to their distortion and destruction) play for us the role of fate. (VL 80)

Again we see here the idea that events and experiences can be selected and curated, or chosen and composed to enable certain ideas to be maintained (see Chapter 4). We look, therefore, for the things that can be used to reinforce the existing notion of fate—and the concept is then used to lend meaning. Here, in this examination of fate as a concept, Simmel is exploring how perception is shaped by and within experience. In doing so he adds, for instance, that: Just as the world determines what our perceptual content shall be, though only because perception has previously determined what the world can be to us – so too fate determines the life of the individual, but only because this individual has selected, through a certain affinity, those events to which he can partially grant the meaning whereby they become his ­“destiny”. (VL 80)

The related concepts of fate and destiny are connected as this point is developed. Simmel is edging around perception by thinking about how conceptual framings fit into experiences. The concept of the world we hold, as we have seen earlier, is said to shape perception and thus shape the experience itself. The selection of a concept of fate, as such selects the events that are then selected to support that notion of fate—thus the concept of fate is self-reinforcing.1

Piecing Together Life and Mortality Having covered the relationship between death and life, the implications for life of notions of immortality and the way in which life itself is structured by conceptions of fate, Simmel returns once again to the impact of mortality as a part of lived experience and to where this type of barrier or limit is seen to be crossed. This return to the question of immortality brings with it some more choppy waters. It appears that his concern is with the conception of life that people hold and how limits or a lack of limits are imagined. As Simmel puts it at one point, ‘death



is then only the end of the individual form of life, but not of the life that has appeared in it’ (VL 91). Taking a similar tack, he also suggests that ‘immortality would attach the transempirical, transaccidental series of infinitely extended life to the historical-contingent emergence of life, merely because the latter has emerged’ (VL 89). The concern then is still with how the conception of life emerges from the life itself whilst then also coming to shape those experiences in a feedback loop. This works in a way in which any disjunctures or discontinuities between life and the conception of things like fate or mortality can, it would seem, be smoothed over. As a result, Simmel contends, ‘we do not arrive at a paradox here at all, because the mutual discrepancy is not compressed into one series’ (VL 89). These series of events are moulded into narratives, given meaning and ordered by concepts, including the concept of fate. In trying to compare different types of social and religious arrangements Simmel ends up trapped in some difficult and problematic ­comparisons—as elsewhere in his writings his speculations and attempts to generalise get him into some difficulties. In this case, this includes some crude and highly problematic assumptions about what he refers to as ‘primitive peoples’ (see Chapter 1).2 Indeed, this is part of what becomes a long and quite meandering discussion of different religious and social arrangements. These passages are effectively an attempt by Simmel to extend his central argument, yet they don’t carry the same purpose or clarity as some earlier passages. This section culminates in the exploration of ideas around the ‘retrospective splitting’ of the ‘law of being’ (VL 93). This is the law that is created to lend unity. As Simmel begins to explain, ‘this law stands as something purely functional and relational above all phenomena, and lends to the totality of each being an unmistakable cachet’ (VL 93–94). This law gives structure and demarcates function. It is difficult to be sure exactly what Simmel is arguing on this point—in what is already a challenging book this chapter presents some near insurmountable formulations. Whether this is a retrospective law that is imposed or if it is somehow a set of inherent limits and rules that the body and the individual are defined by is not clear. Some clues follow without the answer quite being fully established: ‘This law of being is this no abstraction from multiple individuals, but comes to the individual as his most personal property and characteristic. For all that, however, it also has the character of timelessness, the same

142  D. BEER timelessness that attached to natural law, but with the peculiar additional condition that it can only create the law or the form of a unique individual manifestation’ (VL 94)

It would seem, from what can be inferred here, that Simmel’s focus on death and mortality forces him to consider, as he does elsewhere, the points where the social and the physiological intersect. In other words it draws together his conceptual exploration of life with some biological lines of thought—which is something that crops up in short moments across the book. To conclude, drawing upon this piecing together of life, fate and mortality, Simmel reflects on the compiled experiences of life with the additional comment that the ‘vicissitudes’ of the life course occur within a narrow ‘range’ (VL 95). This range is imposed by both experiences and the conception of life and afterlife. The argument he is making is captured in one particular passage which begins with the lifecourse: The soul of each man wanders between birth and death through immeasurably many destinies, dispositions, and drastically opposed epochs which, regarded as to their content, offer each other utterly alien overall features. Only the individuality of the subject allows them to coalesce into a unitary image: just as the sound of a person’s voice remains the same and unmistakable, however variable the words he speaks, so there remains a basic coloration, a basic rhythm, a basic proportionality for all that this life ever experiences, an a priori formal law of his action and suffering that survives the demise of every particular content and, as the individuality of the whole, is transferred to the next. (VL 95)

The concept of soul, or ‘seele’ (LB 146), is added into the mix here so that he is able to include the idea of life beyond limits.3 Here he argues that life takes on an individual rhythm, timbre and tone. Life events fit into and give beats to those rhythms. Simmel says here that whatever words are spoken the voice remains, this he compares to the contents of life sounding in keeping with that life, they take on its own tone. That tone becomes part of those boundaries.4 For Simmel, a sense of uniqueness and individuality emerges in the composition of the parts and the way they relate to the conceptions of life that order them. The Discussion of mortality reaffirms that core argument. The ‘point of uniqueness’, Simmel explains, is a product of



the ‘functional relation of the particular elements’ (VL 94). Simmel adds to this that this is also what the individual has in common with others, a kind of ‘law of being’ (VL 94). Of course, with such laws and in keeping with the arguments he is building, the question of limits and boundaries recurs in the final reflective marks on death and immortality. Simmel adds, in a passage that links the arguments of this chapter to the broader concerns of the book, that: No significantly eventful life lacks the occasional feeling that its decisive poles have touched the boundaries not only of human existence but of imaginable existence whatsoever; that it includes not only contradictions (…), but destinations and intangible indifferences that ultimately are embraced only by a purely formal life-unity, perhaps by that law of being, not immediately graspable, and by the fact that these contents are arranged with respect to each other in a continual flowing, in the temporal continuity of a life process. (VL 95)

Life hits against the edges of what is possible and what is seen to be possible. This is living within limits—life flows within boundaries. Simmel also points out that even life’s interruptions of its rhythms or ‘intervals’ become part of a sense of flow (VL 96). Where interruptions or intervals occur, Simmel argues, they become swallowed into a sense of unity. Such intervals, he claims, mean that work has to be done to find or impose unity and flow. An interruption, as such, means that the individual needs ‘no greater push, as it were…to assimilate into its formal continuity the still somewhat more disparate contents’ (VL 96). As such, Simmel develops the notions of death and immortality in relation to ideas of fate and the soul, which bring with them the bounded edges to life. Even where it is imagined that life continues after death, this brings with it its own set of limits. All of these points fit within the broader argument that Simmel makes in the chapter, which is that death is an active and constant presence in life however it is viewed, imagined or envisioned. It becomes evident here how Simmel is focusing upon mortality as a way of extending and focusing the arguments that originated in the earlier sections of The View of Life. The central ideas of the book as a whole, concerning the view of life, are further developed through the focus on death and mortality. Simmel in this chapter is focusing in on a particularly important aspect of life in order to advance and illustrate the arguments about life and forms made in the first two essays of his book.

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Notes 1. It is worth noting here that Simmel again turns to biology, and links his points to biological accounts of life and cell division (VL 82–83). 2.  In a piece on the connections between German sociology and empire, Andrew Zimmerman explores the embedded traces of colonialism such as in this statement and in the implied comparison between the ‘primitive and the rationalized’, see Zimmerman, A., ‘German Sociology and Empire: From Internal Colonization to Overseas Colonization and Back Again’, in Steinmetz, G. (ed.) Sociology & Empire: The Imperial Entanglements of a Discipline, Durham: Duke University Press, 2013, pp. 166–187, p. 167. 3. See the translators note on the difficulty of translating ‘seele’ (VL xxxiv). 4. Simmel argues that when it comes to life and soul—soul is the long term presence wheras life is part of the presence. He writes, for instance, that ‘from the viewpoint of the belief in soul migration, the particular life is an abbreviation of the soul’s existence (which stretches through immeasurable times and forms)’ (VL 97).


The Law of the Individual

The final of the four essays that make up The View of Life is comfortably its longest and most conceptually detailed. The essay seeks to develop and add further layers to those arguments already made, whilst also taking some key points in slightly different directions. It attempts to deal very directly with The View of Life’s most complex conceptual questions. A triumvirate of concepts is drawn upon to try to situate the broader arguments and as a framework for bringing some of the different strands together (see VL 99–100). First is the ‘actual’. In the original this is ‘wirkliches’ (LB 150) or ‘worklichkeit’ (LB 151) which, as well as actual, might also be thought of as the real or reality. Second is ‘form’ which translates directly from the German (see LB 150). And, finally, ‘ought’, which is translated from ‘Sollen’ (LB 151), and captures the sense of being supposed to or meant to. These concepts work alongside one another in the opening passages of Simmel’s final essay. These three concepts also immediately hint at the way that Simmel attempts to understand in greater detail the tensions between the life as conceptualised and the life as experienced. Simmel begins with the actual as a starting point for a series of comparisons of the three concepts he is working with—each of which appears to be aimed at clarifying the purpose of those concepts and how they operate in concert. He proposes, for instance, that:

© The Author(s) 2019 D. Beer, Georg Simmel’s Concluding Thoughts,


146  D. BEER When we call an object “actual”, we mean to ascribe to its given content a consistency, a kind of absoluteness, that it itself regards all other ways of conceiving the same content – imaginatively, conceptually, evaluatively, artistically – as subjective, merely derived from its actuality. (VL 99)

The concept of the actual does the work of making material, of giving a consistent presence, and is placed in distinction to other ways in which that object might be understood—with other properties being derived from actuality. In this sense, Simmel is placing the ‘actual’ at the c­ entre of how we conceive, with the other concepts branching off from that central fulcrum. This predominant position of the actual indicates, for Simmel, that: we are used to experiencing this object as chronologically the first and pragmatically the most important and consequential. We must, so to speak, first reach through things in the form of their actuality and extract the content that they offer in this form in order to be able to place that content into other categories. But this is merely a psychological necessity, one which makes or produces no objective rank ordering – no more than we presuppose a ranking among languages when we express a concept in a foreign language and yet must first know its meaning in our mother tongue. (VL 99)

There is clearly a balance and interaction between experience and conceptual understandings of life, but the actual is placed as the most important in experiencing objects. It is the actuality that the individual searches for in the first instance before exploring other categories that the object might be placed in. The actuality is at the centre and is actively pursued in encountering objects. This Simmel suggests, does not reveal a ranking or hierarchy, but a pursuit of a kind of central meaning or pragmatic point of reference that can then be used to interpret and understand. In this way, this fourth essay in The View of Life proposes that ‘actuality is only a form (i.e., only one form) in which we apprehend content, and has no more intimate or privileged relation to that content than do the categories of science, art, wish, and value’ (VL 99). So, actuality is a central concept but is not then privileged above the other categories we use when experiencing objects. Actuality cannot then be isolated from understandings and concepts. Alongside this, the actuality of the object is something from which that object cannot be disconnected or removed, it sticks. In this case, ‘actuality may seem so organically rooted



that this object…cannot be separated from it: namely, the subject’s own life’ (VL 99). It is from this starting position that he combines the concept of actuality with a return to the concept of form, before then focusing more centrally upon the concept of ‘ought’ and what it might add to the analysis.

Ought and Actuality Starting from the presence of actuality, Simmel pursues this line of thinking by contrasting the actual with the ought, and by exploring how these meet. The above starting point is that all objects are understood through actuality, so it has a kind of monopoly presence. Simmel explains that ‘there is a second category with which actuality shares this monopoly position in regards to the sequence of experience – a category according to which we continually experience our life, one which is somewhat parallel to actuality, but in no way reducible to it: the Ought’ (VL 100). All experiences, it is suggested here, have a competing sense of actuality and of ‘ought’. Irreducible to each other and running in parallel, for Simmel these are important concepts in everyday experience. The ought also returns us to notions of purpose as discussed earlier in The View of Life (see Chapters 4 and 5). To continue the analysis or purpose and direction within life-flows, Simmel offers reflections on how we might understand the ‘ought’. It is not, he begins, just ethical. He continues by explaining further that: This “Ought” is not from the outset to be understood merely ethically, but equally as a quite general aggregate condition of life-consciousness in which both hopes and drives, eudaimonistic and aesthetic demands, religious ideals, even caprices and anti-ethical desires are to be found, often simultaneously with the ethical and each other. In definition of the logic as the norm according to which we “ought” to think, Ought acquires even a purely intellectual meaning. (VL 100)

The ought is a cocktail of these features. The combination of different social and ethical conditions shape the ought. Presumably the ought can also be reverse engineered to reveal those conditions. The norms by which we derive what ought to be done or how things ought to be viewed, makes the ought a bridge between the social shaping of the what we know and how we react. What we feel obligated to do or what we

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ought to think, however they are framed and understood, has a presence alongside and in tension with the actual. To explore this further Simmel begins with how he suspects life is generally understood, the kinds of common sense or received ideas about life, and makes the point that the: conventional notion is that life is an unfolding subjective actuality which is confronted by the ideal demand of the Ought, and that this demand issues from a different order than that from which life springs. Instead, however, the fundamental view must be this: what stands opposed is not life and Ought, but life’s actuality and its Ought. Actuality and Ought are equally categories into which consciousness puts our life, and in which it is experienced. (VL 100)

As experiences unfold we imagine the ought as a set of ideals that stand apart from what plays-out—with the idea of what ought to happen coming from a separate source to the experiences of life itself. At least, that is what he identifies as being, at the time, the established view of life. Simmel suggests an alternative way to views these relations. Life instead encapsulates the relations between actual and ought in some defining ways. They are both part of the way that we understand and become conscious of life—we use these concepts and put experiences into them. As such life is caught, Simmel is proposing, between what it actually is and what it ought to be. We are always, he argues, conscious of both the actual and the ought. Or as he puts it, ‘certainly the subject is always conscious of life as it actually is – but likewise, and categorically wholly independently, the subject is always conscious of life as it ought to be’ (VL 100). The tension between the actual an the ought is a constant presence. As with the other concepts with which Simmel deals in the book, the concept of ought is immanent to life rather than coming from outside—it is within rather than standing above. The Ought, Simmel explains further: does not stand altogether above life nor over against it, but instead is precisely a mode by which life becomes aware of itself, just as being actual is such a mode. Though we thereby appear to lead two lives, what we sense as the unity of life is in no way destroyed. (VL 100–101)

