Towards a Contemporary Poetics of Nonfiction about Disasters
In order to assess which role catastrophe plays in contemporary literary nonfiction, in this essay I examine four narrative texts dealing with different disasters: And the Band Played On (1987) by Randy Shilts, Chernobyl Prayer (1997) by Svetlana Alexievich, Underground (1997) by Haruki Murakami, and News on the Disaster (2001) by Roberto Alajmo. By adopting a narratological and comparative approach and identifying constants and commonalities underlying these texts, I make the case for a potential poetics of nonfiction about disasters. While I discuss characteristic plot features and alternative interpretations of catastrophe within the corpus, two main elements stand out in the analysis: first, the extreme events narrated make the authors compelled to declare their own ethical commitment and the methods and the means of their enterprise, usually relying on paratextual and metatextual inserts, which signal not only the sensitiveness of the topic and its resistance to verbalization, but also how this kind of life writing does not occupy a stable and acknowledged place in the literary panorama. Secondarily, although authors have tried to find their own original way to account for catastrophe through their works, they seem to inevitably choose the choral form as the best narrative structure to represent disasters: no point of view is privileged, there is no single hero, and the communal dimension is respected.