On Blakes we want and Blakes we forgot…

When first working on materials towards Blake 2.0, I encountered a site that has become something of a warning about immersing oneself in the delights of technology as a panacea for the difficulties of serious and substantial research. The Blake Multimedia Project is available online as a relic of new media technologies from 1994-5. Casting my mind back to that period (when, on a personal note, I had only just begun to encounter the Internet in any serious way via a very slow 14.4K modem), this would have been quite a revolutionary project, and it draws attention to the ways in which technology has changed dramatically in the past decade or more.

Multimedia Blake imageProduced by Steve Marx  and Doug Smith at the Interactive Learning Institute, CalPoly, the project involved students using hypertext editions of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Songs of Innocence and of Experience and of The Book of Thel among others. As they were produced using Hypercard on a Mac, I cannot actually view more than the sample pages uploaded as image files to the site. This immediately tells me volumes about the dangers of relying on new media technologies.

(A brief aside: in 1998/9, I was involved in a project to transfer Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Des to CD-ROM. For this project, we used Director – version 6 if I remember correctly – which at that time was the leading technology for producing interactive discs. During development, the release of a new version of Quicktime meant that I had to redesign certain animated pages to work correctly with the program. A year after release, Microsoft released a new version of Windows with different core directories and files which meant earlier version of Director no longer worked. Since then, I have developed a phobia to working with proprietary technologies that can become obsolete in a matter of months).

Returning to the Multimedia Blake project, there are some extremely interesting features about this project. At that time, Hypercard (along with similar applications such as Storyspace) was much more advanced than hypertext: theorists such as George Landow were completely enthusiastic about its potential, and compared to vanilla web sites available at the time, this would certainly have offered been much more fascinating to use. I particularly like the fact that students had some ability (however limited) for interaction, and this certainly would have been an extremely innovative project at the time – as far as I can see from the screenshots.

And yet, although only some 15 years old, this site is as esoteric as the Camden-Hotten forgeries. Stated plainly, it does not work (a common problem of digital technologies – cf. the BBC project to transfer the Domesday Book to optical disc in the 1980s – now a technology so redundant that there are few, if any, players that can read it). The original hypercard system, as far as I can see, allowed users to compare text and gloss with plates within the same virtual space – not so revolutionary now but a fairly important development at the time. It was supplanted within a couple of years by the Blake Archive, so there would have been very little incentive to update it, meaning that this very quickly became a Blake that we forgot.

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