The actual and ought are caught together in this awareness. The ought does not form a kind of separate or parallel life that is in distinction and separate from the actual. We don’t lead two lives, as Simmel put it,



one our actual and the other what life ought to be.1 The ought creates a self-awareness and self-reflection (later he describes this as ‘self-consciousness’, see VL 101). As such, there is unity in the tension between the actual and the ought. In this tension the ought Simmel refers to takes on the role of an imperative, it is active. The ought, in this way, never becomes fully detached from the actual, instead it acts upon or within it. For, he continues, ‘even when we experience the content of the Ought as an imperative, somehow confronting us objectively over and against the subject, the comparison with the category of actuality is still not lost’ (VL 101). These two concepts are never fully separated, but can only be understood in relation to one another. This dual conceptual frame is important in Simmel’s final arguments for it provides the framing on which the other arguments are built and also enables him to build the picture of an animated and dynamic view of life that he is seeking (as discussed in Chapters 2 and 3). As Simmel begins to build the central arguments of the c­oncluding essay, the concept of ought takes on a central position. Despite this position, Simmel indicates that the ought is never a simple account ­ or guide to what ought to be, but instead is a concept that captures something of the tensions and uncertainties produced in the relations between the individual and the social. In one key passage on this concept he argues that: Only when we understand the Ought, beyond all of its particular contents, as a primary mode in which individual consciousness experiences a whole life does it become understandable why one can never extract, from the fact of the Ought, what we ought, content-wise, to do. All these efforts necessarily fail, for the same reason that one cannot deduce, from the fact of actuality, what is genuinely actual. One could just as easily insist on inferring from a particular tonality which melodies are possible or necessary in it. (VL 101)

So you can’t simply extract the ought in order to understand life’s direction, because the ought itself is in tension with other concepts, ­ ideas and events. We cannot simply identify or isolate the ought within the individual life. To emphasize this point, Simmel adds that the ought of life is no easier to predict than the actual life (VL 101). It is not a concept that can be extracted from its lived context, nor can it easily be predicted or used to anticipate an individual’s expected outcomes.

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The music metaphor is again exercised by Simmel, this time to point out that hearing individual notes does not mean that the full tune can be anticipated (he used this metaphor elsewhere to express the limits of perception, see CH 168). This non-reducibility is compared to the actual, with Simmel’s point being that ‘Being-as-Ought is just as irreducible as being-as-actual’ (VL 101). So where we might expect the ought to be far more stable and predictable than the actual, both cannot be reduced to a set of expectations without likely mistakes—especially as they both form in relation to one another. Simmel’s aim, it would seem, is to challenge conventional understandings of these concepts and how they might be extracted and analysed. This challenges the idea that ought brings some purpose to life, for he adds that the ‘Ought in general has as little a purpose as actuality in general has a cause’ (VL 102). In other words, the actual may not easily be rooted in causes and the ought may not easily be understood simply in terms of purpose. Instead, Simmel boldly pronounces, ‘it is an indisputable fact that the contents of all this Ought are utterly variegated, accidental, determined in each case historically and psychologically, and in no way form a systematic order’ (VL 102). The ought is not simply determined by dominant ideals, it does not translate directly from wider conceptions to the individual life, it emerges in the tensions of everyday life. Simmel is making some claims here that are hard to verify and they are very likely to be disputed, but this illustrates the strength with which Simmel aims to make his argument. The point being that the actual and ought operate in relation to one another and neither, therefore, can be explored in isolation nor can they be entirely predictable. The problems come if the analysis of life neglects the interwoven relations of the ought and the actual.

The Dynamics, Tensions and Limits of Life The above discussion perhaps reveals something of the kind of dynamism with which Simmel views life. It is a dynamism that requires an understanding of how concepts work in concert, or even how they work symphonically (this is something I will return to in Chapter 8). Simmel explicitly links this discussion of ought and actuality back to the earlier essays in The View of Life, suggesting that these two concepts extend some of the previous points made. Indeed ought in particular is a node that is crucial in networking together some of the earlier themes and ideas, especially with regard to notions of purpose and purposiveness



(see Chapter 5). It also takes Simmel into a discussion of consciousness and further into questions of limits and liminality. Simmel Summarises this line of thinking in the following terms: Formulated most succinctly and generally it is this: that as its immediate manifestation life at the level of consciousness [Geist] produces objective creations in which it expresses itself and which for their part, as life’s containers and forms, tend to receive its further flows – yet at the same time their ideal and historical determinacy, boundedness and rigidity sooner or later come into opposition and antagonism with ever-variable, boundary-dissolving, continuous life. (VL 103)

Boundary making and boundary dissolving properties work in ­tension again here. The reaching over of boundaries discussed earlier in his book (as outlined in Chapter 4) reappears in this passage. The ideals and categories are breached in the dynamics of life. Continuity and categories play against each other. As such, boundaries are produced and challenged. Simmel makes the point here that ‘life is continuously producing something on which it breaks, by which it is violated, something that is necessarily its proper form but yet, by the very fact of being form, in the deepest sense conflicts with the dynamic of life, with life’s incapability of any actual pause’ (VL 103). This is what David Frisby has interpreted as a kind of ‘tension’ or ‘conflict between life and form’ in Simmel’s position.2 Producing and breaking, we can see here themes echoing from earlier parts of The View of Life. The continuity and dynamism is, as he puts it here, in conflict with the form. Perhaps the key thing to take from this is the conflictual nature of the boundary making and breaking that Simmel is pointing towards. At the centre of this relation, he adds, is the ‘utterly fundamental opposition between the principle of life and the principle of form’ (VL 104). Continuing further with this vision of pulsing dynamics, Simmel explains that the particular relations of life and form are linked to wider shifts and, at the time he was writing, to the conflicts of culture (by which he is referring to the conflicts of the time, as discussed in Chapter 1). In this vision, life and its form take on a kind of tense relationship, an ongoing opposition or conflict that goes unresolved and is continuous. This is, it is claimed, ‘an opposition which, because life can only enact itself in forms, is expressed in each case as the struggle of the form just brought forth by life against the forms that life has previously

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produced as its character, its language, its specifiable quality’ (VL 104). So as life conjures and shapes its form, as it spreads to fill the limits placed around it, it presses against the form that it has taken. The movements of life put its form in opposition with its earlier and then future forms. As we specify its form, that form is in contention with previous crystallisations and also with the experiences that follow, thus pushing against the limits of form (I return to this in Chapter 8). But where do these forms come from and what resources are used to make and remake them? Although there are intimations in earlier chapters Simmel is a little elusive on this point, as is suggested by the rather tricky claim made that ‘as life consciously defines itself spiritually or culturally, creatively or historically, it is also thereby compelled to exist solely in the form of its own opposite, produced immediately by it – in the form of forms’ (VL 104). It Is hard to be certain on Simmel’s precise point here, but again the idea that life forms in relation to ideas about life seems crucial, especially where it comes to be defined by what it is not as well as what it is thought to be. The concept of form is obviously of importance in the arguments Simmel seeks to make here (see Chapter 8). The presence of a kind of tension or the inability to reach complete comfort in these forms is emphasised by Simmel in his analysis of how form is conjured out of the relations between the actual and the ought. He moves on to propose that: Herein, it seems to me, lies the ultimate reason for the discomfort and unrest that – sooner or later, in fact from its moment of emergence on – turns against every product of life that has become objective and congealed into fixed form, just as soon as this product claims to receive life’s flow into itself, to bound it with its own boundaries, to normalize it. (VL 104)

The tone of the above shows how Simmel was thinking of his own speculations and the potential shortcomings of the conclusions that he was attempting to draw. As Simmel’s work moves further away from a sociological take and towards something more speculative and abstract his certainty and confidence seem to ebb a little. A kind of theoretical uncertainty enters into the analysis, yet it was uncommon for Simmel to let uncertainty curtail the emergence of his ideas.3 The idea of unrest or a kind of restlessness is foregrounded here as a constant state. As life crystalizes into something concrete, a fixed form in Simmel’s terms, the tensions emerge as life presses against norms and other boundaries. What is perhaps most intriguing in this is the way that Simmel understands



norms and the way that norms frame the forms that life takes. This is not depicted as smooth integration of such regulative boundaries, but as the source of a kind of unrest. There are conflicts and tensions where life takes form. These boundary conditions are never resolved, Simmel argues, instead they define everyday life. The presence of norms is not inconsequential for Simmel, and his attempt to think about how norms work across the internal and externalities of life continues. Simmel argues, extending the previous point, that ‘the general fate of creations that life produces, but which already in their very production life has externalized and opposed to itself as independent, occurs also in the norms, principles and imperatives with which creative life consolidates itself as Ought’ (VL 104). The way that individuality is imagined is implicated by norms, which in turn bring these wider influences and sources with them. The things we see as external to life actually operate within it through norms; which is, of course, a further extension of his more general argument. So external ideas work on the properties internal to life—regulating it limiting it and giving it these types of norms and rules. Here the boundary conditions are to be found in norms, as such these norms are also a sites of tension and unrest as the individual life becomes bound by social forces and ideals. It is worth recalling here that Simmel sees life as generally attempting to reach over or spill across such boundaries rather than passively fitting into these limits (see Chapter 4). Amongst the features bridging across the internal and external, the Ought has a particularly assertive tone and objectivity. The ought seems of particular power because of the form it takes and the type of ideals that it brings, which have a rigidity and authority. As Simmel puts it, the ‘imperative, objective tone that we hear, sharply or mildly, in the contents of our Ought does not prevent us from feeling these contents as waves of our stream of life, born of the continuous coherence of life as it ought to be’ (VL 104). As such, the ought and norms of other types become ‘established by their own logic’ (VL 105). As he later summarises, ‘this inner antinomy is thus no rebuttal, but rather a deepening confirmation that the Ought does not stand over against life, but is instead a mode of its entire fulfilment’ (VL 105). The ought works into everyday life and becomes a powerful presence that is made and remade by the individual. Rather than undermining the ought and any wider ideals, the tensions seem to cement and increase the strength of their integration of the ought and, presumably, of norms. We might expect clashes between the ought and the actual to lead to the rejection of those norms

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that sit uncomfortably within life experiences, instead, counterintuitively, their presence becomes more established and stable. The notion of law becomes the means by which Simmel concludes this point. He points out that what he had ‘tried to show is that life, proceeding in its totality as Ought, means law for the very same life that proceeds in its totality as actuality’ (VL 106). The ought sets laws, it would seem from this, that then play out in the actual—the two being inseparable in that the ought frames the actual in different ways, in this case setting laws for the actual to be understood through. The laws here take on certain forms from this ought, with the notion of betterment taken on as one way in which the ought plays out in the actual. The law here is set by a notion of another life that the actual can be contrasted with. On this point Simmel claims that ‘this challenge to be better than oneself, this construction of the other and the opposed, is nonetheless the function of life itself: the exterior from whence objective norms, values, and judgments approach life as a form of the vitality of its interior’ (VL 107). The laws are set in this imagined other life of the ought, and therefore what might appear exterior is actually interior. Or rather, the underlying argument is about how the external and internal are connected in an interchange. Simmel’s point is not that there are no exterior forces playing out, but rather that there is an inseparability of the interior and exterior or of the ought and the actual. The ought is never entirely externally fixed, because it comes down to interpretation of its properties and how they then relate to events, happenings and experiences. This tension, compromise and intermingling means that the ought and the actual, for Simmel, are not discrete and ‘thus it becomes clear that the distance (measured against the Ought) between life’s actuality and life’s ideality shows infinite gradations’ (VL 107). The ideal and actual work against one another, unresolved they define how the individual embodies wider cultural ideals and ways of thinking and framing experience.

The Concept and the Empirical Being: The Relations of Moments The above discussions of the ought and actuality hints at another feature of Simmel’s arguments. He is concerned throughout The View of Life with the relations and relationality of moments. Here he further develops the temporal and sequential dimensions of the analysis, previously



this was to do with how moments were put into order and this is further extended with anticipation being added to the way moments are connected. It is, Simmel reflects, ‘in the relationship of life’s moments to one another, in the manner that one proceeds from the other, in the tone with which the earlier is echoed in the present and the next is anticipated, we feel life as an evolving one’ (VL 110). The relation of moments is entangled in affective ways, with echoes of the past and anticipation of the future threading the points together—or allowing the threading to occur in the individual understanding of this evolution of life. It is the case, he notes, ‘just as we often have a qualitatively quite simple feeling that we are evolving, that we are progressing, without being conscious in the least of a goal toward which we strive’ (VL 110). Simmel adds that this is not necessarily evolving towards anything in particular, but that such future directions can be imposed. Indeed, Simmel expresses some desire to proceed with care concerning crude applications of an evolution metaphor. He seeks a position in which the individual is a more active presence in shaping direction and outcomes. The point here is that we often import such metaphors in reflections on life in order to help to add meaning and to understand how moments relate. Simmel does not seem to think that this is a particularly helpful way of understanding or analysing life and notions of lifecourse, rather the presence of this metaphor can be analysed to see how it is creating meaning. The relationality of moments and actions, he says, correspond to ‘a concept’ (VL 110). This Simmel describes as the ‘conceptual character of action’ (VL 110). This is where individual’s framings play out in the way moments are connected, their actions thus carry the concepts that they bring with them to those moments. Returning yet again to the central theme of The View of Life, Simmel refocuses on how these many bits are connected into something that makes sense, with moments making sense in connection to the way individuals conceptualise them. Simmel argues that ‘only by becoming recognized as an exemplar of a particular concept can a complex of elements become a “thing” for us’ (VL 111). The concept allows the bits to be drawn together into a ‘thing’, something tangible that we can comprehend, an object. Returning to something of a more playful tone, Simmel continues the point about life becoming a thing by appending the previous point with the observation that ‘it must be a thing in order to be a thing; but it can only become a thing in that it is recognized as numerically one representation of a concept’ (VL 111).

