Returning whence I came, ergodic literature in tow

(For an earlier build-up to this post, see Resources not Services.)

Years ago, I asked where was my Lord of the Rings? Many sympathized with the lament and it's clear they got the message: where was my "epic", my "lasting impression", my "contribution to society"? It's four years later and I've realized the Lord of the Rings was the wrong series to associate the depression with: it's just not good enough.

I've no problem with Middle-earth, and it's still an admirable thing to appreciate and enjoy. What I want to create, however, is something slightly different, something slightly more mysterious. There's been plenty written about Middle-earth, and its epic can be as simple or as complex as you'd like, but it's always optional: the additional books expand archaically on Tolkien's mythology and intentions, but none of it is truly necessary to the core reading.

What I prefer to read, and hopefully write, is something more akin to ergodic literature, something that "requires a 'non-trivial effort' to traverse the text". I consider Infinite Jest a recent example because, although you can read it by "merely moving ... along lines of text and turning pages", there's so much depth and complexity that you'll gain more appreciation via annotation. House of Leaves is another example: atypical page layouts and complexities abound. I've not read any of Thomas Pynchon or James Joyce (gasp!), but I suspect they'd also match my considerations.

Complexity and depth isn't the only thing I find palatable - one downside of the books above is that their "easter eggs" are based on the real world. Still, ergodic alternatives do exist, such as Milorad Pavich's Dictionary of the Khazars; my encyclopedic Ghyll was inspired by this work and was built by dozens of "scholars" over many months. Jorge Luis Borges and most alternate reality games like Perplex City also require "non-trivial" efforts to appreciate them.

Finally, wordplay and and a wry grin are high on my list, and most of the above works contain one, the other, or both. Vladimir Nabokov sprinkled "linguistic playfulness" throughout his work, and Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice offered an understanding of Wonderland and its embedded secrets that I hadn't anticipated. Creating something that can be read straight through, then spelunked for hidden treasure, then appreciated through research and annotation, is very appealing to me. Something "subtle", as sbp puts it.

The only problem is that I haven't written fiction for decades. I've done two technical books and a dozen articles for O'Reilly, one for Apple, a year-long column for MacTech magazine, non-fiction this, non-fiction that. Ghyll could be considered fiction, but it was written with a scholarly "voice", making it more an exercise in imagination than craft. The last time I really wrote fiction was high school, when New Hampshire English teacher Michael Phelps read one of my Dickensian works to the class and told them they'd see my face on the back of a book someday. Prophetic, and a memory that will stay with me forever. In 2003, I e-mailed Mr. Phelps to tell him of my progress and memories and he replied that, as a teacher, these sorts of updates are vitally important. If you've not reached out to yours, I heartily admonish you to.

Relearning fiction is something I'll begin shortly.

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Comments

Well stated, fFriend. :) Nice variety of links, situated within an excellent manifesto, of sorts.

As fFor me, I wander between "I should make something cool like that" and "I should just enjoy what others make, bringing my own insights into the discussion."

Thanks for the listing of Ergodic works, was wondering if you could provide an expanded list as you come across more interesting works. (I've just ordered a copy of House of Leaves, but was urged to start off with something a bit shorter)..

Seems to me that you'd be best served not trying to write to an end result, but just writing your best work. Faulkner is famous for telling people he was just trying to write a good story when asked about the deep meanings of his writing. I suggest you create art not by overthinking it, but by just telling a good tale. All the fripperies can be layered in later if you must, but the foundation must be excellent writing. Artsy is good. Fartsy, not so good. If you write a magnum opus full of deep layers of meaning, introspections, and linguistic showboating, you'll get a thunderously artistic book no one will ever want to read. No one reads Proust to enjoy it, merely to be seen reading Proust. Make no mistake, great art must be enjoyed on some level. That doesn't mean it has to be pleasant per se, but that it must make your audience want to experience it.

Just my two cents.

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