My Personal Encounter with Ergodic Literature: challenging, interesting and enlightening.
We are three months, two weeks, and some unknown days into the semester, and its all just now starting to make sense to me. All my struggles in this class can be summed up by one word “Ergodic Literature” We are finally reading House of leaves, and it is now that I start to realize the reason behind my struggle in this class. From the first day of this class, reading Frankenstein, which I was already familiar with I thought that I would be smooth sailing, little did I know the challenges that I was to face in the future. It might sound dramatic calling the works read in this class challenging and sometimes downright confusing, but for me with each week, came a different book or game, that I found myself lost in literally. From games like Zork, where I felt like a new born baby with no control over myself, to books like DADES, where the advancement in technology completely blew my mind, and sometimes left me confused. While reading these books, I couldn’t seem to understand why I was struggling to grasp the concepts of these works. It wasn’t until we started to read HOL that I came to my breaking point with the challenging works that I was being faced with. To give a brief introduction to my experience with HOL I would say that HOL although painful to read sometimes, but it was also exciting. I had never till this class read anything like this. I was very certain, that it had to have a special category, because to me it was in a league of its own. I mean the book was simply unlike anything that I had ever read. It was in my time researching for my blog entry that I came across the concept of Ergodic literature. From the beginning my fascination with this concept was peaked, it helped me to understand why I had struggled so much throughout the semester. My struggles were not because I wasn’t putting in the work to understand, but simply because I was not used to anything like this. I had never had to read, and re-read a sentence several times, just to comprehend its meaning, nor had I read a sentence that at the same time had so many connotations. But with my understanding of Ergodic Literature, I almost wish I had been exposed to it earlier in this class. I think that I would have succeeded a lot more.
Since researching Ergodic literature, I now find myself reading things differently. I find myself most especially patient when reading, I try to understand what the authors point is, instead of being frustrated by a concept because I have never heard of it, I simply have learned to accept it and accept that it has a key purpose to the work. This was a concept that I was constantly faced with all semester. The reasoning behind every book, or game played in this class sometimes went over my head, but in retrospect I now understand that every work that was read in this class had a greater purpose to it. I simply needed more active reading, or more active playing. I needed to exercise patience so that the greater meaning of each work would reveal itself to me. Ergodic Literature is simply that, its active reading, reading at a higher level, to a point where the concept of the book and you are almost one. The term ergodic Literature was coined by Aspen Aerseth, according to his book Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, Ergodic literature is
“… A work of physical construction that the various concepts of ‘reading’ do not account for. This phenomenon I call ergodic, using a term appropriated from physics that derives from the Greek words ergon and hodos, meaning ‘work’ and ‘path.’ In ergodic literature, nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text”
Non-trivial effort such as flipping a book upside down, or following every footnote even if it relates to a chapter that you read over 40 pages before. I started to realize that this was precisely what HOL is. It is Ergodic literature in the purest form, every action; every scene is a carefully calculated addition to the plot inserted by the author. No color or sentence arrangement is initiated without thought about the impact that it would have on the reader. But as the concept of Ergodic literature states, when the reader puts in the effort to understand the work the outcome is a reward. For every footnote traced back, or every careful observation made, as a reader I was able to piece together this rare work to create a better meaning.
“The reader's expectations are foiled, and there are many possibilities to branch out and explore different manifestations of form, plot, character, and movement. Each reading yields a different story, and the reader is 'productive', rather than passive. Ergodic literature thus challenges the very notion of authorship or authority, and is sometimes seen as liberating or empowering. Michael Joyce's Afternoon and Twelve Blue illustrate these principle through the use of hyperlinks and multiple possibilities, some hidden and radical, in plot and character.”
It was like I was taking ownership of the direction of the work. I was an active participator in my understanding. I became the author of the understanding that I gained from reading this work. It gave me a sense of achievement that I was able to gain reins of control over such a challenging work. Another concept that is dealt with in HOL are the different narrators, very often throughout this book I found it hard to tell if what the narrators were saying were real, but Ergodic literature also states that this is part of the challenge of these works.
“Ergodic literature refers to texts that require a reader to make a different or greater than normal effort. This is usually because they are non-linear in some way, which theoreticians relate to the possibilities of hypertext. An ergodic text re-interprets the idea of 'plot', plays with layout or typography, requires the reader to find a 'key' to unlock the meanings of the text or introduces an unreliable narrator or digression”
It is up to the reader to read and interprete the happenings of the work, referring back to the word “leaves” in the title of this book makes me think of something that is made of thin layers, and that is exactly what this book is, thin layers of information, sometimes accurate, yet sometimes untrue especially in the case of Johnny’s narration. But this systematic use of unreliable narration is all a technique used in Ergodic Literature to push the reader further, to dig through the information, ask questions about the validity of the information and come out with the most realistic version of the story. The outcome of this technique is that the reader becomes his or her own author.
Another method used in Ergodic Literature is the use of footnotes, as a way of leading inquisitive readers to the answers to their questions in regards to the book. While reading HOL I soon realized that the footnotes, were like a guidebook to this book. In some cases I found myself lost reading the footnotes, instead of concentrating on he meat of the book, but it is almost impossible to read this book successfully without reading and following the footnotes through, and again once the attempt to read and understand these footnotes is taken the reward is not only gratifying, but also leads the reader back on the right track.
“The footnote is a typical example of a structure that can be seen as both uni- and multicursal. It creates a bivium, or choice of expansion, but should we decide to take this path (reading the footnote), the footnote itself returns us to the main track immediately afterward”
The words multi/uni-cursal in regards to this book can be explained in the terms of a maze or labyrinth, which is essentially what reading HOL feels like, these words help the reader understand exactly what type of maze that they are in.
