četvrtak, 23. listopada 2014.

Eric Jarosinski - NeinQuarterly: Compendium of Utopian Negation


Zvijezda twitter-nihilizma i tviterske estetike..


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An Interview With @NeinQuarterly’s Dr. Eric Jarosinski

@NeinQuarterly (Photo by @oafbot)
Dr. Eric Jarosinski is assistant professor of German at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. His primary research interests include Weimar-era literature, culture and philosophy. Among his published work is the book “The Hand of the Interpreter: Essays on Meaning after Theory,” which he co-edited with Mena Mitrano and several essays that examine the intersections of language, politics, and aesthetics in the work of Walter Benjamin, Theodor W. Adorno, Siegfried Kracauer, Joseph Roth, and Vladimir Nabokov. He is currently at work on a book entitled “Cellophane Modernity,” which focuses on metaphors of transparency in modern German culture.
Recently, Dr. Jarosinski has also become an active presence on Twitter with the creation of @NeinQuarterly, which he refers to as “a compendium of utopian negation.” The wit and intelligence of the account captured our attention immediately and has clearly captured the attention of many others as well. We wanted to know more about both the man behind the account and the impetus for beginning @NeinQuarterly. We asked Dr. Jarosinski to answer some questions via email and he graciously accepted.
Little Utopia: Before we start discussing @NeinQuarterly, it might help our readers who might not be as familiar with you to have some background information on you and your profession. How did you first become interested in Germany and Germanic studies? What made you decide it was something you wanted to pursue at the graduate school level?
Dr. Eric Jarosinski: Well, I’d like to say it was Kafka, Brecht, and Thomas Mann who drew me to German. The truth, however, is a long story involving my humble origins in the American Hinterland, young love, and a strong desire to get out of the United States for a while and study abroad. From there it only gets more complicated, but I knew I wanted to continue with German in graduate school after becoming increasingly interested in the Frankfurt School and Modernism during a Fulbright year in Germany. Until that point I thought I was going to be a journalist and had spent a lot of time in college doing political reporting for a few newspapers and a magazine.
What did you enjoy most about your time living in Germany? Is there one particular story or moment that sticks out in your mind?
In a word: nein. I’ve studied in Bonn, Frankfurt, Freiburg, and Berlin — in many ways, those were my formative years, but it’s hard to say what I liked most. It wasn’t a particular experience, but simply the chance to observe and take part in everyday life from the position of an outsider. In short, what I learned most is how American I am, for better or worse. Probably worse. This has also been confirmed in my time living in the Netherlands and Italy but in different ways.
From what I’ve read about your research interests, you seem to take an interdisciplinary approach in your work. In my experience, most professors are so specialized (even those in the same department) that they can hardly understand each other’s work. What do you value about the interdisciplinary approach as opposed to, say, only focusing on Weimar-era literature?
I like to work thematically and explore a topic from numerous overlapping and at times contradictory perspectives. A goal of my work is to be able to connect with the non-specialist, and I’d like to think that my broad approach lends itself to speaking to a wider audience. The downside is that you run the risk of being a dilettante, so it’s important to do your homework and be reasonable about your claims. I usually manage to heed my own warnings about this but not always.
What are you currently working on and what classes are you teaching in the upcoming semester?
Recently I’ve been finishing a book on post-Wall state architecture in Berlin and working on another on the history of radio and the radio play in the Weimar Republic. I’m interested in how early writings on radio — primarily by Siegfried Kracauer, Bertolt Brecht, Joseph Roth and a few others — are about much more than the technology itself. Radio becomes the site for a much larger discussion about politics, aesthetics and society. My main interest is the way in which these Weimar-era thinkers are implicitly theorizing the production of space, as Lefebvre would say, in modernity.
As to teaching: In the coming semester, I have my undergraduate course on Marx and Marxism and a graduate seminar on Modernism — my two favorite courses, which is nice since this will be my last year in my current position (this is the basis for the #failedintellectual storyline of @NeinQuarterly, but I actually consider my work in the ivory tower to be a success, at least in the ways that matter to me). I’m still considering what I’ll do next, or if I’ll stay in academia at all, but I suspect that NQ will be a big part of whatever the future holds. As silly as this venture is, I’ve often been surprised to see NQ accomplish some important things. From the feedback I’ve received, I know it’s encouraged some people to learn German, study abroad, or simply to Google some of the words or concepts I’m playing with. I’ve also been really pleased to hear from a number of teachers and professors who use my material in class. Recently NQ has been receiving more media attention in Europe, so I’m happy to see there’s also interest there in my work.
