Georg Simmel: The ‘Philosophical Monet’

I.B.Tauris Publishers
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Thinking Through Fashion A Guide to the Key Theorists [trans. into Japanese Tokyo: Film Art Inc., 2019, 466 pp. ISBN 978-4-8459-1716-7; Chinese and Russian scheduled 2020], 2016, 1, pp. 63 - 80
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Who was Simmel? Born in 1858, Simmel witnessed the development of modern culture. He lived most of his life in Berlin as a Christianised Jew to an upper-middle class family. He was taken under the wing of a wealthier relative and therefore had a privileged upbringing. Simmel was indelibly formed by his maturing in one of the great fin-de-siècle European cities. As one of his pupils from 1910, Albert Salomon (1995: 363), noted in a lecture given in New York in 1963, Simmel ‘was and remained the product of a metropolitan civilization, overwhelming through a variety of sensual, intellectual, technological, poetical and artistic impressions….’ It was Simmel’s attempt to understand the human condition as formed within a modern metropolis of innumerable stimulii that enabled him to generate his particular theory of city life and modern design, influence thinkers such as Walter Benjamin, and create a model for understanding fashion that has been particularly influential in the United States of America since the 1910s, being revived in the 1950s and again in the 1980s, and continuing to resonate today (see Milà 2005: 14). Simmel’s approach, then, did not quite fit in any discipline, even the emerging discipline of sociology that he later disavowed, but nor was he an iconoclast. His independent wealth probably contributed to his lack of concern about following academic convention.
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