Kernel Morgan Bell reviews NEIN. A MANIFESTO from academic, Eric Jarosinski. It is a strange little book that Morgan can explain a lot better than I 🙂 It does sound interesting though. NEIN. A MANIFESTO releases from Text Publications on September 23 and should be available in most bookstores – or you can preorder it from HERE. Enjoy Morgan’s review…………all the best…………JK.
BY MORGAN BELL
NEIN. A MANIFESTO is a quirky and fun collection of tweets from @NeinQuarterly aka former Ivy League (University of Pennsylvania) professor (of German) Eric Jarosinski. Every page contains a hashtag and then four short statements relating to the hashtag. The short statements usually build upon each other and take the form of an academic joke or a philosophical haiku. They are dour epigrammatic aphorisms about language, literature, meaning, culture, and existentialism.
The book opens with a quote from the philosopher Adorno “The pleasure of thinking – it cannot be recommended.” This sets the tone for the entire collection, a lamentation on how engaging in deep academic criticism has the potential to tear you apart from the inside. The book ends with a prose wrap-up where the last thing we are told is “Kafka is quoted as having said there is always hope – just not for us. In its own little way this book seeks to second that.” There is a pessimistic self-awareness that self-reflection, in high doses, rots your brain.
The best way to recommend this book is to give a few examples. In the following three tweets Jarosinski examines the nature of art, politics, and understanding:
[#Optics | Art: This is not a pipe, | Politics: This is not a lie. | The politics of art: This lie is not a lie. | The art of politics: Put this lie in your pipe. But don’t smoke it.]
[#WellRed | Radical: my reading of Marx. | Reactionary: your reading of Marx. | Revisionist: their reading of Marx. | Realistic: none of us has ever actually read Marx.]
[#FAQ | He lived, they say. | Like he died. | As just another philosophy. | Killed by just another philosopher.]
On literature and the mood of the writer in this modern world, Jarosinski finds some universal truths and expresses them so simply that it is striking:
[#Daffodils | A lonely cloud: | Please alert the poets. | A lonely poet: | Please send in the clouds.]
[#GenreTrouble | The aphorism: | Philosophy’s ship in literature’s bottle. | The epigram: | Literature’s hole in philosophy’s bucket.]
[#SystemError | My God: dead. | My document: saved. | My prose: tired. | My screen: refreshed.]
[#AutoGenesis | In the beginning. | There was the word. | And it was auto corrected. | To world.]
In the Afterword, Jarosinski tells us that Twitter offered him relative anonymity and an escape from the isolation of academic life at a time when he was trying to write a philosophical thesis to gain tenure at a university. His interest in Twitter developed because he found speaking in an Adorno-like voice liberating. He began living his online life as a persona, the social media face of the fictitious journal: Nein. Quarterly: A Compendium of Utopian Negation. He says his tweets are “misanthropic yet romantic, principled yet darkly nihilistic.”
On the nature of love and ambition, Jarosinski is deeply cynical. The statements with his tweets are underlined with despair:
[#Priceless | No, my dear commodity. | What we have is fetishization. | It’s love. | Without the ideology.]
[#SweetBrokenDreams | The bad news: | Dreams don’t come true. | The worse news: | Yours might.]
[#Platonic Ideals | There are those who love reading philosophy. | Those who really love reading philosophy. | And those who really read philosophy. | And never love again.]
[#ConsumerConfidences | It’s not you. | It’s your brand. | It’s not me. | It’s my demographic.]
The Introduction is cryptic. It tells us that it is hard to say no and harder still to keep saying it, because we live in “A tyranny of yes.” He explains that the “Nein” from the title is “A no of not now. No yet. And not only.” The contents are broken into nine (Nein?) sections, all with long headings that begin with the word “Nein”. As a guide to the content within the section I didn’t find the headings very clear or useful. There is a comical Glossary at the end with some hum-dinger definitions like “Anxiety: Fear of the unknown; Depression: Fear of the known”, “Close reading: The art of reading what has never been written in order to write a book that will never be read”, “Humanism: The sober realization that we’re all we’ve got”, and “Mid-life crisis: The sudden realization that you’ve been dying all along.” It is not however a comprehensive or factual guide the actual philosophical terms and figures referenced in the body of the work.
This book would be a great gift for university students in arts and humanities. There is an emphasis on Marx and Nietzsche, who are well known enough to appeal to a general audience, with a few more esoteric or specific references for philosophy geeks. From a literary point of view this is a volume of poetry, a fact that makes you reconsider the content of Twitter as a whole. Hashtags are often used in modern humour as an abbreviated punchline, Jarosinski uses them to frame his bitter-sweet reverie on a society that has run out of time to listen.
In summing up this project I refer back to Jarosinski’s own words “I found a voice that is both invented yet somehow more authentic than that hiding behind the tortured qualifiers and anxious hedging of my academic work.” NEIN. A MANIFESTO feels like a break for freedom.
Kernel Morgan is an author of short fiction, an anthology editor, and a technical writer. Her debut collection was SNIGGERLESS BOUNDULATIONS. She enjoys scowling at children and bursting bubbles. She can be tweeted and stalked at @queenboxi.