“I no longer know if I wish to drown myself in love, vodka, or the sea” -Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka is one of the most influential writers in history, with a personal writing style that’s so unique and recognizable that it earns the new nomenclature, “Kafkaesque”.
His life was an interesting one, not so much because of what happened during, but what happened after. Franz Kafka was raised from childhood by parents who expected him to conform to their idea of what he should be. This made Kafka turn to writing, to find a way to express his growing anxiety, feelings of guilt and lack of self identity. But his parents did not support his newfound passion of writing, and instead forced him to study law against his will instead. But throughout his study and career, Kafka kept writing.
He met his best friend Max Brod, another writer who would prove to be a very important figure to Kafka later on. Max convinced Kafka to publish some of his works to the public, but sadly it did not sell well and failed to be recognized, this greatly discouraged Kafka. Even though he kept writing, he often left stories unfinished and refrained from publishing his other works to the public, believing his work to be unworthy. Ironically, it is during these times that he produced some of the greatest pieces of literature in history, and it was just left to collect dust on his bookshelves.
Franz Kafka died believing that his work was worth nothing, he even instructed his friend Max Brod to find his unpublished manuscripts and burn it. Thankfully, Max did not follow through with his friend’s wish, and instead organized and published Kafka’s works. Throughout the following years, the works of Franz Kafka will spread throughout the world of literature, and it finally gets the recognition and appreciation that Kafka hoped for when he was alive.
So what does it mean when something is Kafkaesque? It is used to describe unnecessarily complicated and frustrating and ultimately pointless experiences. It deals with themes such as existential anxiety, guilt and surreal absurdity. Things that are out of our control and understanding, but are forced upon us anyway. We try to fight back and make sense of things, but in the end it’s maybe all for naught.
Franz Kafka tells stories about the absurdness of bureaucracy, maddening systems such as capitalism and the judiciary system, the overly complex and unclear processes where no-one has the full picture of what’s going on. And more importantly, what happens when an individual is subjected to this absurdity. He no doubt found inspiration from his own life, his experiences and feelings.
The Trial, one of his most famous novels, follows the story of a man called Josef K, who was inexplicably arrested one day, and put on trial. He had done nothing wrong, and he did not even know what he was accused of, but he had to endure a very absurd, corrupt and bewildering trial where nothing is explained, and he ends up being convicted as guilty anyway, never knowing why. This story is quintessential Kafkaesque, struggling to fight something beyond our control, and failing in the end, perhaps we never had a chance to begin with, perhaps even striving for success in the first place becomes pointless. This kind of dark, brutal honesty is what makes his works hit so hard, and leaves a lasting impression with whoever reads it.
Don’t bend; don’t try to water it down; don’t try to make it logical.
Don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion, rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.
Lastly I’ll leave you with a quote from Kafka that really resonates with me.
“What if I slept a little more and forgot about all this nonsense.”