The Absurd Times Strollology Interview by Anna with Nein

Posted in Uncategorized by @honestcharlie on August 2, 2013


This is worth reading, I kid you not. It will outlast everything, even mankind itself.

Anna is very devoted to perception and discovery and open to new things. Nein is always a new thing. Perfect fit.

Disclaimer: We prefer Horkheimer here, but Adorno will do. *Smirk*


First as tragedy, then as farce, then as interview

If you are on Twit­ter, you might know @NeinQuarterly – a slightly pes­si­mistic, whim­si­cal cynic with a soft spot for Theo­dor W. Adorno and Ger­man Umlaute. With his witty apho­risms on Euro­pean cul­ture, cri­ti­cal theory and the Ger­man lan­guage, he has gai­ned more fol­lo­wers than the ava­rage intel­lec­tual mis­an­thrope can handle. A quick inter­net search for the man behind the Nein ser­vers brought us Eric Jaro­sin­ski, a sur­pri­sin­gly char­ming, non-monocled pro­fes­sor of Ger­man at the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­sil­va­nia in Phil­adel­phia. Our fri­end and inter­view whizz kid Juliane Lie­bert tal­ked to him about his aca­de­mic work, Ber­lin and the Ü.
It’s really early where you are, right?
Oh, no. Not for a Satur­day. It‘s ele­ven in the morning. So you want to ask me some ques­ti­ons about … about ME?
Haha. Yes. So one of your topics is the rhe­to­ri­cal con­struc­tion of Nazi Ber­lin. What‘s that?
Well the book I’ve been wri­t­ing is about trans­pa­rency as a meta­phor in archi­tec­ture, essen­ti­ally archi­tec­ture built in Ber­lin since 1989, most famously the Reichs­tag Cup­ola, for instance. In doing my back­ground rese­arch, I became inte­res­ted in a num­ber of pro­pa­ganda texts about Ber­lin from the Nazi era. Lar­gely books and pam­phlets about the city’s sup­po­sed trans­for­ma­tion under the Nazis, turning it into a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a cer­tain Ger­ma­nic essence. There are a lot of meta­phors rela­ted to trans­pa­rency from that time. Goeb­bels, for instance, talks about the city beco­m­ing cle­arly orde­red and rea­dily com­pre­hen­si­ble, as if seen through glass. That’s inte­res­ting, because now trans­pa­rency is used to rep­re­sent open­ness, demo­cracy, free­dom, and com­ing to terms with the past … and it’s striking to see how the same meta­phor has been used in dif­fe­rent ways over time in order to serve vastly dif­fe­rent agendas.
There are also a lot of volu­mes of illus­tra­ted books for visi­tors to Ber­lin from the 1930s, a kind of Nazi-tourist cul­ture. They are about what to see, but also about how to see it. There are for example maps of the city with indi­ca­ti­ons where early mem­bers of the Nazi party died in street fights …
Yeah, one of the most inte­res­ting books I found was cal­led Wir Wan­dern durch das Natio­nal­so­zia­lis­ti­sche Ber­lin and it is the story of the city as told from this per­spec­tive. I’ve lived in Ber­lin for a couple of years, so I knew some of the pla­ces men­tio­ned in the book, but it was inte­res­ting to see them from this highly ideo­lo­gi­cal point of view. I am not a trai­ned archi­tect, but I have a real inte­rest in how archi­tec­ture is writ­ten about and how it is instru­men­ta­li­zed in the name of a cul­tu­ral or poli­ti­cal agenda.
So you have lived in Ber­lin?
Yes, I‘ve lived in many dif­fe­rent parts of the city. The lon­gest stretch was almost two years, and I‘ve moved pro­bably six or seven times. I was just sub­let­ting pla­ces, and it was always just a shor­ter period of time. I only had two suit­ca­ses, so it also made it pos­si­ble to move with just a taxi and to get to know daily life in various neigh­borhoods. The city became really big for me then, I had my bar­ber in Neu­kölln, and I had my clea­ner in Prenzl­berg – just ever­y­day things you’d usually do in one part of the city spread out, because I deve­l­o­ped a rela­ti­onship to those little things in various parts of the city. But I really bene­fit­ted from that. It became clear to me that even in the lar­gest city you can restrict your­self to pretty small cor­ners of the place, just because you have your routines.
What did you do?
I was working on my dis­ser­ta­tion, so I was able to focus on my rese­arch and wri­t­ing. I con­sider mys­elf very for­t­u­nate to have had that amount of time. There‘s a lot of pres­sure in the Ame­ri­can aca­de­mic sys­tem and incre­a­sin­gly in the Ger­man one, too, to rush through gra­duate pro­grams. To actually get a chance to do things at a slo­wer pace but in a mea­ningful way really mat­te­red to me. For me the expe­ri­ence more than anything has been the plea­sure that I‘ve taken in dis­co­ve­r­ing new things, but pri­ma­rily new things wit­hin the con­text of the ever­y­day. I also tell my stu­dents that they should study abroad, because if you’re just a tou­rist some­where, you‘ll never know that expe­ri­ence. Which is one of being at a place long enough to hate it, and then to love it, and then to hate it and then to love it … you know, to first have dif­fi­cul­ties, then have things work out–that‘s the great value, more than anything else. Ber­lin is diverse enough to allow for many dif­fe­rent ways of being and of living, with very dif­fe­rent cir­cles one can get acquain­ted with.
What’s a typi­cal way if some­body from the US, for example your stu­dents, would speak about Ber­lin or Ger­many now?

