Franz Kafka: philosophy and thoughts of a great writer

Franz Kafka’s literature has the peculiarity of being complex and loaded with symbolism. Below, we look at his most influential works and the philosophy behind them.

Last update: 08 September, 2022

Franz Kafka was a Czech writer, whose narrative of absurd subject matter and that reflects the anguish of the human being in the face of the meaninglessness of his existence, places him as a precursor of philosophical existentialism. Let’s see, next, who this great writer was and the philosophy behind his writings.

Franz Kafka: life and work

Franz Kafka was born on July 3, 1883 in Prague., which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was born into a Jewish family relative to the petty bourgeoisie.

From a very young age, Kafka was interested in writing. However, he studied law at university under the influence of his father, with whom he had a strained relationship throughout his life. Especially because of his authoritarian upbringing and difficult temperament.

He was a lawyer and practiced his profession at the Institute of Occupational Accident Insurance for the Kingdom of Bohemia. Nevertheless, what really gave meaning to his life were the arts.

Around 1907, Franz Kafka began to write his first stories, while working as a consultant in the insurance company. In 1912 he became aware of being a writer, so that same year he wrote the trial Y Contemplation (a collection of 18 stories that had previously appeared scattered in various media).

This last text made him known as a writer.

From then on, he dedicated himself to writing other works, such as Consideration (1913), Metamorphosis (1915), In the penal colony (1919), The process (1923), among others. As well as several narrative pieces of the genre of aphoristic parables.

In 1917 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which forced him to maintain frequent periods of convalescence and isolation in different sanatoriums, until his death in June 1924.

Notably Kafka only published a few short stories throughout his life, so much of his work went virtually unnoticed until after his death. Shortly before he died he told his friend and executor, Max Brod, to destroy all of his manuscripts. However, he ignored him and oversaw the publication of most of his writings.

Although today we have streets with his name, in the course of his life he did not have the recognition that he received later.

Characteristics of his work

The literature of Franz Kafka it has the peculiarity of being complex and loaded with symbolism. In his works, what is most interesting is the reflection that emerges from them, instead of their narrative essence.

The protagonists are not heroes

In Kafka’s stories, the protagonist wants to escape his reality at all costs, but he is not able to carry out any action that allows him to overcome it. That is to say, they are defenseless characters and without a political vocation to transform the world in which they live, no matter how suffocating it may be.

In works like The Process or The Metamorphosis, the protagonists do not fight against the external environment that they repudiate. On the contrary, we see people whose actions are controlled by the social system itself.

For example, Gregorio Samsa, the protagonist of Metamorphosis, seems more concerned with how his family will get ahead financially than with recovering from his new condition. In this way, the need to return to work becomes more necessary than the change from it.

He only decides to surrender and conclude his fight when he realizes that his family can now support itself, reaching the only possible liberation from work and illness: death.

For his part, all the decisions of Mr. K (protagonist of The process), are not born of a freedom or decision of his own, but are due to the organization of society itself that forces him to go to the lawyer’s house, to the attic of the administration, etc.

theme of the absurd

The term has been used kafkaesque to qualify everything that, despite its apparent normality, is absurd. And it is that Kafka raises the terrifying possibility that the system in which we live, and that we assume as normal, is precisely that: an absurdity.

In Kafka’s works, reality is fractured and the human being has to try to amend his existence by acting normally. Therefore, given the feeling of being out of place, the protagonist has no choice but to get up in the morning to go to the office (even if he has become a giant bug); or being subjected to a series of bureaucratic processes without knowing exactly why, but because the law demands it.

fragmentary work

Franz Kafka’s work is also characterized by being fragmentary. This means that there is no origin or beginning in it.. In fact, what defines it is the impossibility of finding foundations.

For example in The process we see how Mr. K wakes up one morning with some officials in his room who inform him that he is detained. From then on, his life begins to unfold within the framework of a bureaucratic process, without even knowing why he is accused.

Throughout the text K’s journey is evidenced, searching for the foundations, but the conclusion is evident: it is impossible to find them. Likewise, in Metamorphosis we never find the reason for the transformation of Gregorio Samsa. Simply, one day he wakes up being a huge bug and dies without knowing why.

reflection of anguish

Kafka’s protagonists are not heroes struggling to change their suffocating and reprehensible world. On the contrary, they are submissive and defenseless characters who give in to the organization of the system and let themselves be carried away by the anguish that their reality entails.

This characteristic feature of Kafka’s work is a reflection of the anguish of human beings in a modern and industrialized world; which is conceived by the author as a huge mechanism that reduces the person to a mere piece of his gear, unable to understand his role in it, much less to decipher the laws that govern it.

In this sense, we can say that one of the virtues of Kafka was to anticipate a feeling that today is generalized: anguish for getting sick and not being able to financially take care of others or ourselves; or for living in a world in which the offices of the State are not on our side.

In this way, Kafka reflects very well that the anguish of modern man has its origin in the normalwhich makes it even more terrifying.

The anguish of the Kafkaesque world is a reflection of the feeling that many have today in the face of the maelstrom of social rhythm.

Existentialism in the works of Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka has been considered one of the forerunners of the existentialist currents of the last century. Specifically, due to the reflection of anguish when the human being recognizes the absurdity and lack of meaning of his own existence.

Faced with this lack of meaning, the least we should do is allow ourselves to be overcome by the logic of a suffocating world; which tells us at every moment how we should live, what we should consume and how to relate to others. It is about being the true protagonists of existence.

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