Dr. Eric Jarosinski
The man behind @NeinQuarterly, Dr. Eric Jarosinski
OK, so let’s talk about NQ a little more. If I’m being honest, I was at first fooled by your Twitter account. I’m currently working on my thesis, which focuses on contemporary little magazines, and, in general, I’m a magazine nerd. So when I saw your account, I thought, “Oh! I can’t wait to see what this magazine is about.” Needless to say, I was surprised to learn there was no actual magazine. Why did you choose to position or format the account as a quarterly? Or is the joke simply meant to be taken literally, i.e., “No Quarterly?”
“No Quarterly?” Funny, I never thought of it that way, but maybe I should. The name was actually an attempt to make the account sound a tad more legit than its earlier incarnation — @ShitGermansSay — and meant to set the stage for a blog or website in the future. Incidentally, that time is now arriving — I hope to have neinquarterly.com off the ground this fall.
The persona you’ve created for NQ is loosely based on Theodor W. Adorno, the German sociologist and philosopher. What about his work or life drew you to him as a basis for a Twitter account?
I’ve always loved Adorno because I sense that when he’s at his “elitist” worst, he’s also at his humanitarian best. I respect his disgust with mediocrity, with the ways in which human potential is squandered. Such a loss should outrage and challenge us. That’s what his work is still teaching me a couple of decades since I was first introduced to it. In any case, the persona I’ve developed attempts to capture a tone that is both condescending and self-deprecating — this represents both the critical concepts I’m working with and my own particular reading of them.
Your tweets are a mix of literary and cultural theory, philosophy, and, sometimes, everyday mundane activities. Were you ever worried that the more abstract concepts might not translate to 140 characters?
Interesting. The mundane in NQ is perhaps the most literary or theoretical. But no, the limitations of a tweet have never been a concern. Constraints further creativity. In addition, working in an aphoristic vein is in keeping with how many of my favorite philosophers wrote. I’m hardly a Nietzsche or an Adorno, but I love the challenge of writing a somewhat clever aphorism or well-timed one-liner. Twitter is the perfect platform for it.
I might be generalizing a bit here, but it seems as if many Americans only associate Germany with certain stereotypes, e.g., drinking beer, lack of humor, speaking a harsh language, etc. From what I’ve seen and understood, NQ seems to be trying to bridge American and German cultures beyond simple stereotypes. Am I reaching here?
Nein! That’s precisely it. I’m most interested in poking fun at American clichés about Germany and vice versa. My persona has a love-hate relationship with most things, including national cultures, social media, and — not least — himself.
What have you noticed about your audience that surprised you the most? What do you want them to take away from following NQ?
I’ve been surprised most by how international my audience has become (I recently saw that NQ has followers in over 130 countries) and by how receptive and kind people have been. Though I’ve created a persona very different from myself, my own life and feelings often come through. Folks have picked me up when I’m down and been happy for me when things are going well. I have had to deal with many more hecklers as my following has grown, but that’s just part of the medium.
What I’d most like people to take away from my work is simply a bit of the joy that I’ve found in playing with words, taking apart clichés, and exploring a handful of writers and theorists who make frequent appearances in my tweets (Adorno, Kafka, Borges, Benjamin, Susan Sontag, etc.). I’m convinced that for most people, thinking is not antithetical to fun, but that it is the fun. That’s why I loathe Twitter’s tendency toward pedanticism. Correcting others’ spelling or punctuation, often incorrectly, is truly counter to the joy I’ve often found in Twitter — though my persona usually expresses this in terms of despair — and that I hope others find there as well.
I’ve noticed that some people have actually started subscribing to NQ as they would to a typical magazine. Is this a joke that I haven’t caught onto yet or have people actually given money to a non-existent magazine? If so (and you don’t mind telling us, of course), what are your plans for the subscription money? Might we see NQ t-shirts, coffee mugs or even an actual magazine?
It started as a joke, when someone suggested I ask my followers to pay off my student loan debt (like a lot of people, I’m still in quite deep and will be until the grave). Then some kind folks started to kick in a few bucks, and I went with it. Right now I’ve been using the subscription campaign as material more than anything (NQ’s surely ill-fated experiment with capitalism), but whatever I end up with will help me to finance neinquarterly.com. And, yes, merchandise is in the works. All the commodities. Truly: all the commodities.
Dr. Jarosinski, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Best of luck with NQ and your research work.
Danke. My persona would prefer despair, of course, but I’ll take it.
- littleutopiamag.com/2013/08/06/an-interview-with-neinquarterlys-dr-eric-jarosinski/

