Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Prompt 2: Jimmy Corrigan and House of Leaves

"The ergodic work of art is one that in a material sense includes the rules for its own use, a work that has certain requirements built in that automatically distinguishes between successful and unsuccessful users." In ergodic literature, nontrivial reading is required by the reader to understand the text. Ergodic literature is a term coined by Espen J. Aarseth in his book Cybertext—Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, and is derived from the Greek words ergon, meaning "work", and hodos, meaning "path". Reading novels written in this style require a little more effort than just skimming through and flipping a few pages. An ergodic work of art is similar to a code, that only the willing and the patient will reveal. A category of ergodic work is cyber text which Aarseth defines as "texts that involve calculation in their production of scriptons."The beauty of creating a work using these unique writing techniques is that it can be shaped into many different forms. The works of House of Leaves and Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth share a connection in their distinctive and sometimes bizarre layout of text. Both novels require their audiences to go deeper, to look beyond (sometimes even up, alongside, around and underneath) the words. Both novels have overlapping narratives and encompass elements that bring depth to the story that ordinary structured novels just aren’t capable of.
Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan is a graphic novel consisting of parallel storylines and iconic symbols that reappear throughout the novel. The novel consists of various sized panels full of illustrations with little text. The color scheme used throughout the novel almost makes up for the lack of dialogue for it takes on a voice of its own; while the plain but easily recognized illustrations gives the reader some room for his or her own interpretation. Jimmy Corrigan can easily be classified as an ergodic work of art due to Ware’s clever combination of allowing the illustrations (more so the actual colors) do a majority of the story telling. One could simply look past the heavy use of pastels and earth tones as just a color selection but if one were to really zone in, they would begin to piece the puzzle together: the colors combined with the subtle details of the illustrations are the driving mechanisms of the plot.
The panels have the ability to change the reader’s mood/attitude, not only effecting their personal situation while they’re reading the novel but also tapping into the mood Ware wished to establish in the novel itself. It’s clear that after spending some time with Jimmy Corrigan, one can state that Jimmy does have issues with socializing, especially with the opposite sex. The novel never states why he seems awkward with women but looking deeper into the illustrations lays useful information. Certain illustrations contain feminine icons and images that could tie to Jimmy’s lack of social interaction with women. At a young age, Jimmy and his mother attend a car show where there are minute references to the female sex, posters and signs say “Hot Stuff” and “Sweet Thing”. Another example occurs in the panels on the airplane where Jimmy is confronted with looking at a women’s chest, her chest is the main part of the panel.  These details were not placed there on accident, their presence is signaling or possibly foreshadowing Jimmy’s unfamiliarity and lack of experience with women.
While the carefully chosen illustrations in Jimmy Corrigan voluntarily invoke a predetermined disposition onto its readers, House of Leaves requires something different from its audience. When readers come across the word “house” in a blue font, the overall impression varies. Some may excuse it as an error while others may not notice it all but when it appears again just a few lines later, one must question its significance. Just like that, on the opening page of his novel, Danielewski already has his readers’ brains turning. If looked at more closely, that five letter, blue colored word is a sub category of ergodic literature; cyber text. The emphasis of “house” always being in a blue font symbolizes a hyperlink which is also always in a blue font attached with an underline. Danielewski wants the word “house” to mean something more. The purpose of a hyperlink in any context is to navigate the user from a current location to another, providing additional information along the way. Danielewski hopes that the audience tunes into this subtle effect and begins to view the house (and probably other aspects of the novel) as a series of links all bound together from a familiar source. The use of cyber text combined with his untraditional layout and distribution of text resembles a maze that may lead to different outcomes.
Incorporating a variety of writing techniques separates a fairly decent work of literature from an established work of art. It takes talent and most importantly patience from ends, the author and the reader to accomplish such a task. Chris Ware and Mark Z. Danielewski’s writing content vary in all types of ways but the two authors do share something in common; they appreciate audience participation. Too common the storylines are laid out page by page leaving little to the imagination. These two novels make their reader’s work whether it is decoding a picture panel or the upside down layout of a passage. If Jimmy Corrigan and House of Leaves were stripped of their unique styling techniques, the praise of each work would not exist. These novels are in a category that few other novels will ever acclaim to be; ergodic literature legends.

Works Cited:
"Exploration Z", 
" A Bold Conversation with Mark Z. Danielewski",