Ex-German professor makes Twitter splash saying 'Nein'

BERLIN - Former Ivy League professor of German Eric Jarosinski seemed an unlikely Twitter phenomenon in the making, at least on paper.

When he wasn't teaching his students in the United States about 20th-century writers and philosophers, he was trying to write a book on transparency as a political metaphor in post-Wall Germany.

He readily admits he was averse to the Internet - it meant having to deal with an avalanche of work emails and he was "never the type" to sit at home reading blogs, the 43-year-old said.

Then two-and-a-half years ago a friend introduced him to Twitter whose point, he said, he didn't understand at first. But through following several comedians and writers, he came to see the potential of the microblogging site.

It sparked what he calls his "little experiment", probing life's complexities in his Twitter feed @NeinQuarterly in a style that is ironic, melancholic, funny or intriguing in up to 140 characters.

"Youth. Wasted on the wrong demographic," reads one.

"A gentle reminder that today was just a symptom. We're the problem," reads another, or: "Every now and then you should step back. Take a look at your life. And keep stepping back."

Written in German and/or English from his smartphone, Jarosinski has struck a chord among users of a form of social media often derided for being overindulgent in tracking the minutiae of everyday life.

His Twitter feed, which he dubs "A Compendium of Utopian Negation", has more than 90,000 followers in an estimated 100 countries and a weekly column in the prestigious German Die Zeit newspaper.

Much of the effect comes from his avatar - a formidable cartoon image of German philosopher and social critic Theodor W. Adorno wearing a monocle with a stern "Nein" (No) written below his face.

"What I'm interested in is taking the authority that's there in that face, in the words and undercutting it at the same time, but trying to undercut it in a kind of playful and thought-provoking way," Jarosinski told AFP.

"That's always the challenge, that these short things have to do all of that at once. But that's also what I love about it," he said in an interview on the sidelines of this month's Frankfurt Book Fair, where he was promoting a planned book.

'No need to fetishise'

Open, witty and with a wide ready smile, he calls what he does "writing jokes" whose form and delivery have evolved over time and are inspired by the aphorisms - terse or astute sayings or observations - of writer Karl Kraus, an early 20th-century Austrian writer and satirist, and others.

Often his pithy philosophical musings play on language, mixing German and English, with puns, inversion, negation or contradiction, and tend to be pegged to current events or daily life.

"Remember, friends: The dative never says die", read a recent one that requires knowledge of German grammar, but Jarosinski, who comes from Wisconsin and lives in New York, said he was mindful to avoid only "inside jokes".

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