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Unnatural Narratology

In narrative theory there has been a wish to describe all narration – fictional and non-fictional, conversational and literary under the umbrella of one unified theory – most often taking its departure in conversational and oral storytelling. If we analyze all narratives according to the same model, however, we miss something in some of them. It is an important task for narrative theory to develop models that account for the specific properties of storyworlds, of experientiality, and of representations and narratives that resist description and understanding based on linguistic understandings of natural, oral communication. In the research group "Unnatural narratology" we analyze and theorize the aspects of fictional narratives that transcend the boundaries of traditional realism and violate the conventions of natural narratives. Though many of us are particularly interested in non- and anti-mimetic kinds of narrative such as postmodernism, we also point out the many unnatural, conventional, and unrealistic elements of realism. These include omniscience, paralepsis, a streamlined plot, a definitive closure, and what James Phelan refers to as redundant telling.

Participants : Brian Richardson, Brian McHale, James Phelan, Jakob Lothe, Monika Fludernik, Jan Alber, Rüdiger Heinze, Maria Mäkelä, Pekka Tammi, Rolf Reitan, Henrik Skov Nielsen, Stefan Iversen, Stefan Kjerkegaard, Louise Brix Jacobsen, Per Krogh Hansen and Rikke Andersen Kraglund.

The Dictionary of Unnatural Narratology

Compiled and written by members of the group, this ongoing project provides a dictionary of terms and concepts of relevance to the workings of unnatural narratology.

Publications online:

Selected volumes:

  • Alber, Jan, Henrik Skov Nielsen, and Brian Richardson, A Poetics of Unnatural Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2013
  • Alber, J., & Heinze, R. (Eds.). (2011). Unnatural narratives – Unnatural narratology. Berlin: De Gruyter.
  • Alber, J., Nielsen, H. S., & Richardson, B (Eds.). (in press). A poetics of unnatural narratives. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.
  • Hansen, Iversen, Nielsen & Reitan (Eds.) (2011). Strange voices in narrative fiction (Narratologia vol. 30). Berlin: De Gruyter.
  • Herman, Phelan, Rabinowitz, Richardson, and Warhol (2012). Narrative Theory. Core Concepts and Critical Debates. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.


  • ISSN-conference, 2008, Texas: Brian Richardson chaired a panel on unnatural narratology at the ISSN-conference in Texas, 2008 with presentations from Henrik Skov Nielsen, Jan Alber and Stefan Iversen. Richardson's introduction to the panel is now online [read more]
  • FRIAS-conference on "Unnatural narratives", 2008, Freiburg. Arranged by Alber and Heinze, this conference presented a range of approaches to unnatural narratives and unnatural narratology. [read more]
  • ISSN-conference, 2009: Two panels dealt with unnatural narratology on the ISSN-conference in Birmingham in June, 2009  [read more]
  • MLA 2009, Philadelphia: Jan Alber chairs a panel on "Postmodern and “Unnatural” Narratives".
  • ISSN-conference 2010, Cleveland: Two panels dealt with unnatural narratives and unnatural narratology.
  • NNNS-conference 2010: "Unnatural Narratology" at the Tartu-conference New Developments in Narratology: Cognitive, Communicative and Philosophical Approaches.
  • Richardson, Skov Nielsen and Iversen gave papers on Unnatural Narratology at the seminar "Which narratologies beyond mimetic narratology?", EHESS, Paris, 2010.
  • Iversen gave a paper on Unnatural Narratology at "The Travelling Concept of Narrative II", London 2010.
  • At the 2nd ENN conference in Kolding, March 2011, Alber gave the keynote "The Unnatural Across the Fiction/Non-Fiction Divide" and Iversen and Skov Nielsen also gave papers on Unnatural Narratology.
  • ISSN-conference 2011: Two panels on Unnatural Narratology.
  • ISSN-conference 2012: Two panels on Unnatural Narratology


