Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ergodic Literature

The term “ergodic literature” defines a type of literature that requires more than reading printed text from left to right and turning pages. “Ergodic literature” was coined by Espen J. Aarseth in his book Cybertext—Perspectives on Ergodic Literature in which he puts a term to literature that requires “nontrivial effort to allow the reader to traverse the text.” “Ergodic literature” is exactly the term and genre of literature of House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danelewski. Danelewski created a body, rather than a prototypical book in that the color, typography, coding and language, and entire layout contribute to the effectiveness and purpose of the novel.

House of Leaves requires deliberate participation and effort from the reader in order for it to be transcribed and understood (and even to be understand at a fairly low level). The novel begins as a documentary review by, whom the reader becomes to know as, Zampano. Zampano, although deceased, was a curiously blind man, who wrote a thorough review of the film The Navidson Record. Throughout his lengthy academic film review of the movie, he includes questionable footnotes in which the reader can’t truly decipher what is a credible source and what is made up, but the reader is taken through the review looking up and down from one footnote to the next. If this is a fictional film, and thus a fictional film review, the reader wonders how it possible to have such extensive footnote citations. The footnote reading, alone, requires an active reader. Just at this very premature understanding and reading of House of Leaves, the reader becomes a participant. Since the reader is thrown into a review of a film that they have never seen, the reader is forced to fill in the blanks of the unfamiliar and unwatched film. Reading Zampano’s film review puts the reader in the position to be thrown from one perspective and layer of the story to the next.

The color and typography throughout House of Leaves was meticulously chosen to add to the meaning and purpose of the book. The word house is consistently colored blue— no matter whose perspective or story the word is found, no matter the language and no matter the context. This was done intentionally for the reader of ergodic literature to contemplate and become an active reader. Everything in this novel has some type of meaning, likewise, so does the blue color-coding of the word house. The color of the word represents the blue color of an architectural blue print. The peculiar house on Ash Tree Lane measures 1/4 inch longer than does the measurement of the outside of the house. The suddenly appearing closet, and looming hallway turns into uncharted miles of darkness. This house is completely inconceivable that even the blue print of the house could not feasibly explain. The blue text could also be representative of an Internet hyperlink, furthermore bringing up a point about modern technology rather than simply the construction of the house alone.  Hyperlinks or hypertexts on the Internet are means for an Internet user to jump from one page directly to another, and similarly the house creates unknown passageways for Navidson and the other explorers to discover and become entrapped. One passageway in a mysterious way leads to another door, that leads to a staircase, that continues on and on that no one can understand. The reader can comprehend the blue coloring of the word “house” as just an emphasis on the word, or the reader can actively read the word and attribute it to the overall meaning of the book.

In chapter 12 the layout of the book is taken to the next level, truly defining the genre of ergodic literature. This chapter becomes suspenseful as Navidson and the explorers reach the bottom of the staircase. Each page has a sentence, or a few, purposely positioned at the bottom of the page. The first page says, “When Navidson and Reston finally reach the foot of the stairway,
                                                                                                                        Tom is not there.”
Flip to the next page (on the bottom): “….is made even more unbearable when Navidson realized his
            brother has not come down the stairs to meet them.”
On the opposite page (on the bottom): “….This is Tom. This is what Tom does best. He lets you down.”
Flip to the next page (on the bottom): “Which is when the rope slaps down on the floor.”
On the opposite page— **But this time positioned at the top of the page**: “…Tom had retraced his way back to the living room where he began to construct a light gurney out of scrap wood…” (pg 279).

The text on the next page is located at the bottom, as well the following six pages until on page 287 the word “top?” is located at the top and upside down. The positioning of the text on each page supplements the feeling and idea that Navidson and the others are stuck at the bottom of this staircase, and then on page 287 the reader must flip the book upside down and read the one word in the corner of the page, “top?”The following pages continues to five the reader a feel of what the characters in the book are experiencing. The words become spaces out, by each letter. As “Navidson is sinking” the words appear to be sinking. Not only do the words supplement to the meaning of the story itself, but they also make it suspenseful in the way that films are dramatically produced. Danielewski makes the reader struggle as all the characters in House of Leaves struggles.

Danielewski’s unconventional style in his book House of Leaves caters to the ergodic literature genre that it epitomizes. From the unique color of a single word, to a blank page with a single sentence positioned at the bottom, House of Leaves is intentionally styled this way to supplement and further emphasize the point and purpose of the novel in its entirety.

1 comment:

Adam said...

I like the body vs. book distinction - hopefully you'll elaborate more on what it means. A number of people have found the concept of "ergodic" literature helpful in working with HOL, but I always ask the same question, and it's my central question for you, too.

What is the value of the concept? What can we do with it? At the beginning of your essay, you focus perhaps on more obvious or less interesting ways in which the novel is ergodic. Later on, you do get more interesting - I would have liked to see more about chapter XII and less about earlier sections.

Your point, I believe, is that we struggle even as the characters struggle. That's a good observation, but it's not quite yet an argument. *Why* do we struggle as the characters struggle? (Especially since, in fact, some parts of the book are really hard for less than obvious reasons, while some sections read rather easily, in spite of being concerned with traumatic events in their lives). What is the meaning or the purpose of how the book makes us work?

Before I forget, I used your short blog entry a lot in class.