The Construction of a Twitter Aesthetic


Like many of us, Eric Jarosinski first started tweeting as a way of avoiding work. It was January of 2012, and Jarosinski, an assistant professor of German at the University of Pennsylvania, was struggling to write a book. He liked his topic just fine: transparency as a metaphor in contemporary German culture. What he couldn’t stand was the language. His own sentences. They were long, complex, and dense with qualifiers: “somewhat,” “perhaps,” “not unlike.” A handful of fellow academics might read the final book, he figured, and it was hard to see them actually enjoying it. Each time Jarosinski sat down at his laptop to write, he started to sweat.

Tweeting felt different. He wrote his tweets on his smartphone, not on the laptop, where the book lurked. Over the next two years, tweeting almost thirty thousand times, Jarosinski developed a crisp, allusive, irreverent Twitter voice: “Signifying nothing is harder than it looks.” “At Starbucks I order under the name Godot. Then leave.” “First as tragedy. Then as farce. Then as tragedy-farce-banana smoothie.” “I love ü. And it’s just that simple.” His feed, @NeinQuarterly, carries the tagline “A Compendium of Utopian Negation.” For an avatar, he uses a cartoon of the German-Jewish philosopher Theodor W. Adorno. The cartoon depicts a dour-looking man with a monocle. A caption reads simply, “Nein.”
Jarosinski tweets in German, English, and a mix of the two. The effect depends heavily on the intimidating visage of Adorno. Sometimes Jarosinski goes along with the image, indulging a personal tendency toward despair, and sometimes he undercuts the image with bursts of silliness and romanticism. From time to time, he tweets about being in love with a woman who lives in New York. His fifty-two thousand seven hundred followers include frustrated graduate students, German-language learners, and the president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
I met Jarosinski at a bar in Philadelphia to talk about Twitter. He is thin, with short, curly brown hair, and wore gray jeans, a black shirt buttoned all the way up, a black watch with no numbers, and black-framed glasses. “Right now, I wish I could speak a little more in tweet form, and a little more quotable,” he started off. “I’m not very good at that. I’ll try not to ramble. I get nervous when I start to talk.” But he went on to tell his story in thoughtful paragraphs. He had come here from teaching an evening graduate seminar at Penn on modern German drama. Jarosinski said that he enjoys teaching, but that this is his final semester at Penn. Last spring, he took himself out of consideration for tenure, after realizing that he simply hadn’t published enough research. He started calling himself a “#failedintellectual” on Twitter. “There is kind of an identity crisis that takes place when you’ve been part of a system for a very long time and then, all of a sudden, you see yourself without that,” he said.
The son of Catholic grade-school teachers, the third of six boys, he grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. He travelled to Germany for the first time in college, with a high-school girlfriend who had spent a year abroad there. He discovered a fondness for the language and went on to study in Bonn, Frankfurt, Freiburg, and Berlin. He got the job at Penn in 2007 and did work on the Frankfurt School of critical theory, analyzing the texts of Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Siegfried Kracauer, as well as Marx, Nietzsche, and Kafka. But Jarosinski felt isolated in academia. He’d always been drawn to the radical, playful sides of German thinkers, but others tended to appraise their work with a heavy sobriety close to worship. Adopting the Twitter persona was “extremely liberating,” he said, because it helped him to remember what had attracted him to the Frankfurt School philosophers in the first place: their more literary works, especially their aphorisms. Adorno: “The splinter in your eye is the best magnifying glass.” Or, as one NeinQuarterly tweet has it: “ADORNO. German for YOLO.”
Jarosinski started talking about what makes a good tweet. “You’re trying to find a way to state contradiction. You’re writing a cartoon caption for a cartoon that doesn’t exist…. It’s the old Gary Larson trick,” he said, referring to the creator of “The Far Side.” “What you really need to do in a cartoon is set someone up for the moment that comes next, after that frame, but is not depicted.” Tweets, he has learned, work best in dialogue form, because dialogue helps readers imagine a scene. “An early tweet of mine would have said, ‘No bourgeois morality on the bus.’… The better tweet is, ‘Sorry, sir, no bourgeois morality on the bus.’”
A good day on Twitter for him is when he can discover “a new structure” that he can use over and over. “I guess I want to see myself as an aphorist,” Jarosinski said. “And not even a Twitter aphorist. I think we need to reestablish that as a profession.” He laughed. In his case, it’s not that farfetched. Two German publishers have asked him about writing a book of aphorisms, he said, and he’s putting together a proposal. Also, something interesting happened last summer. He had to do some research in Berlin, so he tweeted that he was embarking on a “#FailedIntellectualGoodwillTour.” He was joking, but “all of a sudden, all these German journalists were like, ‘Oh, you’re coming? Let’s do an interview.’ ” The prestigious weekly Die Zeit invited him to its office to participate in a staff critique of the paper. Normally, he would have panicked, but he tried to adopt some of the swagger of his Twitter persona. In front of the staff of Die Zeit, he opened a newspaper with a ceremonial flourish, frowned at it, looked up, and said, severely, in German, “Your articles. They are far too long.”
The meeting led to an offer for Jarosinski to write a weekly column of Twitter-length jokes on Die Zeit’s opinion page, the first of which will run on Thursday. He’ll also be writing longer pieces for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, as well as an article for Kursbuch, a cultural magazine founded by one of his favorite German writers, Hans Magnus Enzensberger. “I’m trying not to think about it too much, to be honest,” he said, grimacing. Despite his anxiety, Jarosinski said he’s finding that his Twitter style works beyond the hundred-forty-character limit. “You can build paragraphs with the sentences I’ve learned to write.” Having deconstructed his passions down to the size of a tweet, Jarosinski is building them back up again.
- www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-construction-of-a-twitter-aesthetic

