Among literary-theoretical concepts, mimesis has one of the longest histories, dating back to Plato and Aristotle. In the twentieth century, discussion of mimesis resulted in a number of highly influential contributions, including Eric Auerbach’s Mimesis and Paul Ricoeur’s Time and Narrative. In this article, we use Ricoeur’s tripartite model of mimesis as a catalyst for a dialogue between unnatural and cognitive approaches to narrative. In the first part, we argue that, as a form of simulation (and not just passive imitation), mimesis is best conceptualized in terms of readers’ mental modeling of narrative texts. We build on work in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics to show how readers understand narrative by building situation models derived from their everyday, embodied experience. However, as unnatural narratology emphasizes, not all narratives are consistent with real-world experience. Thus, in the second part of the essay, we examine and discuss the strategies through which readers can accommodate physical and logical impossibilities in narrative by adapting their situation models. In the final part of the article, we turn to D. M. Thomas’s The White Hotel, a prototypically “unnatural” novel in that the protagonist’s experience is caused by future events rather than by past ones. Our discussion of this novel shows situation models and interpretive strategies at work, exemplifying our claims and grounding them in a textual example. Through this combination of cognitive models and unnatural theory, we develop a framework for understanding mimesis that moves beyond dichotomies between “natural” and “unnatural” stories.

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