Ziegler Lecture: “Simmel’s Sense of Modernity: Adventures in Time and Space”

“Simmel’s Sense of Modernity: Adventures in Time and Space”

Dr. Thomas Kemple
Professor of Sociology, University of British Columbia

Among the many ways of making sense of modernity, one to say that the present is built on the ruins of the past, and that experience itself is fragmentary; another is to say that the contemporary world is a kind controlled experiment on nature and ourselves, but an experiment that now seems to be tragically out of control. The philosopher and sociologist Georg Simmel (1956-1918) suggests that the current moment might also be pictured as a kind of adventure, a leap out of the everyday customs and habitual patterns of previous periods of history and into a risky world that seems enticing, exciting, unprecedented, and unknown. Rather than sketching a broad concept of modernity, however, he examines particular cultural technologies, techniques, and functions that have induced an historical shift from the expansion of life into more-life to its intensification as more-than-life. This talk examines this thesis from Simmel’s last work Lebensanschauung (1918) with reference to his remarks in Philosophische Kultur (1911) on the technoscientific magnification of perception and the intimate experience of flirting and sexual relations, and his comments in the monograph Rembrandt (1916) on cinema and the art of dying. Despite appearing as a haphazard mélange of topics, these lesser known writings are systematic and methodical in ways that prefigure recent studies of media, technology, and culture.

Professor Thomas Kemple is author of Reading Marx Writing: Melodrama, the Market, and the ‘Grundrisse’ (Stanford 1995), Intellectual Work and the Spirit of Capitalism (Palgrave 2012), and numerous articles in the Journal of Classical Sociology and Theory, Culture & Society, and he is co-editor with Olli Pyyhtinen of The Anthem Companion to Georg Simmel (Anthem 2017). He is currently working on a ethnographic study of community-based university programs based in the city of Vancouver and in rural Guatemala. A co-edited collection with Mark Featherstone, Reading the Body Politic: A John O’Neill Reader will be published this year with Routledge, and his book on Simmel will appear later this year in Polity Press’s Classical Thinkers Series.