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Ben Kafka

Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication

Media, Culture, and Communication

Ben Kafka is a psychoanalyst, cultural historian, and critic. He is the author of The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork (Zone Books, 2012), a historical and theoretical investigation into bureaucracy's breakdowns ("provocative, original, and a very good read" - The New York Review of Books). He's currently writing a book about the interpersonal and institutional dynamics that drive us crazy: gaslighting, mind games, double binds, Catch-22s, etc. He works with adult and adolescent patients in private practice.

Before coming to NYU in 2007 Prof. Kafka was a Cotsen-Perkins Postdoctoral Fellow in the Princeton Society of Fellows. Over the years he has also been affiliated with the New York Institute for the Humanities, where he currently serves on the board of directors; the School of Social Science of the Institute for Advanced Study; the Internationale Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar; the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis; the Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis; and the Feminist Theory Archive of the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women at Brown. 

Prof. Kafka received his Ph.D. in History from Stanford and his clinical training from the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research (IPTAR), a component society of the International Psychoanalytical Association, with additional training as a Rita Frankiel Memorial Fellow of the Melanie Klein Trust. He is a member of the International Psychoanalytical Association and the American Psychoanalytic Association and licensed to practice by the State of New York.

He holds cross-appointments in the Departments of History and Comparative Literature.

Selected Publications


  • William Pietz, The Problem of the Fetish: The Complete Manuscript, ed. Francesco Pellizzi, Stefanos Geroulanos, and Ben Kafka (University of Chicago Press, 2022)
  • The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork (Zone Books, 2012). French translation: Le Demon de l'Écriture: Pouvoirs et Limites de la Paperasse, with an afterword by Robert Darnton (Éditions Zones Sensibles, 2013). ("witty and rich" - The TLS • "keen and vivacious" - Publishers Weekly • "probably one of the most entertaining scholarly books ever written" - Somatosphere • "eccentric" - The New York Times)



  • Co-Editor, History of the PresentA Journal of Critical History ("Best New Journal," Council of Editors of Learned Journals, 2012)
  • Advisory Board, Grey Room


Selected Articles, Essays, and Reviews

  • "The Caregiver's Dilemma: Ben Kafka interviews W.J.T. Mitchell," Los Angeles Review of Books, September 23, 2020 (link)
  • Review of Christopher Bollas, Meaning and Melancholia: Life in the Age of Bewilderment in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, vol 101, no. 2 (2020)
  • "Is the Death Drive Real?," Gizmodo, February 3, 2020 (link) 
  • "Returning to the Repressed" (followed by an exchange with Brian Connolly), History of the Present 9.2 (Fall 2019)
  • "Are Friends Electric? Jeffrey Sconce's The Technical Delusion: Electronics, Power, Insanity," Bookforum (Feb/March 2019). (link)
  • "Human, Also Human," October 166 (Fall 2018) (link)
  • “Medication and its Discontents: Lauren Slater’s Blue Dreams: The Science and Story of the Drugs that Changed Our Minds,” Bookforum (Feb/Mar 2018)  (link)
  • "What is the Future of Psychoanalysis in the Academy?," Psychoanalysis and History 20:1 (2018)
  • "Ni Prose Ni Vers: Le Carnet de Notes du Psychanalyste," Les Cahiers du musée nationale d'art moderne (Hors-Série 2017)
  • “Oedipus Klex: Damion Searls’s The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing,” Artforum (September 2017)
  • “Analyze This: Suzanne O’Sullivan’s Is It All In Your Head? True Stories of Imaginary Illness,Bookforum (April/May 2017) (link)
  • “Smoke Screen: D.A. Miller’s Hidden Hitchcock,” Artforum (March 2017)
  • “Braving the Elements: Jussi Parikka’s Geology of Media,” Artforum (November 2015) (link)
  • "A Riot on Every Page: Archive, Bureaucracy, Paranoia," in Peter Piller Archive - Materials (G) Albedo (Fotomuseum Winterthur/Walter König, 2014).
  • "Medium/Media" in Emily Apter, Barbara Cassin, Jacques Lezra, and Michael Wood, eds., Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon (Princeton University Press, 2014)
  • "On Paperwork," Il Palazzo Enciclopedico: Catalogue of the 55th Venice Biennale (2013)
  • "The Administration of Things: A Genealogy" West 86th online (May 2012)
  • “From the Desk of Roland Barthes: Putting Mater (and Pater) Back in Materialism,” West 86th, vol. 18, no. 2 (Fall 2011)
  • “No, Oedipus Does Not Exist,” with Jamieson Webster, Cabinet #42 (Summer 2011) (link)
  • "Pushing Paper," Lapham's Quarterly, vol. 4., no. 2. (Spring 2011)
  • "Power Hungry: Dining With the Committee of Public Safety," Cabinet #32 (Winter 2008-09). (link)
  • "Paperwork: State of the Discipline," Book History #12 (2009)
  • "The Demon of Writing: Paperwork, Public Safety, and the Reign of Terror," Representations vol. 98, no. 1 (Spring 2007).


Media, Culture, and Communication

Our media studies programs train agile researchers of a shifting media landscape. Learn to analyze media and technology in its cultural, social, and global contexts.

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Psychoanalysis: Desire and Culture

Explores the subject of desire in modern media and culture. Freud's ideas have had a profound influence on everything from the earliest manuals on public relations to the struggles of modern feminism. We will read a range of psychoanalytic theorists while studying how their insights have been put to work by both the culture industry and its critics.
Course #
MCC-UE 1009
Media, Culture, and Communication

The Psychic Life of Media

This seminar develops themes addressed in “MCC-UE 1009 Psychoanalysis: Desire and Culture.” The course expands and deepen understanding of core Freudian and post-Freudian concepts via texts by Melanie Klein, W.R. Bion, Jacques Lacan, Jean Laplanche, and others. These texts will be considered alongside a series of media-cultural artifacts selected for study by seminar participants.
Course #
MCC-UE 1105
Media, Culture, and Communication