Chernobyl, Icon & Memory

My essay “Iconography of a Disaster: Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl” was published today on the Ploughshares blog. 

Narratives about catastrophic events tend to compress over time. Episodes come to be presented in a certain order, leading to a standard meaning that becomes iconic. Yet the iconic version of the story is not the factual version of the story. It is not an objective reality but a symbol, a form of shorthand, or, as the dictionary has it, “an object of uncritical devotion.” Continue reading

I hope you’ll read it. I’ve become curious about icons and memory, that is, how we come to cling to certain images that anchor our understanding of events. In the essay I look at how Nobel winner Svetlana Alexievich explores this idea through interviews with survivors and resettlers of Chernobyl after the nuclear reactor meltdown. 

What are your icons? How did they become your interpretive key for understanding the past?