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DIGITAL media are often (fairly) derided for playing to short attention spans. But brevity need not be synonymous with simplicity. New technologies also offer a canvas for creativity—even if the palette is confined to 140 characters. Many an artist or author is adept at using online channels to promote their work, and projects like the Los Angeles Review of Books have embraced an internet-first ethos. But there are also writers producing work with a distinctively online mindset. Though the medium is not quite the message, the limitations imposed by Twitter make for particularly fertile ground, giving rise to what has been called “Twitterature”.
Among the more prominent—and professional—Twitterary practitioners is Eric Jarosinski, a former professor of German literature and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the writer behind Nein. Quarterly, a Twitter account complete with an avatar that is a cartoonish mock up of Theodor Adorno, a critical theorist, wearing a monocle. Nein. has 134,000 followers. In 2014, Mr Jarosinski jettisoned a book on the concept of transparency in politics and architecture, and the tenured job that would have come with it, to take to Twitter full time, composing primarily on his smartphone.
Many of his tweets read like 19th century philosophical aphorisms. This short, but substantive, form is long established, but Mr Jarosinski produces them with a knowing 21st century slant, a snarky, dour yet humorous tone for a millennial zeitgeist. He plays on current events, romantic German metaphysics and sarcasm. A typical recent passage: “Don’t worry, world. Trump won’t be elected president of the United States. He’ll be elected post-democratic corporate dictator. Of us all.” “Most of what I do will cross the line pretty easily between and aphorism and joke. That is intentional,”Mr Jarosinski says. “It comes without the same kind of truth claim.”
Behind the seemingly irreverent Tweets lies complex thinking about how to address the audience. In such limited space, pacing, punctuation and voice have added relevance. Whereas poets may debate where to place a line break or a novelist questions how best to organise stories into chapters, a writer on Twitter thinks carefully about where to place a comma, or whether a semi-colon might work better.