Georg Simmel's essay 'On the Concept and Tragedy of Culture' displays many of the issues that preoccupy his major works, especially his Philosophy of Money. For him, the products that modern societies produce, and the lives that people lead, are tied to specialization and differentiation, the result of which is social fragmentation. None the less, this fragmentation not only produces the experience of alienation, it also provides the condition for an experience of distance and detachment which can be interpreted as the possibility for further cultural creativity. The two issues of cultural alienation and creativity with which Simmel is preoccupied also concern German intellectuals from Hegel, Schiller and Marx, to Nietzsche, Max Weber and Lukács.

Simmel's analysis of the concept and tragedy of culture begins from the German 'anthropological' understanding of the term. Culture, in Simmel's view, is the meeting-point and synthesis of subjective and objective aspects: the creative subject on the one hand, and the way in which the products of this creativity are externalized and become independent as cultural artefacts on the other. The tragedy all culture confronts - and, for Simmel, modern culture built on the experience of alienation is a specific instance of a more general problem - is a tendency for culture to be reduced to one of its sides only. According to Simmel, a culture which emphasizes the creative, inner world of the artist dislocates him or her from a broader setting and understanding; and cultural products which become anonymous indicate the reduction of cultural creations only to the end-products of specialized techniques and production lines.