A Kafkaesque List of Things Described as Kafkaesque
"Slept, awoke, slept, awoke, miserable life."
Today is the 95th anniversary of the death of Franz Kafka. And I love Franz Kafka. He was one of my earliest literary obsessions—I even read Philip Roth’s The Breast, for him. I know: sacrifice. So on the day of his death, I decided to grease (if only slightly) what really must be a constant spinning of his corpse in his grave by collating a number of things that we, as a societal group, have decided to count as “Kafkaesque.”
Many people have pointed out that the term “Kafkaesque” is grossly overused. Others have noted how it is quite often misused. For the record, in 1991, Kafka biographer Frederick R. Karl defined the term this way:
What’s Kafkaesque is when you enter a surreal world in which all your control patterns, all your plans, the whole way in which you have configured your own behavior, begins to fall to pieces, when you find yourself against a force that does not lend itself to the way you perceive the world. You don’t give up, you don’t lie down and die. What you do is struggle against this with all of your equipment, with whatever you have. But of course you don’t stand a chance. That’s Kafkaesque.
Other definitions suggest that it describes something with “oppressive or nightmarish qualities,” or “having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality.” Sure, all of the above. Maybe the problem is that the term only technically (or at least etymologically) means “like Kafka,” so it could really refer to any element the user has identified both in the writer’s work and in the world.
But that’s no really excuse for the following list of things that have been called, at one time or another, “Kafkaesque”—from the deadly serious to the extremely silly, from the actually Kafkaesque to the merely annoying. I present this list with my apologies to Franz.
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