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This leaves the question, again, of how it is possible for the bits to be put together. This is about how concepts of life and worlds are operationalised amongst the dissonant arhythmical moments (returning us to some unanswered questions from the earlier parts of The View of Life, see Chapters 4 and 5). Pyyhtinen has observed that in Simmel’s late work it is often the case that ‘the notion of life hovers about [his] conception of the social’ which itself is a conception of the social that is about a ‘continuous, fluctuating, and dynamic life-process’.4 Indeed, Simmel outlines this problem himself: The act, regarded as the pulse-beat of immediate life, cannot be introduced at all adequately into pre-existing schema; it determines its essence from the interior of life, and its interminglings with what precedes and follows and with the whole psychic complex of this life make its delimitation by an extrinsic concept – however necessary this may be in practice – something accidental and external. (VL 112)

Fitting the bits into an existing frame is not something that can be done completely or adequately, Simmel observes. The extrinsic concept relates in fluctuating ways to the life itself and how it is assembled from these bits. Simmel is trying to think about two things here, how the interior and exterior of life intermingle and how the concept and the bits relate to one another. We can add another dimension to this, which is the relation between the individual and the universal. This is the key problematic relation, between the universal and the particular, that Frisby identifies as being crucial to the changes that Simmel associated with modernity.5 On this particular dimension Simmel speaks of a ‘reversal’, with the point ‘that everything individual is only actual’ whereas ‘the nonactual, the demanded, the ideal, cannot be anything individual, and must thus be something universal’ (VL 113). So in the relation between the actual and ideal we find the tensions between the individual and universal. He continues with this line of thought, adding that: ‘if everything actual is individual, then the ideal must be universal; if everything individual is only actual, then it cannot at the same time be more than actual, the ideal demand of law’ (VL 113). There are some twisting formulations here. The individual and the universal relate and this is where the concept and the law becomes instantiated in the individual life, not in an easy and comfortable way but in a kind of tension with the actual. The result is that the universal is redefined and reshaped as it is applied to



that individual actuality. We are, after all, Simmel concludes, ‘empirical beings’ or ‘empirische Wesen’ (LB 174). By which he means that we respond to actual experiences and shape our understandings in response. As he then explains: Precisely as empirical beings we are determined by a thousand influences that affect others similarly, we are graded by social institutions and stratifications, and colored by general historical conditions; precisely as empirical beings we are governed by natural law with its deindividualizing general validity, just as we also submit, as empirical beings, to the universal laws of justice. (VL 114)

The key idea of empirical beings is important in the kind of understanding of agency and life-ordering processes that Simmel is theorising in these passages. As well as holding concepts that we apply, we are also, he argues, empirical in how we apply those concepts. The crucial factor here is that laws can translate into the individual life and can then set parameters and circumscribe the individual life even where that concept or those laws at the same time emerge and are interpreted and applied by the individual. This returns us to the types of cyclical or iterative process and relations that Simmel described earlier in his book (see Chapter 4). As empirical beings, a phrase Simmel uses to ensure that the individual is understood as reacting to social forces, multiple influences shape the laws we apply and how universals and generalities are understood. Simmel is at his most explicit as he is anywhere else in the book in emphasising that the arguments he is making are about the relations between the individual and the social. This essay is trying to focus in on the boundary conditions and interfaces between the individual and the social world. The question that seems to preoccupy him is how we can understand the tensions at these boundary points of absorption at which the individual becomes part of the social. In this case he is answering the question by focusing most directly on how the individual life is shaped once the wider laws are translated and applied to the messy fragments of everyday experience. There is an ‘intensity of will’, Simmel claims, to seek an ‘unpunctuated gliding through the course of the day’ (VL 112). However messy things seem and however empirical the individual, there remains an impulse to draw upon conceptions to render things coherent.

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The Idea: Values, Emotions and Truth Hovering in the text here is the way that ideas fold into lived experience. To explore this the focus of Simmel’s concluding essay moves to questions of values, emotions and notions of truth. As in The View of Life’s second essay, he takes happiness as a starting point for this particular angle (see Chapter 5). Simmel again highlights what he perceives to be some confusion over the notion, suggesting that: This can only hold if one confuses happiness with its typical causes, with riches, social position, successes, “possession” of a beloved person; then it is admittedly something everywhere pretty much the same: these goods can be brought under a few very general and qualitatively rateable concepts. However if one asks, not about the external causes of happiness, but rather about happiness itself, about its subjective actuality [Tatsächlichkeit], then it is just as individual and incomparable as life itself, whose momentary excitement and beauty it forms. (VL 116)

The confusion here is between the outcome and what might be its causes. Simmel does not say very much directly about emotions, which is perhaps surprising given the focus of these essays, yet it seems that he is concerned with understanding how they are conceived. Here again though we see something relational emerging, comparable perhaps with relational understandings of emotion in more recent work.6 Simmel uses a focus upon the relations between the causes of emotional responses and the responses themselves—which again can be interpreted as an interest in the linkages between social and individual experience. Simmel also includes some sense of the ungraspable nature of these relations, he adds, for instance, that: happiness is for the most part something so much more delicate, indefinable, and dependent on the favorability of unusual combinations, that it strikes me in much greater measure as something special, individual, and so to speak accidental than does unhappiness. Which can be brought about by much more frequent elements always existing, so to speak, in the air. (VL 116)

Simmel is exploring the different ways that social relations shape emotions by focusing upon happiness and unhappiness. The connections with external forces are much easier to identify with unhappiness, he



notes. Nevertheless, we see this relational approach to the emotions highlighted in this position, with Simmel thinking of how emotions are shaped in tensions between the social and the individual. One connection in the above is with the way that the ‘ought’ might feed into the emotional responses we have; with happiness connected to how the actual relates to ideals. This relationality he talks of later in terms of being gestative or generative—building on the ideas around the productive aspects of life—arguing that ‘when we think, we are only a vessel of contents or, more accurately, the existence [Dasein] of contents; we cannot grasp the gestative or generative process because it is already content in the moment when it is grasped’ (VL 120). In other words, if we think of the individual only as a collection of contents or as a vessel through which moments pass, we miss, he claims, the productive or generative processes when those contents are grasped or interpreted. This means that the emotional responses are both generative and relational. It is also in this grasping and the generation of meaning that truth is conceived. As Simmel observes: Just as cognition acquires truth-value in that it agrees with the idea, and therefore the idea, in all its timelessness and independence from vital realization, must nonetheless show as its archetype (in a way not further describable) the entire movement, the smooth transitions, the wealth of nuance of thinking life – so too action attains ethical value through its agreement with that idea, the content of the ethical demand, which thus, if its vitalization is not to fragment into value-emptiness, must likewise recapitulate the inner form and steadiness of life. (VL 124)

Cleary there is a direct link on the point of timelessness between this passage and the arguments in Simmel’s book on Rembrandt (see Chapter 2) and elsewhere (see GY 90). Truth and emotions come to mix a little in this account, with both being generated or produced in the relations between the individual and the social. It would seem that these can fall under the category of ‘the idea’, in which conceptions are the interpretive frames from which sense is derived. In earlier pages I explored how these interpretive frames are a product of the relations between ideals and experiences. As is often the case, Simmel seeks to draw parallels to advance his points. He has already used music and art to explore the relations between parts and totalities, he now turns to the written word for

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further illustration (VL 120). Simmel continues by comparing life moments to words within a sentence (VL 123–124). It is when the words are put into a certain order together that the meaning is created from the particular combination of those individual words. Simmel provides an lengthy explanation of how the sentence relates to words and meanings. Taking us back again to art metaphors, in one of the clarifications offered he compares the sentence to a painting, suggesting that ‘as little as brush strokes seen in their juxtapositions make a painting’ the words are ‘something entirely different inside the sentence than outside it’ (VL 123). As such, the parts take on meaning in particular combinations. This illustrates how Simmel is attempting to work through and explicate some of the ideas he has been working with and is seeking a metaphorical basis for furthering the overarching argument. At the centre of a sentence or a painting is a particular idea, Simmel is using this composition of parts into an idea to illustrate his analysis of the composition of life. He draws this parallel between ideas and life, arguing that they have the same form of ‘animation [Bewegtheitsform]’ (VL 122). The use of ‘Bewegtheitsform’ (LB 187), suggests a type of mobile or moving property. According to Simmel, Life and ideas share this property of mobility and dynamism.

The Whole and the Parts: Individual Acts, Individual Laws Much of the concluding section of this fourth and final essay is concerned with reiterating and rearticulating the points made across the previous pages and in the earlier three essays. Most notable amongst these restatements is his ongoing tussle with the relations between fragments and wholes. The impression is of Simmel struggling with some challenging conceptual formations, he is attempting to slot into place these fragments as the closing essay works towards its conclusion. He tries to tilt the previous arguments so that the reader can see them again but from a different angle. We see similar points revisited from slightly different perspectives, with similar outcomes and arguments being tweaked and honed further. In what remains of this chapter, I will focus on some of the key ideas that Simmel reworks in the concluding passages of his book. These offer a glimpse into the issues that Simmel regarded to be of particular importance to his final essay and also to his final book.



The stand-out problem for Simmel remains these relations between the hole and the parts. Trying to engage this central problem whilst also drawing the innumerable threads of his book together, he moves into a more summative mode of writing in the book’s closing pages. For instance, he opens one key passage with the preface that ‘here we have now arrived at the decisive theme of our whole train of thought’. On the surface the book seems wide ranging, but the discussion in this and the previous chapters show how Simmel was toiling at particular lines of thought. So what is this ‘decisive theme’? He explains that, in summary: It is this: universal law can address itself only to the individual (and individual identifiable) acts that are carved out of the individual life context. The individualization of the act, achieved by its subordination to a concept (by which its subordination to a universal law is determined), contradicts the individualization that it possesses as the scene or pulse of the whole life of its subject, and in which alone – this is certainly my fundamental axiom – its full and ultimate ethical significance can declare itself. (VL 124)

As Simmel digs into the closing reflections across the final section of the book, some of the ideas are perhaps not so much clarified as appended with extra detail and, in some cases, become weighed down by this extra baggage. The aim seems not so much to help the reader be clearer but to emphasise the complexity of his position and avoid the reader taking away anything that might be considered too reductive. The notion of universal law is notable in this regard. As the above passage indicates, Simmel intends this is a key theme in the work, yet it remains something that stays fairly misty in the conceptual workings that the book offers. Having said this, as we will see, the notion of universal laws, which again Simmel uses to highlight the tension between the individual and the social, leads later into the possibilities of rethinking notions of subjectivity and objectivity (and thus pushing for a rethink over concepts that are central to the social sciences). The idea of something being universal is a challenging one for Simmel, for it requires an understanding of how the individual inculcates broader ideas and also how ideas can be imbued with a notion of universality. Not so much an attempt to find an answer, Simmel uses universality to pose some problems and questions. To foster the questions, Simmel uses some shifts in perspective, reversing what we imagine to be the role and position of universals. Such a shift moves the universal from above to below, with the argument that

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the ‘universality of the individual does not stand above his actions as an abstraction, but under them as a root’ (VL 127). Universals, it is conceived here, are underneath as a roots anchoring the parts in place. Simmel adds to this that ‘it is every “part” of an individual pervaded by the life of the whole; within the plane of life, no part has a meaning exclusive to itself’ (VL 127). Again, we are returned here to the relations between the whole and the parts as well as between the individual and social. The parts, as we saw discussed earlier in relation to painting, make little sense outside of the whole. On this point we might recall Simmel’s warning about the problems created by dissecting the subject (see Chapter 2). As such, the individual is conceptualised in order for the parts to form into something coherent, as ‘the individual can only be imagined through a kind of intellectual conception, insofar as this means the apprehension of a whole through an integrative function’ (VL 128). There is an active integration of parts to make the whole. It is, as we saw a moment ago, a gestative and generative process. The idea of the unity of parts in the whole, Simmel immediately reflects, is hard to grasp and can quite readily be understood in potentially misleading ways. On this problem he argues that ‘even the expression of entwinement is wide of the mark, for it appears to assume a somehow independent existence or genesis of the act as though it were one tightly circumscribed by a concept, and as though it is injected into the life process only with this proper characterization, retroactively as it were, or as though of itself’ (VL 128). Notions of entwinement, or in the original German ‘verflochten’ and ‘Verflochtenseins’ (LB 196), he suggests, do not fully capture what is happening because such a conception presupposes the tightness of the weaving between the act and the concept of the whole. It also, he argues, is based upon the idea that the act arrives with meaning already established. In other words, this is not an active enough notion of the process for Simmel, who sees each act as being actively worked at to connect it into a shifting notion of the whole. Instead it is, he claims, formed in the tension between ideals and actuals, and between the individual and the social. In line with this position, his closing essay attempts to address the misconceptions of entwinement by adding that ‘in fact the act thus conceived cannot be universalized at all, for this would mean nothing other than thinking of the entire life of this individual as a universal law’ (VL 129). We cannot, it is claimed here, start with an individual act to understand the individual or to understand any potential cross-cutting universals of life. Actions, he argues, cannot



simply be read backwards to understand the whole individual (see VL 130). In taking such a position, he claims: ‘We have now freed logic from the falsifications with which the interference of psychology threatened it. But we have not yet become sufficiently attentive to the dangers that conversely approach psychology, and therewith a large part of ethics, from usurpations of logic’ (VL 130). Simmel is concerned that various forms of knowledge and approaches might miss this key way in which life takes form and then might also subsequently misunderstand what is happening. It would seem that Simmel’s aim is to unsettle the established ideas about these issues and the received perspectives we have on them. As such, it is perhaps not surprising that he contends that ‘we cannot content ourselves with this antinomy or foreignness between the meaning of the particular and the meaning of the whole’, instead he writes that ‘a view must be sought in which both of those understandings are united by a functional relationship and inner necessity’ (VL 131). It is this productive way in which the parts are actively made into a whole that Simmel argues towards. He attempts to formulate this into a manageable phrase, with his point that ‘I most decidedly maintain (at first in wholly aphoristic formulation) that in every human behaviour the whole human being is productive’ (VL 131). The whole is a productive outcome of the work that is being done to connect, relate, bridge the bits and create meaning. Because they require the separation of commonalities, universals, Simmel observes, force us to break the individual bits apart and as such will miss the way that these bits take form in life. He concludes that ‘the isolated normalization of the particular act (i.e., to a universal law concerning its content) can occur only through such an exclusion of the whole person’ (VL 131). To try to identify universals is to look at the components without understanding the productive processes that Simmel sees as crucial to them and their integration. The discussions of Rembrandt in Chapter 2 were illustrative of Simmel’s eagerness to avoid separating-out or dissecting the individual component features, this is a theme that is reiterated again here—and which comes up elsewhere in his arguments for seeing the ‘whole person’ (NHU 102).

