Georg Simmel’s writings are comparable in importance to those of Marx, Weber and Durkheim. And yet, with the recent completion of the 24 volumes of his collected works we are only just beginning to understand the vastness and variety of his ideas. With an emphasis on the themes of money, metropolises, and modernity, I offer both an introduction and an in-depth treatment of some of his major sociological and philosophical writings, including his masterpiece The Philosophy of Money, his famous essays ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’, ‘Fashion’, ‘Sociability,’ and ’The Stranger’. At the same time, I bring these famous works into conversation with others that haven’t received as much attention, such as his writings on nature, art, religion, and sexuality in Philosophical Culture and View of Life. Besides examining everyday examples, including prostitution, privacy, and love affairs, I also follow Simmel’s unique way of thinking about cultural objects and social life through analogies, metaphors, and images. I do so through a series of diagrams, figures, or ’thinking pictures’, as well as through digressions or ‘excurses’ which can be read separately from the main text, and which show the relation between his ideas and those of of contemporaries and successors (such as Lukács, Kracauer, Bloch, Husserl, Mannheim, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Du Bois, and Mead, among others). I hope to inspire the new wave of Simmel readers to imagine how the cultural processes of association and interaction take shape through their own experience with the modern world.
Thomas Kemple is Professor of Sociology at the University of British Columbia. His new book Simmel is now available from Polity.