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When not to tell stories: Unnatural narrative in applied narratology

Sjoerd-Jeroen Moenandar


Interest in literary fiction and literary theory from other academic fields and professional practices of storytelling has often been limited to what we could call an Aristotelian narrative approach, with its emphasis on coherence and closure. In this paper, I critically assess interdisciplinary applications of narratological theory as being too limited. After all, literature also offers an alternative narrative tradition, that of, anti-mimetic or ‘unnatural’ narratives. This tradition could enrich what is referred to in this paper as ‘applied narratology’: the transfer of narratological methods and findings to professional practices of narrative. When faced with the confusion of border experiences (Bühler), the institutionalised exclusion of otherness or traumatic experiences, we can greatly benefit from unnatural narrative, which exemplifies how coherence and closure can become oppressive. I also explore the example of The Long Awaited, a novel by Dutch-Moroccan author Abdelkader Benali, which together with The Tin Drum by Günter Grass and Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie forms the minor literary tradition of ‘the tragic picaro’, a specific type of unnatural narrative. It is argued that such literary narrative experiments may offer interesting models for interdisciplinary applications of narratological theory.


I would like to thank Liesbeth Korthals Altes. This paper has profited much from a helpful conversation with her about its main argument.


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Published Online: 2018-07-04
Published in Print: 2018-06-28

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston