Monday, May 20, 2013

Brent Hendricks's "A Long Day at the End of the World"

Brent Hendricks is a graduate of The University of Virginia, Harvard Law School and the M.F.A. program at The University of Arizona. He is the author of a nonfiction book, A Long Day at the End of the World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2013), as well as a book of poems, Thaumatrope (Action Books 2007). He has published in such places as Poetry, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Conjunctions, The Southern Review, and Bomb Magazine. Married to the writer Kate Bernheimer, he lives in Tucson.

Hendricks applied the “Page 99 Test” to A Long Day at the End of the World and reported the following:
In his dictum that “the quality of the whole will be revealed to you,” Ford Madox Ford offers a kind of magic trick. By why not go one better? Why not believe that a particular page has the power to tell the future.

To foster my belief, allow me to employ the cradenza, a little known rhetorical maneuver ... a sleight of hand, if you will. The delicate cradenza (suggesting “a bookcase without legs”) should be kept separate in the mind from the blunt object credenza (which, by definition, is “a strong belief that supernatural powers control human destiny”). What’s the trick in relying on a belief to create a belief? I refuse to be a cheater when it comes to magic.

As typically applied, the subtle cradenza involves three steps.

1) The etymological linkage: Note that Ford uses the prophetic word “reveal” in his statement. Ha! Did you know that “apocalypse” means “revelation” in ancient Greek? As foretold in Ford’s own phrase, then, the trace (and thus the opportunity) for apocalypse exists on every page 99.

2) The cryptic aphorism: Recall that Walter Benjamin says that each moment may be “the small door through which the Messiah enters.” Therefore, building on #1 above, any moment on an author’s page 99 could be the moment in which the end of the world enters a particular book. In fact, to stretch the same point (an entirely acceptable play in the cradenza), doesn’t it follow that every moment, every page 99, contains the potential end of history?

3) The crescendo of the cradenza, or, the argument piled impossibly high without legs: To accomplish this feat, practitioners generally develop a concrete example--

Okay, so my book concerns the Tri-State Crematory Incident, the largest mass desecration in modern American history, and my father’s body was one of 339 bodies abandoned at the crematory site. While detailing that horrific desecration -- bodies piled up in pits, bodies in metal vaults, bodies scattered through the thick brush of the rural crematory -- the narrative moves through family history, Southern history and environmental degradation, ultimately culminating in thoughts of apocalypse. And that last phase, the final one, begins on page 99! The end of the world begins on my page 99 with a “hallucinogenic” “commingling of images.”

See for yourself -- trick or no trick, the future lies just a page away.

Excerpt (from page 99 of A Long Day at the End of the World):
But my bemusement widened to surprise when a strange commingling of images reflected back from the case: the Stars and Stripes, the Confederate Battle Flag with soldiers, a camera, a photograph, and me. The effect was hallucinogenic and the too-quick reality fracture suggested more breakage to come. Here I was, in my sudden corridor of collapsed meaning — the dislocated son of a dislocated father — floating above a plastic battle flag and soldiers that together hovered over a disarranged and thus dishonored American flag. For a few moments I drifted inside that image, or images, bewildered at my point of reference. If only I’d carried two (or three) cameras around like my father, I could have clicked the chorus of images together, holding a machine in both hands.
Learn more about the book and author at Brent Hendricks's website.

--Marshal Zeringue