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Reading: The Tragi-Comic Lives of Theory: Values of a Simmelian Existence


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Special Section: Fictioning Social Theory (coord. Olli Pyyhtinen)

The Tragi-Comic Lives of Theory: Values of a Simmelian Existence


Thomas Kemple

Universidad de la Columbia Británica (Canadá), CA
About Thomas

Thomas Kemple es profesor de Sociología en la Universidad de la Columbia Británica en Vancouver, Canadá. Es autor de Reading Marx Writing: Melodrama, the Market, and the ‘Grundrisse’ [‘Leyendo la escritura de Marx: melodrama, el mercado y el Grundrisse’] (Stanford 1995), Intellectual Work and the Spirit of Capitalism [‘Trabajo intelectual y el espíritu del capitalismo’] (Palgrave 2012) y Simmel (Polity 2018). Ha publicado numerosos artículos en el Journal of Classical Sociology and Theory, Culture & Society y es coeditor, con Olli Pyyhtinen, de The Anthem Companion to Georg Simmel (Anthem 2017). Este año Routledge publicará una colección que coedita, junto con Mark Featherson, titulada Writing the Body Politic: A John O’Neill Reader.

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The philosopher and sociologist Georg Simmel made repeated efforts throughout his career to address the crisis of modern culture by drawing on a wide repertoire of scholarly discourses and imaginative fictions. An overlooked and unique feature of his early works include humorous vignettes and free-verse poems in pseudonymous pieces published in the avant-garde journal Jugend. In later writings, he advances his own life-philosophy through an idiosyncratic use of Goethe’s scientific, autobiographical, and literary works in an attempt to articulate what is distinctive about the modern worldview. Focussing on these lesser-known writings reveals the tragi-comic character of his approach to modern individuality in a variety of cultural spheres, and in the life of theory itself. Like Simmel’s vitalist quest for the archetype or “primary phenomenon (Urphänomen) […] of the idea of Goethe” and in his formulation of “the values of Goethean Life”, this essay offers a kind of theorizing about the “spiritual meaning (geistige Sinn) of Simmelian existence” in its many forms of expression. Although Simmel’s ideas may seem antiquated to us now, recovering what might be called his ‘theory-fictions’ is essential if the humanities and social sciences are to address the most pressing problems we face in the 21st century.

How to Cite: Kemple, T., 2019. The Tragi-Comic Lives of Theory: Values of a Simmelian Existence. Digithum, (24). DOI:
Published on 25 Jul 2019.
Peer Reviewed


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