A Response to Georg Simmel’s “The Metropolis and Mental Life”

In his essay, “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” Georg Simmel dissects the onslaught of metropolitan life and the struggle to preserve one’s individuality.   The aforementioned has laced the evolution of man for several centuries.  At first distinguished as far back as the 18th century as the ability to extricate oneself from the oppressive bonds that once plagued civilizations of the past, the shift of collective mindset in the nineteenth century bred the necessity to render oneself indispensable by means of specialization in the economy and society alike.  However, in this day and age, Simmel illustrates individuality as one’s facility to sustain their subjective self in the face of life in the metropolis.  Such is not an easy feat, as the pressures and sway of society can undoubtedly manipulate one’s character.  Georg Simmel aspires to explicate how we as humans have adapted to the incessant stimulus of the metropolitan life.  The pulse of the city compels the masses to build a resistance, or rather an indifference, to the sensory overload of the streets flooded with unpredictability. The sense of urgency roused by the complexities of urban existence triggers an over-stimulation of the nervous system. Moreover, the city gives refuge to an economy driven by mass-production, consumerism and, of course, money, all of which rely heavily on the “matter-of-fact attitude” (4) stemming from this conditioned indifference.  However, this is but a thread in a tapestry of characteristic one must harbor if to live and work within the organized chaos of a metropolis.  The stability of a city depends almost entirely on the “punctuality, calculability and exactness” (6) of those who fuel it.  Our innate impulsive, irrational nature is thus suppressed out of necessity. In short, the metropolises have assaulted the senses to the point where the modern man has become unresponsive and reserved in the vein hope of self-preservation, which in turn renders what Simmel refers to as the “blasé attitude” (6).  This concentration of calculating minds defined by utter indifference facilitates the effectively and fuels the productivity of the “money economy” (7).   In truth, we blindly subsist as pawns in an inter-reliant economic pyramid. Be that as it may, within this immense network of dependencies there is freedom, Simmel asserts, explaining that “social development proceeds at once in two different, yet corresponding directions” (10), as it branches out those in positions of power loose complete control of those who constitute the anatomy of the structure. Unfortunately, despite the brilliance of harboring such freedom in a crowd of possibilities, the reserved nature so heavily relied upon in the metropolis for self-preservation elicits a lonesome isolation amid a sea of strangers.   Without emerging as indispensable, one drowns.  Simmel concludes his argument stating that it is not for us to pass judgment, but rather to solely acknowledge this undercurrent of truth that runs beneath the glut of asphalt.

TERMS:

—      Blasé: “ A life in boundless pursuit of pleasure makes one blasé because it agitates the nerves to their strongest reactivity for such a long time that they finally cease to react at all.” (7)

—      Specialization: “In order to find a source of income which is not yet exhausted, and to find a function which cannot readily be displaced, it is necessary to specialize in one’s service” (14)

—      Metropolis: “ It is the function of the metropolis to provide an arena for this struggle and its reconciliation.”

—      Money: “ Money, with all it’s colorless and indifference, becomes the common denominator of all values”

—      Cities:  “Cities are, first of all, seats of the highest economic division of labor.” (13)

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