Pliny the Younger

Letter to Minicius Fundanus,

 c. 105

It is astonishing how good an account can be given, or seem to be given, of each separate day spent in Rome, yet that this is not the case with regard to a number of days taken in conjunction. If you were to ask anyone, “What have you been doing today?” he would reply, “I have attended the ceremony of a youth’s coming of age. I have helped to celebrate a betrothal or a wedding. One has invited me to the signing of his will, another to attend a trial on his behalf, another to a consultation.” These things seem indispensable at the time when they are done, but when you come to reflect that you have been doing them day after day, they strike you as mere frivolities—and much more is this the case when one has retired into the country. For then, the recollection steals over you, “How many days have I wasted, and in what dreary pursuits!” This is what happens to me as soon as I am in my house at Laurentum and am reading or writing, or even merely looking after my bodily health, that support on which the mind reposes. I hear nothing, I say nothing, which one need be ashamed of hearing or saying. No one about me gossips ill-naturedly of anyone else, and I for my part censure no one, except myself, however, when my writings are not up to the mark. I am troubled by no hopes and no fears, disquieted by no rumors: I converse with myself only and with my books. What a true and genuine life, what a sweet and honest repose, one might almost say, more attractive than occupation of any kind. Oh, sea and shore, veritable secret haunt of the Muses, how many thoughts do you suggest to the imagination and dictate to the pen!

Georg Simmel

“The Metropolis and Mental Life,”

 1903

There is perhaps no psychic phenomenon which has been so unconditionally reserved to the metropolis as has the blasé attitude. This attitude results first from the rapidly changing and closely compressed contrasting stimulations of the nerves. A life in boundless pursuit of pleasure makes one blasé because it agitates the nerves to their strongest reactivity for such a long time that they finally cease to react at all. In the same way, through the rapidity and contradictoriness of their changes, more harmless impressions force such violent responses, tearing the nerves so brutally hither and thither that their last reserves of strength are spent; and if one remains in the same milieu, they have no time to gather new strength. An incapacity thus emerges to react to new sensations with the appropriate energy. This constitutes that blasé attitude which, in fact, every metropolitan child shows when compared with children of quieter and less changeable milieus.

This physiological source of the metropolitan blasé attitude is joined by another source which flows from the money economy. The essence of this attitude consists in the blunting of discrimination. This does not mean that the objects are not perceived, as is the case with the halfwit, but rather that the meaning and differing values of things, and thereby the things themselves, are experienced as insubstantial. They appear to the blasé person in an evenly flat and gray tone; no one object deserves preference over any other. This mood is the faithful, subjective reflection of the completely internalized money economy. All things float with equal specific gravity in the constantly moving stream of money.

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