Eastgate Systems

We descend is a collection of archives "put together" by Bill Bly, who in the oldest literary tradition presents himself as the one who merely rendered them into hypertext form and wrote the Foreword and Afterword. The Foreword and the Directions give useful information to the readers on how to navigate this hypertext, and insist on its being an archive made of:

"documents whose only commonality, in some cases, is that they have ended up in the same place. Much of the material is fragmentary, some is ambiguous; and throughout, one of the hidden story lines concerns the sequence of curators, including (but no necessarily ending with) the putative author."

There is of course no single way to read this hypertext, but the author has prepared a default path or "tour" at the start, that "will introduce you to the major characters and lead you through the three principal "bands" of time in which the story unfolds." When we´ve finished this introducing tour, the author advices us to go to the "Inventary", a list of the authors and their writings. The writings we´ve already read in the default path appear in green, the others in blue, so that each reader can look for new text spaces or check what she´s previously read. We think this is the best way to approach this hypertext, because the default path presents many mysteries as if the reader was really going through the contents of a heterogeneous and strange archive. Then the reader explores the Inventory and starts finding clues to classify the fragments she´s read before. One of the fragments says:

"History used to be a question of finding out, not remembering. (...) Without the past, what´s the present? In a shapeless present, where´s the future?"

Just as if she were a historian leading with newly discovered parchments, the reader has to arrange the incomplete pieces of different stories that were linear once and are somehow interrelated. But how? There are eight voices speaking from three different times, plus Bly´s own voice. They comment and question each other, in a dialogue that goes beyond time. The central time is that of Edgerus Scriptor, and it also includes the voices of the Superius Frater, the Historian, Robenc and Aric. The Remnants and the Ancients belong to Edgerus´ past, and the Scholar to his future. Bly writes after the Scholar, when the second´s time is also but a fragmented memory. Surprisingly, our own time would be the earliest one, that of the Ancients, and the other voices hint at a massive destruction of our world, whose causes are unknown. The Scholar even gets to analyse the development of our writing technologies, with a very remarkable paragraph about hypertext:

"But it was during those brilliant years so heartbreakingly close to the end that a few bold souls ventured into what they called hypertext, and were almost immediately dazzled by its potential, if I may borrow once more from the Ancients´ catalogue of idioms. There survive a handful of these ante-cataclysmic hypertexts, and they are nearly impenetrable for the most part, comprised as they are of colloquial prose and personal imagery- fragmented, recombinant, allusive in the extreme, but to events and causes and ideas that have since been lost."

But this is of course not so simple, some questions arise: If they don´t remember the past in Edgerus´ time, why do they have lots of words with Latin roots even more marked that in our world? If they don´t know about our civilization, how does the next generation, that of the scholar, know? The answers have to do with memories that are passed on unconciously in writings, songs or proverbs, memories that only a few can interpret while the rest lives in ignorance of history and mankind is doomed to repeat the same mistakes again and again. These mistakes could be the repetition of an inquisitorial system in Edgerus´ time or the extermination of the race known as the Remnants. Of course this ignorance could be intentionally maintained by those who have the power so as to be able to invent the foundations of their civilization.

"Every literate civilization believes itself to be the Remnant, descending from righteous, not to say divine forebears, from whom also it has descended (or, more to the point, declined) in glory, majesty, power, discernment, virtue."

This hypertext is also a profound meditation on the meaning of history and its relationship to power and human nature. The hypertextual form allows the author to present the documents as separate and at the same time related to each other in ways that the reader must find for herself.

The reader is then the last curator of these archives, and her mission is reading and rereading until she has understood. Who knows? Maybe in the future somebody will go through the reader´s notes and incorporate her to the sequence of curators with new misteries to be discovered... A fascinating experience.

Susana Pajares Toska
July 1998