Who Was Franz Kafka and What Does It Mean When Something Is Kafkaesque?
Franz Kafka (1883-1924), was a Czech born Austrian, German-language writer, one of the most influential and appreciated writers of the 20th century. The first child of Hermann and Julie (née Löwy) Kafka. His parents were upwardly mobile middle class, his father setting up a dry goods store and his mother coming from a well-to-do family. All his life Kafka struggled to come to terms with his domineering father. He suffered from depression and poor health (dying at 41).
Statue of Kafka
The 42 mobile tiers of this eleven-metre-tall sculpture align to form the face of the famous Czech writer Franz Kafka. This 39-ton bust by artist David Černý dates from November 2014 and stands just by the Quadrio business centre, directly above the Národní třída metro station. The work complements Černý’s statue entitled Metalmorphosis, situated in the USA in North Carolina, made of 24 tons of stainless steel sheet and divided into forty-two tiers, which, driven by a motor and a kilometre of cables rotate independently of one another.
Despite this, he wrote a great deal, and his reputation rests chiefly on two disturbing allegorical novels The Trial and The Castle, both unfinished and published after his death. They are written in a clear style which contrasts with the vagueness of the plot, in which the characters struggle unsuccessfully with inexplicable fate.
Kafka obtained the degree of Doctor of Law on June 18, 1906 and performed an obligatory year of unpaid service as law clerk for the civil and criminal courts. At the end of 1907 Kafka started working in a huge Italian insurance company, where he stayed for nearly a year. He often referred to his job as insurance officer as a “bread job”, a job done only to pay the bills. In parallel, Kafka was also committed to his literary work.
In 1912, at the home of his lifelong friend Max Brod, Kafka met Felice Bauer, who lived in Berlin. Over the next five years they corresponded a great deal, met occasionally, and twice were engaged to be married. Their relationship finally ended in 1917.
In 1917, Kafka began to suffer from tuberculosis, which would require frequent convalescence during which he was supported by his family, most notably his sister Ottla. In the early 1920s he developed an intense relationship with Czech journalist and writer Milena Jesenská. In 1923, he briefly moved to Berlin in the hope of distancing himself from his family’s influence to concentrate on his writing.
In Berlin, he lived with Dora Diamant, a 25-year-old kindergarten teacher from an orthodox Jewish family, who was independent enough to have escaped her past in the ghetto. Dora became his lover, and influenced Kafka’s interest in the Talmud – a book of Jewish law.
With time his tuberculosis worsened; he returned to Prague, then went to Dr. Hoffman sanatorium for treatment, where he died on June 3, 1924. His remains are buried alongside his parent’s under a two-meter obelisk in Prague’s New Jewish Cemetry in Olsanke.
Kafkaesque is an eponym from early-20th-century which means (1) marked by surreal distortion or a sense of impending danger, or (2) of or relating to a nightmarish world where people are dehumanized by intricate bureaucratic systems. Both of these main senses refer to his work, much of which had these qualities.