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 An Interview with Eric Jarosinski

Whenever Eric Jarosinski ran late for our class (“Nietzsche’s Modernity”) at the University of Pennsylvania, he’d invariably send us mass emails with subject lines like, “Thus was Zarathustra 10-15 mn late.” Or after news of a snow day: “Die Another Day. In Venice.” For an email ominously titled “Krank,” he’d add, “That’s German for sick. Because that’s how bad I’m feeling right now.”

That constant impulse to write playful, incisive, well-punctuated aphorisms has made Jarosinski a Twitter phenomenon. He has almost 850,000 followers, an incredibly large number considering Jarosinski’s favorite topics include hermeneutics (“Another beautiful day for signifying nothing”) and grammar (“An Oxford comma walks into a bar. Orders a gin, and tonic.”) Under the handle Nein Quarterly, a fictional magazine that may soon become real, Jarosinski takes on the persona of “Nein,” a zeppelin-flying alter ego of Theodor W. Adorno that turns a critical, monocled eye on the world.

Jarosinski’s tongue-in-cheek self-identification as a #FailedIntellectual after he decided to leave academia resonates with an audience looking to think outside traditional academic boundaries. His most earnest tweets come when promoting crowd-sourced or free resources for thought, like the avant-garde UbuWeb or the “PDF library” Arg Dot Org.

Our interview took place over email; he responded on various Apple devices.

—Brenda Wang 

I. MAYBE WATCH A WERNER HERZOG DOCUMENTARY

THE BELIEVER: You’ve recently inked a book deal for NEIN. A MANIFESTO, which means you’re moving back to writing books, this time in “small but potent clusters of text.” What does that mean exactly? Is Nein really Nein without Twitter?

ERIC JAROSINKI: Embarrassing. I don’t really know. That’s promotional text I didn’t write myself. I think it means “short but good.” That’s what I’ve been trying to write anyway, with varying degrees of success.

And yes, Nein is still Nein without Twitter, at least in spirit, but not exactly in form. I am trying to write for the book as a medium, just as I’ve tried to learn to write for Twitter as a medium. I know nothing about music, but I’m tempted to say something about tweets being about dissonance and sharp counterpoints, but for print I’m trying to think more in terms of composition, maybe some sort of little textual fugues. Uh, small but potent clusters of, uh, textual fugues.

BLVR: The promotional text on Lebowski Publishers’ website says that the book will, “As good old Horace would have put it, instruct and delight in equal measure.” That seems a little medieval for Nein—what are you hoping to instruct readers about?

EJ: You’ll have to ask my agent. The only thing I’ve ever tried to teach is a type of respectfully irreverent spirit in approaching the authors, thinkers, and ideas that have meant a great deal to me. At my best, I’d like to think I’m helping in some very small way to put the critical back into critical theory—by demystifying thinkers whose very objective was demystification.

BLVR: What is your schedule like now that you’re no longer a professor? Do you find that you have more time to think and write without a defined career, or less?

EJ: Well, it’s summertime, and the damaged life is easy… Though not for much longer, as I just got my last professorial paycheck. I get up relatively early, read a lot of German news, play basketball in a South Philly playground for an hour or so, usually writing some jokes in breaks, then often end up in a favorite dive bar by mid-afternoon to write. In the evening I grill on my front steps, read, maybe watch a Werner Herzog documentary. Most of my writing is done late at night. The uneasy sleep of an ongoing mid-life crisis is good for that.

BLVR: It’s funny that you say you watch a lot of Herzog’s films, because Nein’s tweets often remind me of Herzog’s dramatic voice-overs in his documentaries. What interests you about them?

EJ: I’m fascinated by Herzog’s own fascination, his intensity really. Every time I watch one of his films I’m reminded that I’m wasting my time if I’m not living with some degree of passion. And for a long time I wasn’t. Your question reminds me that I applied for Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School in LA in August. Haven’t heard anything. Probably not good news.

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