By Charlie Glaspell-Elser
Franz Kafka is widely regarded as one of the greatest figures in literary history.
He is known for his incomparable writing of surreal fiction, which expressed the alienation, and powerlessness of the individual.
Yet to understand his writing and qualities of his genre, kafkaesque, you must understand the youth and early adulthood of Franz Kafka.
Franz was born the son of Julie Löwy and Hermann Kafka. His father was a successful businessman who rose from the humble beginnings of low wages industrial labour to constructing his own prosperous business. As parents tend to do, Hermann wished to have a son who would fulfill his expectations of the ideal stature of a person, but Franz failed.
Franz would become a small, nimble, and sick child, out of no fault of his own, a source of disappointment to his father. As a result, his father would attempt to mold him into the man he wished he was yet could never be.
The urge to write grew on him to alleviate the pressures of self-hate and guilt. But of course, the interest would seep through his father’s defined borders, ultimately forcing him to pursue law.
He went to work in a law clinic, then an insurance company, where he would be subjected to long work hours, unpaid overtime, and enormous amounts of paperwork. These stressors would lead him to nauseating bureaucratic systems, making him understandably miserable.
Continuing to work at the company, he would write his most prominent novels on the side, such as The Castle and AMERIKA. However, he wouldn’t try to publish these for fear of them being unworthy.
He continued to write but eventually died in 1924 of Tuberculosis at age 41.
The novels were never published while he was alive; therefore, he did not receive any recognition for his work. He died with the belief his life hadn’t amounted to anything.
He would order his best friend, Max Brod, to burn his unfinished novels & manuscripts, yet Brod didn’t comply.
Over the next few years Brod devoted his life to organizing and publishing his notes, making Kafka one of the most famed and prominent philosophical and literary figures in history. He spent his life unaware or indifferent to the fact he sat beside a drawer filled with the most influential paragraphs in history, living the life of his father as inadequate, but in the eyes of history as one of the most significant through his work of Kafkaesque.
The term Kafkaesque refers to the nature of bureaucracy evident in capitalistic and judiciary systems. The bizarre and complex processes no individual has a comprehensive understanding of. Kafkaesque also has the quality of extending not merely what the systems are, rather the experience of the individual who endures them.
Someone or something must have been gossiping about Joseph K, because one day the 30-year-old bank teller was arrested. Thus beginning the Trial, a novel by Franz Kafka…
Joseph, the protagonist, is arrested in his sleep and made to stand trial through a bewildering process where neither the nature of the arrest is explained nor the nature of the proceedings.
This plot is so uniquely “ Franz Kafka,” literary scholars created a new word for it: Kafkaesque.
Kafkaesque enters the vernacular of literary society to describe unnecessarily long, or frustrating processes, resembling the labyrinths of bureaucracy.
Kafka’s characters are often regular office workers compelled to overcome webs of obstacles in order to achieve the goals enforced by themselves ( personal goals ). The ordeal and process to achieve the supposed goal are so unordinary and illogical that the success was pointless in the first place.
In his short story, Poseidon, Kafka describes the sea god who’s so absorbed and overwhelmed with paperwork he can’t explore his realm.
The short story explains how even a god can’t fulfill the modern expectations of work, yet the reason for this is because Poseidon isn’t willing to distribute the work because everyone else is unworthy to complete it.
And like my previous definition, the two are emblematic of “ Kafkaesque,” not only because of the bureaucratic process, but the irony and irrational reaction of the characters who partake in the process.
The comedic and tragic stories act as an entertaining analogy for the industrial age. This is done through the use of irrational logic to explain the relationship betwixt systems of arbitrary power, bureaucracy, and the ones within them.
In The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa awakens from a long snooze, finding himself transformed into an insect. And in this situation, the pressing issue of being an insect would be one’s greatest concern. Yet, Gregor seems more worried about the fact he’s late for work. Of course, his struggle to get to work is found impossible, by the obstacles of being an insect.
The autocratic and authoritarian domain of work isn’t all that inspired Kafka for his notable pieces— internal struggles are prevalent.
A Hunger Artist, a short story by Kafka, describes the theme of a freak show performer whose act is an extended fast. After every fast completion he complains to his boss to extend them past 40 days, believing the limit prevents him from mastering his art. But when the attendance of his show decreases, he’s left with the ability to starve himself as long as he wants. The story twists when he challenges himself past the defined 40 days, and finds himself admitting that the shows he has always done have been a fraud. He never fasted because of his strength of will, yet the man never found a food he enjoyed.
The Trial, the book discussed previously, seemingly focuses on bureaucracy, yet the court's actions are far worse. The momentum of the judiciary system is “unstoppable“ even with the aid of powerful officials. The court wasn’t meant to serve justice yet to perpetuate the actions it commits, described with the term “tyranny without a tyrant.”
In conclusion, and slight hope, focusing our attention on the absurd will reflect our irrational shortcomings back to ourselves. In doing so, we remind ourselves that the world we live in is the one we create, which we have the ability to change for the better.