It’s dif­fi­cult to gene­ra­lize, but one things I’ve noti­ced is that they might have very dif­fe­rent asso­cia­ti­ons with Ger­many than they do with Ber­lin. People might have a lot of nega­tive expec­ta­ti­ons about Ger­many, but very posi­tive ones about Ber­lin … and when they spend time there they have to rea­lise that those things belong toge­ther. Ber­lin is not some little town in the Bava­rian Hin­ter­land, of course. It has a con­nec­tion to a lar­ger cul­ture, right? It‘s a place with all these cool, uni­que things, yet at the same time you also often find your­self doing these ste­reo­ty­pi­cal Ger­man things, like wait­ing for the red light to change. I didn‘t come to Ber­lin with quite the same back­ground. I’d lived in a few other pla­ces in Ger­many first. For me that was good pre­pa­ra­tion. I had an idea of what the cul­ture was like in gene­ral and could then enjoy the more dis­tinc­tive things about Berlin.
Alt­hough it is really ugly if we‘re honest, huh?
Maybe. That’s the inte­res­ting thing about it. People expect Ber­lin to be more on the order of Paris or Rome, in terms of monu­men­tal archi­tec­ture, for instance, but that’s not really what Ber­lin is about, at least not for me. I stop­ped thin­king about cities in terms of beau­ti­ful or not beau­ti­ful a long time ago.
What’s your inte­rest in the Nazi era?
The thing I’m really inte­res­ted in is actually the period from 1900 to the late 1920s, early 1930s, but I’ve become more inte­res­ted in the Nazi era because lots of the things I’ve read and writ­ten about have a cer­tain after­life in that period. I‘ve been led there more his­to­ri­cally than anything else. What always comes up in teaching is under­li­ning the import­ance of Germany’s Nazi past in terms of its pre­sence today–without let­ting that overs­ha­dow ever­y­thing else.
Yes, people for­get that all the time.
Yeah, that’s just the way it works. It’s not new or sur­pri­sing. To me that’s the inte­res­ting thing about doing more his­to­ri­cal work. It‘s about remin­ding your­self of that, and remin­ding your­self of the con­clu­si­ons you’ve drawn, and the things that have become so natu­ral to you but were not ine­vi­ta­ble. I was recently teaching a Nietz­sche course, so I‘m thin­king a lot about history, loo­king at how mora­lity or noti­ons of social order emer­ged cul­tu­rally and his­to­ri­cally, and how they could have emer­ged dif­fer­ently, but also the ways how we impose a cer­tain logic or expla­na­tion upon these things that are ser­ving dif­fe­rent agen­das again. What I’m try­ing to teach is that ele­ment of debate, of dis­agree­ment and cer­tainly of con­tes­ted posi­ti­ons. Ger­many has a really vibrant cul­ture of debate, I think, not least because of its history.
What‘s the worst thing about learning Ger­man?
People find the gram­mar really hard. But they pro­bably just don‘t have a good teacher. I make a lot of jokes about the dif­fi­culty of Ger­man gram­mar, alt­hough I don‘t really believe in it. It has a repu­ta­tion of being a very harsh lan­guage, that it’s not a beau­ti­ful lan­guage, and that’s some­thing I play with on my Twit­ter feed. Because again, just like I don’t think of Ber­lin as being a beau­ti­ful or a ugly city, that‘s also not how I think about lan­gua­ges. For me it is really inte­res­ting to just lis­ten to the way Ger­man native speakers speak and the way the lan­guage is con­stantly changing.
… and how do they speak?
Well, I pay atten­tion to regio­nal dif­fe­ren­ces, choice of words, lis­ten­ing for expres­si­ons that maybe I wanna pick up. That to me is the fun of being outs­ide your own cul­ture. The ever­y­day beco­mes so much more inte­res­ting. A con­ver­sa­tion on the train that might be annoy­ing to you at home, is then an oppor­tu­nity to over­hear somebody‘s color­ful use of lan­guage… How does one per­son work with this lan­guage that I‘ve learnt as an outs­ider, how does someone who grew up with it, use it, play with it, make it their own. I‘ve lear­ned the most about Ger­man from fri­ends of mine, because of the dis­tinc­tive ways that they use it. I‘m often never sure if this is an expres­sion that ever­yone knows or just one of the many Ste­fans I know (Ever­yone male in their late thir­ties, early for­ties seems to be named Ste­fan, right?!). The deve­lop­ment of the lan­guage that we use has become a dis­tinc­tive part of our fri­endship. There’s a history to the way we talk to each other, and that‘s some­thing that I really like.
You’re spen­ding a lot of time on Twit­ter, twee­ting as Nein Quar­tely
This twit­ter thing, as silly as it is most of the time, does pro­vide an oppor­tu­nity for me to really think about a lot of these things in a much more con­scious way … about what I can do with Ger­man or with a spe­ci­fic expres­sion. What I like about it most is the unex­pec­ted dis­co­very of a con­nec­tion bet­ween words, some play on words or just a rela­ti­onship that one wouldn’t have other­wise – mainly because when you‘re dea­ling with such a small amount of text, you get to know it dif­fer­ently, more closely.
You’re obses­sed with Umlaute?
Well, thats part of the Twit­ter per­sona I’ve deve­l­o­ped, but yes.
So Nein Quar­tely is a kind of cha­rac­ter?
Yes, not only, but lar­gely. It’s loo­sely based on one of the phi­lo­sophers I work with… you know Theo­dor W. Adorno?
Sure. But he wasn’t obses­sed with Umlaute!
Per­haps not, but he did write an essay on punc­tua­tion marks…
So whats your favo­rite Umlaut?
And why?
… Why? It’s inte­res­ting. You can do a lot with it. I mean, it’s a really banal thing, but the Ü is a smi­ley face, right? And its also inte­res­ting because I have this obses­sion … I mean, you know how little text you have in a tweet? So I pay atten­tion to the cha­rac­ters, I even pay atten­tion some­ti­mes to what they look like. Cal­ling atten­tion to an Umlaut is taking some­thing that is easily iden­ti­fia­ble as Ger­man, but than making some­thing play­ful out of it.
Haha. Thank you.


