What does Kafkaesque actually mean and how is it supposed to be used?


We are all probably familiar with this term, but I still have no idea what does it really mean. I’ve read two books by the author Franz Kafka, the guy who was the origin of this very term. I tried looking online, searching for definitions and stuff, but I still have no idea what was that all about, nobody explained it clearly. I wanted to find a simple definiton with an example, but I found pile of text. Maybe they need all that “extra” stuff to explain it because it is not very simple, I guess. Can it be explained in a few words, if so please do it and if not, I will go through the long version, too. Thank you.

Edit: Thank you, I went through your comments, they were really helpful.

In: 2159

It’s used as an adjective to describe something/a situation “having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality” to the point of being oppressive, like the overall atmosphere of his books.

We often use it to speak against bureaucracy and administrative procedure that make no sense, but it applies to a lot of things.

TLDR: Something that makes no sense, in a bad way.

I will give you an example: When I was younger I had a temp job where I was working in the post room for a large company that had just moved into brand new offices. Myself and two other were tasked with sorting out any mail that came in and giving it to the right people. However the company’s old post room in their old office was still in use so we technically had no post coming into our post room. So the three of us sat there for 2 weeks getting paid to do nothing.

This was what I would describe as a Kafkaesque situation, where red tape, the powers that be or some other power decides on a course of action that leaves the individual in a state of inertia but also where they cannot escape. In extreme cases (As exampled in “The Trial”) This course can lead to a person’s death due to the adherence to external rules over the reality staring you in the face.

Kafka was an author who is most well known for stories of that feature bizarre, overwhelming persecution often using body-horror to represent a loss of autonomy or control over one’s mind, body, or life.

In use “Kafkaesque” would refer to something some kind of nightmarish loss of control over one’s life or persecution.

Working in a horrific factory for slave wages with oppressive and grueling oversight could be Kafkaesque.

Getting put on trial in a sham court under ridiculous pretenses could be Kafkaesque.

Body horror is also a strong part of it. If you’ve ever seen the film “The Fly” in which a human is slowly transformed into a human/fly monstrosity and is ultimately slain, that’s the epitamy of Kafkaesque.

Generally speaking it’s the idea of faceless, unaccountable bureaucracy with convoluted, inscrutable rules creating a sense of anxiety, paranoia, and helplessness in those having to navigate “the system” for whatever reason, or the overall atmosphere in such a situation.

It’s intrinsically tied to notions of the dehumanising effect of ever more complex societies and power structures, and the potential for those in power to intentionally create a demoralising sense of inertia in order to solidify their own positions of power; to jam up any avenues for change, essentially. And also the psychological tendency for people to simply follow orders as a very small cog in an intentionally overcomplex system, not knowing or caring about the harm potentially being inflicted by the machine they’re a part of, which also relates to the concept of the “banality of evil”.

Just think about the Process: imagine being arrested, without knowing why or ever understanding how the arrest process works, without even being able to defend yourself. But deep inside, you know, that you’ll be killed.
That’s Kafkaesque.