Kafkaesque is used to describe situations that are disorientingly and illogically complex in a surreal or nightmarish way. Kafkaesque comes from the name of author Franz Kafka, who lived from 1883 to 1924. It can be used to describe any situation or literature that resembles his work, which often involves characters navigating bizarre bureaucracies(unnecessarily complicated government systems full of confusing and contradictory procedures and paperwork).
Franz Kafka is regarded as one of the greatest literary figures in recent history. He is known for his uniquely dark, disorienting, and surreal writing style. A style and quality are so particular to him that anything that resembles it has come to be known and referred to as Kafkaesque.
To understand his writing and the qualities of Kafkaesque, it is helpful to understand his early life. Kafka was born in Prague in 1883 to a man named Herman and a woman Julie. His father was a highly successful well-to-do businessman, who, through sheer force of will and a brash, aggressive personality managed to rise from the working class, build a successful business, marry a well-educated woman, and become a member of higher middle society. As parents tend to do, Herman hoped for a child that would measure up to his ideal stature of a person.
Franz Kafka was not that. Franz was born a small, anxious, and sickly boy and he mostly remained that way as a result, through no fault of his own, Franz would become a great source of disappointment for his father and a sort of psychological punching bag for him as he attempted to mold Franz into who he wished he was but could never be. Throughout his adolescence, Franz developed an urge to write as a means of dealing with his increasing sense of anxiety, guilt, and self-hatred. Of course, His father did not allow him to pursue writing and ultimately define the borders of Kafka’s life, forcing him to pursue law as a profession instead.
During his time studying law in college, Kafka continued writing and met one of his only friends, Max Brod, another writer who would eventually convince Kafka to publish his first 3 collections of work. These pieces sold very poorly, though essentially went unnoticed. After college, Kafka would go on to work in a law office and them for an insurance company.
Here, Kafka would become subject to long hours, unpaid overtime, massive amounts of paperwork, and absurd, complex bureaucratic systems. Kafka was understood as miserable. While working at the insurance company, Kafka continued writing on the side, producing some of his most notable pieces including The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika. He did not attempt to publish any of these at the time, however, and even left much of his work unfinished believing it to be unworthy.
Kafka continued working at the insurance company for the majority of his remaining short life while continuing to write around his work schedule.
In 1924, he died of tuberculosis at age 41. He never went on to publish any more of his writing, nor did he ever personally receive any success or recognization of the small amount he did. He died believing that his work wasn’t any good. On his death bed, he even instructed Max Brod to burn all of his unpublished manuscripts following his death. Obviously, Brod did not follow Kafka’s instructions.
Here we are about 100 years later, talking about him. After Kafka died, Brod spent the following year or so working to organize and publish his notes and manuscripts. Over the decade following, Kafka would become one of the most prominent literary and philosophical figures of the 20th century.
In other words, one of the greatest writers and thinkers of the century lived his life with his work buries in some drawer, aware, unaware or indifferent to the fact that was sitting on some of the most significant works in recent history. He lived in the eyes of his father, an inadequate disappointment and yet in the eyes of history. He is an immensely important individual. One can only wonder how many individuals like Kafka have and continue to walk this earth, completely disconnected or restricted from ever seeing who they really are or could be.
How many Kafka’s have lived and died without ever sharing their voice with the world, whose voice would have changed it forever?
How many people never know who they’ll be after they’re gone?
Fortunately for everyone other than Kafka’s his work was saved and an entirely new genre of thinking and writing developed in his name, Kafkaesque. Generally, the term Kafkaesque tends to refer to the bureaucratic nature of the capitalistic, judiciary, and government systems. The sort of complex, unclear processes in which no one individual ever really has a comprehensive grasp on what is going on and the system doesn’t really care. But the quality of Kafkaesque also seems to extend much further than this. It is not necessarily exemplified merely by what these systems are, but rather, the reaction of the individuals subjected to them and what it might represent. In one of his most famous novels, The Trial, The protagonist, Joseph Kay is suddenly arrested at his home one morning. The officers do not inform kay of why he is being arrested, though, and he is forced through a long, absurd trial in which nothing is really explained or makes much sense.
The trial is riddled with corruption and disorderliness, and by the end of the novel after having meandered the entire thing. Kay is never told why he was arrested and yet he remains guilty of his final conviction. In another one of his more popular stories, Metamorphosis, the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, awakes into having suddenly been turned into an insect with no clear explanation.
The first and recurring issue Gregor faces throughout the novel is the problem of getting to work, dealing with his boss, and providing financially for his inconsiderately needy family. Gregor, of course, cannot do this. He is a bug and so he experienced increased dread trying to deal with his situation while becoming a useless nuisance to his family. In both stories, the protagonist is faced with sudden, absurd circumstances. There are no explanations