The Academic Outsider

For fifteen yearsSimmel remained a Privatdozent. In 1901, when he wasforty-three, the academic authorities finally consented to grant him therank of Ausserordentlicher Professor, a purely honorary titlethat still did no allow him to take part in the affairs of the academiccommunity and failed to remove the stigma of the outsider. Simmel wasby now a man of great eminence, whose fame had spread to other Europeancountries as well as to the United States. He was the author of sixbooks and more than seventy articles, many of which had been translatedinto English, French, Italian, Polish, and Russian. Yet, wheneverSimmel attempted to gain an academic promotion, he was rebuffed. Whenever a senior position became vacant at one of the Germanuniversities, Simmel competed for it. Although his applications weresupported by the recommendations of leading scholars, Max Weber amongothers, they did not meet with success.

Despite all the rebuffs Simmel received from hisacademic peers, it would be a mistake to see in him an embitteredoutsider. He played an active part in the intellectual and culturallife of the capital, frequenting many fashionable salons andparticipating in various cultural circles. He attended the meetings ofphilosophers and sociologists and was a co-founder, with Weber andToennies, of the German Society for Sociology. He made many friends inthe world of arts and letters; the two leading poets of Germany, RainerMaria Rilke and Stefan George, were his personal friends. He enjoyedthe active give-and-take of conversation with artists and art critics,with top-level journalists and writers. Very much a man about town,Simmel stood in the intersection of many intellectual circles, addressedhimself to a variety of audiences, and enjoyed the freedom fromconstraints that comes from such an interstitial position.

Hissense of relative ease must also have been enhanced by the fact that hewas free of financial worry. His guardian had left him a considerablefortune so that he was not beset by financial concerns as were so manyPrivatdozenten and Ausserodentliche Professoren in theprewar German university. In the Berlin years Simmel and his wifeGertrud, whom he had married in 1890, lived a comfortable and fairlysheltered bourgeois life. His wife was a philosopher in her own rightwho published, under the pseudonym Marie- Luise Enckendorf, on suchdiverse topics as the philosophy of religion and of sexuality; she madehis home a stage for cultivated gatherings where the sociability aboutwhich Simmel wrote so perceptively found a perfect setting.

AlthoughSimmel suffered the rebuff of academic selection committees, he enjoyedthe support and friendship of many eminent academic men. Max Weber,Heinrich Rickert, Edmund Husserl, and Adolf von Harnack attemptedrepeatedly to provide for him the academic recognition he so amplydeserved. Simmel undoubtedly was gratified that these renownedacademicians for whom he had the highest regard recognized his eminence.

From Coser, 1977:195-196.


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