Hello! Charles Baudelaire's definition of modernity can be summed up by one of his most famous quotes:
Modernity is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent; it is one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immovable.
Baudelaire is largely concerned with the human experience in an urban and cosmopolitan context. He focuses on the moral complexity and ambivalence of individuals, explores the sensuality of the human experience and stresses a rejection of the innate goodness in individuals. Kafka's 'The Trial' showcases Baudelaire's fascination with sex (both sacred and adulterous), death, oppression, condemnation without the benefit of justice, corruption in the highest echelons of urban leadership, hopeless fate, secularization and the utter rejection of morality, and a fascination with the macabre. Baudelaire's definition of modernity is a transient experience of decay, corruption and oppression: all of these are present in Kafka's 'The Trial.'
The story starts out with the protagonist
, Josef K (chief financial officer of a bank), charged with a nameless crime. He is summoned before a shadowy court with no recourse for justice. K does not even know where to turn in order to extricate himself from this nightmarish judicial persecution. You can clearly see Baudelaire's and Kafka's portrait of modernity in very stark terms: the prospect of totalitarian oppression and a redefinition of truth and reality is the future, and it is frightening in its intensity and hopelessness.
"No," said the priest, "you don't need to accept everything as true, you only have to accept it as necessary." "Depressing view," said K. "The lie made into the rule of the world."
Josef K 's uncle Karl introduces him to a lawyer, Dr. Huld, who can supposedly help him, but all the lawyer does is tell him how his own connections with powerful members of the court system has brought great advantage to countless other unfortunates like himself. Uncle Karl is incredulous that K should be in such trouble. He imagines that something must have led up to such a trial:
"Things like this don't come all of a sudden, they start developing a long time beforehand, there must have been warning signs of it, why didn't you write to me"
Still undeterred, Uncle Karl suggests that K should have a short holiday and go to stay in the country with him and his family. K disagrees, stating that such a course of action would not help matters, as it would indicate 'flight and a sense of guilt.' You can see that K is feeling cornered: Kafka paints a world where the individual becomes more and more alienated from society, where everything is closing in on the individual and there is no real help or escape from such a dire predicament. While his Uncle Karl, the lawyer, and the finally revealed office director speak of K's case as if he is not in the same room, K wanders off and has a sexual encounter (K indulges in other sexual escapades with women in the novel) with Leni, the lawyer's mistress. In the novel, both sexual temptation and infidelity lurk steadily in the background, juxtaposed with a consistent atmosphere
of inevitable entrapment by the forces of oppression. If one is to be successful at all, one must play the part required by those who set the rules:
Everything is connected with everything else and will continue without any change or else, which is quite probable, even more closed, more attentive, more strict, more malevolent.
These officials are in many ways just like children. Often, something quite harmless - although K.'s behaviour could unfortunately not be called harmless - will leave them feeling so offended that they will even stop talking with good friends of theirs, they turn away when they see them and do everything they can to oppose them. But then, with no particular reason, surprisingly enough, some little joke that was only ever attempted because everything seemed so hopeless will make them laugh and they'll be reconciled. It's both difficult and hard at the same time to deal with them, and there's hardly any reason for it.
The innocence of the accused is not then determined by presenting evidence to support one's case, but by the careful cultivation of egos in the hierarchy of justice. Such corruption is usually the province of totalitarian societies, and that's where our word 'kafkaesque' comes from. It describes Josef K's world perfectly, a world where a powerful and labyrinthine bureaucracy is accountable to no one, controls every aspect of an individual's existence and punishes whom it sees fit. It is a world where neighbors inform on other neighbors and family members; there is no recourse to justice and random acts of violence are perpetrated on unsuspecting innocents. Control of the masses is the purpose of this modern nightmare.
In the end, Josef K is executed 'like a dog,' as he says before he breathes his last. The charge is still not made plain to the reader nor to poor Josef K.
Thanks for the question!