The Absurdity of Franz Kafka

People who have read Kafka often bicker over what kind of philosophy he believed in. Jean-Paul Sartre recognized him as an existentialist and Albert Camus considered him an absurdist — two prominent figures of the modernist movement.

Franz Kafka wasn’t “trained” into any certain philosophy nor was he considered a disciplined writer; he never wrote a lengthy novel. His bizarre literary universe never expresses an objective philosophical theory. He was writing his observations of human nature. To Kafka, the world seemed absurd, a common element for existentialists and absurdists. Kafka was a disoriented individual who faced a confused world that he could not accept or understand. When writing, his characters accept their fates and embrace the absurdity of nature.

Many Marxists critics say postmodernism is the cause of capitalism and the alienation caused by materialism. Kafka often portrays this in his writing as degradation on the soul. While the modernist Marxist believed in an eschatological movement where humanity will reach a utopian society free from government, Kafka does not theorize this.  Most of his writings dealt with a hopeless alienation. He believed that evil is too difficult to distinguish.

“For Kafka, the absurdity of sin and guilt lies not in the indifferent world but rather in the very indistinguishability of the subjective and the objective. “Existentialism by Robert Solomon, p. 166

In Kafka’s diaries and letter, he considered Gregor Samsa’s alienated fate in “The Metamorphosis”, to be the fate of anyone. The life of a salesmen and Gregor’s inhabitance in his one room as a bug are both the same lives of solitude. He believes “the cares we have to struggle with every day” is emotional torture. William Hubben in his book “Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche & Kafka” writes, “It is interesting that Kafka was one of the first to touch upon the despair of a key figure in the economic system that is now engaged in a life and death struggle in Europe, the salesmen whose function in free enterprise is that of a missionary.”  If there is one objective viewpoint of Kafka, it would be the absurdness of man’s contemporary placement in society.

Kafka suffered an internal conflict for the desire of a universal truth and tried to convince himself that his belief that truth was a lie was not true. In Max Brod’s biography of Kafka he summed his fundamental outlook on life:

“Kafka’s fundamental outlook may be summarized in some such formula as this: almost everything is uncertain, but once one has a certain degree of understanding one never loses the way anymore. 
” P. 173

“Kafka’s fundamental principle: pity for a mankind that finds it so hard a task to do what’s right. Pity, half-smiling, half-weeping, pity.”
 P. 180

2 thoughts on “The Absurdity of Franz Kafka

  1. Ryan — This makes me like Kafka as a person. I feel his painful life caused him to develop an enduring compassion. Interesting that he calls it “pity.” I think that Tolkien and Lewis would have found points of sympathy with Kafka’s views, too. I would like to know more about the “certain degree of understanding” at which Kafka had arrived.

  2. From what you say, it seems that Kafka bore a deep wound from his upbringing that created sympathy in him for suffering. I feel sad for him.

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