Narratologists tend to define the unnatural in terms of very strange textual elements alone, whereas they are very strange for somebody. A revised definition of the unnatural can make the theory more robust and precise—and more appropriate for cultures whose concepts of strangeness diverge from those in the secular West. Drawing on rhetorical poetics and reader response theory, this essay asks, "Unnatural for whom?" First it claims that the unnatural lies not in textual elements but in their relation to the authorial audience. If that audience experiences an element as strange, unnaturalness occurs. If an actual audience matches the authorial one, actual readers will also experience the unnaturalness; if there is a mismatch, they should at least recognize it.

The essay's second claim is that this relational model can enhance the rigor and applicability of unnatural narratology. Theorists from the secular West, even when studying texts from other cultures, tend to neglect perspectives from those cultures and so treat their own notions of unnaturalness as if they were universal, whereas attention to authorial audiences can lead to more nuanced understandings.

The relational model is tested on work by the influential theorists Jan Alber and Brian Richardson, showing how the model could benefit each in different ways. The conclusion reviews a few unnatural narratologists who have started exploring reader response. Such examples suggest that examining the role of the reader more explicitly and systematically, with particular attention to unfamiliar cultures, can make unnatural narratology more consistent, complete, and powerful.


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pp. 71-90
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