Past and Future: Predefinition and Deviation In reflecting back as he moves through his conclusions, Simmel returns to some of the questions concerning temporality and the relations between the past and the future (see Chapters 2, 3 and 6). The present,

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for Simmel is a ‘cross-section’ where ‘life is contained in a rather differential arrangement in the cross-section of the life-stream we call its present’ (VL 133). Elsewhere, in the essay ‘The Constitutive Concepts of History’—a piece which is foundational in covering a number of the ideas developed in The View of Life—Simmel, perhaps asking the question to which this discussion is a response, explored the problems of the concept of the present (CH 174). His essay on history and the present leads him toward a type of threshold between the past and the future in which we experience moments (CH 174–175). Here the particular act is related to those that come before and after. It is, though, worth noting that in that separate essay Simmel even explores the concept of the act and how it mixes action with outcome (CH 179–180). This could be understood as relationality at the level of time, in which the pieces become contextualised by what has come before and what is likely or imagined to come after. Returning to The View of Life, Simmel articulates this point further, writing that ‘not a piece of it, but the whole appears in the particular act’. To which he adds that it is ‘in the instant of its occurrence, as in every other, this individual life has within itself all the consequences of its past and all the energies of its future’ (VL 132). The moment and the act are conducted in this context, with the past and future part of that energised moment. The early discussion of fate (covered in Chapter 6) seems to be on Simmel’s mind again, especially as he goes on to mention the problems of predefinition in this presence of the past and future (VL 133). Similarly, in elaborating those problems of predefinition he also talks about the labelling of individuals and the deviation people make from ideals or predefined expectations. The above he frames as being about the ‘structural relation between particularity and life-entirety’ (VL 134). He does not shift to any fixed notions of these structural relations, instead he maintains those ideas of the pulses and rhythms of life. Or, as he puts it, ‘life, by its essence, fluctuates in an ongoing up and down, strong and weak, light and dark, without thereby giving up in any moment its totality as this one life’ (VL 136). The ebb and flow is maintained in the talk of structures and in the relations between the particular and the whole or life-entirety. It seems that Simmel is concerned that such formulations might be misconstrued, emphasising repeatedly that the individual life cannot be reduced to a single dominant trait. Instead, he maintains, the ‘category of whole and part, as it applies for the inanimate, is not applicable to life at all, especially not to the individual psychic life’ (VL 136). According



to Simmel, life cannot be treated or analysed in the same way as an inanimate object. He turns again, following this observation, to an art metaphor to think about the indispensability of parts. This metaphor also enables him to point out again the productive way in which these relations operate with the statement that the ‘entire person is productive’ (VL 139). As such we are left again with the relations between the inside and the outside, the external and the internal. This is embodied, in this instance, in the notion of the individual life and the other. Simmel contends that ‘even this condition described as being-other is not a contingent thing wafted in from somewhere or other, but a mode of life itself – the outside is a form of its inside’ (VL 136). What we might think of as being something outside, something other, is again something that is realised and instantiated in the individual perspective and their conceptualisation of the world. This is not an argument for a psychology focused only on the individual—Simmel is arguing against such a position—it is instead to understand the way that the external is productively incorporated into the individual life

Objectivity and Subjectivity This discussion of productivity and activity in the relations between the internal and the external leads us into Simmel’s final exploration of objectivity and subjectivity. Again, the relations between the subjective and the objective is a thread that Simmel picks up from his work on Rembrandt (see Chapter 2). These two terms become a kind of conceptual appendix to the earlier discussions in The View of Life and provide Simmel with the means to further his critical stance on existing conceptions of life. Such a position also picks up on the ideas found in his 1907 book on Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (SN 161). In this case Simmel expresses some dissatisfaction with the established connections between the individual life and the notion of subjectivity on one hand, and the exterior (of the individual) with objectivity on the other. This closing formulation in The View of Life extends those earlier ideas whilst also taking a final shot across the boughs of dominant thought. Returning again to the central concept of the ought, he reframes it a little moving more directly toward the implied ‘obligations’ (VL 140). As such, these obligations work their way into how we live, our actions and decisions. Thinking again about how social relations work into the individual life, Simmel asks of these obligations: ‘on what basis they are

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prescribed, from what authority they receive their ethical selection and their ethical accents’ (VL 140). It is by understanding the authentication of the obligations, this suggests, that we can understand how they work into and shape the individual and how the individual responds in productive and active ways to those obligations (especially when they crash against the actual). This is where Simmel again works to try to clarify what he is saying by emphasising the directionality of the ought and the type of obligations associated with it. In keeping with this tone of clarification, Simmel adds: To deepen and clarify, we must reiterate above all that the Ought does not derive from a purpose at all. We are obliged, not from such a purpose, but from ourselves; the Ought as such is no teleological process. This naturally does not apply to the content of the Ought, which in fact continually presents itself under the category of purpose. (VL 140)

The content of the ought, the form it takes and what it suggests to us, can seem like it is born of some external purpose. As such the ought is presented in the category of purpose. The roots of the purpose and obligations we face can be obscured. What Simmel is less clear on here is how external ideas or collective notions of purpose engrained in certain ideologies work their way from external sources to internal understandings and actions. This absence is despite this seeming to be an important part of the conceptualisations being developed in this particular part of The View of Life. These passages leave something of an open ended question here. It seems though that he is not suggesting that things like obligation, purpose or ‘duty’ (VL 141) emerge entirely from an isolated individual, but that something more relational happens where that individual is integrated into the social and where expectations, norms and ideals are actively engaged with. What this does do however, is lead Simmel into questions of subjectivity—which is perhaps where the answers to the above question about integration might reside. Indeed, Simmel goes as far as to say that ‘the decisive concept’, to his mind, is ‘the objectivity of the individual’ (VL 142). In extending this claim he notes that ‘once a firmly individualized life exists as an objective fact in the full sense, then its ideal Ought is there also as an objectively valid thing, in such a fashion that true and false notions about it can be formed, both by its subject and by other subjects’ (VL 142). This is a complex formulation but at its centre is the way that the life, as it is viewed, becomes a kind of tangible object



enabling notions or ideas about it to also form.7 Echoing the argument made in Rembrandt, his key claim here is that the elision of individuality and subjectivity needs to be challenged. Simmel’s argument is that the ‘false fusion between individuality and subjectivity must be dissolved, just like that between universality and lawfulness’ (VL 144). Simmel, this position indicates, seeks to break open things that seem to have dissolved together. In this instance, he seeks to disrupt the idea that individuality and subjectivity are inseparably bound together. The problem about where purpose, obligations and norms emerge from continued to play on Simmel’s mind as he attempted to work his book toward a conclusion. ‘The whole question’, Simmel reflects, ‘is whether the norm should be determined by where action originates, by life, or by where action is headed, by an ideal exterior of life, by content’ (VL 148). The kind of approach he has outlined earlier in the book leaves him a little stumped by this question. Simmel appears to leave this questions of where to situate something like norms without complete resolution. The question Simmel outlines here is whether we should look at the origins of a particular norm or if we should focus on where it becomes part of behaviour, practice or action. This is about whether we focus on norms as social facts floating outside of individual lives or if we should look at the content of those lives to see how norms become a reality. This latter approach would be to focus on where norms are interpreted and are responded to. Again Simmel is unafraid to introduce a problem for which he may not provide a solution but which he seeks to present for further thought—there is a feel of thinking-in-progress in these pages. Far from being definitive, Simmel’s closing thoughts are openings and ideas to be picked up and worked with, not least on the way that we might understand norms in the interplay between experience and the conception of life. The role of concepts in the framing of life is the predominate concern in the closing passages of The View of Life. As Simmel argued earlier in his book, it is again claimed that it is through concepts that the parts of life cohere. Continuing this theme, he claims that: If we want to master the real with concepts, we must (on a justification not examined here) allow the gliding and the uninterrupted interrelationships [Korrelativitäten] in and between things to congeal into sharply separated pluralities, we must make the continuous discontinuous, and on all sides dam up the endless flow of connections to the next thing, up to the most distant. (VL 149–150)

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The continuous flow is transformed into something containable by the concepts used to understand life. These concepts and categories allow this congealing to occur. The continuous, as he puts it, becomes discontinuous. The flow solidifies through these concepts of life. As concepts act to congeal life they themselves solidify as norms or as truths. As such the creation of ideas, norms and truths about life come to implicate themselves. So existing truth or norms feedback into and then solidify ideas about life. The point here, Simmel claims, is that ‘every recognized truth alters the conditions by which it itself is recognized as truth’ (VL 152). So every truth that emerges changes the conditions or sets the scene and context for the truths of the future. Simmel claims that the same is the case for the development of the ought (VL 152). This is a kind of iterative relation between life itself and ideas about life—truth, ought, norms and so on—as they develop over time. It is also about the way that experience is stated in knowledge about life, with life being lived in the context of previous truths, norms, ideas and, importantly for Simmel, notions of the Ought. Prior knowledge feeds into conceptions of the world. Simmel reiterates that this is not a pure set of relations and recalls his earlier discussion of actuality and ideals pointing out that conceptions of life held by individuals are exposed to ‘collisions with particular givens and situations’ (VL 153). They solidify in this back and forth. In a final flourish, Simmel turns back to the title of this fourth and final essay: Thus, on the basis that the “law of the individual” (regardless, by the way, of whether we label what is meant here with this or another slogan) completely reverses the direction of the Ought, and that it is generated by the life process instead of the life contents, it broadens the normative demand simultaneously along two dimensions beyond the domain that Kant and really all moral philosophy had allotted to it. (VL 154)

The law of the individual, which is a term that Simmel shows some reluctance over (again demonstrating a work-in-progress quality and a reluctance to be limited to labels), is based upon reversing understandings of how direction, purpose and ideas are attached to life. The ought, as he explains, is a product of life processes. We can see here how Simmel is layering his argument, adding extra dimensions across this essay. It is like a spiral argument starting out with the key position and then building layers on top of that—rather than being linear this is a book that starts with a sketch and then colours it in across it pages, adding extra



details and imbricating points. This is most evident in these concluding pages where many of the earlier themes are revisited in different combinations and with slightly different accounts of where the theory offered may lead. The temporality and contextual points about emergence, for instance, reoccur. He extends those earlier points by claiming that: Just as each pulse-beat of a living being is determined by all its past pulsebeats, likewise nothing can be lost in this process, which makes not only the act but also the Ought of every moment into the heir and the bearer of responsibility of all that we have ever been, done, and been obligated to. (VL 154)

A kind of temporal relationality is described in this passage. The pulse beats are, we might imagine, part of a rhythm with a shifting beat. The beats are a product of the rhythm patterns that went before. The mixtures of the act and the ought, blending in particular moments, are attached to those of the past and implicate those of the future. A relationality emerges here that has a number of complex dimensions in which temporalities and beats compete and in which various conceptual notions come into tension with the actual. Simmel finally closes by revisiting what he sees as being his core objective, which he understands to be the undoing of some key assumptions about the individual and the universal. He argues that ‘only the actual, but not the ideal-normative, can be individual, and only the universal, not the individual, can be lawful – these are the linkages whose undoing has been accomplished on this long path, so that the linkage of individuality and lawfulness could be accomplished’ (VL 154). This hints at a kind of ground clearing exercise, where established ideas are unsettled by his text. This represents one final reverse in which he tries to play with the conceptions of what he refers to as the law of the individual. In many ways, the conclusion of the fourth and final essay reveals that Simmel is as much attempting to create problems and pose questions as he is seeking to resolve anything in definitive terms. This is a statement aimed to undermine and force thought beyond its limits. A little like The View of Life that Simmel proposes in the book, his attempts at unsettling established ideas about life are designed to push us to think beyond or reach over the limits that we face in our concepts and ideas. This is not an essay of answers, it is an essay that poses questions and that demands something of the reader. Simmel leaves a number of questions ringing through the years.

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Notes 1. On this issue of the relation between the actual and the ought, he also claims that ‘this is the particular dualism of life as Ought, just as the consciousness of oneself is the dualism of life as actuality’ (VL 101). It is the way these dualisms combine that he seeks to explore. 2. Frisby, D., Sociological Impressionism: A Reassessment of Georg Simmel’s Social Theory, Second Edition, London: Routledge, 1992, p. 151. 3. At least he did not seem to be. Take for example the worries he expressed in his correspondence concerning his Rembrandt book as discussed in Chapter 2—worries that he quickly overcame and which proved no barrier to the books completion. 4. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 104. 5. Frisby, D., Fragments of Modernity, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1985, p. 51. 6. See, for example, Wetherell, M., Affect and Emotion: A New Social Science Understanding, London: Sage, 2012; Burkitt, I., Emotions and Social Relations, London: Sage, 2014. 7. There is a hint here of how the war was weighing on his mind, as he illustrates this point with the example of individuals involved in military duty.


