The Metropolis and Mental Life (Die Großstadt und das Geistesleben, 1903, and trans. Kurt H. Wolff in The Sociology of Georg Simmel, 1950)


by Georg Simmel (1858 - 1918)

This precursor of urban sociology analyses metropolitan life’s impact on the personality. Throughout history, Simmel sees people resisting ‘being leveled down and worn out by a social-technological mechanism’.

Now the high tempo of sensory impressions causes over-intellectualising, while commerce’s speed, anonymity and complexity (and the ‘universal diffusion of pocket watches’) make man more ‘calculating’. Self-protective tactics include: the blasé attitude; an outward ‘reserve’ suggesting ‘latent antipathy’; and excessive efforts to ‘stand out’. Simmel concludes ambiguously: metropolitan man is freer than his small-town contemporary, but also lonelier; collective culture flourishes through the city, but cultural consumers cease to think for themselves.

Related recommendation: Aleksandr Blok’s ‘The People and the Intelligentsia’ (1908)

Origin: Germany

Themes: Modernity and Self-consciousness, Nature or Architecture/ Material Environment, New Technology

Genres: Spiritual or Philosophical Meditation

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