Just say 'nein': Talking with Eric Jarosinski about NeinQuarterly

The very best piece of writing I’ve encountered on Twitter comes from a feed called NeinQuarterly.
Here it is: “At Starbucks I order under the name Godot. Then leave.”
That’s an almost perfect use of Twitter as a platform: Aphoristic, and yet hinting at a depth of knowledge underneath. It’s a joke, but one you have to know something to get. The same is true of much of what appears at NeinQuarterly, which bills itself as a “Compendium of Utopian Negation,” but is really more a labor of love.
NeinQuarterly is the brainchild of Eric Jarosinski, an assistant professor of German at the University of Pennsylvania. His specialty is Weimar literature and philosophy. Since he began posting in February 2012, he has attracted more than 44,000 followers, who come for his signature mix of disappointment and irony.
“It’s a beautiful day to discover your authentic self. And find it wanting,” reads one recent tweet. And: “You call it another wasted afternoon. I call it the power of social media.”
For Jarosinski, NeinQuarterly offers a way to foster a digital conversation, while pushing the narrow bounds of academia. “I try to keep it far away from my day job in most respects,” he explains, “and few of my students even know about it, but they are closely related. Aphorisms are my favorite thing to teach.”
Recently we corresponded via email about NeinQuarterly.
What is NeinQuarterly, and how did it start?
NeinQuartertly is a sometimes funny, sometimes melancholic, sometimes playful, sometimes bitter Twitter feed that explores the complexities and/or absurdities of everyday life and language. The idea came from my study of the philosophy of Nietzsche, Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin. I was primarily drawn to their development of the philosophical aphorism or “thought-image.”
NeinQuarterly’s avatar is based on Adorno, as is the general perspective of the feed, at least loosely. I’ve been developing the critical voice of a misanthrope, of an arrogant cultural pessimist, but one who’s also often sentimental, whimsical, self-aggrandizing, foolish, and in love. The persona is, in a way, the Adorno I’ve always somehow read between the lines. Or perhaps simply want to find there: an Adorno who is at his most humane when he is most critical of that which makes us less human.
Why Twitter?
When I first discovered Twitter I didn’t find it all appealing. It was just millions of people writing about the mundane details of everyday life. Then I started to follow some writers, poets and comedians and discovered ways in which you could experiment and do more interesting things with the form. The more I got to know it, the more I saw Twitter as the rebirth of a tradition of storytelling, jokes and the aphorism. And it made it possible to connect with other people, smart people, often with a sense of humor.
I discovered Twitter at a time when I found myself feeling quite isolated by my work as an academic. In writing about it, in poking fun of the Ivory Tower, I established a network among many others who felt the same way. I’m realistic about what topics can be explored on Twitter, but I also find that Twitter’s constraints fuel its originality. Rather than make a philosophical point, the challenge is to perform or enact one. Preferably two.
You call NeinQuarterly a “Compendium of Utopian Negation.” Aren’t those ideas opposed?
