chapter  4
30 Pages

The Voice of the Glacier

Some three decades separate these two quotations, the first from an essay published in 1895 in the Viennese journal Die Zeit, the second from the ninth song in Krenek’s 1929 lieder cycle Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen (Travel Book from the Austrian Alps). They are connected, though, by a common theme of reflection on the experience of travel in the Alps: both articulate a desire to step out of modernity and re-embrace a now-lost state of wholeness and groundedness embodied in the mountains. Simmel’s essay anticipates themes and methods that will characterize much of the subsequent work of this largely overlooked writer. Like Nietzsche, Simmel articulated a topography of modernity in which the heights stand for something resistant to the alienating forces of urban culture. But Simmel does so with an eye for impressions, moments, and dynamics that foreshadows the cultural criticism of the Weimar period. Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, and Béla Balázs all attended his lectures and cited his work, while Kracauer, who studied with Simmel and wrote a book-length study of his work, would incorporate his methodology of isolating the figures and spaces that comprise modernity-what Simmel called Momentbilder (snapshots)—as though plucking them momentarily out of the swirling tide of urban culture.3 Benjamin would adopt a similar technique-

what he called Denkbilder-and without implying any crude influence, Jameson wonders if Benjamin’s writing on the city ever managed to “escape the force field of Simmel’s thought.”4