Money, Religion, Architecture — Midtown Manhattan

I spent some part of the day walking to and back home from meetings in midtown. Thought a lot about my last post about Tablet Magazine, and my screed last fall about Tikvah. I’m thinking a lot about money and the citation from Simmel about the mediating force of money to link up the most “superficial” and the most “profound” aspects of life into what Herman Cohen might have called a “totality” (Allheit). Law, politics, religion, and art do pretty much the same thing, sometime with different objects, sometimes with the same ones. They are interrelated media with which to link up diverse life-phenomena.

Walking though midtown on the east side (down Lexington, up 3rd) seemed apropos to these thoughts, given its intense, built-up and tacky commercial space, the pooling up of money, particularly in the iconic architecture of the Seagram’s building. Almost humanist in character, the religious places like the old neo-Moorish Central Synagogue. and the super contemporary St Peter’s Church (just down the street from each other on Lexington between in the 50s). Also on Lexington, the “Cohen Building” and its lobby are bits of old postmodern architecture, too ugly for words.

Sometimes walking through a conceptual problem or knot of phenomena lends a little clarity to it. What strikes me is how, in retrospect, all these different pieces –commerce, religion, architecture– all hang together. It’s capitalism, and democracy. Some of it’s ugly, some of it is beautiful. I like the gridding up of things and their interconnection, and the way you can move in and out of them. I’m looking foward to reading through Simmel’s Philosophy of Money.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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