Yes, and the contradiction is very much intentional. To the extent that NeinQuarterly has a project, it is very much one of negation. In ridiculing, inverting or saying no to the clichés of politics and the catchphrases of pop culture, maybe it’s also somehow creating a space, however playful, to envision what else could take their place. Something we might prefer to say yes to. Or, well, not. If you’ll allow me to quote one of my own tweets: “Dialectics isn’t saying no just to say no. It’s saying no to say yes. And then saying no.”
This ironic sense of humor is one of the appeals of the feed. At the same time, many tweets are personal, as in the recent observation about students giving you hope that you wished you didn’t have to give back.
What I write is very much connected to what I’m thinking about at a given moment. I delete many of the tweets I write, often because I find them too personal after the fact.
The only real aesthetic governing what I’m doing, at least that I consciously think about, is a certain rhythm that I’m aiming for. My sentences have changed dramatically over my time on Twitter. I write much more in terms of sound than I did at the outset.
But on the whole, NeinQuarterly has been about developing a character, a voice and a perspective that can be applied to most anything. I’m often a rather depressed, anxious and pessimistic person, but fortunately I’ve always been able to laugh at myself. Eventually. It’s been my way out of my darkest times.
How did you get interested in German culture and philosophy?
I grew up in rural Wisconsin, a town called Park Falls. The population was roughly 2,500. If you look it up on Wikipedia, you’ll find this: “Park Falls has been called the most geographically isolated community in all of Wisconsin.” I doubt that’s true. But somehow, yes, it’s true.
Wisconsin was the main destination for many German immigrants who came to America in the mid-19th century. My town was full of Schmidts, Wagners, even a mean old man on my paper route named Fleischfresser. I don’t remember learning many German words apart from the sentence, “Mein Plattenspieler ist leider kaputt.” ("My turntable is unfortunately broken.") My small town’s local festivals were always accompanied by polka music, and I remember many meals of dumplings and sauerkraut visiting my friends’ families. In general, though, I wasn’t drawn to German at all. It was only when I got to college (University of Wisconsin-Madison) that I realized the wider world I could access through the language.
You’re planning to start a blog shortly. How will it be different from the Twitter feed?
After a few delays, I’m currently hoping to launch neinquarterly.com in January. My hope is that it will become an interesting forum featuring the work of many of the writers, poets, artists, political figures and academics I’ve met on Twitter over the last couple of years. I have established few guidelines so far and am letting their contributions shape what ultimately emerges.
What were your expectations when you started? How have they changed?
I really didn’t expect anything from NeinQuarterly at the outset. It was simply a way to write about the things that interest me in a mode very different from the academic prose that I was becoming less and less fond of. It helped me give voice to my frustrations and rediscover a sense of joy and playfulness in writing, even (or perhaps because) my themes are often quite dark. Over time I’ve expected more from myself in terms of the quality of my writing. I’m always trying to say more with less.
- www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-eric-jarosinski-neinquarterly-20131120-story.html#axzz2ng4Z5vci&page=1

