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Ben Kafka

Associate Professor (2020-2021 Sabbatical)

Media, Culture, and Communication

Ben Kafka is a psychoanalyst, cultural historian, and critic. He's interested in how desire, destructiveness, anxiety, confusion, magical thinking, and other forces manifest themselves in the lives of individuals, groups, and organizations. His first book, The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork (Zone Books, 2012), was an investigation into our experience of paperwork's conflicts and contradictions. He's currently writing a book about the interpersonal and institutional dynamics that make us feel crazy: gaslighting, mind games, double binds, Catch-22s, etc. 

Before coming to NYU in 2007, Prof. Kafka was a Cotsen-Perkins Postdoctoral Fellow in the Princeton Society of Fellows. He received his Ph.D. in History from Stanford and his clinical training at 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 licensed by the State of New York and works with adult and adolescent patients in private practice.

Prof. Kafka has been a member of the New York Institute for the Humanities since 2007, and serves on its board of directors. Over the years he has also been affiliated with the School of Social Science of the Institute for Advanced Study; the Internationale Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie at Bauhaus Universität Weimar; the Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis; the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis; and the Feminist Theory Archive at the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women at Brown. He is a co-editor of the journal History of the Present and a member of the advisory board of Grey Room.

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).


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 Bolllas, 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

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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