Franz Kafka: An Animated Introduction to His Literary Genius

Franz Kaf­ka — he wrote that sto­ry about the guy who turns into a bug, and lot of stuff about com­plex and implaca­ble bureau­cra­cy, right? What more do you need to know? Well, giv­en the endur­ing use (and abuse) of the adjec­tive “Kafkaesque,” the man’s work must tap into some deep­er real­i­ty of the human con­di­tion than our fears of wak­ing up trans­formed into some­thing gross and inhu­man or get­ting trapped in the pur­ga­to­ry of vast, soul­less, and irra­tional sys­tems. Here to explain a lit­tle bit more about that deep­er real­i­ty, we have this explana­to­ry ani­mat­ed video above from Alain de Bot­ton’s School of Life.

Kaf­ka, says de Bot­ton, “was a great Czech writer who has come to own a part of the human emo­tion­al spec­trum which we can now call the ‘Kafkaesque,’ and which, thanks to him, we’re able bet­ter to rec­og­nize and to gain a mea­sure of per­spec­tive over and relief from.” We find our­selves in Kafka’s world when­ev­er “we feel pow­er­less in front of author­i­ty: judges, aris­to­crats, indus­tri­al­ists, politi­cians, and most of all, fathers. When we feel that our des­tiny is out of our con­trol. When we’re bul­lied, humil­i­at­ed, and mocked by soci­ety, and espe­cial­ly by our own fam­i­lies. We’re in Kafka’s orbit when we’re ashamed of our bod­ies, of our sex­u­al urges, and feel that the best thing for us might be to be killed or squashed with­out mer­cy, as if we were an incon­ve­nient and rather dis­gust­ing bed­bug.”

You might expect any writer who takes those as his themes to have led a trou­bled life, and this video gets into detail about Kafka’s: the self-hatred of his youth, his unsuc­cess­ful rela­tion­ships with women, the ago­niz­ing dis­ease that kept him in pain, and every­thing else that shaped his writ­ing of not just The Meta­mor­pho­sis but the nov­els The Tri­alThe Cas­tle, and Ameri­ka, all left unfin­ished, to his own mind, in his short life­time. But in a way, his drea­ry life sto­ry ends well: “With­in a few years of his death, his rep­u­ta­tion began. By the sec­ond World War, he was rec­og­nized as one of the great­est writ­ers of the age.”

Acknowl­edg­ing the Kafkaesque in our world has become impor­tant to many of us, but accord­ing to this video’s view of Kaf­ka, you can’t ful­ly under­stand it unless you under­stand the writer’s rela­tion­ship with his “ter­ri­fy­ing­ly psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly abu­sive” father. “Any boy who has ever felt inad­e­quate in front of or unloved by a pow­er­ful father will at once relate to what Kaf­ka went through in his child­hood,” says de Bot­ton, who has him­self spo­ken pub­licly about grow­ing up in the sim­i­lar­ly dark shad­ow of his own “cru­el tyrant” banker father. But even if you did­n’t suf­fer in the same way, you’ll find some­thing to at least crack the frozen sea with­in you in the work of this writer who stands as “a mon­u­ment in Ger­man lit­er­ary his­to­ry,” and at the same time “a sad, ashamed, ter­ri­fied part of us all.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Fos­ter Wal­lace Reads Franz Kafka’s Short Sto­ry “A Lit­tle Fable” (and Explains Why Com­e­dy Is Key to Kaf­ka)

Four Franz Kaf­ka Ani­ma­tions: Enjoy Cre­ative Ani­mat­ed Shorts from Poland, Japan, Rus­sia & Cana­da

Franz Kafka’s Kafkaesque Love Let­ters

Vladimir Nabokov Makes Edi­to­r­i­al Tweaks to Franz Kafka’s Novel­la The Meta­mor­pho­sis

Franz Kaf­ka Says the Insect in The Meta­mor­pho­sis Should Nev­er Be Drawn; Vladimir Nabokov Draws It Any­way

Franz Kafka’s It’s a Won­der­ful Life: The Oscar-Win­ning Film About Kaf­ka Writ­ingThe Meta­mor­pho­sis

The Art of Franz Kaf­ka: Draw­ings from 1907–1917

The Ani­mat­ed Franz Kaf­ka Rock Opera

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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