Conclusion: Working with and Using Simmel’s Ideas

Yellowed but undimmed by a century of social life, what can we make of Simmel’s ‘timeless impressionism’1 as it moved into its twilight years? The previous chapters suggest that his impressionism continued to provide numerous angles and perspectives for thinking in detail about the nature of individual and social life. In closing the editorial introduction of his excellent collection of works on Simmel, Lewis Coser concludes by suggesting to the reader that ‘there is just no substitute for reading Simmel’.2 Coser’s editorial introduction is actually a brilliant account that still has much to offer well over 50 years after it publication, yet I can’t help agreeing with the blunt sentiment of his final point. There is no substitute for reading Simmel. Simmel’s writings always spark ideas and provoke questions. Following this admission, Coser concludes that if the volume he has edited ‘leads readers previously unacquainted with Simmel’s thought to turn to his writings, it will have served its ­purpose’.3 I would like to transplant the same objectives onto this book. My hope is that my study of his late texts—his concluding thoughts— will offer some perspective on those texts and perhaps might trigger ideas for how they might still be used. Not least, this book seeks to break with disciplinary limitations and to bring Simmel’s later texts into view across the social sciences. There have been some very prominent debates about whether or not Simmel can be described as a kind of flaneur. Alternatively bricoleur has been offered as being closer to capturing his use of materials.4 Neither term quite does justice to Simmel’s later writings, neither label quite © The Author(s) 2019 D. Beer, Georg Simmel’s Concluding Thoughts,


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fits. Harrington and Kemple, in the introduction to a large collection of pieces on Simmel, make clear that the essays gathered in their edited volume indicate that ‘it is impossible to settle on a portrait of Simmel as philosophical flaneur leisurely strolling through the ruins of the modern metropolis, or of a sociological bricoleur tinkering with the debris of the money economy to project merely a miscellaneous collection of postmodern perspectives’.5 It would be ‘misleading’, they add, ‘to conclude that Simmel’s fleeting snapshots of ordinary experience are not organized in a methodical way, or that such fragmentary impressions of modern life never add up to a coherent theoretical argument’. This account of Simmel’s work is entirely fitting with the readings provided in the previous chapters, where we see concerns being worked through across Simmel’s later publications and where we also see echoes of earlier concerns being returned to and developed.6 As I hope I have shown here, there are clearly ideas that build across the writings produced during his final four years, which themselves often link to earlier streams in Simmel’s thinking. Whatever our reading, it is clear that fragments are an important part of the collage of social life that Simmel offers. Yet, despite this coherence and the ongoing development of certain lines of thought, right up to his final works there remains an indeterminacy in Simmel’s writing. Ernst Bloch once remarked that Simmel was ‘the philosopher of perhaps’7—a comment which resonates with the type of unfolding articulations of The View of Life, especially where he tried to find and explore connections and relations. This notion of the perhaps reflects the animation and becoming that caught Simmel’s eye and which he placed centrally in his analytical aims. It also captures the type of questioning approach he had to his subject matter, which is embodied in the wide ranging questions and what ifs that his writings pose. As well as his preoccupation with how to develop a dynamic vision of social life and his notably inquisitive and sometimes speculative argumentation, the interest in fragments is something that pertains during those late years of Simmel’s writings. The fragmentary was also to be found to varying degrees in Simmel’s writing style. This is most evident in his extensive aphorisms; he produced somewhere in the region of 300 aphorisms.8 Fragments of thought processes are in evidence in those short insights, though Swedberg and Reich give a number of reasons as to why Simmel was drawn to that particular writing genre9—which they link to its standing at the time, the compression of thoughts and the influence of the figures Simmel himself was reading, such as Nietzsche.10 This writing



style aside, David Frisby suggests that the fragment plays three important and more specific roles in Simmel’s work. First, it acts as a reminder that for Simmel the social is made of interactions and that ‘there does not exist a prexisting societal totality (except in the sense that we may presuppose it counterfactually)’.11 Second, Frisby continues, ‘Simmel argues that the analysis of the fragmentary, of the small insignificant units or ‘threads’ of sociation may give us greater insight into the nature of society than the analysis of its major institutions’.12 Third and finally, Frisby claims, it is an ‘aesthetic interpretation’ that enables the fragmentary to be found within the totality13—what Frisby describes elsewhere as the conception of ‘society as an aesthetic object’.14 This final point, which relates to Frisby’s understanding of Simmel as a ‘sociological impressionist’,15 certainly seems to have been a particular issue in Simmel’s book on Rembrandt, although in that case Simmel is seeking to use the aesthetic to locate a vision of the totality rather than the fragment. One particularly notable issue that I found with developing an understanding of Simmel’s late works, even in the short period on which I have focused, was its depth, richness and sparking vitality. Simmel’s work is so dense with bubbling ideas that it is hard to imagine holding them together in a nice clear picture. Ideas bounce around on the pages. The concepts might build together and bounce off the sides, but they are still captured in Brownian motion. A little like the relation between the whole and the parts described in The View of Life, Simmel’s work should be understood in tension.16 Developing an impression of this late works takes even more activity on the part of the reader. There is much in this later work for social scientists and humanities scholars of all persuasions and disciplines, but it takes sustained effort and investment to access this richness. Where we might try to understand how individual experiences relate to social worlds, or where some aspect or other of how the individual life is lived and experienced in tension with the broader social, political and cultural scene, we are likely to find something of use in Simmel’s late works. Simmel was opening up more and more conceptual terrain and thinking and in bigger and bigger terms in his concluding thoughts. His ambition increased and the likelihood of us placing these ideas into neat pigeonholes decreased in its inverse. Far from being definitive, this later work can be read as a series of intellectual provocations and ideas that the reader is challenged to think about. In the first part of this book I referred to this in terms of the pursuit of inspiration, where Simmel sought to stretch his ideas and thinking, but his late work in general and

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especially The View of Life can considered as an attempt to seek ideas that will transcend the tumultuous times in which they were written. The View of Life, like the book on Rembrandt before it, is a kind of hermeneutic, a frame, a set of insights that go incomplete and are left for the reader to think through. Dominika Partyga has described The View of Life as a ‘kind of thought experiment’.17 More than this, Partyga adds that Simmel uses it to reverse the ‘premises’ of his sociology, taking ‘forms of individual existence’ as the focus over the social.18 Perhaps in this regard it might reverse the focus, but at the same time it maintains the exploration of the relations between them, along with the question of how the individual becomes social. The suggestion that The View of Life is a thought experiment seems quite fitting. It feels like Simmel is trying out ideas and stretching his earlier thinking in its pages. This is, of course, not to claim that the book is in any way unfinished, instead it seems that Simmel was trying to open-up possibilities, to outline suggestions, and to explore speculations and ideas of different types. Do what you wish with these ideas: that is what he implicitly proposes to the reader. And there is a lot there to work with. And work is most definitely required of the reader. In their introductory essay to The View of Life, Levine and Silver make this point in no uncertain terms; this final book, they put it, is a ‘daunting masterpiece’.19 Simmel is making us work with this writing, making us think and contemplate. Simmel’s concluding thoughts are ideas and questions rather than statements and answers. In this same vein, for Elizabeth Goodstein, ‘exploring the practices of innovation that animate his writings and taking seriously Simmel’s efforts to invent new strategies of thought at once rigorous and playful in their approach to modern life can provide important orientation for the tasks of contemporary cultural theory’.20 It is, I would suggest, in that innovative and open thinking that inspiration can be found. One way to understand Simmel’s late works is to imagine a symphony of concepts, each of which has a part to play in the analysis of life. Each contributes to the sound produced. Each component concept is hard to disentangle from the overture. Also, Simmel’s use of concepts is interesting in itself. Rather than using concepts to analyse, he instead often analyses concepts that are embedded in the life itself (such as fate, destiny, ought and so on). The concepts he brings to the surface are those that seemed most important to him in appreciating the subtleties of how everyday life experiences are understood and approached. Simmel’s final book works with the category of life, Lizardo has summarised, whilst also



considering ‘what life is not’.21 There is huge ambition to Simmel’s concluding thoughts and a methodological lesson perhaps in how concepts might be used to reveal or to create insights, not least in the way that he finds how they connect, work together or form into combinations. Sometimes he explores these connections and in other cases he leaves this to the reader, hinting at how these bits fit together to create melodies (sometimes dissonant, sometimes harmonious). This is why his work is a rich resource and also why it is necessary to think about how such a set of concepts might be worked with further. This is what I aim to at least partly do in this book and, as far as possible, in this brief concluding chapter. Reaching across the last hundred years to bridge those ideas with social analysis today brings obstacles, still the value of Simmel’s ideas might be considered to be worth the effort. Of course, Simmel’s ideas can’t simply be lifted-out and transported a century or more to be applied to whatever phenomena that might seem fitting. The conceptual ideas not only have a context of their own, they also need to be actively worked with in order to achieve anything substantial with them. They cannot simply be applied, the concepts themselves need active attention and may need to be carefully reshaped in order to be able to work with them. Indeed, in some cases we might find Simmel’s ideas to be limited or, indeed, to take us in directions that create problems. There are inevitably a number of blind spots, inadequacies and problems. With this in mind, the focus on bringing Simmel’s ideas and concepts back to life today should be done with due critical attention. In his review of David Frisby’s book Sociological Impressionism, Roland Robertson argued that the ‘onus’ is on those who make claims to the value of Simmel’s work to ‘demonstrate’ its relevance beyond its ‘intrinsic significance’.22 This is a fair point. By way of thinking about how to address this without being too reductive, I begin here to clarify what the concepts appear to be doing and what they might offer when seen in isolation or concert. The aim of the book has been to think across Simmel’s later works to see the concepts that stand out and how they might be understood. This is no framework, it is rather a series of conceptual opportunities that might be pursued and which could, potentially, do some analytical work in the present. I suspect my discussions of his work so far might have indicated that Simmel’s later work does not lend itself readily to easy application, it needs to be read and reread and then actively worked with. Indeed, I’d suggest that rather than thinking of applying his ideas we think instead about working with them.

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Despite any reservations we might hold, it would be a shame to leave such rich ideas, to use David Frisby’s metaphor,23 in fossilised form. Indeed, Levine and Silver have commented on the ‘largely subterranean role’ that The View of Life has played so far; a fossil still to be fully unearthed perhaps. Like any other concepts, the value is in what they might be used to achieve, highlight or illuminate. Simmel’s writings are frequently full of such ideas—too many have been crammed into the previous chapters to be able to fully elaborate all of the possibilities in this concluding chapter. Often the concrete objects from which Simmel elaborates his ideas give an immediate anchor point for using his ideas today—we can speak directly about urban space, fashion, sensory experience, the meal, bridges and so on using his work.24 Simmel’s later works have a slightly different quality and focus that makes their application a little more difficult. The later works are less immediate and their foci are less tangible perhaps. What does pertain, despite these focal shifts, is the importance of experience. Experience, as Frisby has outlined,25 remains central in Simmel’s work but is taken in some different directions in his later outputs. When compared to his earlier and more famous works, The View of Life is a little different in terms of how we might use the ideas Simmel was developing. The ideas are a little less materially anchored than might be the case in a good deal of Simmel’s earlier writings. This may partly at least be a product of his shifting as well as his long-term influences. These influences in his later works range from Goethe to Rembrandt along with Schopenhauer, Nietzsche26 and Bergson,27 with the focus on life taken by Simmel seemingly being influenced by German ‘Life-philosophy’ and ‘French vitalism’.28 This is quite a mix, plus, as I have shown here, there are other uncited influences shaping the arguments from philosophy and also from the natural sciences and art. We need to be cautious when confronted with this cocktail of ideas, and we should not, I would suggest, be too keen to push Simmel’s work under some umbrella or other. As Levine cautions, the label ‘vitalism’ might blunt our understanding of Simmel’s critical take.29 Just after Simmel’s death, writing for the newspaper Pester Llyod on the 2nd of October 1918, Georg Lukács famously concluded that Simmel had produced work that was a kind of ‘impressionism’.30 Far from being dismissive, Lukács meant that it ‘brings into philosophical form that feeling for the world out of which come the greatest works of this tradition’.31 The feeling for the world is where he identified most



value in Simmel’s thought. Yet what is less widely acknowledged from these passages of remembrance offered by Lukács, is that he also pointed out that like impressionism more generally Simmel’s work had a ‘transitional form’. By which Lukács meant that it was dealing with movements and shifts whilst it ‘refuses completion, the fateful and fate-creating definitive form, on principle and not out of an inability to attain it’.32 It chooses to never quite reach a final definitive form, but to approach life, knowledge and the social as shifting entities that are in motion. Having seen Simmel’s views on fate in the earlier chapters of this book, this is perhaps then not surprising and suggests that in Simmel’s work both form and content have a resonance with each other. Simmel’s last work can be used to help to develop an understanding of the different fluxes and flows of the current stages of modernity that we might find ourselves within. Elsewhere Harrington and Kemple pick up on Simmel’s use of the phrase ‘sociological metaphysics’ in an attempt to grasp the direction his work took.33 They write that: Although ‘sociological metaphysics’ is not a phrase that Simmel deploys frequently or with any specific technical intention, we use it here to denote the striking organizing confluence in his work of sociological investigation and philosophical reflection on ultimate questions of existence. The conjunction of sociology and metaphysics entails both a disciplinary duality of empirical social science and speculative philosophy in Simmel’s work, as well as a corresponding duality of social structure and interaction on the one hand and human and non-human existence on the other.34

In other words, Simmel’s work is an exercise in the combination of disciplinary characteristics. It works across such boundaries, drawing together their features and affording a more expansive scalar and analytic imagination. He moves between these varying positions, Harrington and Kemple describe, bringing them together in this type of ‘sociological metaphysics’. They go on to claim that it is: this duality that explains how, while Simmel’s late work may appear to leave sociology behind in order to retreat into purely philosophical, metaphysical and aesthetic matters of contemplation of higher spiritual values, his reflections continue to turn around the themes of social exchange which had been stressed in his early great sociological works on money, social relations, interaction, and differentiation.35