strol­ling through Ber­lin, collec­ting impres­si­ons of the city while moving around from A to B, as well as ‘strol­ling’ the inter­net in search of his­to­ri­cal curio­si­ties and images.

Sprache | Language

Follow | Kontakt




Submit yours

  1. Nein! | Timavo says:%A, 28UTCFri, 28 Jun 2013 12:15:33 +0000 %e. %B %Y%H:%M
    […] course di tede­sco, via ‏@NeinQuarterly (alias Eric Jaro­sin­ski). Ger­man, lesson […]
  2. Honest Charlie says:%A, 24UTCWed, 24 Jul 2013 20:03:37 +0000 %e. %B %Y%H:%M
    Excel­lent and one of the best posts I’ve seen in a long time (inclu­ding mine). I would like per­mis­sion to reprint it on my blog if you would be so kind. Please feel free to stroll by there first and check it out if you pre­fer. Thanks.

    • Anna Sprang says:%A, 30UTCTue, 30 Jul 2013 22:32:04 +0000 %e. %B %Y%H:%M
      hi Char­lie! glad that you like it! sure, feel free to repost it – a link back to our blog and we’re fine!
  3. THE NEIN QUARTERLY | Czar Donic’s Blog says:%A, 29UTCMon, 29 Jul 2013 20:38:46 +0000 %e. %B %Y%H:%M
    […] then as farce, then as inter­view: we tal­ked to Eric Jaro­sin­ski, the man behind @NeinQuarterly: … Retweeted […]
  4. The Absurd Times Fwd: New post THE NEIN QUARTERLY | Czar Donic’s Blog says:%A, 30UTCTue, 30 Jul 2013 00:01:34 +0000 %e. %B %Y%H:%M
    […] then as farce, then as inter­view: we tal­ked to Eric Jaro­sin­ski, the man behind @NeinQuarterly: … Ret­wee­ted by Nein. […]

Posted By Blogger to The Absurd Times at 8/02/2013 04:53:00 PM


2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Barry Wright said, on August 2, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Berlin’s yearly arts endowment is larger than our yearly public support for all the arts in the US. More operas, symphonies, concerts of all kinds than any other single place. But that’s Europe, and even Mexico for pete’s sake. A friend of mine when on a vacation to Mexico’s famed ‘Copper Canyon’ and stayed in a small town. For laughs he strolled about one night, a bit of ‘strollology’ and found I Solisti di Zagreb performing in a nearby theater that evening. Chances of that happening in a small American town, zero.


    • czardonic said, on August 3, 2013 at 12:38 pm

      Exactly. After all, art often leads to thought and, well, that could cause trouble.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: