Ergodic Literature as Intelligent Content

I read my first interactive book when I was 3. It was called Pat the Bunny, and it required the reader to touch, scratch, and otherwise interact with the pages. Like most people, I outgrew these sort of books by the time I was 6. But last month I rediscovered interactive books. Their adult form is called ergodic literature.

What is Ergodic Literature?

According to Wikipedia, ergodic literature is a book where “nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text.” In other words, a book where the words go up, down, sideways, and backwards. It sometimes requires moving back and forth across pages, or reading words written within smaller boxes on the page.


The ergodic book I was reading was House of Leaves: a film critique within a book within a book. I’m still not sure whether I enjoyed it, whether I would recommend it, whether or not it’s a “good” story or a “good” book. I can’t say it’s the most enjoyable read – it does require nontrivial effort – but it did capture my attention. What is most fascinating to me about ergodic (and interactive) literature though, is the emphasis on layout. And as a content strategist, the possible impact of ergodic literature on intelligent content.

Can Ergodic Content be Intelligent?

Intelligent content is content that is structurally rich and semantically categorized. That means it can be used and reused in a variety of contexts. When we create intelligent content, we’re setting ourselves up to publish that content once, but reuse it in various layouts and setups across the web.

But what makes House of Leaves both confusing and alluring is the  layout. A “curlique” of content in House of Leaves could be written as a footnote. But then it wouldn’t be ergodic. It is ergodic because it is written in a curlicue, circling the page and other text. As intelligent content it could be labeled “curlicue,” it wouldn’t make sense were it not displayed on that specific page.

Does Ergodic Literature Break Intelligent Content?

Ergodic literature doesn’t break the concept of intelligent content. In fact, it proves the value of it. Intelligent content was created to make content easier to traverse. Ergodic content is intended to be difficult, because of its use of layout and space.

Content strategists know that layout and space impact every story. That is why we create intelligent content. Intelligent content makes it easy to share snips of stories in contextually appropriate mediums. That gives designers freedom to craft the layout and space.

What makes ergodic literature so interesting is specifically that it is not intended to be intelligent. It’s the Savage in our Brave New World, the purposefully beautiful chaos in the midst of an organized future. It’s a holistic art form, not meant to be made efficient or usable, never to be broken into pieces and recreated.

And I’m still not sure whether to recommend House of Leaves.

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