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Unformatted text preview: Chapter 1 The Metropolis and Mental Life Georg Simmel The deepest problems of modern life flow from the attempt of the individual to main- tain the independence and individuality of his existence against the sovereign powers of society, against the weight of the histor- ical heritage and the external culture and technique of life. This antagonism repre- sents the most modern form of the conflict which primitive man must carry on with nature for his own bodily existence. The eighteenth century may have called for lib- eration from all the ties which grew up historically in politics, in religion, in mor- ality and in economics in order to permit the original natural virtue of man, which is equal in everyone, to develop without in- hibition; the nineteenth century may have sought to promote, in addition to man's freedom, his individuality (which is con- nected with the division of labour) and his achievements which make him unique and indispensable but which at the same time make him so much the more dependent on the complementary activity of others; Nietzsche may have seen the relentless struggle of the individual as the prerequisite for his full development, while som found the same thing in the suppression of all competition ± but in each of these the same fundamental motive was at work, namely the resistance of the individual to being levelled, swallowed up in the social- technological mechanism. When one in- quires about the products of the specifically modern aspects of contemporary life with reference to their inner meaning ± when, so to speak, one examines the body of culture with reference to the soul, as I am to do concerning the metropolis today ± the answer will require the investigation of the relationship which such a social struc- ture promotes between the individual aspects of life and those which transcend the existence of single individuals. It will require the investigation of the adaptations made by the personality in its adjustment to the forces that lie outside of it. The psychological foundation, upon which the metropolitan individuality is erected, is the intensification of emotional life due to the swift and continuous shift of external and internal stimuli. Man is a crea- ture whose existence is dependent on differ- ences, i.e. his mind is stimulated by the difference between present impressions and those which have preceded. Lasting impressions, the slightness in their differ- ences, the habituated regularity of their course and contrasts between them, con- sume, so to speak, less mental energy than the rapid telescoping of changing images, pronounced differences within what is grasped at a single glance, and the unex- pectedness of violent stimuli. To the extent that the metropolis creates these psycho- logical conditions ± with every crossing of the street, with the tempo and multipli- city of economic, occupational and social life ± it creates in the sensory foundations of mental life, and in the degree of awareness...
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- Spring '08
- Sociology, small town