Dr. Eric Jarosinski is a former University of Pennsylvania professor of German whose Twitter handle, @NeinQuarterly, and journey away from academia towards social media has attracted attention from the New Yorker, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. Calling himself a #FailedIntellectual, Jarosinski tweets about academic life, philosophy, art, social media, the nuances of the English and German language, and more recently, the World Cup in the form of the aphorism, or a short witty phrase containing a moral, philosophical, or intellectual truth. Jarosinski’s tweets are both self-referential and self-negating; on cafepress.com he sells Nein Quarterly coffee mugs which he markets with the phrase “Bottomless Despair Not Included.”
With over 83,000 followers, Nein Quarterly demonstrates that tweeting may be more timely at fostering dialogue on philosophy and modernity amongst the intellectually curious than publishing an article in the Journal of European Philosophy. A handful of Nein’s followers have picked up on Jarosinski’s style, contributing their own aphorisms to what he calls the #TheNihilistsDictionary. Eric spoke with Acclaim about his tweeting and teaching.
ACCLAIM: How have your students responded to @NeinQuarterly? Do they ask you about your tweets?
NQ: Well, as of two weeks ago I am no longer a professor. When I was, I tried to keep my life on Twitter and my life in the classroom quite separate actually, but a number of students did happen upon my account and asked me about it. Once, a student introduced himself to me after class on the first day of my Nietzsche course and said it was an honor to be taught by a “Twitter artist.” I told him that sounded far better than “associate professor.”
ACCLAIM: Have you seen students/ colleagues follow your lead? Could you see assigning a certain # of tweets in place of a term paper?
NQ: I don’t think so. And no, I can’t necessarily imagine assigning tweets, though one of my favorite things to teach is the philosophical aphorism.
ACCLAIM: Why do you think it is that literary writers, as opposed to academic ones, are more keen to embrace Twitter as an intellectual medium?
NQ: Perhaps because Twitter requires the invention of your own form of writing, your own particular use of the medium. Many academic conventions don’t lend themselves to a 140 character limit. Personally, I find Twitter’s constraints to be what pushes its creativity.
ACCLAIM: Academic standards for research in philosophy and literature often discourage writers from expressing a connection with their subject. But pedagogically, doing the opposite can be more effective. What are your thoughts? Or, what aspects of your Twitter persona have resonated with how you teach?
NQ: The persona and I are clearly different, but connected. As a teacher, I always sought to counter the fear that students have about looking stupid when talking about art, literature, philosophy, etc. I suffered with that myself a great deal when I was younger and, unfortunately, still do today. Great ideas and works of art want to speak to us, but the conventions surrounding them can make the conversation considerably more difficult. In a way that might be the theory of what I do and Nein is the praxis. But it depends upon having readers who appreciate the way in which my voice on Twitter is both earnest and ridiculous at the same time. It asserts authority while also undercutting it.