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Marc Matera


The lead-up to and the aftermath of the 2016 referendum on the United Kingdom's membership in the European Union have been characterized by particular psychic reactions and affective states: shock, perplexity, anxiety, guilt, paranoia, anger, depression, delusion, and manic elation. The debate over Brexit has played out largely in an affective register. Scholars and journalists in search of explanations have reached for psychological concepts such as amnesia and have cited feelings, specifically nostalgia and anger, as major factors. Paul Gilroy's Postcolonial Melancholia provides a more useful analytical framework for constructing histories of Brexit beyond the usual narratives of reversal, unexpected rupture, or liberation, and for unearthing the psychic attachments and affective dynamics underlying such narratives. Gilroy's conception of postimperial melancholia allows us to see the links between Brexit, anti-immigrant racism, and the obsession with national identity, and the unacknowledged and ongoing legacies of empire and decolonization in contemporary Britain.