Film-Philosophy 24 (3):259-283 (2020)

Kafka's work has exercised immense influence on cinema and his reflections on diminished human agency in modernity and the dominance of oppressive institutions that perpetuate individual or social alienation and political repression have been the subject of debates by philosophers such as Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, and Alexander Kluge. Informed by a world-systems approach and taking a cue from Jorge Luis Borges’ point that Kafka has modified our conception of the future, and André Bazin's suggestion that literary concepts, characters and styles can exceed “novels from which they emanate”, I understand the Kafkaesque as an elastic term that can refer to diverse films that might share thematic preoccupations, but also aesthetic and formal differences. In this article, I explore the politics of humour in Kafkaesque cinema with reference to the following films: The Overcoat, The Shop on Main Street, and Death of a Bureaucrat. I draw attention to the dialectics of humour and the connection between the Kafkaesque and slapstick so as to show how humour is deployed as a means of political critique.
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DOI 10.3366/film.2020.0145
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