Lit Hub Article: A Kafkaesque List of Things Described as Kafkaesque

This appealed to my rather bleak view of the world…

Today is the 95th anniversary of the death of Franz Kafka. And I love Franz Kafka. He was one of my earliest literary obsessions—I even read Philip Roth’s The Breast, for him. I know: sacrifice. So on the day of his death, I decided to grease (if only slightly) what really must be a constant spinning of his corpse in his grave by collating a number of things that we, as a societal group, have decided to count as “Kafkaesque.”

Many people have pointed out that the term “Kafkaesque” is grossly overused. Others have noted how it is quite often misused. For the record, in 1991, Kafka biographer Frederick R. Karl defined the term this way:

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.

Other definitions suggest that it describes something with “oppressive or nightmarish qualities,” or “having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality.” Sure, all of the above. Maybe the problem is that the term only technically (or at least etymologically) means “like Kafka,” so it could really refer to any element the user has identified both in the writer’s work and in the world.

But that’s no really excuse for the following list of things that have been called, at one time or another, “Kafkaesque”—from the deadly serious to the extremely silly, from the actually Kafkaesque to the merely annoying. I present this list with my apologies to Franz.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled

John Cheever’s “The Enormous Radio”


Sex with Alvy Singer

Online outrage

Customer service

(Especially Comcast’s customer service)

Hookup culture

Breaking Bad, Season 3, Episode 9

The Lobster

Getting banned for life from Airbnb

The NYC subway system

The commute from Princeton to Manhattan at rush hour


The no-fly list

The death penalty


David Burr Gerard’s The Epiphany Machine

Clarice Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H.

Han Kang’s The Vegetarian

Gene Wolfe’s The Land Across


Bond court

The California housing crisis

The comparison of Justin Bieber to Brad Pitt

Registering for classes at Wayne State

You Me Bum Bum Train

The streaming music industry

Renewing an American visa while in Paris

Theresa May




Eyes Wide Shut

Trump’s bromance with Putin

Reagan’s talks with Cuba

Russian homophobia

The Amazon marketplace

Penn Station

The restrictions on Jason Rezaian, The Washington Post’s Tehran correspondent

Prison grievance systems

The American healthcare system

The life of Emily Blunt

Fixing your credit report

Charlie Brown

Haruki Murakami

The legal battle over Kafka’s papers

The plight of Julian Assange

Buying merch from Ariana Grande’s official store



Our time, just generally

Our future, also

Making an endless list of things that are Kafkaesque


A Kafkaesque List of Things Described as Kafkaesque