Again, this is a fantastic redux, so thanks. And also thanks for the
Gadamer special issue. I've downloaded and hope to be able to get to them
A somewhat sideways comment on the Simmel post - it makes me wonder about
the possibility of a "salon culture" in the U.S. today. It seems an
impossibility among adults for too many reasons (I say "adults" because
when I was in high school, a group of us referred to ourselves as "Madam
Geoffrin's Salon" - apparently entirely oblivious to the gender politics
involved considering that we were all male!).
Anyway, it is difficult to imagine any group of people being able to give
an afternoon once a week to discussion of important matters. The only
matters that seem to matter today are making money.
But maybe there are spaces for this in academic life? (esp. if you already
On Sun, Feb 22, 2015 at 5:56 PM, Larry Purss <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
This is an extended commentary introducing a few key concepts of
approach to being human,
I thought I would post this reflection on Simmel as a dialectical thinker
and a hopeful thinker.
It may be of interest to a few on this site to add to understanding of
"salon culture" in the Germanic cities at the beginning of the 20th
There is a re-emerging interest by Simmel scholars who are
re-searching the centrality of the theme of dialectic within Simmel's
scholarly explorations. This is the subject of a new book, titled: "Form
and Dialectic in Simmel's Sociology. A New Interpretation" . The
authors are Henry Schermer and David Jury.
They make a case that what Simmel offers is a mode of analysis located
within the dialectical tradition within German social thought, a
with roots extending from Heraclitus and Paramedes through Kant, Hegel,
Marx. This dialectical thread has been hidden in Anglo-American reception
and rendering a Simmel cleansed of what was seen as the contamination of
the dialectic within his work. The aim of this book is to convey what the
authors see as the core of Simmel's method and the potential of its
The core concept is "Wechselwirkung" [reciprocal effect] and the
This has a similar sense to Zinchenko's concept of "oscillation".
Wechselwirkung or recirocal effect is ever present in Simmel's approach
and the movement at the core of his "relational" and "dialectical theory.
Wechselwirkung AS "social interaction" is his central concept of
This overarching conception is a Spinozian emphasis on "interrelations"
on "process" rather than discrete "things". This notion of dialectical
"truth" as neither absolute nor relative. Both separations AND
unifications are significant aspects of his conceptual truth of the world
as mediated by a plurality of concepts. All such relational assumptions
include an open-endedness of human "possibilities".
Simmel does make a connection between the biological and sociological
realms as dialectically related between nature and human social
This is Simmel's first great dualism, within which the second great
[between subject and object within modernity]
Henry Schermer and David Jury elaborate what they see as Simmel's
conceptual model and method. In outline they make these key formulations
of Simmel's work:
1] Simmel proceeds dialectically with two sets of concepts: i] a limited
number of GENERAL polarities or dualities. ii ] identification of a
potentially unlimited number of social and cultural 'forms' derived from
application of these general polarities.
2] The former general categories are seen as a hierarchy from most
to least general dualities, including modalities and categories - such as
space and time - drawn from Kant and Hegel and others. Simmel draws a
known distinction between "form" and "contents". These forms reveal the
fundamental patterns, and causes, and implications, of phenomena and by
presenting examples of these forms he elaborates his method.
3] the polarities consist of pairs of "contradictory" concepts that
operate dialectically, with outcomes in cultural and social forms as
syntheses. For Simmel, recurring "social forms" such as "conflict" and
"co-operation" or "superordination" and "subordination" are patterns of
interaction analyzable as the dialectical outcome and synthesis, [the
reciprocal effects] of the combination of numerous polarities, dualities,
or "continua" [these related terms reflect variations in emphasis,
according to context, of rejection of previous dichotomous categories of
4] This relational epistemology emphasizing interrelationships
related dialectical operation of dualities such as the tension between on
the one hand "human fulfillment and creativity" and on the other hand a
potentially oppressive "objective culture"- which leads to human
"estrangement" and "alienation" - which for Simmel is thoroughly
dialectical implying an open-endedness of human capacities is present,
this has more of a "blues hope" than the Enlightenment concept of hope.
For Simmel it is crucial we differentiate "dualism" from
polarities/dualities. Dualism is dichotomies but polarities/dualities are
"continua". Simmel opposes "fixed" categories. Simmel's approach can be
summed up as involving "a unity of opposites". For Simmel there is no
endpoint or a final synthesis. Fusions of polarities are identified in
myriad social forms, without a fixed or final synthesis. Simmel, though
sometimes linked with Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Bergson, his
goes beyond these comparisons.
"Reciprocity" the core concept for Simmel implies that nothing has a
meaning and that meaning arises only through interaction. The
subjective-objective duality [not pre-determined sides as in dualism]
Simmel sees as inherent in all social forms. Simmel sees the properties
form and the meanings of things AS a function of the relative distances -
and the routes taken - between things. Life as the play of the dualities
of [distance and proximity] [separation and connection] [boundary and
separation] as hungers of the life force drives Simmel's analysis. Simmel
uses metaphor as a basic GENERAL TOOL in his analysis of forms. For
example the "bridge" correlates "separateness and unity" The "door" in a
decisive manner reciprocally imagines "opening and closing" representing
the boundary between spaces. The doors "closure" provides a stronger
feeling of isolation against everything outside the space than does the
Hmanity can both imagine everything connected and everything separate
within reciprocal oscillation.Most often one side is imagined as
and the other side as "humanly constructed".
For Simmel, humans are BOTH "connecting" AND "bordering" creatures. This
notion of human beings suggests Simmel's general method which can guide
The criticism of Simmel's work is that it was "impressionistic" and not
systematized but these may be caricatures of his work.
Lukac's belittledSimmel's work as "impressionistic". Frisby, taking his
from Walter Benjamin calling Baudelaire as a "flaneur" [merely a roving
sketcher of city life as he wandered the streets] called Simmel a
Randall Collins called Simmel a "salon entertainer"
Theodor Adorno saw Simmel as "a bourgeois aesthete" alluding to Simmel's
participation in artistic and literary salons in Berlin.
What this actually shows is that Simmel was most focused on the
of thought itself characterized by paradox, duality, dialectic, and
relationism. Simmel was always revising his concepts of form and content
and offered no final word.
Simmel's work presents a "unity" using the twin notions of
1] reciprocal effect
2] form and content
Simmel is presenting a particular form of sociocultural order as a model
modernity centered around "differentiation" within reciprocal enactments.
Simmel's work was not as systematic and disciplined and standardized to
into the emerging academy with its closed boundaries. He was more than a
sociologist. and cannot be "housed" or enclosed in that discipline. His
context was the "salon culture" and he must be read within this context.
[see Wittgenstein's Vienna for a picture into salon culture]
His informality is deceptive. and the new re-search on Simmel as a
dialectical scholar shows how blind others are to the structure within
Simmel's last book  "The View of Life" develops further Simmel's
notion of "life" as the vital force that moves us as an urge [a hunger]
LIFE and the reciprocal life as a sense of "deadness" when closed off
the vitality of life as open ended. This for Simmel is the realm of the
if" [similar to Bloch's Philosophy of Hope].
But that also is for another post.
Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Department of Anthropology
880 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602