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In short then, the claim here is that there is no clear break between disciplinary positions in Simmel’s later works. He does not so much leave sociology behind as extend and enrich the possibilities for new combinations of disciplinary insight. Crucially there is the continuation of an attempt to bring together concerns that disciplinary conventions may lead us to keep separate. Simmel’s later work has been categorised in a way that has limited its use, particularly in sociology. Harrington and Kemple’s compellingly observe that this is an unnecessary distinction and a missed opportunity. The result of a misplaced disciplinary boundary has the effect of fencing this later work off. It is hoped that this book has indicated some of the reasons why those across the social sciences might break through such disciplinary labelling and return to these later writings. Indeed, in doing so there are plenty of possibilities for exploring the kind of combination of disciplinary insights that Harrington and Kemple highlighted above. Not least, there are elements of the type of focus that Daniel Chernilo has argued for in his proposals for a ‘philosophical sociology’.36 Indeed, because of its combination of the micro and the metaphysical, Simmel’s approach has long been considered as a blend of philosophy and sociology—a kind of philosophically orientated sociology.37 To capture this disciplinary combination that Simmel develops, Scott Lash offers the term ‘lebenssoziologie’.38 This term, Lash says, captures Simmel’s focus on ‘intersubjective flux’ and the combination of sociology with an analysis of life. Simmel, as is widely known, had a tendency to ‘range across disciplinary boundaries’39—Partyga actually cites his work as a lesson in how to transgress such boundaries.40 The question that Arthur Frank poses in his review of The View of Life is whether ‘sociologists want their discipline to be able to embrace all of Simmel’s writing’.41 The implication of his question is whether by regarding Simmel to have shifted from one discipline to another sociologists came to largely overlook the philosophically tilted later works. It is important, Frank contends, to avoid separating out this later work into a different category and therefore relegating it. Frank goes on to make the case that such a ‘reification of disciplinary distinctions would enact what Simmel taught that forms invariably end by doing: creating rigid boundaries, thus cutting themselves off from the vital energies that generated them’.42 In other words, our notions of disciplines come to reinforce those disciplinary forms. Frank urges us toward a reading of the book in order for such limits to be transcended. I’m with Frank in his implied suggestion that a more open engagement



across Simmel’s works is also one possible route to a more open engagement across and beyond disciplines. Returning to the content of Simmel’s late writings, perhaps the central driving concept is that of life. Olli Pyyhtinen has noted that for Simmel ‘the notion of “life” stands as a key category of modern worldview’.43 An indication perhaps, of why it should take on a privileged position in his final work. Pyyhtinen adds that it is this notion of life that enables Simmel ‘to conceptualize the modern world of flux and flows’.44 It is in this general point that we can begin to locate the particular value of focusing in upon The View of Life. Pyyhtinen claims that this final book deals directly with the ‘problem of life itself’, and that it ‘sets out to view life itself’ by exploring the relations between life and the individual in processes of individuation.45 Whilst Levine and Silver point out a double meaning in the book’s title with it both being the authors view of life and an argument that analyses should focus on ‘the view of life itself’.46 Life is undoubtedly a central concept in much of Simmel’s later work, it is just the interpretation of what he is doing with that concept that is not easy, especially as in a number of places he tries to understand how death is bound up within life itself (as we have seen in Chapters 3 and 6). Pyyhtinen refers to this added complexity as the ‘entanglement of life in death’.47 As such, the concept of life takes the preeminent role amongst the ideas that Simmel sought to develop. It is the pivot in his thinking. Most of those other ideas actually orbit around that central concept. Everything else operates in relation to that focal point. The reason for this, perhaps, is that it was an understanding of life—both individual and social life—that was the central thrust of Simmel’s later works, whilst at the same time providing a focal point for a continuation and elaboration of some of his earlier concerns. But it is not just the understanding of life that is at stake, rather Simmel is interested in how this concept and the related concepts he discusses are active in life experiences themselves. As Pyyhtinen has observed on this point, ‘ultimately, the notion of life is for Simmel a way of conceptualizing the pervasive processuality of things and the world, including the social one’.48 Pyyhtinen adds to this that ‘Simmel perceives movement, process, and flows in terms of life, and life movement and becoming’.49 Life is both a thing to be understood through the various concepts that Simmel combines with it and is also an analytical and active concept in its own right. In particular, it is the way that life, which is expansive and seeking to reach beyond limits

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(as discussed in the earlier chapters), is shaped into particular forms that is crucial. Simmel seeks to grasp the dynamism, animation and tension of individual and social life. He envisions it, as I’ve discussed, as p­ ulsating life. The relation between life and form is undoubtedly important here. On the question of forms, Tenbruck’s reading of Simmel’s work is that these ‘forms express not only existing reciprocal orientations but also offer fundamental possibilities of social interactions as they originate, develop, and change’.50 Tenbruck’s view is that for Simmel life or content takes on a form. As that forms feeds back into and shapes life it creates and demarcates a sets possibilities. Previous chapters illustrated how Simmel was wrestling with these ideas, which is no surprise given how complex these interplays and tensions are. Pyyhtinen makes the point that ‘in Simmel’s life-philosophy, the tension between life and form is given a privileged position in cultural change’.51 On the one hand life is lively, whereas on the other forms are relatively fixed. Pyyhtinen explains that ‘in his life-philosophy, Simmel describes forms as actuality, surface, timeless, and powerless in contrast to life, which he gives such attributes as potentiality, inner current, temporality and force’.52 As we saw in Chapter 4, the idea or distinction of ‘more-life’ and ‘more-than-life’ is also important to Simmel, especially in understanding the transcendent properties that he aims to capture. In these two phrases, it is the tension and breaching of form by life that is important. This terminology, as explored in Chapter 4, provides Simmel with a way of both seeing the fixity and the flow of life.53 According to Levine and Silver, these frame the final three chapters of The View of life.54 They explain that more-life is about the flowing nature of life whereas the latter, more-than-life, is the human approach of creating ‘“objectified” forms’ around which life is experienced55 (as discussed in the Chapter 4). It is this tension and conflict between life and form that Simmel is centrally preoccupied with.56 It is something Simmel writes about frequently and that he refers to directly and indirectly in different ways (for a further illustrative example, see CF 107). Levine argues that Simmel’s focus on the relation between life and form was ongoing in his work but that his thinking on the way these two relate changed over time.57 In particular, Levine claims, this arose where Simmel began to work with Goethe and Nietzsche alongside Kant, which he suggests was around the turn of the century.58 Emphasizing the importance of tension in the relation of life and form, Dominika Partyga says that ‘the interplay of life and form emerging from The View of Life also unfolds under the sign



of tension, where any genuine unity—found briefly in diverse sociocultural forms—ultimately dissolves’.59 Life and form are in tension, with forms ultimately dissolved by the sheer energy and vitality of life, that is the vision. Levine’s key point is that these two concepts always work together in Simmel’s accounts. The tension is created because of the kind of reaching out of life beyond boundaries that I discussed in Chapter 4 and which permeates across Simmel’s The View of Life in different ways, and is also evident in his book on Rembrandt (as discussed in Chapters 2 and 3). The tension is created as ‘life constantly tries to overcome forms’.60 As life seeks to break from the moulds and limits it is contained within it creates friction. For Simmel, the changing relations between the known and the unknown is also of importance in the shaping of form and in the demarcation and breaching of boundaries (see Chapters 4 and 5). It is the question of containment that then emerges, especially, Pyyhtinen reflects, where ‘life cannot be fully accommodated in form, since forms funnel and dam its ever-flowing stream’ and this is why, he adds, ‘life ceaselessly reaches out beyond old forms and creates new ones’.61 It becomes hard not to picture the rolling maelstrom of social life in flux. As I identified in Chapter 4 in particular, implicit in Simmel’s late works is an account of how social change operates—which might have in some way been connected to the change he was living through and observing (see Chapter 1). As I discussed earlier, Simmel saw the conflict in modern culture as centering upon the defining formlessness of his times. The stemming of the tide or the damming of this ongoing flow of life is the interchange at which Simmel’s analysis largely operates. The purpose of these central two concepts of life and form is not to faciltuate the development of a complete understanding of life as such. As Pyyhtinen has argued, ‘life can never be grasped in itself, but only in some form, through the relative contrast of life and form’.62 It is in the tensions between life and form though, despite the incomplete nature of such insights in Simmel’s late writings, that an understanding might develop of these dynamic and active processes that are far from the fixities and stabilities we might otherwise envision. It is here then that some of the fluxes of contemporary life might be further conceptualised and analysed. Simmel’s warning is that we should not dissect and break life into pieces to create such understanding. Instead, his position is that we should look at the way that the components relate within the whole, we should explore how totalities and unities form and hold-together (and sometimes shift).

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Of course, there is plenty of scope to question such a representation of life, especially as we might observe that life often appears to have little tension with the limits of form, especially where powerful norms make those limits seem unchallengeable. Indeed, it could be suggested that Simmel’s view of life here is actually quite particular and far from universal. It is also a vision that places a great deal of weight on the uncountability of life and, at the same time, the relative weakness of boundaries. Despite any such problems, and putting aside the usual issues with the nature of Simmel’s work, Pyyhtinen suggests that there remains value in Simmel’s approach, remarking that: What Simmel undeniably loses in systematic argument he wins in the ability to suggest surprising links between seemingly unconnected and distinct things. Analogies are a way of grasping the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar. They allow us to comprehend what we do not know by relating it to what we already know.63

Simmel’s ideas on life and form are not just a question of the ­limits placed on life but also the limits of knowledge. Pyyhtinen’s point is that Simmel’s approach and explanation bring insights that we can still use. By seeking to encompass different aspects of life, to run across v­ istas of theory and to produce insights that accumulate into wide-ranging propositions, Simmel is losing something of the edges and the granular detail but is bringing forward impressions and materials from which ideas might be provoked. What Simmel offers, according to Pyyhtinen, is ‘a way of seeing similarity through difference’.64 As well as life and forms, the earlier chapters witnessed Simmel struggling with the relations between the group and the individual, between the parts and the whole, and between fragments and totalities, amongst other distinctions. What this would suggest, further to the above discussion of life and form, is that Simmel’s later work attempts to think about and through boundaries and limits. Reflecting across Simmel’s work, with a particular focus on the essay on the transcendence of life (as discussed in Chapter 4), Thomas Kemple argues that ‘Simmel is not simply a classic observer of unnoticed aspects of modern life, but also the premier theorist of modernity viewed as a liminal experience’.65 Kemple’s point, in which he draws associations between Simmel’s later works and some of his earlier short writings on aesthetics and life-views, is that Simmel’s work can be used to generate a social theory of the limit.



These limits, for Kemple, can be understood through Simmel’s own use of bridges and doors as materialisations of social characteristics or impulses.66 Thus Kemple directly links Simmel’s later works to his earlier essay ‘Bridge and Door’ (BD 5–10). In that earlier essay, from 1909, Simmel associated the bridge with the will towards social connections and the door, which affords enclosures as well as openings, with the will towards the management of those connections. The crucial thing here is that for Kemple it is the idea of the limit that defines Simmel’s later works, thus it is questions concerning liminality that this work can be used to explore. It seems that Simmel’s late writings might be most useful in understanding or theorising how modernity shapes individual lives by both creating and breaking with limits. Lizardo’s review of The View of Life similarly concludes that in Simmel’s account ‘life is defined by limits and also by its constant tendency to overflow those limits’.67 As we are on the point of limits we might reflect on how the earlier chapters explore limits in different ways, with concepts such as the ought, fate and the actual, amongst others, being used to probe at those limits. There are many other such concepts covered in the previous chapter and which can be drawn on in different combinations to understand this liminal experience of modernity. In addition to the above, Simmel turns to reflect on how visions of the world or ‘worlds’ become a part of how the social is understood and confronted by the individual. Indeed, at the centre of Simmel’s late work are the interrelations between worlds, lives and fragments. This is the central point that this book identifies. The concept of worlds in particular is crucial in understanding the arguments presented by Simmel and in an grasping the multiple scales in which life is both lived and, importantly, imagined. Chapter 4 looked at Simmel’s accounts of the organising and ordering role performed by an individual’s concept of the world. The conceptualisation of worlds is a key hook in his final book. It allows him to reflect on the tensions between life and form as embodied in the way that individuals, armed with a particular concept of the world, gather the fragments of modernity into seemingly coherent unities. The concept of the world that individuals hold is not absorbed from above he argues, but is in tension as the vision of the world that is held clashes with lived experience. The bits of life are fitted into the conception of the world but at the same time the conception of the world can be reshaped to enable those bits to fit together. The concept of the world draws most attention to the fragments that reaffirm that vision. It is interesting to

