Kaf·​ka·​esque ˌkäf-kə-ˈesk How to pronounce Kafkaesque (audio) ˌkaf- How to pronounce Kafkaesque (audio)
: of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings
especially : having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality
Kafkaesque bureaucratic delays

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Kafkaesque Literature

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a Czech-born German-language writer whose surreal fiction vividly expressed the anxiety, alienation, and powerlessness of the individual in the 20th century. The opening sentence of his 1915 story The Metamorphosis has become one of the most famous in Western literature (“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect”), while in his novel The Trial, published a year after his death, a young man finds himself caught up in the mindless bureaucracy of the law after being charged with a crime that is never named. So deft was Kafka’s prose at detailing nightmarish settings in which characters are crushed by nonsensical, blind authority, that writers began using his name as an adjective a mere 16 years after his death. Although many other literary eponyms, from Austenian to Homeric, exist and are common enough, Kafkaesque gets employed more than most and in a wide variety of contexts, leading to occasional charges that the word has been watered down and given a lack of specificity due to overuse.

Examples of Kafkaesque in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Since then, she has been locked in a Kafkaesque struggle with Russian authorities over his body. Robyn Dixon, Washington Post, 21 Feb. 2024 Jimmy Lai, a British citizen, owner of the independent newspaper Apple Daily and pro-democracy and human rights defender, has been detained and subjected to multiple Kafkaesque trials for fighting for freedom of speech and democracy in Hong Kong. Dr. Ewelina U. Ochab, Forbes, 11 Feb. 2024 But Khalid’s plea became lost in a Kafkaesque maze, listed 10 times before different judges. Vaibhav Vats, The Atlantic, 3 Feb. 2024 And Nagayama’s nervy portrayal, like a cosmic baton of Kafkaesque anguish handed off to him, keeps us just as riveted to a possible injustice. Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times, 1 Dec. 2023 The sheer volume of open warrants creates a Kafkaesque web of suspicion over people who share common names, regardless of jurisdiction or availability of complete information. WIRED, 14 Sep. 2023 Each says a tick bite — about seven years ago for Georgina, the mom, and 15 for Madison — thrust them into the Kafkaesque world of chronic Lyme disease. Kay Lazar, BostonGlobe.com, 29 Aug. 2023 The process of applying for a green card while living in the U.S. is a Kafkaesque one, and, during the time that the application is being processed, you are not allowed to leave the country. Deborah Treisman, The New Yorker, 19 June 2023 Last year, Doros and Heller co-founded the nonprofit organization Missing Movies to highlight the problem and help filmmakers navigate what can be a Kafkaesque maze of licensing and distribution deals made in a prestreaming world. Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times, 13 June 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'Kafkaesque.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1939, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of Kafkaesque was in 1939


Dictionary Entries Near Kafkaesque

Cite this Entry

“Kafkaesque.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Kafkaesque. Accessed 3 Mar. 2024.

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