invitation to a beheading

The Misuse of Kafkaesque

Dictionary.com defines Kafkaesque as,

KAF·KA·ESQUE

[kahf-kuh-esk]

adjective

1. of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or resembling the literary work of Franz Kafka: the Kafkaesque terror of the endless interrogations.

2. marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity: Kafkaesque bureaucracies.

Granted, it has been awhile since I’ve heard the misuse of this literary term but it still gets under my skin (don’t even get me started about a former boss who would misuse the term “Catch-22” constantly in the office!). But instead of this post being all curmudgeon-y like I originally intended, I will just qualify this by labeling it another Writerly Musing.
I am a great lover of Kafka and cite him as one of my influences, if not the top influence. From the massive amount of empirical data I have not collected, I conclude that when people misuse this wonderful literary term, they are often describing something that is merely bizarre or weird. Whilst I was thinking about this, I ran upon a course that was offered at the University of Colorado-Boulder that is constructed around the misuse.

The term should be utilized to either describe Kafka’s own work or to describe a situation, art, book, etc. that has a cyclical and never-ending bureaucratic sense about it. Some examples,

The Trial Josef K. is rounded up and arrested. He is never told his crime and he keeps running around in circles trying to find some authority figure to make sense of it all. Orson Welles also made a fantastic film version starring Anthony Perkins. The film is shot in b&w and has spectacular camera angles.
The Castle Throughout the entire novel, K. is trying to gain access to the castle and to the mysterious official named, Klamm. He has documents saying he is the new land surveyor for the village but gets shuffled back and forth from different castle bureaucrats.
OTHER NON-KAFKA KAFKAESQUE EXAMPLES
Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov. This is a great novel; when I read it, I kept forgetting that this wasn’t a Kafka novel. Nabokov claims that he had not heard of Kafka at that point but I think he’s just a little liar. Cincinnatus C. is in jail awaiting his death after being sentenced for “gnostical turpitude.”
“The Prisoner” starring Patrick McGoohan. This is a great BBC television show from the 1960s. Number Six is drugged and taken to the Village. Throughout the entire series, Number Six is trying to a) find out who Number One is and b) get out of the Village. This series has a striking resemblance to The Castle. Hmm.

I am not a number! I’m a free man!

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