  • Alber, Iversen, Nielsen and Richardson, “Unnatural Narratives. Unnatural Narratology. Beyond Mimetic Models.” Narrative 18 (2010) 113-136
  • Alber, Jan.  "Reading Unnatural Narratives." Anglistik: International Journal for English Studies 24.2 (2013): 135-50 (special issue, Ed. Renate Brosch).
  • ---, "The 'Moreness' or 'Lessness' of 'Natural' Narratology: Samuel Beckett's "Lessness" Reconsidered." Style 36.1 (2002): 54?75. Reprinted in Short Story Criticism 74 (2004): 113?24
  • ----. Ed. Moderne/Postmoderne . : Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 2003
  • ----, "Impossible Storyworlds - And What To Do With Them." Storyworlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies 1 (2009).
  • Alber, J., & Heinze, R. (Eds.). (2011). Unnatural narratives – Unnatural narratology. Berlin: De Gruyter.
  • Alber, Jan and Alice Bell. "Ontological Metalepsis and Unnatural Narratology." JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory 42.2 (2012): 166-92.
  • Alber, Jan, Stefan Iversen, Henrik Skov Nielsen, and Brian Richardson. “What Really Is Unnatural Narratology?” Storyworlds 5 (2013): 101-118.
  • Alber, Jan, Henrik Skov Nielsen, and Brian Richardson, A Poetics of Unnatural Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2013
  • Bell, “Unnatural Narrative in Hypertext Fiction,” in Alber, Nielsen, and Richardson, 2013, 185-98.
  • Fludernik, Monika, “Games with Tellers, Telling and Told,” Toward a “Natural” Narratology New York: Rouitledge, 1996, 269-310
  • ----. “New Wine in Old Bottles?: Voice, Focalization, and New Writing,” New Literary History 32 (2001) 619-38
  • Fokkema, Aleid. Postmodern Characters . Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1991
  • Grishakova, Marina. The Models of Space, Time and Vision in V. Nabokov’s Fiction: Narrative Strategies and Cultural Frames . Tartu: Tartu UP. 2006
  • Hansen, Iversen, Nielsen & Reitan (Eds.) (2011). Strange voices in narrative fiction (Narratologia vol. 30). Berlin: De Gruyter.
  • Hayman, David (1987): Re-Forming the Narrative: Toward a Mechanics of Modernist Fiction , Ithaca: Cornell UP
  • Heinze, Rüdiger, “’The Whirligig of Time’: Toward a Poetics of Unnatural Temporality” in Alber, Nielsen and Richardson, 31-44.
  • Heise, Ursula, Chronoschisms: Time, Narrative, and Postmodernism . Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997
  • Herman, Phelan, Rabinowitz, Richardson, and Warhol (2012). Narrative Theory. Core Concepts and Critical Debates. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.
  • Herman, David, “Lateral Reflexivity: Levels, Versions, and the Logic of Paraphrase,” Style 34 (2), summer 2000, 293-306
  • Holmgren, Lindsay. “Knowing Maisie.” The Henry James Review. Forthcoming.
  • Iversen, S. (2011). "’In flaming flames’: Crises of experientiality in non-fictional narratives". In J. Alber & R. Heinze (Eds.), Unnatural narratives. Unnatural narratology (pp. 89–103). Berlin: De Gruyter.
  • ---- (2011). "States of exception. decoupling, metarepresentation, and strange voices in narrative fiction." In P. K. Hansen, S. Iversen, H. S. Nielsen & R. Reitan (Eds.), Strange voices in narrative fiction (Narratologia vol. 30) (pp. 127–146). Berlin: De Gruyter.
  • ----. "Unnatural minds". In J. Alber, H. S. Nielsen, & B. Richardson (Eds.), A poetics of unnatural narratives. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2013.
  • ----. "Borken or unnatural? On the Distinction of Fiction in Non-Conventional First Person Narration". In Hyvärinen et al (ed): The Travelling concept of narrative II. John Benjamins, 2013.
  • Kafalenos, Emma, “Toward a Typology of Indeterminacy in Postmodern Narrative,” Comparative Literature 44 (1992) 380-408
  • Lanser, Susan Sniader, “The ‘I’ of the Beholder: Equivocal Attachments and the Limits of Structuralist Narratlogy,” A Companion to Narrative Theory , ed. James Phelan and Peter Rabinowitz, Blackwell, 2005, 206-19
  • Nielsen, Henrik Skov, “The Impersonal Voice in First-Person Narrative Fiction,” Narrative 12 (2004) 133-50
  • ----. “Telling doubles and Literal Minded Reading in Bret Easton Ellis’ Glamorama”, N ovels of The Contemporary Extreme , red. Naomi Mandel and Alain-Philippe Durand, Continuum, 2006, London og New York.
