Georg Simmel's sociology tends to elicit mixed feelings even among his admirers. “The Metropolis and Mental Life” provides one of the most compelling and influential accounts of modern, urban experience available, yet the meaning of this work is notoriously elusive. Does the difficulty lie in Simmel's deep ambivalence toward the new forms of experience he describes? And does this ambivalence legitimate his historically transitional status in the history of modernist thought, ceding the role of critic of modern life to Georg Lukács, Theodor W. Adorno, and Walter Benjamin? Or is Simmel's tone better understood as reserve, a refusal to suggest a totalizing account of modernity? This essay aims to reevaluate and defend Simmel's aesthetic interpretation of modernity on the grounds of his latent materialism. Focusing on his discussion of Auguste Rodin's sculpture and the impressionist aesthetic more generally, I aim to draw out the implicit claims of Simmel's materialism from within his seemingly seamless commitment to psychologism.

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