Let me start with an apologia for the title of this book. Three sources of inspiration have fed into the term ‘natural’ narratology. For the moment I propose to keep the inverted commas on ‘natural’ as an indication that I am very much aware of naïve and evaluative readings of that term and intend to eschew any prescriptive or moralistic interpretations. My espousal of this controversial label, as the prologue was meant to demonstrate, occurs at some level of sophistication. My own uses of the ‘natural’ do not, however, merely reflect poststructuralist tenets. On the contrary, I attempt to cut through the threads of the deconstructionist and sociological debate and to institute a reconceptualization of the term within a more specifically cognitive perspective. My use of the concept of the ‘natural’ relates to a framework of human embodiedness. It is from this angle that some cognitive parameters can be regarded as ‘natural’ in the sense of ‘naturally occurring’ or ‘constitutive of prototypical human experience’. The term ‘natural’ is not applied to texts or textual techniques but exclusively to the cognitive frames by means of which texts are interpreted. Nor will the ‘natural’ in these pages be opposed to the unnatural. Fictional experiments that manifestly exceed the boundaries of naturally occurring story(telling) situations are, instead, said to employ non-natural schemata.
The general framework for the theory is a constructivist one (Nünning 1989b, 1990a; Sternberg 1992; Jahn [under review]). 1 Readers actively construct meanings and impose frames on their interpretations of texts just as people have to interpret real-life experience in terms of available schemata. It will be argued that oral narratives (more precisely: narratives of spontaneous conversational storytelling) cognitively correlate with perceptual parameters of human experience and that these parameters remain in force even in more sophisticated written narratives, although the textual make-up of these stories changes drastically over time. Unlike the traditional models of narratology, narrativity (i.e. the quality of narrativehood in Gerald Prince’s terminology 2) is here constituted by what I call experientiality, namely by the quasi-mimetic evocation of ‘real-life experience’. Experientiality can be aligned with actantial frames, but it