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Kafka: The confusion is the point



Kafka’s novels radiate an ambiguity, where plot lines and narratives weave around the reader like a dream - beguiling and exciting, but ultimately intangible realms that collapse into nonsense the second we try to understand them through the lens of logic.


The audience is continually left asking just what the hell is going on? Why is no one acting normally in this world?


In America, we have Karl Rossmann who is banished from his uncle's home and left homeless and destitute after visiting a friend of his uncle's.


In The Trial we have Josef K who is pronounced guilty and sentenced to death, despite never being told what it is that he has supposedly done.


Finally, in The Castle, we have K who is shunned by the village for breaking their laws, despite the village’s laws never being elucidated.


More bizarre than the severe reactions to these alleged crimes are the responses of the main characters. In all of these instances, we see our protagonists accept the consequences of their actions without batting an eyelid.


To describe something as Kafkaesque, then, invokes some qualities of dream-like states because our capacity to ask straightforward questions is muted.


Instead, we are forced along these weird story lines, accepting everything as it comes - but upon reflecting in the cold light of day, we are left confused.


The confusion, however, is the point because in drawing us into these strange and mysterious worlds, Kafka reminds us of the fundamental absurdity of our lives.


Part of the reason these novels are filled with so much tension and frustration is because the questions we desperately want to ask are either not asked or, if they are, they lead us to a more confusing place.


But if we look at the questions that we instinctively want to ask, we see that they grapple with the vague existential questions that are common to humanity - why does Karl suffer punishment? Why is Josef guilty? Why is K not welcome in the village?


All of these can be translated to universal questions - why do people suffer? What is this overriding sense of guilt that pervades our lives? Why do we struggle to feel at home in the world?


In failing to even ask them and creating stories that will never answer them, Kafka shows us the balance between asking demanding questions and never receiving any answers that is the essence of the absurd.


Indeed, the closest thing to an answer that Kafka gives us is in The Castle, where an official invites K to his offices, so that K might understand the rules that govern the village.


However, on his way there, K gets lost in a labyrinth of corridors, stumbling upon the wrong office and talking to the wrong person who only adds to K’s confusion.


Even in attempting to answer these questions, we are led down dark and confusing corridors, with explanations given that only add to our frustrations rather than alleviating them.


And yet, despite this, Kafka shows us the balance between tragedy and comedy. His tales are often light and humorous, gripping and enticing, whilst remaining absurd and confused.


In such a manner, then, we are not encouraged to simply abandon asking questions - it would be impossible to read Kafka and not wonder what the hell is actually going on.


Rather, we are encouraged to hang between the rock and hard place of asking questions and never receiving any answers and accept the world as it is.


In doing so, Kafka’s stories teach us to appreciate the nuance with which we live our lives: to remain curious and open in the face of the absurd, and enjoy the story as it unfolds.


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