I recently overheard a couple of people using the word “Kafkaesque”. Normally I would have had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. But, it just so happens that last week I read The Metamorphosis by, you guessed it, Franz Kafka.
The first time I’d seen a reference to Kafka was during this delightfully awkward scene from Bridget Jones’s Diary. I remembered it because, well to be perfectly honest, I’ve seen that movie so many times that I’ve memorised the whole thing. What can I say? Bridget makes me feel like a functioning human being.
My second (and more direct) brush with Kafka came while recently watching The Squid and the Whale. This scene involves a funny exchange on The Metamorphosis, the humour of which I can now fully appreciate (well almost).
With these two Kafka references simmering in my subconscious, I did a search for free Kindle books. The Metamorphosis came up as one of the most frequently downloaded freebies, so I decided to give it a burl.
The Metamorphosis is the depressing story of traveling salesman Gregor Samsa, who wakes to find himself transformed into a giant bug. Like Sophie in The Squid and the Whale, I got to the end without much clue as to what it was all about. So I asked Google and came across this article.
It quotes Frederick R. Karl, author of a biography on Franz Kafka, who explains:
“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.”
So there you have it.