Saturday, January 19, 2008

Howling, even. Huck would be impressed.

NOW READING: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

So here's a thing I really, really like about Infinite Jest, a thing which I bet approximately two other people on the planet would even notice, much less care about. But here it is. So there's this word, see, that leapt out of the pages of Huckleberry Finn at my my friend Marcia and me back when we read it in high school. (Huck Finn, you say? I thought we were infinitely jesting...well, stick with me here.) We loved it. Early in Huck's journey, while he and Jim stay on that little island in the river, there is a dead body and Huck, creeped the hell out, says, "It most give me the fantods."

Fantods. How could you not love it? I mean, who even (besides Mark Twain, apparently) ever even knew there was a synonym for heebie-jeebies? But they're not just heebie-jeebies. They are darker and more demonic. The word is just so perfect! Marcia and I used "fantods" as frequently as we could from that point forward. It may have been the best thing we took away from that book. (Discussing all the issues swirling around when/how our AP English class came to read Huckleberry Finn under the tutelage of Patti Patti is defnitely another story for another day...)

I can recall a moment in college, lying around with a dozen or so girls from the dorms after staying up way too late being silly, when I told some story and noted that whatever freak thing I described "totally gave me the fantods." I remember Heather -- smart, ever proper Heather -- asking, "Just what is a fantod?" And some of my other crazy best friends sort of rolling their eyes and saying, "Oh, Linda and her fantods..."

You can imagine my delight, then, when I first came across the word in Infinite Jest. It was all I could do not to shriek on the bus where I was reading it and cry aloud, "Fantods! He knows about fantods!"

But now, now, now here gloriously on page 189, it gets even better. First of all, I love Madame Psychosis and her radio show, and I love M.I.T. and its weirdness, and I love the random engineer because he is just like so many engineers I knew back in my radio day. But here is Mario, listening to the show and sitting up close to the speaker, because he has to have the sound low, "because Avril has some auditory thing about broadcast sound and gets the howling fantods from any voice that does not exit a living corporeal head..."

I. Love. It. I'd be happy enough just to see anyone using that word anywhere, period, but then he goes and does it repeatedly. And when you get right down to it, it IS a little creepy, isn't it, to think of voices emanating from something other than talking heads?

Just keep on sprinkling them through this story. Fantods. Wonderful, howling fantods.

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