In the analysis and interpretation of fictional minds, unnatural and cognitive narratology may seem mutually exclusive. They each highlight different aspects of what narrators and characters think and feel, and their explanatory grounds differ. An unnatural reading unearths the narrative features, such as literal mind reading, that cannot be reduced to real-world possibilities, whereas a cognitive approach may focus on what is analogous to real-world cognition, or it may explain how unusual fiction is made sense of in cognitive terms. This article offers a synthesis in which the contrast between the two is closely examined. Then the article makes a case for a dialectical approach in which readings move from one position to another in order to achieve a more rewarding and encompassing understanding of fictional minds in general and unnatural minds in particular. The argument is developed through a reading of Peter Verhelst’s The Man I Became and through a discussion of the case of mind reading.
Fictional Minds: Coming to Terms with the Unnatural
Lars Bernaerts is associate professor of Dutch literature at Ghent University (Belgium). His research and publications focus on narrative theory, experimental fiction, modern Dutch literature, and cognitive literary studies. He has coedited books and special issues on such topics as cognitive narratology, madness in fiction, and Dutch neo-avant-garde literature. He is a codirector of the Center for the Study of Experimental Literature (Ghent University and Vrije Universiteit Brussels).