What does it mean to be Kafkaesque?

Franz Kafka

Kafkaesque is describing something that is horribly complicated for no reason, usually in reference to politics in some shape or form. Coined after the early 20th century writer Franz Kafka who is best known for “The Trial” and “Metamorphosis.”

The actual term Kafkaesque refers to the style with which he wrote his books (which in his dying wish actually asked for them to be burned).

A Kafkaesque environment basically describes a nightmarish situation which most people can somehow relate to, although strongly surreal. With an ethereal, “evil”, omnipotent power floating just beyond one’s senses.

For example: You go to the city to see the law. Upon arrival outside the building, there is a guard who says “You may not pass without permission”, you notice that the door is open, but it closed enough for you to not see anything (the law).

You point out that you can easily go into the building, and the guard agrees. Rather than being disagreeable, however, you decide to wait until you have permission.

You wait for many years, and when you’re an old, shriveled wreck, you get yourself to ask:

“During all the years I’ve waited here, no-one else has tried to pass in to see the law, why is this?”,
and the guard answers:

“It is true that no-one else has passed here, that is because this door was always meant solely for you, but now, it is closed forever”.

He then closes the door and calmly walks away.

This is in fact, one of his short stories, and is very typical to his style, i.e. Kafkaesque.