Monday, September 29, 2008

Georg Simmel – Bridge and Door

In his essay "Bridge and Door," Georg Simmel looks at a seemingly very simple object from everyday life and invests it with symbolic meaning in a manner that is enviable to anyone who wants to look at the symbolic heft of spatial phenomena. He obviously approaches the spatial problem with a sociological eye – he looks at the human experience of and impact on space more than he looks at the “natural” occurrence of space itself. The space that interests him is a human phenomenon and not an inorganic one.

Simmel acknowledges the bridge’s typical function of connecting two otherwise separate and diverse things. However, he prods this understanding a bit further to suggest that the real appeal of the bridge and the connectedness that it provides is that the presence of the bridge underlines the its own necessity. Seeing a bridge calls to mind the division that it bridges, for lack of a better word, while giving the viewer the sense that the two halves are connected. With the bridge, unity or connectedness is always eventually emphasized.

With a door, however, the emphasis falls on the division or differentiation of things rather than their unity. The door embodies both unity and division and is the ultimate expression of the human capability to determine how one’s space is configured. The human decides where to place a door and when to open or close it. The door emphasizes both human isolation (positive and negative) and confrontation with what lies outside the door (both positive and negative, again). The door empowers the human to take control of when the human is isolated.

Nice quote: “The human being who first erected a hut, like the first road-builder, revealed the specifically human capacity over against nature, insofar as he or she cut a portion out of the continuity and infinity of space and arranged this into a particular unity in accordance with a single meaning. A piece of space was thereby brought together and separated from the whole remaining world. By virtue of the fact that the door forms, as it were, a linkage between the space of human beings and everything that remains outside it, it transcends the separation between the inner and the outer. Precisely because it can also be opened, its closure provides the feeling of a stronger isolation against everything outside this space than the mere unstructured wall. The latter is mute, but the door speaks. It is absolutely essential for humanity that it set itself a boundary, but with freedom, that is, in such a way that it can also remove this boundary again, that it can place itself outside it.”

Related: the window does not provide the same satisfaction. The window emphasizes connectivity with the outside world, but is intended solely for looking from the inside out, and NOT the other way around (CONNECTION: think about Appleton – Prospect-Refuge theory… we feel vaguely unsafe in a dark house at night, lights on but curtains open. Why? Because we can’t clearly see what is outside, but the outside can see clearly in.)

Summary quote: “Because the human being is the connecting creature who must always separate and cannot connect without separating – that is why we must first conceive intellectually of the merely indifferent existence of two river banks as something separated in order to connect them by means of a bridge. And the human being is likewise the bordering creature who has no border. The enclosure of his or her domestic being by the door means, to be sure, that they have separated out a piece from the uninterrupted unity of natural being. But just as the formless limitation takes on a shape, its limitedness finds its significance and dignity only in that which the mobility of the door illustrates: in the possibility at any moment of stepping out of this limitation into freedom.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Trying to wrap my mind around teaching Intensive Beginning German to more than 15 people at 9 AM. Oy.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

In response to domestic sexism

My loyal reader wjh linked to this article in Die Zeit, which is kind of maddening... Here's what we had to say about it, briefly. (This is my version of Crappy Hour.)

