Simmel’s Tragedy of Culture

Georg Simmel developed the concept of the tragedy of culture from Marx’s writings on commodity fetishism. This concept sought to explain the reification of products or goods within a society. The division of labor that arises during the process of modernization allows people to become increasingly creative and innovative. As a result they begin to produce an abundance of cultural objects for consumption. Eventually these products become fetishized by society and therefore gain power that they do not inherently possess. In “Fashion”, Simmel writes about how clothing becomes a way for groups of individuals to express themselves and therefore become more than just a means of clothing ourselves, but take on the role of a cultural identifier. Ironically our attempts to identify ourselves as different and individual through the close we wear, often leads us to buy mass produced goods.

I chose this cartoon as a representative of Simmel’s concept because it clearly illustrates the stifling effects of creativity caused by consumerism and fetishism of goods. On the left is an individual creating music and the left there are two women discussing buying a shirt in order to demonstrate a love of music. Rather than creating their own music, they choose to buy a mass-produced item that will express their love of music FOR them. The message is a clear reflection of Simmel’s belief that individuals use goods to both express individual creativity, but also contribute to objective culture.

One Response to “Simmel’s Tragedy of Culture”

  1. Dr. M says:

    Nice post–good discussion and explanation of how the tragedy plays out. Link with Marx is well-put and not overstated. The cartoon is perfect for illustrating this. I think at the end you mean “objective” instead of “subjective”–no?