Humboldtians in private

Professor Tweet

By Eric Jarosinski, recorded by Georg Scholl

It all began with a flight from writer’s block – just playing around with the German language on Twitter now and again. It was supposed to distract me from the weighty learned work I had got completely bogged down in. Today, some 33,000 tweets later, the book I was writing is still not finished. But the writer’s block has gone, my twitter icon (the rather severe-looking gentlemen with the monocle) is an internet celebrity and, to my own amazement, I have become a frequent guest on the German feature pages.

Aficionados of the Frankfurt School will certainly have identified him as the German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno. He is the fictitious editor of “NeinQuarterly: A Compendium of Utopian Negation”. This is the twitter profile I use each day to post aphorisms, jokes and commentaries on what is going on in the world – mostly in English, often in German, or a mixture of both, such as: “When in doubt, Umlaut.”, “German Angst. Accept no substitutes.”, “German. 50 Shades of the.”, “Hegel, Žižek and Stalin walk into a bar. Hegel orders nothing. Žižek orders the same, but a double. Stalin orders them shot.”

More than 80,000 followers (Adorno would call them: readers) share my predilection for tinkering around with the German language and philosophy – even if they do not speak German and have perhaps never ever been there – because my followers can be found all over the world. Who would have thought that “Nein” – the Germans’ favourite word and a mugshot of Adorno with a monocle could become so popular? I was not the only one to be so amazed. Suddenly, the media got hold of my story. From the “Spiegel” to the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” to the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”, they all reported on the NeinQuarterly phenomenon.

It was also the start of my career as a print journalist. I recently closed the door on my office at the university for the last time. Now I have a weekly column in “DIE ZEIT” and sometimes write articles for other papers, too. A blog and other projects are on the way. What sounds really easy is actually very hard work. But I do not regret my online metamorphosis from a blocked writer to an author for a single moment. Life writes stories like this, as we all know. Let us see how this one ends.

published in Humboldt Kosmos 102/2014

Dr Eric Jarosinski tweets under the name of NeinQuarterly. Until recently, he was an assistant professor of literature at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA. In 2002, a German Chancellor Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation took him to Berlin.