The adjectivisation of an authors name is a special kind of status. It implies that there are qualities to his/her body of work that has provided the world at large new ways of describing itself Franz Kafka was an 18th century Bohemian novelist. He never became famous in his lifetime. In fact, before succumbing to Tuberculosis at the age of 40, he left instructions to his friends to burn his “literary remains” after his death. The term Kafkesque exists today because Franz Kafka had terrible friends who had a habit of listening to death-bed pronouncements with a pinch of salt.
To quote some guy off the internet, “being Kafkaesque is an expression that gets tossed around with a cavalier impression, applied to everything from an annoying encounter with a pretty bureaucrat to the primordial horrors of Third Reich”. There is a reductionist flavor tethered to the modern literature enthusiast and his or her day to day relationship with the expression Kafkaesque. You are prone to remember Kafka, the when a sweaty looking toll booth operator takes his sweet time issuing a ticket because he is otherwise occupied checking out your wife. There is a tendency to attribute a tinge of Kafkaesque to the unflushable piece of turd that refuses to disappear down your toilet bowl. It is quite safe to say that the 21st century gas been unkind to Franz Kafka. Literature majors everywhere make it a point to dilute the graphic nature of his work by oversimplifying its essence to a sense of common frustration. Literature majors are assholes. This doesn’t happen with other major literary figures. Would it be OK to use Orwellian in reference to the dystopian future where totalitarian states oppressively demand all men to maintain orange color sideburns? How about the Dickensian aspect of extreme political injustice that Vijay Mallya faces as the relative poverty of London upper middle class suffocates him? Kafkaesque in particular has been ruinously misused over the years. Hence it becomes important to establish what Kafkaesque means at its roots by taking a look at Franz Kafka’s seminal works.
The Metamorphosis: Gregor Samsa wakes up one day and realizes that he has turned into a giant insect. His greatest worry even at this point is that he might not get to work on time. HE tries very hard to adapt to his new insectile form for the rest of the story. confined to his room, isolated alone, Samsa eventually dies.
Quote: How about I sleep a bit longer and forget all this nonsense?
The Trial: Joseph K, the protagonist is arrested out of nowhere and is forced to go through a bewildering process where neither the cause of his arrest nor the nature of the judicial procedures is made clear to him. Joseph traverses a labyrinth of bureaucratic procedures that are both frustrating and rife with the grim suggestions that his life might be in jeopardy.
Quote: “I see, these books are probably law books, and it is an essential part of justice dispensed here that you should be condemned not only in innocence but also in arrogance”
In the Penal Colony: On an island, prisoners are executed by a machine that slowly engraves the name of their crime into their body before they are killed. They only find out their crime by the patterns of pain they experience, and the realization is a kind of piece. Eventually the designer of the device realizes that he was unjust and sets the device for himself, but it goes haywire and kills him quickly.
Quote: “You’ve seen yourself how difficult the writing is to decipher with your eyes, but our man deciphers it with his wounds”
The Hunger Artist: This story describes the circus performer whose act consists of extended fasts. He is upset that the circus master limits these to 40 days, believing that this prevents him from achieving the greatness of his art. But when his act loses popularity, he is left free to starve himself to death. And he slowly dies in anonymity, he regretfully amidst that his art was always a fraud. Mainly because he never fasted out of strength of will, he did it because he never came across a food he liked
Quote: “It was not that the hunger artist was cheating, he was working honestly, but the world was cheating him of his reward.”
The worlds Franz Kafka had built are cruel, insular and unforgiving. And the characters populating the worlds are often powerless to do anything about the absurd events happening to them. To once again quote some dude over the internet, “to be Kafkaesque is to enter the 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 into pieces. What you do is struggle against this with all your equipment, with whatever you have. But of course, you don’t stand a chance.
- Anne is a corporate lawyer, who has worked hard all her life to make a comfortable living. One day she gets a notice from the local zoning commision that her house is to be razed down because the city has decided that a 60 food hole in its place would look more aesthetically pleasing.
- Madhu is a pathological liar. These days, every times he attempts a lie, an elederly man on a wheelchair shows up and slow claps for ten seconds. Everyone around Madhu acts like this is absolutely normal.
- Ritu is the founder of a Bangalore based startup. One day, while coming to work, she realizes that every time someone speaks to her, the exact thoughts of the person materializes from within and out into the air in front of her eyes. This quickly becomes unbearable.
- Vinay is a volunteer for PETA. He has always loved animals and has always wanted what was best for them. The government recognizes his self less work and rewards him by putting him inside a cage and feeding him raw meat. Its not all bad thought, he lets him have sex with any animal of his choosing once a month.
- Mrs Sarayu is a 63 year old housewife with bad eyesight and crippling arthritis. One day, an ambulance arrives at her house and forcefully takes her to the hospital where she is told she has to do an emergency heart surgery on a 11 year old child.
- A woman standing in the middle of an intersection pours sambar all over her body to symbolically protest against domestic oppression that women go through. A man walking by her sets his own beard on fire to protest the violence that comes from toxic masculinity. A love story unfolds where the both of them only interact with each other in metaphors.