This special issue presents a “crossover” between two strands of contemporary narrative theory: a second-generation cognitive approach that foregrounds the linkage of stories, mind, and the human body; and an unnatural approach, which focuses on narratives that depart from and challenge everyday cognitive parameters, including those involved in so-called literary realism. In this introduction to the special issue, we take our cue from Franz Kafka’s “ Wish to Become a Red Indian” (a paragraph-long short story) to illustrate these ways of theorizing about narrative and to discuss the conceptual divides that separate them. From an unnatural perspective, the cognitive approach flattens narrative to real-world psychology; from a cognitive perspective, the unnatural approach ignores the way that every narrative, no matter how challenging or innovative, exploits our cognitive makeup. By examining these assumptions and by tracing the history of cognitive and unnatural models of narrative, this special issue seeks to move beyond a conceptual standoff between them. The essays collected in the issue demonstrate that it is possible to combine a cognitive approach with an interest in unnatural stories—or, conversely, an unnatural approach and attention to the cognitive and embodied dynamics of narrative. In addition to previewing the arguments advanced in the articles, this introduction explicates the innovative method of scholarly collaboration through which the articles came about, and the different results it produced in each case.
The first drafts of the essays in this special issue were presented in November 2016 at a workshop hosted by the Department of Culture and Aesthetics, Stockholm University (Sweden). The editors would like to thank Christer Johansson and Go¨ran Rossholm for making this workshop possible, and the participants for their input on the articles.