  • Mäkelä, Maria, “Possible Minds: Constructing—and Reading—Another Consciousness as Fiction,” FREE Language INDIRECT Translation DISCOURSE narratology: Linguistic, Translatological and Literary-Theoretical Encounters . Tyampere Studies in Language, Translation and Cuklture, Series A, Vol 2. Edited by Pekka Tammi and Hannu Tommola. Tampere: Tampere University Press, 2006, 231-60
  • Mäkelä, Maria, “Narrativity – Making Sense – Interpreting: The Reader Behind La Jalousy” in Narrative, Interrupted: The Plotless, the Disturbing and the Trivial in Literature by Markku Lehtimaki, Laura Karttunen and Maria Makela, Berlin: de Gruyter. 139-52.
  • McHale, Brian, Postmodernist Fiction . London: Methuen, 1987
  • Peel, Ellen, "Subject, Object, and the Alternation of First? and Third?Person Narration in Novels by Alther, Atwood, and Drabble: Toward a Theory of Feminist Aesthetics," Critique (Winter 1989): 107?22
  • Phelan, James, “Introduction: Discourse Functions, Narrator Functions, and the Distinctiveness of Character Narration; Or, A Rhetoric and Ethics of ‘Barbie-Q,” Living to Tell about It: A Rhetoric and Ethics of Character Narration , Chapter One, 1-30
  • ----, “Implausibilities, Crossovers, and Impossibilities: A Rhetorical Approach to Breaks in the Code of Mimetic Character Narration” in Alber,  et al, A Poetics of Unnatural Narrative, 162-84.
  • Orr, Leonard (1991): Problems and Poetics of the Nonaristotelian Novel , Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1991
  • Richardson, Brian, “Representing Social Minds: ‘We’ and ‘They’ Narration, Natural and Unnatural, Narrative 23.2 (2015) 200-212.
  • ----,"`Time is Out of Joint': Narrative Models and the Temporality of the Drama," Poetics Today 8 (1987) 299-309.[Discusses the limitations of Genet’s model of narrative temporality and identifies a number of antimemetic temporal strategies in the history of drama, especially in the work of Shakespeare.]
  • ----, “Unusual and Unnatural Narrative Sequences,” Narrative Sequence in Contemporary Narratology, eds. Françoise Revaz and Raphaël Baroni (Ohio State UP, 2015).
  • ----.  “Unnatural Stories and Sequences” in Alber, Nielsen, and Richardson, 2013, 26-48. 
  • ----. Unnatural Narrative: Theory, History, and Practice. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2015.
  • ----. "Beyond Poststructuralism: Theory of Character, the Personae of Modern Drama, and the Antinomies of Critical Theory," Modern Drama 40 (1997) 86-99. [Argues that a comprehensive theory of character must draw from critical positions usually set forth as mutually exclusive; opposes “aesthetic” constructs to mimetic and ideological ones.]
  • ----. "Conventional Poetics and Postmodern Transgressions: Theorizing the Collapse of Time, Voice, and Frame." Narrative 8 (2000) 23-42. [Discusses Jeanette Winterson; also Beckett, Woolf, Aichinger, Robbe-Grillet, Nabokov, and others.]
  • ----. “Beyond the Poetics of Plot: The Varieties of Narrative Progression and the Multiple Trajectories of Ulysses ,” A Companion to Narrative Theory , eds. James Phelan and Peter Rabinowitz, Blackwell: 2005, 167-80. [Outlines the many ways of ordering narrative progression other than plot; discusses these strategies as they appear in Ulysses .] Chinese translation in progress, University of Beijing Press
  • ----. Unnatural Voices: Extreme Narration in Contemporary Fiction . Ohio State University Press (2006). [Chapters on posthumanist narrators, 2 nd person narration, “we” narration, multi-person narration, “permeable narrators,” “denarration,” and modeling the narrative transaction after postmodernism. Includes extended discussions of works of Conrad, Joyce, Nabokov, Beckett, Robbe-Grillet, and others.]
  • ----. “Narrative and Drama,” Cambridge Companion to Narrative Theory , ed. David Herman, Cambridge UP, 2007 (142-56). [Outlines the basic categories of mimetic and nonmimetic narrative poetics and applies them to Beckett’s Endgame .]Ryan, Marie-Laure, “The Modes of Narrativity and Their Visual Metaphors,” Style 26.3 (1992), 368?87
  • Shen, Dan. “Breaking Conventional Barriers: Transgressions of Modes of Focalization,”  in New Perspectives on Narrative Perspective , edited by Willie van Peer and Seymour Chatman, Albany: SUNY Press, 2001, 159-72
  • Sherzer, Dina (1986): Representation in Contemporary French Fiction. Lincoln: U of Nebraska PYacobi, Tamar, “Time Denatured into Meaning: New Worlds and Renewed Themes in the Poetry of Dan Pagis,” Style 22 (1988) 93-115