School of
Social Sciences
___Introduction to Sociology
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Georg Simmel -
A Virtuoso On The Platform

 


The Person  
Introduction A Virtuoso On The Platform
The Academic Outsider Simmel's Writing Career
   
The Work  
Introduction The Significance Of Numbers For Social Life
Formal Sociology Simmel's Ambivalent View Of Modern Culture
Social Types A Note On The Philosophy Of Money
The Dialectical Method In Simmel's Sociology  

Although many of his peers and elders, especially those of secondary rank, felt threatened and unsettled by Simmel's erratic brilliance, his students and the wider, nonacademic audience he attracted to his lectures were enthralled by him. Simmel was somewhat of a showman. Many of his contemporaries who left an account of his lectures have stressed that it seemed to them that Simmel was thinking creatively in the very process of lecturing. He was a virtuoso on the platform, punctuating the air with abrupt gestures and stabs, dramatically halting, and then releasing a torrent of dazzling ideas. What the great German critic Walter Benjamin once said of Marcel Proust, that his "most accurate, most convincing insight fasten on their objects as insects fasten on leaves" applies equally well to Simmel. Emil Ludwig describes him well, though with a touch of characteristic vulgarity, when he writes: "Simmel investigated, when he lectured, like a perfect dentist. With the most delicate probe (which he sharpened himself) he penetrated into the cavity of things. With the greatest deliberation he seized the nerve of the root; slowly he pulled it out. Now we students could crowd around the table in order to see the delicate being curled around the probe." George Santayana, then still experimenting with New England terseness, was given to less fancy modes of expression; but when he wrote to William James that he had "discovered a Privatdozent, Dr. Simmel, whose lectures interest me very much," he undoubtedly wished to convey in this sober fashion a fascination equal to that experienced by Ludwig.

In view of Simmel's enormous success as a lecturer, it must have been especially galling to him that when he finally achieved his academic goal, a full professorship at the University of Strasbourg, he was deprived of practically every opportunity to lecture to students. He arrived at Strasbourg, a provincial university on the borderline between Germany and France, in 1914, just before all regular university activities were interrupted by the outbreak of the war. Most lecture halls were converted into military hospitals. A man as alive to the incongruities in man's destiny as Simmel could not have failed to smile wryly on this crowning irony. His last effort to secure a chair at Heidelberg, where the death of Wilhelm Windelband and Emil Lask had created two vacancies in 1915, proved as unsuccessful as previous attempts. Shortly before the end of the war, on September 28, 1918, Simmel died of cancer of the liver.

From Coser, 1977:196-197.



Work By Simmel  
Conflict And Society The Problem Of Sociology (External Link)
How Is Society Possible? (External Link) The Stranger
The Philosophy Of Value (External Link)  



These pages were originally written by: Angus Bancroft and Sioned Rogers
Redesigned and updated by: Pierre Stapley - 2010