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 new book about gaslighting, folies-à-deux, double binds, Catch-22s, and other forms of induced insanity. A licensed clinician, he works with adult and adolescent patients in private practice.
Before coming to NYU, Prof. Kafka was a Cotsen-Perkins Postdoctoral Fellow in the Princeton Society of Fellows. He received his Ph.D. in History from Stanford. His clinical training has taken place 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.
Prof. Kafka has been a member of the New York Institute for the Humanities since 2007, and chair of its executive committee since 2012. Over the years he has also been affiliated with IKKM Weimar; the Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis; the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis; the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton; 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 board of Grey Room.
He holds cross-appointments in the Departments of History and Comparative Literature.
- 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).
- Reviewed and/or interviewed in The New York Times; The New York Review of Books; The New Republic; Slate; Bookforum; Times Literary Supplement; Times Higher Education Supplement; The Los Angeles Review of Books; Radical Philosophy; Dissent; The Weekly Standard; Die Weltwoche; La Revue des Livres; Le Vif/L'Express; La Quinzaine Littéraire; in addition to academic journals in history, anthropology, sociology, art history, archival science.
Selected Articles and Essays
- "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)
- "Human, Also Human," October 166 (Fall 2018)
- "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)
- "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)
- "Power Hungry: Dining With the Committee of Public Safety," Cabinet #32 (winter 2008-09). (link)
- "Are Friends Electric? Jeffrey Sconce's The Technical Delusion: Electronics, Power, Insanity," Bookforum (Feb/March 2019). (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)
- “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)