Franz Kafka has been honored with a Google Doodle today, on what would have been the author’s 130th birthday.
In pop culture, Franz Kafka’s name has been largely invoked to describe the DMV and similar situations, in which people are subject to tormenting and reasonless bureaucracy.
And while you may only hear of Franz Kafka in shorthand ways, his literary legacy is larger, one marked today with a Google Doodle featuring an illustration depicting his most influential work.
Franz Kafka was 40 when he died of tuberculosis in 1924, nine years after The Metamorphosis was published and later became on of the twentieth century’s most referenced books.
In it, travelling salesman Gregor Samsa wakes to discover that in the night, he has morphed into a giant, icky bug — a cockroach, by most interpretations of the seminal tale.
The Metamorphosis is not the sum of Kafka’s body of work, but it and the term coined to describe settings and situations in his work, are perhaps the most visible of his legacy. (Kafkaesque has been defined as meaning “marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity,” or “marked by surreal distortion and often a sense of impending danger.”)
On books, in a letter years before his death, Franz Kafka said:
I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? … We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
Below, a clip of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, explained. (Humorously.)