“The multicursal labyrinth form contains many false turns and dead ends, making it difficult for walkers to find their way to its center without some form of guidance. In contrast, the unicursal labyrinth form has only one entrance, and although the path may twist and turn, there are no false turns, and if the walkers stay on the path, they will eventually find themselves in the center. Each of these forms is invested with distinct metaphorical qualities, that provide insight into their ritual natures, and transformative powers that have remained vital for thousands of years”
HOL definitely takes the form of a multicursal labyrinth rather than a unicursal labyrinth. There will come a point when you don’t understand certain parts of the storyline, and all these stumps only make it harder to navigate this maze, but the footnotes are there as a form of guidance for the reader, giving you clues, and keys and if read they give you access to the right interpretation of the work. The use of footnotes in HOL is a technique that can’t be passed over in order to properly understand this book.
A subdivision of ergodic literature that relates it to video games, or works of is Cybertext. A term coined by fiction poetry author Bruce Boston. “Cyber-texts are pieces of literature where the medium matters. Each user obtains a different outcome based on the choices they make” One of the most significant works in this class that falls under this category would be the game Zork. Defined also by some scholars as an “IF” game. The word “IF” is simply a short form for interactive fiction. Other common known examples of such games would be games like Pac Man, where the lack of interaction means that the game is simply over, however in Zork if there is no interaction it simply means that time stops. Zork was a new field of gaming for me, growing up I was used to playing games like mortal combat, or grand theft auto, so the concept of a game where all I could interact was through my words proofed to be one of the hardest things ever. Playing Zork took a lot of patience on my part. It also took a lot of brainwork, calculating, weighing my choices, when posed with questions such as: “North of House you are facing the north side of a white house. There is no door here, and all the windows are boarded up. To the north a narrow path winds through the trees” Such a question requires thought for what you want to achieve, and also strategy so that you do not mess up your prior progress in the game. However you are given several opportunities to restart the game, and try several methods, till you find the winning combination to the key of the game.
“Through trial and error, modulated by the player's experience playing other game the player will eventually learn what the game wants him or her to do and, in most cases, that learning will be repaid by the game's production of semiotic rewards”
I found that every time I re-started the game, depending on what direction I decided to go, my navigation of each round was different. This ability to choose your destiny in the game is one of the functions of ergodic literature in which the user in a way becomes the author of their own adventure, and also the producer of their own pleasure. Due to the fact that your text determines your pleasure I found that I was rewarded very little playing Zork on my initial first tries at Zork, but after playing for several hours and researching tactics, I found that one of the most important aspects of the game is keeping track of what moves rewarded you, I found myself sometimes drawing a map to keep tract of my progress to date. This is a distinction that Aerseth states that Cybertext possesses. Cybertext according to him is spatial
“Unlike other forms of cyber-text, interactive ﬁction is explicitly spatial. Navigating a story is a matter of moving between ‘rooms’ and carrying ‘objects’ between them, terms which are not purely non-corporeal; a common practice when reading interactive ﬁction is to draw a map (with pencil and paper) to keep track of the narrative world”. 
Keeping track of the narrative was an important aspect of advancing in Zork; with each command entered more of the puzzle of this game was revealed to me. Keeping track of the narrative was also important when I got stuck, with the map created I could restart the game, and simply follow my detailed map to get back to the point that I was previously at, or as implied by Cybertext, I could decide to re-create another narrative for myself. This is one of the many advantages that it gives the user; the choice of direction in the game blurs the lines between the user and the author. This is precisely what Aerseth refers to
“ In Cybertext Perspectives On Ergodic Literature, Aerseth calls this type of text ergodic, where the reader can make choices that influences how the text is experienced and/or structured. While navigation and arrangement are very common, it's also possible for the audience to modify the text itself, changing the content and meaning of the text. In this sense, we normally say that the distinction between the audience and the author have blurred or merged”
We come back once again to the point where the efforts of the user are rewarded. Regardless of whether it is a book, or a comic book or a game the user is able to take ownership of their journey t. With the understanding of ergodic literature, it is evident that the comprehension of a work or lack there of is up to the effort put in by the reader. I believe that ergodic literature was not created for the carefree reader; it is difficult to traverse ergodic literature with anything less than total and complete devotion to decoding the text, with the full and ultimate goal being the achievement of taking ownership of your understanding. The works in this class have done exactly that especially HOL and Zork through these two woks it is evident that the user or reader holds the key to his reward or success at understanding a work. It also shows that every reader may have a different experience since ergodic literature is user based. This means that my comprehension will be different from my classmates comprehension, or in the case of Zork, the path I follow in the game may be different from that of my classmate. But I believe that the ultimate goal is to gain a personal understanding on your own, all based on how much effort and time you put into the work. Ergodic literature is a perfect example of the bible verse “ask and it shall be received, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened.” No question will be answered unless you follow the lead, no discovery will be made, unless you actively seek out the answer, and no path will be found unless you pursue it.
1. Aarseth, Espen J. Introduction. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997. 1-13. Print.
2. Unknown. "Ergodic Literature." – Article World. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
3. Hayles, Katherine. "What Is the Role of Design in the Reading and Writing of Electronic Texts?" Wordpress.com. N.p. Apr. 2011. Web. Dec. 2013.
4. Fergus-Jean, Elizabeth. "LABYRINTH: A Metaphor for Transformation."Http://www.fergusjean.com/. N.p., 1996. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
5. House, Brian. "Subversive Mobile Storytelling." Http://brianhouse.net/. N.p., Nov. 2007. Web. Dec. 2013.
 Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. 1997
 Article World- “Ergodic Literature." -
 Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature.
 LABYRINTH: A Metaphor for Transformation, 1996
 LABYRINTH: A Metaphor for Transformation, 1996
 Subversive Mobile Storytelling
 Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature