Challenging Urban Anaesthetics: Beauty and Contradiction in Georg Simmel’s Rome
Georg Simmel, philosopher and sociologist in the Berlin of 1900, repeatedly searched for a conception of anaesthesia – ”Blasiertheit” – capable of addressing a reality of consumption, money and metropolis. Given the generic presence of a blasé attitude in big cities, according to Simmel, one might expect the roles of aesthetics and sensory experience, let alone beauty, to be minimal or non-existent. This observation may indeed apply to Simmel’s everyday environments of modernity in Northern Europe, such as in his homecity Berlin. Yet modern subjects are on the move. So is Simmel during a prolonged stay in Rome 1898, a place (Urbs, in fact) which invites him to reconsider the relationship of city and beauty, as well as that of elements and totality. An anonymously published fragment by Simmel (1899) goes even further. Here, a particular experience of Rome reveals contrasts and fosters a principle of contradiction that may, in turn, leave room for aesthetic experience in modern urban culture. Following Simmel’s footsteps in Rome, 120 years after, one may explore the only site that Simmel names and comments on according to somaesthetic and urban-cultural guidelines. While many would expect spectacularizing tourism to have taken control, reality proves more complex. An urban lifeworld is at play and generates a surprised feeling of beauty in the foreign visitor who happens to re-visit this site, listening to children’s voices and sensing their playful movements there as contributions to a somaesthetically informed experience of beauty and city alike.
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