“Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”
– Walter Sobchak, The Big Lebowski
Nein. A Manifesto (Grove Press/Text) is a bittersweet distillation of the pessimistic social-media wit of an invented philosopher, anachronistically printed on paper, presumably to give the reader a chance at some physical pain by way of a paper cut to go with their existential angst. It is brief, often insubstantial (unless you supply your own substance), gloomy, nihilistic, sometimes not as pithy as you want it to be, and some of the sections left me a little flat – but – there are also some profound, honest (or otherwise) lovely musings, and the glossary is where it comes into its own—it’s mesmerising.
Nein is essentially a book of Twitter-length aphorisms that adhere to a gorgeous and romantic aesthetic of the rejection of everything (hence the quote above, and in the same vein please imagine three Spandex-covered nihilists, one of whom is saying, “Ja, we feel nussink”). It is a very attractive physical specimen and it occasionally leaves you feeling as special as when you are given extra attention by a particularly good-looking and smart person, for nestled among a fair few lightweight aphorisms are some very intelligent and thought-provoking ones, and some very funny ones as well. Like an un-medicated bipolar depressive it has a real mix of moods, hopping between facetious, scathing, humorous and helpful, that nonetheless leave an overall good impression. I even think the fact that I’m not giving it an overwhelmingly positive review is a good thing: I imagine its author saying, “You loved this wholeheartedly? Then you didn’t get it at all.”
Nein is written by a self-proclaimed “failed intellectual”, Eric Jarosinski, and this spirit of self-deprecation prevails throughout the book. Not only is this charming, it is in line with the overall aesthetic, that of a very clever person who is spiritually worse off than when he started pondering the great mysteries of life. I particularly enjoyed the adages that concerned the failings of philosophy and philosophers per se: easy targets perhaps, but this dispels any notions of academic snobbery that the book might otherwise have conveyed.
As this is a short collection, it encouraged me to read it in small chunks, to make the experience last longer. Indeed, reading more than several pages at a time, I would start to notice how formulaic a lot of the aphorisms are, like oxymoronic limericks, and this would start to dampen my enjoyment of them. While this could be a killer blow to an undersized work like this, it was offset by some delightful individual axioms, such as:
Read what’s written.
Read what’s not written.
There’s a reason for the way things are.
Not a very good one.
Nein tells you what it isn’t throughout, which is refreshing. It’s like the opposite of that awful corporate invention, the “vision” or “mission statement“. It prompts thinking about many subjects while warning you that doing so leads to trouble, but making you want to read on. You will therefore read on, and I’m going to now address you in an authoritarian manner as best befits stereotypes of Germany (also not forgetting that the author chose to call it A Manifesto), because this book deserves your attention, and this is what you will experience: when you come to the last few pages, it actually ends on a poignant and quite anarchic note. Pause for a moment and have a minor existentialist-crisis negation, then move on to a section generally overlooked in any book: the glossary. Instead, read it and find thirteen pages of wonderful, insightful material, making you love the book much more, as well as realise how smart and good at wordplay the author is.
I could quote four aphorisms here that I enjoyed hugely, but I don’t want to ruin it for you, so I’ll limit myself to the literary one:
“Metaphor: Just another word. For just another word. (Simile: The metaphor’s, like, less articulate cousin.)”
Ultimately my praise for Nein is not effusive. Instead, I have a philosophical love for this book. What I think this means is that personally I am not too damaged, and that I can’t negate all positivity: I still believe in love, life and art, and maybe that humanity might overcome its myriad embarrassing problems; but, like Nein, I also think, “Let’s not be too optimistic. Let’s not go fucking crazy here.”
Eric Jarosinski – is a self-declared #FailedIntellectual and expert in modern German literature, culture, and critical theory, as well as the founding editor of Nein. Quarterly. His writing has been featured in numerous publications, including Die Zeit, NRC, the New Yorker, the Paris Review, and the Wall Street Journal. He is based in New York. @NeinQuarterly
Simon Pinkerton – is a writer living in West London-ish (an affordable, shittier area) and formerly of Minneapolis. He writes short-stories and humour and is a contributor at McSweeney’s, Queen Mob’s Tea House and Maudlin House amongst others. His flash fiction piece Toy Story has previously appeared in Minor Literature[s]. Please love him, and follow him @simonpinkerton on Twitter and at http://www.simonpinkerton.tumblr.com for his humour and other-bullshit blog.
Image – Tomoé Hill via Twitter/@NeinQuarterly