The Trial

The Trial About the Term "Kafkaesque"

Franz Kafka's absurdist literary sensibility is so unique that scholars invented the term "Kafkaesque." The term describes not only works that have emulated Kafka's sensibility but also situations in everyday life that may as well have come straight from a Kafka story.

While the term has entered common vernacular, exact definitions of Kafkaesque vary. Generally, Kafkaesque is used to evoke the nightmarish and overly bureaucratic worlds that Kafka's protagonists are not only oppressed by but ironic participants of, despite the illogical nature of the systems they work against and within.

As an example of the mind-numbing absurdity of bureaucracy presented in Kafka's work, in "Poseidon," the Greek god Poseidon finds himself so bogged down with paperwork dealing with the administration of the seas that he never has time to go out to sea himself. Although Poseidon is the god who rules the seas, he is still subordinate to the bureaucracy that comes with his position. The story also begs the question of to whom he is delivering the paperwork, since he ought to be the highest authority. Some critics argue that it is this fundamental illogical quality that makes a situation truly Kafkaesque. To stand in line for hours to submit a form is not Kafkaesque; to stand in line forever to learn that no one is there to accept the form, is.