A Novel Idea: Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka’s books have inspired thousands of writers. His disciples include Albert Camus, Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez; not just any writers, but many of the greatest writers of the 20th Century.

Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883, but traveled throughout Europe socialising with philosophers, writers, and poets, and creating theories to understand the post-Enlightenment world in which he lived. Such was his brilliance in recreating the complex, bureaucratic and senseless events that punctuated the post-Enlightenment era, literary critics came up with a new word to describe them when they appear in literature: Kafkaesque.

Why was he so able to redefine the era in which he lives, and still remain relevant enough to inspire writers and thinkers almost a hundred years after his death? The truth is that Kafka lived at a time of incredible change. The Enlightenment had changed the way Europe operated, and in the worlds of Prague, Berlin and central Europe, it had given rise to education and opportunity, but had also created its own monster in the bureaucracy and belief in logic that Kafka found so stifling, mad, and perversely, illogical.

Like many greats though, appreciation took longer than his preciously short life. His greatest works, The Castle, Metamorphosis, and The Trial, were all posthumously published by his friend Max Brod, though Kafka had explicitly instructed him to burn all his manuscripts. Imagine the loss to the world of literature, and the world itself, if Brod had carried out Kafka’s dying wish.

Looking at his works, they are so influenced by where he came from and the philosophical thinking of the time; blueprints of the post-enlightenment which still exists today. Look at Europe’s architecture, the layout of its cities, the way government is defined, how social interaction works, the way laws are made, and crucially, the way we think. Seeing Prague and Berlin today is seeing them as in Kafka’s time. Their ways and systems are what inspired him to write such brilliant novels. That is his gift, for taking things that we accept without question and showing us how mad much of it truly is.

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