This interview of Bill Bly, conducted by Grigar and Moulthrop, took place on Friday, January 31, 2014 at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland as part of the Pathfinders project. The interview is divided into nine parts and provides insights into the development of the work. The commentary for the videos was written by Grigar.
Bly Interview, Part 1, "The Genesis"
In the video clip Bly explains the origins of We Descend
. We learn that it emerged, in the 1980s, from five words that came into Bly's mind: "If this document is authentic." The work grapples, he says, with the question of authenticity, particularly that of digital data where information must be authenticated at multiple levels of production. At the time, Bly believed that the work would be a play. The character he conceptualized was the scholar, but Bly struggled how to create the dialogue for him. He tells us that he learned about hypertext from reading Robert Coover's essay published in the New York Times
, an experience that led him to write the authors listed in the article (Moulthrop, Nancy Kaplan, Michael Joyce and John McDaid) and develop We Descend
as a hypertext novel.
Bly Interview, Part 2, "Working with Storyspace"
Bly talks about his experience with Storyspace, the hypertext authoring program he used to develop We Descend
. He argues that hypertext captures how we really make sense of books during the process of reading. We learn that he wrote the work in long passages and, then, decomposed the work into its hypertextual form, striving to be clear rather than "playful." He privileged the Storyspace Reader that provided a window of text over the Page Reader that provided a full screen of text. He also tells us that the evolution of technology of that period––that is, the larger screen real estate and color––impacted choices he made with his work.
Bly Interview, Part 3, "The Excavation Explained"
This video clip focuses on the visual metaphor that Bly used to structure We Descend
"excavation." Bly describes the complex layering of the work and explains the irony behind the title. The writers and literary traditions that influenced Bly, such as Jorge Luis Borges, Margaret Atwood, Neal Stephenson, and the gnostic tradition, are also discussed.
Bly Interview, Part 4, "Building the Characters"
This video clip presents the origins of the characters in the novel, notably Egderus. Bly reminds us that Egderus is the only character with a name; others are known by titles or were given names by others who came after in time. He took this approach because names have a quality that marks a person in a way that titles do not. He also reveals that after sending the work to the publisher, he felt that he had finally gained a good understanding of the hypertext environment.
Bly Interview, Part 6, "We Descend's Impact"
In this video clip Bly talks about his ambition to write a novel that could only be expressed as hypertext. The discussion moves quickly, however, into the various versions of both Volumes of We Descend
in circulation and web version available since August 2013.
Bly Interview, Part 7, "The Question of Longevity"
This video clip provides Bly's view of the legacy of We Descend
. He talks about seeing his work from "a great distance of time," one that is many generations "hence" and discusses the five layers that the story presents: the old one, Egderus, the Scholar, the author, and the archived work.
Bly Interview, Part 8, "E-Lit Artifacts"
Bly walks through various artifacts found in The Bly Collection, such as software and catalogs. He gives a good explanation of the features of Storyspace and Tinderbox and an explanation of how they work.