Sacred Modernities: Rethinking Modernity in a Post-Secular Age
18 September 2009
Daniel Cojocaru (St. Peter’s College, University of Oxford)
(Vat City plc)”: The Sacred Violence of Market Forces in the Fiction of Iain Sinclair
“Thatcher introduced occultism into British political life. […] Her take, if you look at it, verges on the demonic. […]I can’t look at it in any other way but as actual demonic possession.”
In his novel Downriver, a fierce criticism of the liberal market economy of the Thatcher era, Iain Sinclair imaginatively connects the latter to traditional religious structures by punning VAT (value added tax) with the Vatican. Sinclair thus suggests that at the core of liberal market economy we do not find a rational-secular logic but rather irrationality that can be understood in terms of the sacred. Because Sinclair fuses secular power with a traditional religious institution a model that limits the sacred to formal religious views falls short of explaining the sacred structure of market economy. I will argue that René Girard’s poststructural theory of the sacred, which equates the sacred with institutionalized, hidden and arbitrary social violence, can lead to a better understanding of what Sinclair means by “demonic possession”. I will show that Sinclair portrays “market forces” as following the logic of the violent expulsion of a victim that is necessary for the constitution of – but hidden from – liberal market economy. Particular emphasis will be placed on how Sinclair dismantles the utopian vision of reaching “the end of history” by means of a liberal market economy. Sinclair suggests that the use of violence, which seems justified with the realization of utopia in sight, leads instead to the creation of its dystopic, apocalyptic inverse. This process can be fruitfully related to Girard’s observation that violence has lost its constitutive force in an age aware of the Gospel truth of the structural innocence of the victim. The use of violence in our age therefore, according to Sinclair and Girard, leads to violence without end.
Daniel Cojocaru is currently completing a PhD in the Department of English Language and Literature, University of Oxford, provisionally entitled “The Sacrificial Crisis in Modern Dystopian Fiction”.