‘Simmelian Marxism’: A Radical Project of a Relational Modern‘Life’?

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Spyros GANGAS, DEREE-The American College of Greece, Greece
Canonical interpretations of Simmel’s work place his sociology and philosophy strictly under the neo-Kantian epistemological paradigm; it is often assumed that Simmel’s work operates solely at some unbridgeable distance from Marx and the latter’s Hegelian heritage. Simmel’s ‘Hegelianism’ is all too often held to oppose synthesis in favor of ‘tragedy’. At best, Simmel’s metaphysics is seen as a skeptical opening of the Spirit to individuated forms of authentic ethical valuations. In this paper I shall argue instead that Simmel’s prolific, and often contradictory, writings invite affinities to the “Kant-Hegel-Marx” constellation of normativity. I will thus: a) briefly discuss Simmel’s relationism through a normative lens, with emphasis on the notion of ‘reciprocity’ (e.g. Papilloud) in modernity; b) consider Simmel’s critique of normativity not as an outright rejection of ‘universality’ but, rather, as a claim to differentiate ‘universality’, mediating it with ‘individuality’ -a project tied to modern life's disjunctive logic; c) argue that reclaiming the Marxian project of an emancipated ‘life’ as an anthropological and normative nexus, requires a reconsideration of a relational process of life that corrects Marxism’s myopia on the ‘openness’ of a differentiated modernity; at the same time it recovers the ‘undifferentiated’ a priori of a life free of (surplus) alienation, a concept that sustains the normative force of Marx’s ‘universality’. Thus, Simmel’s ‘practical idealism’ (Leck) can potentially inform Marx’s emancipatory vision. This normative bridge can be further accentuated by similar attempts to think ‘Life’ in Marxian terms (i.e. early Marcuse). So whilst it may still be premature to identify a systematic “Simmelian Marxism”, the roots of such a program lie not in debunking Simmel’s metaphysics of life but in critically recuperating the ‘regulative ideal’ of life’s modern movement, ‘free’ of coercion, alienation and moral fundamentalists of sorts.