For a famous nihilist, Eric Jarosinski cuts a rather unassuming figure: He’s a young-looking 42 with delicate features and a quick smile. He is exceedingly mild-mannered, and finds it unbecoming to talk and eat at the same time (as a result, the eggs he orders at the Upper West Side restaurant where we recently shared breakfast quickly grow cold). And yet for all Jarosinski’s Wisconsin politeness in person, just the other day he admonished me, and 66,000 of my best friends: “Hate yourself like nobody’s looking. They’re not.”
The one-man brain trust behind Nein Quarterly, the anti-journal that is really “just” a Twitter feed, Jarosinksi is both a study in, and a master of, pithy contradiction. He’s a gentle Midwesterner who’s feuded publicly with Joyce Carol Oates. He’s got multiple media outlets in multiple countries interested in hiring him, but he finds the very act of writing so excruciating that he composes only on his phone. He’s a self-described “#failedintellectual,” but he’s probably done more good for the discipline of German Studies than most of the professors he’s about to leave behind.
His “compendium of utopian negation,” whose imposing logo is a cartoon of the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno mid-scowl, began with the decidedly non-utopian negation of his soon-to-be-ex career. Last year, as his pre-tenure years as an Assistant Professor of German at the University of Pennsylvania crept to a close, Jarosinski admitted to himself that he simply couldn't stand his own academic writing—definitely not anymore, but maybe never in the first place. (Perhaps he learned that the average academic treatise has an audience of three.)
As a result, he wasn’t going to finish his book in time to make tenure, if ever. “I knew what was expected of me and I didn't deliver,” he tells me in a series of admirably terse follow-up emails. “I tried and failed. It’s that simple.” He could have allowed the case to proceed and then been rejected—which, though it happens fairly often, is every scholar’s worse nightmare. Instead, he submitted this one-sentence email: “I would like to withdraw from consideration for tenure.”
I follow academic “Quit Lit” religiously, but this story has got to be my favorite of the genre so far—especially given the impressive success Jarosinski has since had with single sentences. Granted, there are things about academia he will miss (in a word, teaching), but also things he will not. “The quiet desperation,” he writes to me, in character as Nein but also sincerely, employing the inimitable “double perspective” that makes German humor simultaneously brilliant and obtuse. “Possibly the impotent rage. But I'm sure I'll find adequate substitutes before long.”
Perhaps. At present, though, it appears that this “failed intellectual” is having actual success. Nein’s following will likely hit six figures by summer, and while Jarosinski only very briefly experimented with merchandising, sales of coffee mugs and T-shirts were surprisingly good. What is the appeal of Nein? “Nein is a misanthrope,” Jarosinski explains, “but a sometimes lovable misanthrope. Nein believes in nothing, but a nothing that represents some rather utopian ideals.” Jarosinski describes the persona as “someone who is deeply invested in an intellectual project, but who loses sight of most everything else along the way. His voice,” he explains, “is both authoritative and ridiculous.” And although Nein is a character, he’s closely connected to Jarosinski’s own life. “For whatever reason, I've needed a mask in order to be more authentic.”
Nein’s genius comes exactly in that authoritative-ridiculous tension, evident as he explains the hidden gems of Deutsch:
In a truly meta twist to the tale, Jarosinski has become Big in Germany, where they express whatever passes over there for “delight” at this foreigner, so adept at simultaneously evoking and mocking their culture. He now thumb-types cultural criticism for the Frankfurter Allgemeine, the Tageszeitung, and Die Zeit, and this week sold his first nonacademic book—Nein. A Manifesto.—in both Germany and the Netherlands. In the English-speaking world? For now, we’ll “have to wait. In darkness. For nothing.”
As for re-inventing himself, or at any rate overcoming his identity as a professor (which, as some less successful nihilists have written, can be downright wrenching)? “It’s been hard work, but a lot of fun. I’ve been lucky, and many folks have helped me along the way.” And then, as Nein, but also as himself: “When you feel like you have nothing to lose, you have a world to win. Then lose.”

Rebecca Schuman

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