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reflect on how the highly fragmented media environment of today with vast circulating bits of content might potentially be analysed in these terms and through the lens of the type of world making processes that Simmel explored. A more fragmented media-scape lends greater weight to world-making. Such a mediascape, it might be concluded, also allows for the greater reinforcement and solidification of the concept of the world that an individual might hold. This notion of ‘worlds’ as opposed to a fixed or shared notion of the world is crucial to understanding Simmel’s later works and what they might continue to offer. As Harrington and Kemple have identified,68 it is the claim to authority that is of particular import in understanding the tensions and conflicts that occur in the relations between fragments and worlds, as well as those occurring between competing perceptions of the world held by different people. Looking across the arguments made in the rich pages of The View of Life and as we scan across the other texts from the period, the conceptual target is often the understanding of the role of boundaries and how they contain and separate. These boundaries and limits can solidify and crystallise, and even take on a life of their own, yet they are not though fixed and definitive. Sometimes, according to Simmel, they are breached or shifted. His work also explores how boundaries are blurred to allow fragments to become wholes or for the sharp edges and disruptions of social life to be connected together to give a sense of unity and coherence. On the other hand, Simmel is interested in how boundaries prevent connection and maintain separation. Yet, there is nearly always a sense of tension, friction, dynamism and action at these boundaries. They never seem quite to be fixed but are achieved and moved in various matrices. Where Simmel finds boundaries and limits, he also highlights the tensions that go with them. The relations of individual and social life and the properties that define them are conceptualised in terms of these boundaries and the way that they operate. Indeed, if we look back to Chapter 4, in which I discussed the opening essay of The View of Life, it is immediately apparent from the outset of that essay and of Simmel’s book that the boundary is the key analytic object that is at stake. This is not the boundary in isolation, but the boundary as a site of tension as the vitality of life presses against it. Chapters 2 and 3 showed where this interest in the boundaries that circumscribe life emerged from and how it came to be cemented in his concluding thoughts. Simmel argued that as the relations between what we know and what we do not know



change, this impacts upon our conceptions of boundaries and limits. We might reflect on how the transformations of technology and media have radically shifted what we know of the world and, more than this, have also changed our conception of what we might not yet know. You might recall that we discussed (in Chapter 4) how we become more aware of our limits when we step outside them. The changing conceptions of the world and of the limits of life are inevitably reconfigured not just by what is known, but by our ability to use science and technology to imagine stepping outside of those boundaries and looking beyond them. The result is that a politics of the imagination increasingly shapes the way that boundaries are created and where and how they are crossed (and by whom). In their detailed account of the direction of Simmel’s oeuvre, Harrington and Kemple conclude that ‘beneath its scintillating surface, Simmel’s systematic corpus of works provides us with a sustained insight into the preconditions for a fundamental interrogation of the bases of value and meaning in contemporary capitalistic societies’.69 A lofty aim that is realised in Simmel’s combination of sociological and philosophical workings. The key issue, the underpinning interest in Simmel’s thinking, is this transformation of life and boundaries in changing social, cultural and economic circumstances. This might lead us to reflect on what is gained from a detailed encounter with Simmel’s late works. As well as an array of concepts that might be updated and deployed in different ways today, the legacy of Simmel’s late work might be thought of as a series of questions about how life, individuality and sociality are understood. There is perhaps something to be said for thinking in terms of approach as well as content when reflecting on how to work with Simmel. His book on Rembrandt is as much an exploration of method or of how to think as it is an analysis of the paintings (see Chapters 2 and 3). It is notable for the methodological questions it asks about how life can be captured and understood, yet these questions are not so much answered by the works that follow as they are fleshed out. Simmel’s final years were spent posing questions as much as they were offering answers. He was himself working at the boundaries of knowledge, stretching over them with insights, ideas and speculations. He also had the very real boundary of mortality hanging over him (see Chapter 1). He poses these questions to the reader without any sense of them being intended as definitive or final statements, they were instead questions and provocations set-up for the reader to reflect upon and explore. In some cases the concepts

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offered and explored do not fully address the questions asked, which is no surprise given that Simmel was apparently intent on unsettling established perspectives and knowledge in these fields. The questions are far bigger than the answers could possibly have managed to swallow. This very sentiment creeps into his late essay ‘On Love’—which was a­ ctually found in materials left unpublished at his death (OL vii)—where he points toward the uncontainable form or form breaking features of life that make it hard for concepts to grasp (OL 171–173). In this case Simmel is pointing to the emotional maelstrom of life and how hard it is to adequately theorise. The same could be said of the concepts he provides in these works, they can’t possibly provide a complete picture of the power of the questions and observations he offered. Of course, part of the issue is that Simmel seeks to avoid breaking the object into pieces for more digestible insights to emerge, and so he is not aiming for a fully-detailed blueprint of life. His whole aim was to try to avoid the dissection of the individual, which would, he thought, lose a sense of the unique combinations of relations that constitute them or that make up the social (as discussed, in particular, in Chapters 2 and 4). The questions themselves, as Simmel poses them, are not always explicit and are often in the subtext. Listening to his text closely, we hear these questions asked repeatedly in subtly different ways throughout his later works. The questions are probably as applicable today as the concepts and theories that Simmel offers, not least because it is always worth asking ourselves about the utility and prescience of established ideas about social and individual life as well as querying the methods we use and the sources of our theories. These are ongoing questions that are as important today as when Simmel wrote these passages over a century ago. Indeed, the way that knowledge is cementing around disciplinary conventions means that Simmel’s questions are perhaps even more pertinent. Similarly, Simmel’s lessons on using art as a source of inspiration might give us pause for thought about how we think and what means are best for capturing life as it is. Simmel’s eclectic and open approach to thinking and knowing is a constant reminder to remain attentive and to think laterally about how we see and communicate ideas about the world. Of course, when it comes to using the concepts and ideas offered in Simmel’s work some caution and subtlety is needed. Simmel was writing in very different times and was attempting to analyse a very different contextual setting. Applying the concepts directly and without reflection



may not necessarily illuminate anything. The constellation of concepts offered in The View of Life call for an active reader, one who is prepared to try to make connections and to think in panoramic terms. Of course, the activity of the researcher is crucial in breathing life into these ‘fossilised’ concepts.70 The concepts need to be given new life rather than simply being applied. The passage of time, the shifting of context and the occasional ambiguity of Simmel’s own explanations, means that working with these concepts need not stay ‘true’ to any original but needs to become a tool in the hands of the reader. Otherwise, without attention, the concepts will be blunted by time and outdated by form. As the above hopefully illustrates, as well as some conceptual insights there is something to learn in terms of style, approach and method from re-reading Simmel’s work. His later works provide us with a set of materials in which he is directly thinking about questions of life and limits. Simmel’s ideas are so large and ambitious that they speak across fields, topics and subjects. Indeed, they are relevant anywhere that we are trying to think of how the individual experiences and makes sense of their own individuality, and especially where we aim to see how everyday life relates to the contextual forces and shifts to which it is exposed. In his review of The View of Life, Cushman identifies individuality as one of the ongoing ‘leitmotifs’ in Simmel’s works, a topic that, he observes, continues to find attention in his final book.71 Similarly, Levine and Silver have tracked a number of themes in Simmel’s earlier works that find their way into The View of Life, of which individuality is one.72 The question of individuality itself continues to be crucial, and perhaps more so with highly personalised and fragmented media environments being so prominent. The wonder of Simmel’s work is in how it deals with specifics but in a way that relates to broader issues. A little like his own take on Rembrandt’s portraits, the uniqueness of his contribution is based upon the cultivation of an impression that in some way captures the whole rather than limiting itself to some particularity or other. In other words, Simmel’s work might focus on individuality but it is not concerned with isolating those actors from their connections and relations with social world, nor does it seek to understand individuality outside of the limits, norms and values to which those individuals are exposed. Simmel has plenty of failings and problems, some of which I’ve highlighted in the previous pages. These writings are sometimes crude, bizarre, unclear or problematic. On occasion, his speculations lead him

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into deep water. In other cases there is an ambiguous or disorientating feel to his writing. On occasion the concepts and ideas seem to become impossible to locate and their possibilities do not necessarily suggest themselves. Despite the drawbacks, which need attention, few writers have the same type of sensitivity for the shifting sands of modernity. There is a richness to his thinking and a vitality to his ideas. These works open possibilities and enable the reader to see connections and social ordering at work. In Simmel’s later writings, which are still comparatively overlooked, this richness is on show as he tries to gain perspective across large social forces whilst most directly exploring these forces through the lens of the individual. In all of the above the crucial thing is to think in terms of turning to Simmel for inspiration rather simply for answers. We cannot and should not transplant old agendas from the past into the future, but we can use them as a resource to imagine and to create that future in different ways. What we find in Simmel’s later works, in his concluding thoughts, is a quite radical sociology of life. I mean this in the broadest sense, it remains a totally interdisciplinary endeavour. Turning to Simmel’s work as a resource could provide the means for thinking again about how life—and the questions concerning the way life is shaped in the interplay and tensions between the individual and the social as well as in the experiences of the individual themselves—can be placed at the centre of the sociological endeavour. It forces us to ask how impressions of life can be incorporated into social thought. Simmel offers a range of questions, insights and perspectives that not only draw our attention to the materiality and experience of the individual, they also call into question how we see and understand life. The constellation of concepts these texts offer have the relations between worlds, lives and fragments at their core. Indeed, Simmel is unhesitating in placing life at the centre of the social. The social world exists within the individual life, especially in the limits that contain it. It is in the way that people relate to the social that Simmel seeks to centre the analytic gaze. As he looked upon Rembrandt’s paintings he saw something that revealed to him the way that the impression of an individual captures something of their past and future, whilst also depicting how social forces act upon them. Rather than seeing the individual in society, this is to see society in the individual.73 As it turns out, Simmel’s late writings are not so much his c­ oncluding thoughts as a set of openings and potential insights that are coupled with



a raft of attendant conceptual possibilities. Within these late writings there is a vital ambition that sociology and social science more generally may wish to explore. We may not want to adopt all that he offers, especially as this is likely to lead us to also adopt the problems that reside in these writings, yet Simmel’s work might still be used as a source of inspiration. One option is to approach these writings in a similar manner to the way that Simmel himself worked with Rembrandt’s portraits. Simmel’s late works represent a call for sociology to embrace tension, dynamism and animation, to build impressions of life, to look at the way that worlds are conceptualised and created out of fragments, and to use these insights to understand the limits of both individual experience and the social order. An unattainable ambition perhaps, yet Simmel would no doubt encourage us to take the risk.


1.  Cronan, T., ‘Georg Simmel’s Timeless Impressionism’, New German Critique 36(1), 2009, pp. 83–101. 2.  Coser, L.A., ‘Introduction’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 1–26, p. 26. 3.  Coser, L.A., ‘Introduction’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 1–26, p. 26. 4. Weinstein, D., & Weinstein, M.A., ‘Georg Simmel: Sociological Flâneur Bricoleur’, Theory, Culture & Society 8(1), 1991, pp. 151–168, p. 166. 5.  Harrington, A., & Kemple, T.M., ‘Introduction: Georg Simmel’s “Sociological Metaphysics”, Money, Sociality, and Precarious Life’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 7–25, p. 21; Featherstone, M., ‘Georg Simmel: An Introduction’, Theory, Culture & Society 8(1), 1991, pp. 1–16, p. 4. 6. For example, Levine identifies problems with separating Simmel’s work into separate stages. Levine suggests that in his work there is a ‘striking continuity both of themes and of interlocutors throughout his entire body of work’. See Levine, D.N., ‘Soziologie and Lebensanschauung: Two Approaches to Synthesizing “Kant” and “Goethe” in Simmel’s Work’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 26–52, p. 28. 7. Frisby, D., Georg Simmel: Revised Edition, London: Routledge, 2002, p. xxv. 8. As discussed by Swedberg, R., & Reich, W., ‘Georg Simmel’s Aphorisms’, Theory, Culture & Society 27(1), 2010, pp. 24–51, p. 29. 9. Swedberg, R., & Reich, W., ‘Georg Simmel’s Aphorisms’, Theory, Culture & Society 27(1), 2010, pp. 24–51.

190  D. BEER 10.  Simmel, of course, published the book Schopenhauer and Nietzsche in 1907. This is illustrative of how his later ideas emerged over the years preceding his move to Strasbourg. Indeed, in that book it is clear that Simmel, aided by Nietzsche, was already some way into wrestling the ideas he went on to develop in the later writings I have described in this book. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche is also evidence that Simmel had been engaging with Nietzsche’s thought for a good number of years. A longer genealogy of the ideas I discuss in this book would need to include that 1907 work as a key anchor point. 11. Frisby, D., Georg Simmel: Revised Edition, London: Routledge, 2002, p. xxv. 12. Frisby, D., Georg Simmel: Revised Edition, London: Routledge, 2002, p. xxv. 13. Frisby, D., Georg Simmel: Revised Edition, London: Routledge, 2002, p. xxv. 14. Frisby, D., Simmel and Since: Essays on Georg Simmel’s Social Theory, London: Routledge, 1992, p. 16. 15. Frisby, D., Sociological Impressionism: A Reassessment of Georg Simmel’s Social Theory, Second Edition, London: Routledge, 1992. 16. Lukács famously once described Simmel as a ‘philosophical Monet’, an observation, as we have already seen, that David Frisby famously turned into the broader ideas of ‘sociological impressionism’, see Frisby, D., Sociological Impressionism: A Reassessment of Georg Simmel’s Social Theory, Second Edition, London: Routledge, 1992. 17.  Partyga, D., ‘Simmel’s Reading of Nietzsche: The Promise of “Philosophical Sociology”’, Journal of Classical Sociology 16(4), 2016, pp. 414–437, p. 430. 18.  Partyga, D., ‘Simmel’s Reading of Nietzsche: The Promise of “Philosophical Sociology”’, Journal of Classical Sociology 16(4), 2016, pp. 414–437, p. 430. 19. Levine, D.N., & Silver, D., ‘Introduction’, in Georg Simmel, A View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010, pp. ix–xxxii, p. xxix. 20. Goodstein, E.S., Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017, p. 49. 21.  Lizardo, O., ‘The Resilience of Life: On Simmel’s Last Testament’, Contemporary Sociology 41(3), 2012, pp. 302–304, p. 302. 22. Robertson, R., ‘Review: Sociological Impressionism by David Frisby’, Theory, Culture & Society 1(1), 1982, pp. 94–97, p. 95. 23. Frisby, D., Sociological Impressionism: A Reassessment of Georg Simmel’s Social Theory, Second Edition, London: Routledge, 1992. 24.  As discussed in Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, see pages 4–5. 25. Frisby, D., Fragments of Modernity, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1985, see pages 77–86.



