Words nearby Kafkaesque
What does Kafkaesque mean?
Kafkaesque is used to describe situations that are disorientingly and illogically complex in a surreal or nightmarish way.
Kafkaesque comes from the name of author Franz Kafka, who lived from 1883 to 1924. It can be used to describe any situation or literature that resembles his work, which often involves characters navigating bizarre bureaucracies (unnecessarily complicated government systems full of confusing and contradictory procedures and paperwork).
Example: I had a nightmare about trying to get my driver’s license at the DMV that was positively Kafkaesque—I had to fill out 18 forms in a language I didn’t understand, and the clerk was a giant lobster.
Where does Kafkaesque come from?
The first records of Kafkaesque come from the 1940s. It’s formed from Kafka’s name and the suffix –esque, which indicates a style, resemblance, or distinctive character. It’s just one of the ways we make adjectives out of people’s names. Other common examples are Shakespearean, meaning “in the style of Shakespeare,” or Orwellian, which refers to literature or a situation resembling the literary work of George Orwell or the dystopia in his novel 1984.
Most of Kafka’s writing wasn’t published until after his death. His day job was in the insurance business. In Kafka’s books and stories, notably the novel The Trial, characters are always dealing with bureaucracies in which things are absurdly complicated and even the bureaucrats themselves don’t seem to know the reasons for all the red tape.
In real life, people often apply the word Kafkaesque to situations that have similar elements, like navigating the healthcare system or attempting to reach a real, live customer service agent over the phone. However, as frustrating as these situations may be, Kafkaesque is traditionally reserved for scenarios that have a fantastic or surreal element, like many of Kafka’s works did. (In his story “The Metamorphosis,” a salesman wakes up one day to discover that he has turned into a giant insect.) Something that’s Kafkaesque is often somehow both nightmarish and mundane, especially because it involves the kind of overly complex procedures we have to deal with all the time.
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How is Kafkaesque used in real life?
Kafkaesque is used by literary-minded people, as well as those who’ve never read any of Kafka’s stories. It’s often applied to situations involving some kind of frustrating bureaucracy.
Curled up in a fetal position under my desk, surrounded by the clutter of a thousand final exams, & muttering Kafkaesque jibberish to myself
— Nothing New (@DrAaronNew) December 7, 2016
Now we're beyond Kafkaesque. No one knows what can or can't be said about unclassified evidence w/out violating a govt classification rule.
— Daphne Eviatar (@deviatar) December 6, 2016
Me: I'm not dramatic
*Person swiping into subway in front of me gets it wrong the first time*
Me: this iS KAFKAESQUE
— shonda rhimes wrote crossroads (@jersing) December 13, 2016
Try using Kafkaesque!
Is Kafkaesque used correctly in the following sentence?
Going through airport security today was Kafkaesque—everything went smoothly with no unnecessary stops.
How to use Kafkaesque in a sentence
The collection’s Kafkaesque titular story is the strongest because of its notable timeliness.Haruki Murakami’s ‘First Person Singular’ will satisfy fans with its uncanny scenarios|Leland Cheuk|April 12, 2021|Washington Post
Even before the pandemic, Javed’s case was emblematic of the Kafkaesque nature of Kashmir’s criminal justice system.The Pandemic’s Crippling Blow … to Kashmir’s Frail Justice System|Charu Kasturi|March 2, 2021|Ozy
It was this Kafkaesque thing where no one had ever done this.Contact Tracing Apps Were Big Tech's Best Idea for Fighting COVID-19. Why Haven't They Helped?|Alejandro de la Garza|November 10, 2020|Time
Political pressure, economic resources and the ability to navigate into a Kafkaesque bureaucracy play a determinant role.In Italy, Religious Minorities Struggle (Vainly) for Official Recognition|Anna Momigliano|November 14, 2013|DAILY BEAST
He emerges from the horrors with a Kafkaesque account of life in the Chinese jails.
Frederick Deknatel on the vulgar Kafkaesque genius of Sonallah Ibrahim.Egypt’s Conscience: The Genius of Sonallah Ibrahim|Frederick Deknatel|May 9, 2013|DAILY BEAST
David Choe must have had a Kafkaesque morning, waking up to find himself changed in his bed into a monstrous millionaire.David Choe, Facebook’s Millionaire Graffiti Artist|Jimmy So|February 3, 2012|DAILY BEAST
Yet if his lonely experience in prison could be called Kafkaesque, then so too could his life before he was sentenced.Freed Egyptian Blogger Vows to Keep Up His Opposition to the Ruling Generals|Alastair Beach|January 30, 2012|DAILY BEAST
It is a Kafkaesque, sealed universe in which nothing is, as it appears to be.After the Rain|Sam Vaknin