Friday, June 29, 2007

Take heart, Adrienne

Georg Simmel feels your pain:

"[In modern culture] there is no reason not to expand indefinitely, not to line up book after book, work of art after work of art, discovery after discovery: the form of objectivity as such possesses an unlimited capacity for accomplishment.

"However, this inorganic accumulative capacity, as it were, makes it profoundly incommensurable with the form of personal life. For the latter's absorptive capacity is limited not only by strength and longevity, but also by a certain unity and relative closure of its forms, and it therefore makes a selection with a determined scope from among the elements offered to it as means of individual development … The infinitely growing stock of the objectified mind makes demands on the subject, arouses faint aspirations in it, strikes it with feelings of its own insufficiency and helplessness, entwines it into total constellations from which it cannot escape as a whole without mastering its individual elements.

"There thus emerges the typical problematic condition of modern humanity: the feeling of being surrounded by an immense number of cultural elements, which are not meaningless, but not profoundly meaningful to the individual either; elements which have a certain crushing quality as a mass, because an individual cannot inwardly assimilate every individual thing, but cannot simply reject it either, since it belongs potentially, as it were, to the sphere of his or her cultural development. One could characterize this with the exact reversal of that saying, 'Nihil habentes, omni possidentes,' which characterized the blissful poverty of the early Franciscans … Instead of that, human beings in very rich and overburdened cultures are 'omnia habientes, nihil possidentes.'" (Simmel on Culture, 72-73)