26. Indeed, Helmut Loiskandl, Deena Weinstein and Michael Weinstein have argued that many of the ideas that Simmel went to develop in his later works can be found in his book Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. See their introductory essay to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, SN xxvii. 27.  For an overview of the influence of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche on Simmel’s thinking, see Helmut Loiskandl, Deena Weinstein and Michael Weinstein’s introductory essay in Georg Simmel’s Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986, pp. xi–lii. Simmel’s influences are also discussed in a variety of other places, most notable in Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, see pages 106–111; see also Helle, H.J., The Social Thought of Georg Simmel, London: Sage, 2015, p. 11; Schermer, H., & Jary, D., Form and Dialectic in Georg Simmel’s Sociology: A New Interpretation, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2013, p. 67; Partyga, D., ‘Simmel’s Reading of Nietzsche: The Promise of “Philosophical Sociology”’, Journal of Classical Sociology 16(4), 2016, pp. 414–437; Helle, H.J., Messages from Georg Simmel, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013, see pages 143–177; and Levine, D.N., & Silver, D., ‘Introduction’, in Georg Simmel, A View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010, pp. ix–xxxii, p. xxv. 28. Pyyhtinen, O., Simmel and ‘The Social’, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, p. 50. 29.  Levine, D.N., ‘Soziologie and Lebensanschauung: Two Approaches to Synthesizing “Kant” and “Goethe” in Simmel’s Work’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 26–52, p. 40. 30.  Lukács, G., ‘Georg Simmel’, Theory, Culture & Society 8(1), 1991, pp. 145–150, p. 146. 31.  Lukács, G., ‘Georg Simmel’, Theory, Culture & Society 8(1), 1991, pp. 145–150, p. 146. 32.  Lukács, G., ‘Georg Simmel’, Theory, Culture & Society 8(1), 1991, pp. 145–150, p. 146. 33.  Harrington, A., & Kemple, T.M., ‘Introduction: Georg Simmel’s “Sociological Metaphysics”, Money, Sociality, and Precarious Life’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 7–25, p. 10. 34.  Harrington, A., & Kemple, T.M., ‘Introduction: Georg Simmel’s “Sociological Metaphysics”, Money, Sociality, and Precarious Life’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 7–25, p. 10. 35.  Harrington, A., & Kemple, T.M., ‘Introduction: Georg Simmel’s “Sociological Metaphysics”, Money, Sociality, and Precarious Life’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 7–25, p. 10. 36. Chernilo, D., Debating Humanity: Towards a Philosophical Sociology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

192  D. BEER 37.  Mamelet, A., ‘Sociological Relativism’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 64–73, p. 73; Lizardo, O., ‘The Resilience of Life: On Simmel’s Last Testament’, Contemporary Sociology 41(3), 2012, pp. 302–304, p. 302; and Partyga, D., ‘Simmel’s Reading of Nietzsche: The Promise of “Philosophical Sociology”’, Journal of Classical Sociology 16(4), 2016, pp. 414–437; see also Kemple, T., ‘Introduction—Allosociality: Bridges and Doors to Simmel’s Social Theory of the Limit’, Theory, Culture & Society 24(7–8), 2007, pp. 1–19, p. 2. 38.  Lash, S., ‘Lebenssoziologie: Georg Simmel in the Information Age’, Theory, Culture & Society 22(3), 2005, pp. 1–23, p. 17. 39. Featherstone, M., ‘Georg Simmel: An Introduction’, Theory, Culture & Society 8(1), 1991, pp. 1–16, p. 2. 40.  Partyga, D., ‘Simmel’s Reading of Nietzsche: The Promise of “Philosophical Sociology”’, Journal of Classical Sociology 16(4), 2016, pp. 414–437, p. 434. 41. Frank, A., ‘Book Review: The View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms’, Canadian Journal of Sociology 36(2), 2011, pp. 219–222. 42. Frank, A., ‘Book Review: The View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms’, Canadian Journal of Sociology 36(2), 2011, pp. 219–222, p. 221. 43. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 7. 44. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 7. 45. Pyyhtinen, O., ‘Life, Death and Individuation: Simmel on the Problem of Life Itself’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 78–100, p. 79. 46. Levine, D.N., & Silver, D., ‘Introduction’, in Georg Simmel, A View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010, pp. ix–xxxii, see pages xi–xii. 47. Pyyhtinen, O., ‘Life, Death and Individuation: Simmel on the Problem of Life Itself’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 78–100, p. 86. 48. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 20. 49. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 20. 50. Tenbruck, F.H., ‘Formal Sociology’, in Coser, L.A. (ed.) Georg Simmel, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 77–96, p. 96. 51. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 20. 52. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 21.



53.  As discussed in Levine, D.N., ‘Soziologie and Lebensanschauung: Two Approaches to Synthesizing “Kant” and “Goethe” in Simmel’s Work’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 26–52, p. 40. 54.  Levine, D.N., ‘Soziologie and Lebensanschauung: Two Approaches to Synthesizing “Kant” and “Goethe” in Simmel’s Work’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 26–52, p. xvi. 55.  Levine, D.N., ‘Soziologie and Lebensanschauung: Two Approaches to Synthesizing “Kant” and “Goethe” in Simmel’s Work’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 26–52, p. xvi. 56. See also Frisby, D., Sociological Impressionism: A Reassessment of Georg Simmel’s Social Theory, Second Edition, London: Routledge, 1992, p. 150; Featherstone, M., ‘Georg Simmel: An Introduction’, Theory, Culture & Society 8(1), 1991, pp. 1–16, p. 11. 57.  Levine, D.N., ‘Soziologie and Lebensanschauung: Two Approaches to Synthesizing “Kant” and “Goethe” in Simmel’s Work’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 26–52, p. 26. 58.  Levine, D.N., ‘Soziologie and Lebensanschauung: Two Approaches to Synthesizing “Kant” and “Goethe” in Simmel’s Work’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 26–52, p. 31. 59.  Partyga, D., ‘Simmel’s Reading of Nietzsche: The Promise of “Philosophical Sociology”’, Journal of Classical Sociology 16(4), 2016, pp. 414–437, p. 423. 60. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 20. 61. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 21. 62. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 21. 63. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 26. 64. Pyyhtinen, O., The Simmelian Legacy: A Science of Relations, London: Palgrave, 2018, p. 26. 65. Kemple, T., ‘Introduction—Allosociality: Bridges and Doors to Simmel’s Social Theory of the Limit’, Theory, Culture & Society 24(7–8), 2007, pp. 1–19, p. 3. 66. Kemple, T., ‘Introduction—Allosociality: Bridges and Doors to Simmel’s Social Theory of the Limit’, Theory, Culture & Society 24(7–8), 2007, pp. 1–19. 67.  Lizardo, O., ‘The Resilience of Life: On Simmel’s Last Testament’, Contemporary Sociology 41(3), 2012, pp. 302–304, p. 303.

194  D. BEER 68.  Harrington, A., & Kemple, T.M., ‘Introduction: Georg Simmel’s “Sociological Metaphysics”, Money, Sociality, and Precarious Life’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 7–25, p. 13. 69.  Harrington, A., & Kemple, T.M., ‘Introduction: Georg Simmel’s “Sociological Metaphysics”, Money, Sociality, and Precarious Life’, Theory, Culture & Society 29(7–8), 2012, pp. 7–25, p. 21. 70. Frisby, D., Sociological Impressionism: A Reassessment of Georg Simmel’s Social Theory, Second Edition, London: Routledge, 1992, p. vii. 71. Cushman, T., ‘Book Review: The View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms’, Journal of Classical Sociology 13(1), 2010, pp. 108–112, p. 110. 72. Levine, D.N., & Silver, D., ‘Introduction’, in Georg Simmel, A View of Life: Four Metaphysical Essays with Journal Aphorisms, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010, pp. ix–xxxii, see pages xx–xxv. 73. This is expressed elsewhere by Simmel, comparatively, as the relations between life and history, see PHT 144.


A Actual, 72, 102, 118, 139, 145–154, 156, 157, 159, 166, 169, 170, 183 Animation, 48, 53, 58, 71, 72, 160, 172, 180, 189 Art, 4, 25–42, 44–50, 53–56, 58, 62, 63, 65–72, 95, 101, 106, 111–118, 123, 127, 133, 146, 159, 160, 165, 176, 186 B Berlin, 2–6, 10, 11 Biologist, 87, 128 Book, 2, 4, 6–17, 26–30, 32–37, 44, 50, 51, 58, 59, 62, 63, 66, 67, 69–73, 79, 82, 90, 97, 110, 112, 113, 115, 125, 131, 132, 141–143, 148, 151, 157, 159– 161, 165, 167–171, 173–175, 177–179, 181, 183–185, 187, 190, 191 Boundaries, 13, 26, 30, 47, 50, 56, 61, 63, 70, 73, 79–90, 92–98,

100, 101, 106, 109–111, 126– 131, 134, 142, 143, 151–153, 157, 177, 178, 181, 182, 184, 185 C City, 3, 18, 131 Concept, 11, 17, 28, 29, 35, 36, 40, 41, 44, 50, 55, 56, 62, 71, 73, 85, 91–94, 97, 99–103, 108–110, 116–123, 133, 134, 137–142, 145–150, 152, 155–158, 161, 162, 164–169, 173–176, 179, 181, 183–188 Coser, L., 5, 6, 9, 171 D Death, 6, 8, 10, 11, 15, 16, 63–65, 121, 125–132, 135–137, 140, 142, 143, 176, 179, 186, 192 Discipline, 5, 13, 14, 33, 60, 70, 72, 173, 178, 179

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2019 D. Beer, Georg Simmel’s Concluding Thoughts,


196  Index E Empirical, 39, 66, 104, 109, 117, 130, 157, 177 Expression, 10, 25, 30, 34, 38, 55, 69, 96, 162 F Fate, 34, 40–42, 45, 46, 57, 63, 65, 66, 93, 127, 134, 137–143, 153, 164, 174, 177, 183 Form, 7–10, 13, 16, 25–27, 29, 31–34, 36–41, 43, 44, 46, 48, 49, 54–57, 59–64, 66, 68, 69, 71, 72, 80, 81, 86, 88, 89, 91–97, 99–101, 104–117, 120– 122, 125–130, 132, 136, 139, 141–143, 145–148, 150–154, 158–160, 162, 163, 165–167, 174–178, 180–183, 186, 187 Fragments, 34–38, 99, 100, 103, 111– 116, 118–120, 133, 136, 157, 160, 172, 182–184, 188, 189 Freedom, 25, 96, 105–107 Frisby, D., 4, 11–13, 34, 50, 55, 72, 87, 151, 156, 173, 175, 176 Future, 8, 14, 22, 42, 43, 55, 63–65, 71, 82, 83, 90–95, 101, 127, 130, 152, 155, 163, 164, 168, 169, 188

I Immortality, 15, 16, 127, 131, 135, 136, 140, 141, 143 Impression, 6, 30, 31, 33, 39, 41, 45, 46, 61–65, 67–69, 92, 95, 100, 103, 104, 106, 107, 109, 127, 134, 160, 172, 173, 182, 187–189 K Kemple, T., 9, 172, 177, 178, 182–185 L Law, 7, 15, 16, 25, 114, 115, 119, 141–143, 154, 156, 157, 161–163, 168, 169 Lecture, 2 Letter, 3, 6, 15, 17, 26, 27 Limits, 1, 11, 32, 33, 43, 45, 64, 79–82, 84–86, 88, 89, 94, 96–98, 108, 114, 126–130, 133, 136, 139–143, 150–153, 169, 178, 179, 181–185, 187–189

G Goethe, 9, 27, 31, 34, 36, 40, 49, 61, 68, 94, 126, 176, 180 Goodstein, E., 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 12–15, 45, 174

M Media, 88, 110, 119, 184, 185, 187 Mobility, 37, 160 Modernity, 4, 11, 13, 86–88, 97, 98, 156, 177, 182, 183, 188 Mortality, 7, 63–65, 82, 127, 129, 131, 133, 135–137, 140–143, 185 Music, 63, 150, 159

H Harrington, A., 21, 39, 172, 177, 178, 184, 185 History, 4, 12, 14, 26, 29, 34, 36, 42, 49, 59, 70, 90, 164, 194

N Nietzsche, 26, 50, 57, 73, 92, 165, 172, 176, 180, 190–193 Norm, 111, 120, 122, 123, 147, 152–154, 166–168, 182, 187


O Oakes, G., 69 Ought, 145, 147–150, 152–154, 159, 165, 166, 168–170, 174, 183 P Past, 14, 38, 39, 41–43, 46, 49, 50, 54, 55, 63, 71, 90–95, 155, 163, 164, 169, 188 Philosophy, 3, 4, 8, 10, 12, 30, 33, 35, 54, 71, 72, 168, 176–178, 180 Photo, 48 Power, 60, 62, 66, 79, 81, 105, 119, 121, 122, 132, 153, 186 Pulsating, 34, 53, 119, 180 Pyyhtinen, O., 13, 26, 31, 42, 156, 179–182 R Religion, 25, 66–68, 100, 101, 111, 112, 115, 116, 118, 122, 123, 133 Rembrandt, 2, 4, 12, 15, 26–30, 32, 33, 35, 37–50, 53–74, 90, 92, 104, 112, 113, 118, 125, 127, 135, 159, 163, 165, 167, 170, 173, 174, 176, 181, 185, 187–189 Rhythm, 25, 34, 36, 41, 55, 57, 103, 112, 119, 134, 142, 143, 164, 169 Rules, 82, 83, 141, 153 S Science, 8, 14, 25, 61, 106, 111–113, 115–117, 123, 131, 146, 161, 171, 176–178, 185, 189 Snapshot, 39, 55, 58, 172 Social, 2–4, 6, 8–10, 12–14, 32, 33, 38, 40, 46, 49, 54, 55, 59–61, 63, 66–72, 79, 80, 82, 83,


85–91, 94, 95, 97, 98, 102, 108– 110, 112, 114, 116, 118, 119, 122, 133, 134, 136, 139, 141, 142, 147, 149, 153, 156–159, 161, 162, 165–167, 171–175, 177–189 Sociology, 1, 8, 10–14, 32, 33, 35, 59, 60, 69, 72, 108, 174, 177, 178, 188, 189 Story, 3, 9, 12, 37, 84 Strasbourg, 3, 5, 6, 10–12 Structures, 11, 86, 87, 89–91, 97, 122, 164 T Technology, 131, 185 Theory, 10, 11, 15, 28, 38, 54, 55, 66, 69, 70, 72, 121, 134, 169, 174, 182 Thinking, 3, 7, 8, 10, 15, 16, 26–28, 33, 40, 44–47, 55, 63, 64, 69, 70, 72, 73, 88, 89, 94, 102, 104, 105, 116, 118, 122, 125, 126, 128, 140, 147, 151, 152, 154, 159, 161, 162, 165, 167, 171– 175, 179, 180, 185–188, 191 V Vision, 4, 7, 39, 48, 55, 57, 79, 82, 85, 86, 95, 96, 99, 102, 108, 112–115, 119, 120, 122, 133, 151, 172, 173, 181–183 W Worlds, 1, 3, 4, 7, 10, 11, 13–16, 27, 32, 67, 70, 71, 79, 80, 82, 86–89, 99–104, 109–113, 115, 118–123, 131, 132, 134, 136, 137, 140, 156, 165, 173, 176, 183–185, 188, 189