The Hypertext and Print: House of Leaves as Ergodic Literature

Much of our reading this week has focused intensely (whether out of admiration or in defense) on the rise of the internet and its supposed superseding of print media as a social platform and how the very format of literature will compensate. As “English Literature” students, this can be fairly troubling. And despite our natural instincts to enforce “ivory tower” idealisms in combating this, I think, similar to Hayles’ own assertions, there is a “happy medium” (for the lack of a better word) to be found between electronic and print formats: that one neither replaces nor displaces the other, but that they readily imitate one another. Ergodic literature is one such overlap, and I can’t think a much better example of this than Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves.

Printed in early 2000, House of Leaves is a novel that chronicles the story of a man named Johnny Truant, who stumbles upon an unfinished manuscript in the apartment of a recently-deceased neighbor named Zampano. Truant’s reading of this manuscript, a literary critique of a documentary film, The Navidson Record, becomes interlaced with the general flow of the story along with selected transcripts of interviews and notes on and from The Navidson Record itself.

These narratives become interwoven with one another, differentiated by font size, color, or type. Along with copious footnotes that sometimes lead to other footnotes or terminate at random with no actual reference, House of Leaves is certainly a novel that requires nontrivial effort to traverse, similar to many electronic hypertexts.

In fact, its playfulness of form allows House of Leaves to exist as an “ergodic” novel, if not literally a print “hypertext.” Because, as Hayles asserts in her own article, the hypertext is not an electronic-only format, but is merely any expressed medium “inviting playful forays that test the limits of the form by modifying, enlarging, or transforming them” (73). And by performing exercises similar to this, applying such theories beyond the realm of the electronic and applying them to print, we can more easily discern the qualities that differentiate print and electronic media, and in what ways they openly influence and imitate one another.


1 thought on “The Hypertext and Print: House of Leaves as Ergodic Literature

  1. What I think you’re pointing to is an important distinction we should make between navigation (or maybe structure is the better word) and platform. A book is a platform and it can be structured both in linear and nonlinear ways (e.g. your example of House of Leaves). Likewise, new media provides a platform, and the material on that platform can be structured in linear or nonlinear ways (or both). In either case, as you point out, the “ergodicness” is distinct from the underlying technology.

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