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Could it help then to explore the meaning of Brexit as ancient mythology? To juxtapose parallel and incommensurable meanings under the shadow of great archetypes, and treat Brexit, like all such archetypes, as a dramatic pivot around a moment, with a before and an after, somehow connecting a feature of being — to be or not to be European — and a feature of doing — to stay or not to stay in the EU. It is in making this connection visible that myths acquires meaning, allowing for an infinite retelling in infinite circumstances and yet serving as stable beacons for our collective imagination.

In this spirit, let me suggest that the meaning of Brexit can be told through the prism of three archetypal myths, each connecting being and doing in a different way: stories of Exodus, stories of Reckoning, and stories of Sacrifice.

Whether these stories echo most faithfully the voice of the world itself as Francis Bacon would have it, or whether they simply constitute a common referent, we feel we know what they each mean. And yet, they did not emerge from the collective soul of humankind to provide easy answers to our predicament. Always ambiguous, they serve as ever-retreating truth-mirages to tickle our mind and force more questions.

My hope is that to adopt these dramatically different vantage points may help confront meanings dominant among various categories of people, as they clash, overlap or cross in the dark — Leavers and Remainers, EU citizens in the UK and elsewhere, so-called tribals and cosmopolitans, Europeans and non-Europeans. Or they can remind us that we usually hold several contradictory meanings in our minds at once. We may not quite manage to see from an enlarged Kantian vantage point but at least we can try to shed light kaleidoscopically on each other’s stories. And in the process, we may recognise that if Brexit were to unfold in a true spirit of mutual recognition and mutual respect, if a gentler Brexit was possible, we would all be better for it.

The most straightforward and widely shared meaning of Brexit both in the UK and on the European continent is simply that it is about Britain, red white and blue — Britain’s prerogative and thus Britain’s problem. Brexit simply means that the UK will leave.

For Brexiteers are unmistakably leading a people enslaved by the shackles of Brussels on a journey of escape, echoing the heroic tale of another people escaping slavery in Egypt, served by the strong-headedness of prophets bargaining with the Pharaoh over terms of departure, and complete with the parting of the seas. Egyptians, Europeans: let the people go!

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July 11th, 2017
8:07 PM
Charles VIII? Did no one proof read?

Mark G..
July 7th, 2017
9:07 AM
A very well written article, didn't expect something that good, thank you :) From a casual perspective Brexit could mean a lot to the UK, but in fact, the EU will probably maintain friendly and cooperative relations with the UK. Time will tell... Best regards, Mark from

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