Simmel's Eternal Returns

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Dominika PARTYGA, London School of Economics, United Kingdom
This paper situates recent arguments on Simmel’s relevance for social theory in the context of the elusive boundary between the sociological and philosophical polarities in his thought, dramatized in his encounter with Nietzsche, and modes of reception in which that encounter has been narrated. First, I discuss ways in which Simmel has used Nietzsche in developing his own project, from his rhetorical recourse to Nietzsche’s reputation as a thinker of “fanatically excessive individualism” in Soziologie, to the Nietzschean overtones in Simmel’s conception of life’s self-transcendence in Lebensanschauung. Secondly, I contrast the ways in which aspects of Simmel’s Nietzsche have been argued into contemporary sociological and philosophical areas of inquiry, with a focus on Simmel’s reading, critique and rephrasing of the Nietzchean doctrine of eternal return. Specifically, I explore its echoes in various sociological frameworks that reengage Simmel today - such as theories of vitalism (Lash), social acceleration (Dodd) and biosociality of life (Kemple, Pyyhtinen) - and the role it plays in recent discussions among analytic philosophers on the so-called ‘cosmological-hypothetical dichotomy’ in Nietzsche’s conception of time’s recurrence (Loeb, Rogers). My aim here is not to bridge between those two interpretative modes of engagement, but to underscore tensions in Simmel’s theorizing on life-forms, action and responsibility, hardly intelligible from within the disciplinary frameworks that we came to inhabit. Concluding, I draw on Goodstein’s argument about the importance of situating Simmel’s reception within the broader history of disciplinary reading practices to consider some of the stakes involved in his encounter with Nietzsche. Simmel’s reworking of the eternal return, I argue, offers a counterpoint to the canonizing modes of reception in sociology, but it also testifies to the methodological difficulties involved in revisiting the last pages of Lebensanschauung from the perspective of the ‘transdisciplinary’ present.