[3:08:49 PM] wjh says: did you read the article i posted in the comments? other blog, but egal [3:09:03 PM] Eej says: yes.
[3:09:06 PM] Eej says: MADDENING
[3:09:30 PM] wjh says: what exactly do you mean?
[3:09:43 PM] Eej says: oh, i don't know.
[3:09:46 PM] Eej says: let me read it again.
[3:09:53 PM] Eej says: i was generally frustrated when i read it
[3:09:54 PM] Eej says: :)
[3:09:57 PM] wjh says: yes, me too
[3:10:01 PM] wjh says: that's why i ask
[3:10:01 PM] wjh says: ;)
[3:19:31 PM] Eej says: and i don't know why the zeit article pisses me off so much...
[3:19:50 PM] Eej says: maybe because i feel like the obsession with american intellectuals at the moment is part of the problem.
[3:19:58 PM] wjh says: exactly!!!
[3:20:08 PM] Eej says: they have their german men and the american women take up the women's slot, so of course there can't be any german women.
[3:20:19 PM] wjh says: that's exactly what i was thinking.
[3:20:23 PM] Eej says: yeah
[3:20:45 PM] Eej says: it's also a great way for them to preserve domestic sexism while appearing progressive.
[3:20:54 PM] Eej says: "see, we like women... there just aren't any good ones here"
[3:20:57 PM] wjh says: also, i was kind of pissed off by the glorification of american intellectual women (while not wanting to disregard the achievements of sontag etc, but still)
[3:21:13 PM] Eej says: yeah.
[3:21:17 PM] Eej says: totally.
[3:22:20 PM] Eej says: also, i like how they discount hannah arendt as a german intellectual just because she buggered off to the US in the 30s
[3:22:23 PM] wjh says: (uh oh, tatort is getting gruselig!!)
[3:22:33 PM] Eej says: but they still lay claim to thomas mann, et al
[3:22:57 PM] wjh says: yes!
[3:23:23 PM] Eej says: yes. good. we are on the same page.
[3:23:28 PM] wjh says: :)
[3:23:29 PM] Eej says: i think i need to go back to smith.
[3:23:38 PM] Eej says: semester hasn't even started yet and i'm getting all angry.
[3:24:12 PM] wjh says: don't get angry. getting angry was for the 70s ;)
[3:24:22 PM] Eej says: i think getting angry is still good.

Conference Papers

I'm trying to come up with abstracts (by tomorrow!) for the following panels:

Transforming Spaces: The Manipulation of Public and Private Spaces in 19th c. Women's Literature
Many nineteenth-century domestic theories contend that women controlled society, but such theories also assert that women wielded power indirectly. By alleging that women influenced society obliquely, domestic ideologies reiterated rather than questioned the separate spheres. Many women writers, however, used domesticity to question their own second-class status. Such writers manipulate public and private spaces into sites of resistance by resisting the limitations of domesticity. They also revise domesticity and transform public and private spaces.

Jewish-German Dialogue Reconsidered Jewish-German Dialogue Reconsidered This panel seeks to explore how German and Israeli literature and film present the Jewish-German relationship in the post-wall period. Papers should address the connections between the failure of the "German-Jewish symbiosis" of the nineteenth century and the revival of Jewish-German-Dialogues today.

Text and Image in German Literature In response to the 'iconic turn' in cultural studies this panel seeks to examine text-image relations as a textual phenomenon in literature: Why do texts invite an "intrusion" of images and how does a visual aesthetics contribute to a rethinking of subjectivity, nature, and language? How does literature interact with the sister arts in a shared history (and critique) of the cultural image? Contributions might explore actual media change (images in the text; montage, cartoons, photo essays) as well as description of artifacts (ekphrasis) and production of visual spaces in language.

I'm really excited about the first one, but a little bit puzzled about what I should write about. The first authors that come to mind are all from the turn of the century (Elizabeth von Arnim, Edith Wharton) and I can't think of ANY German authors to use (see my previous post). Maybe I could go out on a limb and try my hand at Little Women? Or similar... This topic is SO what I'm interested... I need to come up with something good.

The second panel I'm less interested in, but it seems like I should be able to come up with something easily, given my past work on German/Jewish stuff. Could try to connect it to Sebald (not hard, but also not that interesting) or try to revive some portion of the research I allegedly did in Cologne or revisit some of my Senior Thesis authors (Biller, Behrens, Schlink). But I'm not sure I really care.

The third panel is being run by one of my former colleagues and, as such, should be relatively unintimidating to apply to, but my only idea for it is REALLY REALLY obvious, so I'd be kind of embarassed about that.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Since I left Smith and since I stopped dictating my own reading, I've moved away from reading women's writing. I'm looking for some potential conference paper topics and am absolutely appalled by my lack of knowledge of German women authors. What the fuck is up with that?

So, as soon as I can, I'm going to undertake a thorough independent study of German women's literature.