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  • What Is Unnatural about Unnatural Narratology? A Response to Monika Fludernik1
  • Jan Alber (bio), Stefan Iversen (bio), Henrik Skov Nielsen (bio), and Brian Richardson (bio)

In the following response to Monika Fludernik’s “How Natural Is ‘Unnatural Narratology’” we will identify Fludernik’s main observations concerning our joint article from 2010 and respond to them individually. Her perspicacious account brings to the fore several important issues; some point toward fruitful unexplored territory, while others address ongoing discussions in our essay “Unnatural Narratives, Unnatural Narratology” and in more recent articles by unnatural narratologists. In her essay, Fludernik discusses some core ideas of unnatural narrative theory, demonstrating in the process the proximity of several of our major ideas to those presented in her own work from 1996, 2001, 2003, and 2010. Unnatural narrative theory is partially inspired by and indebted to Fludernik’s approach and we agree with her statement that “Alber et al. are conducting research much in the spirit of Towards a ‘Natural’ Narratology” (358). Fludernik’s response confirms once more that unnatural narrative theory is a “timely and significant” (364) approach in the current narratological [End Page 371] landscape. Since our joint article was published in 2010 there have been several responses to our proposals and of course we have debated both those proposals and the responses among ourselves. A dialogue with Fludernik will help clarify many of the issues under debate.

Unnatural Narratives, Unnatural Narratology: Terminology and Dichotomies

Fludernik defines the term “unnatural narrative” as denoting “the fabulous, the magical, and the supernatural besides the logically or cognitively impossible” (362). Furthermore, from her perspective, unnatural narratology combines two different discourses: “the discourse of fable, romance, before-the-novel narrative; and the discourse of postmodernist anti-illusionism, transgression and metafiction” (363). We have different responses to this statement and need to provide some additional clarification.

Brian Richardson, for example, defines the term “unnatural narrative” as “one that conspicuously violates conventions of standard narrative forms, in particular the conventions of nonfictional narratives, oral or written, and fictional modes like realism that model themselves on nonfictional narratives. Unnatural narratives furthermore follow fluid, changing conventions and create new narratological patterns in each work. In a phrase, unnatural narratives produce a defamiliarization of the basic elements of narrative” (“What Is” 34). Furthermore, Richardson differentiates between what he calls nonmimetic or nonrealistic poetics that govern traditional nonrealistic works such as fairy tales, ghost stories, etc., and the antimimetic work of an author like Beckett that defies the principles of realism. He limits the unnatural to anti-mimetic and defamiliarizing scenes, entities, and events such as impossible [End Page 372] spaces, reversed causal progressions, and acts of narration that defy the parameters of natural conversational narratives. Richardson’s idea of the unnatural is thus more limited than that articulated by Fludernik.

Jan Alber, on the other hand, defines the term “unnatural” as denoting physically, logically, or humanly impossible scenarios or events (Alber, “Impossible Storyworlds” 80) and discriminates between the unnatural in postmodernism, which still strikes us as disorienting or defamiliarizing, and conventionalized instances of the unnatural in other genres, which have become important features of certain generic conventions (see Alber, “The Diachronic”). What Fludernik calls “the fabulous, the magical, the fantastic, and the supernatural” (363) are examples of what he classifies as the conventionalized unnatural, and there are numerous further instances. Among other things, Alber is interested in the history of the unnatural and tries to demonstrate that the conventionalization of the unnatural is a hitherto neglected driving force behind the creation of new generic configurations and thus the development of literary history (see Alber, “Unnatural”).

Stefan Iversen ties the notion of the “unnatural” to narratives that present the reader with clashes between the rules governing a storyworld and scenarios or events producing or taking place inside this storyworld, clashes that defy easy explanations. While many of these phenomena (such as the ones mentioned by Fludernik) become conventionalized over time, some remain resistant to familiarization. The transformation in Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” (1915) is such an example because it presents the reader with an unresolvable combination of a bug and a human mind, which is situated in an otherwise conventionally realist storyworld. Iversen...


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