absurd literature

I exist. It’s sweet, so sweet, so slow. And light: you’d think it floated all by itself. It stirs. It brushes by me, melts and vanishes. Gently, gently. There is bubbling water in my mouth. I swallow. It slides down my throat, it caresses me – and now it comes up again into my mouth. For ever I shall have a little pool of whitish water in my mouth – lying low – grazing my tongue. And this pool is still me. And the tongue. And the throat is me. 

I see my hand spread out on the table. It lives – it is me. It opens, the fingers open and point. It is lying on its back. It shows me its fat belly. It looks like an animal turned upside down. The fingers are the paws. I amuse myself by moving them very rapidly, like the claws of a crab which has fallen on its back.

…It would be much better if I could only stop thinking. Thoughts are the dullest things. Duller than flesh. They stretch out and there’s no end to them and they leave a funny taste in the mouth. Then there are words, inside the thoughts, unfinished words, a sketchy sentence which constantly returns…It goes, it goes…and there’s no end to it. It’s worse than the rest because I feel responsible and have complicity in it. For example, this sort of painful rumination: I exist, I am the one who keeps it up. I. The body lives by itself once it has begun. But thought – I am the one who continues it, unrolls it. I exist. How serpentine this feeling of existing – I unwind it, slowly…If I could keep myself from thinking! I try, and succeed: my head seems to fill with smoke…and then it starts again: “Smoke…not to think…don’t want to think…I think I don’t want to think. I mustn’t think that I don’t want to think. Because that’s still a thought. Will there never be an end to it?

My thought is me: that’s why I can’t stop. I exist because I think…and I can’t stop myself from thinking. At this very moment  – it’s frightful – if I exist, it is because I am horrified at existing. I am the one who pulls myself from the nothingness to which I aspire: the hatred, the disgust of existing, there are as many ways to make myself exist, to thrust myself into existence. Thought are born at the back of me, like sudden giddiness, I feel them being born behind my head…if I yield, and I always yield, the thought grows and grows and there it is, immense, filling me completely and renewing my existence.

—  Nausea, Jean Paul Sartre
What makes something Kafkaesque? (in loops)

The term Kafkaesque has entered the vernacular to describe unnecessarily complicated and frustrating experiences, like being forced to navigate labyrinths of bureaucracy. So, what makes something “Kafkaesque”? Here are some mind-bending animated loops to help you understand.

Franz Kafka’s tragicomic stories act as a form of mythology for the modern industrial age, employing dream logic to explore the relationships between systems of arbitrary power and the individuals caught up in them. 

For example, in “The Trial,” K, the protagonist, is arrested out of nowhere and made to go through a bewildering process where neither the cause of his arrest, nor the nature of the judicial proceedings are made clear to him. While this story seems to focus directly on bureaucracy, the vague laws and bewildering procedures point to something far more sinister: the terrible momentum of the legal system proves unstoppable, even by supposedly powerful officials. This is a system that doesn’t serve justice, but whose sole function is to perpetuate itself.


Franz Kafka’s stories do indeed deal with many mundane and absurd aspects of modern bureaucracy, but accompanying the bleakness of Kafka’s stories, there’s a great deal of humor rooted in the nonsensical logic of the situations described. So on the one hand, it’s easy to recognize the Kafkaesque in today’s world. We rely on increasingly convoluted systems of administration that have real consequences on every aspect of our lives. And we find our every word judged by people we can’t see according to rules we don’t know. 

On the other hand, by fine-tuning our attention to the absurd, Kafka also reflects our shortcomings back at ourselves. In doing so, he reminds us that the world we live in is one we create, and have the power to change for the better.

From the TED-Ed Lesson What makes something “Kafkaesque”? - Noah Tavlin

Animation by TED-Ed

“…if Kafka wants to express the absurd, he will make use of consistency. You know the story of the crazy man who was fishing in a bathtub. A doctor with ideas as to psychiatric treatments asked ‘if they were biting,’ to which he received the harsh reply: ‘Of course not, you fool, since this is a bathtub’…Kafka’s world is in truth an indescribable universe in which man allows himself the tormenting luxury of fishing in a bathtub, knowing that nothing will come of it.” 
—Albert Camus, ‘Hope and the Absurd in the Work of Franz Kafka’ 

“This very second has vanished forever, lost in the anonymous mass of the irrevocable. It will never return. I suffer from this, and I do not. Everything is unique and insignificant.”

- Emil Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born

Art:  Caspar David Friedrich. The Monk by the Sea, 1810.

Rising, tram, four hours in the office or factory, meal, tram, four hours of work, meal, sleep and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, according to the same rhythm - this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the ‘why’ arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement
—  Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
For starters, would your soul mate even still be alive? A hundred billion or so humans have ever lived, but only seven billion are alive now (which gives the human condition a 93 percent mortality rate). If we were all paired up at random, 90 percent of our soul mates would be long dead…

A world of random soul mates would be a lonely one. Let’s hope that’s not what we live in.