Ergodic literature is literature that relies on or requires the active engagement of a readership. Espen Aarseth writes Cybertext that the term "ergodic" comes "from the Greek words ergonand hodos, meaning, ‘work’ and ‘path’" and that:
- In ergodic literature, nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text. If ergodic literature is to make sense as a concept, there must also be nonergodic literature, where the effort to traverse the text is trivial, with no extranoematic responsibilities placed on the reader except (for example) eye movement and the periodic or arbitrary turning of pages.
By "extranoematic," Aarseth seems to imply active or bodily engagement, which is to say engagement outside of human thought. This term thus differentiates mental or cognitive effort from physical or haptic effort. The line between ergodic and non-ergodic text is necessarily fraught. The Wikipedia entry on “ergodic literature,” for example, laments the distinction by observing that “Under [this] definition … Finnegans Wake, the Critique of Pure Reason, and Being and Time are considered nonergodic literature as they require only "trivial...effort to traverse the text[s]." This Wikipedia critique foregrounds the issue of the ergodic: what Aarseth signals in his definition is not that nonergodic texts are easy to comprehend, but rather that the ergodic text requires an effort in the form of active engagement of the reader/user in the readings/use of the ergodic text.