HUM 331

HUM 331: Honors Seminar 

This course is restricted to students who have a cumulative grade point average of 3.30 or higher. The seminar is designed to provide students with a sense of basic concepts and theoretical approaches which are common to advanced research in the humanities and social sciences. Though the specific contents of the seminar will change from one year to the next, each seminar will present important readings and texts from several disciplines (philosophy, psychology, sociology, literary theory, etc.). Students will discuss their work with one another in seminar meetings, and also in one-on-one meetings with the seminar leader throughout the semester. Each student will complete a term paper on a topic of his or her choice related to the issues covered in the seminar, and will leave the course with a polished piece of academic writing which they can use in applications to graduate school, as well as a detailed letter of recommendation from the seminar instructor.

Fall 2017, Andrew J. Ploeg, Ergodic Texts

In his 1997 treatise, Cybertext, Espen J. Aarseth introduced the term “ergodic” into the field of literary studies. The term derives from the Greek words ergon and hodos, which mean “work” and “path.” According to Aarseth, ergodic texts are those deliberately structured to demand a “nontrivial,” “extranoematic” effort from the reader in order to “traverse” them. This effort often involves interaction in various forms, requiring readers to shape their own unique engagement with the text. When these texts are successful, readers do not experience this collaborative work as labor but rather as a distinctive form of pleasure unavailable through traditional literature, a pleasure found via more direct participation in and control over their reading experience.

Defined by the difficulty that they embody, ergodic texts also give rise to difficult questions related to issues of authorship, agency, responsibility, genre, and style, as well as the nature of literature and of literary criticism. In taking up these questions, our honors seminar will explore texts from a variety of national origins, including Milorad Pavić’s Landscape Painted with Tea (Serbia), Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (United States), and Anne Carson’s Nox (Canada). We will also examine other forms of ergodic texts throughout history, such as divination books, poetry, graphic novels, film and television, theater, opera, and dance, music, interactive art, computer games, videogames, artists’ books, board games, unbound books, game books, and hypertext.