The Origin of the Modern Pronunciation of “Tea”—H.D. Onesimus SpecGram Vol CLXXIII, No 2 Contents Tea: Supreme Ruler of the Morphemes—Thị Mã Quing, Kofi S. Ucks, Theodore D. Rinker

“Green Tea” and the Evil Monkey of Structuralism

by Zacharias Esteban von Ordoñez
Lecturer of Linguistics,
Western Wyoming Community College

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu is generally viewed as one of the quainter oddities of the quaint, odd 19th century. While some writers and critics (e.g., M.R. James) considered him an underrated author with true skill at evoking an atmosphere of dread, and others (e.g., H.P. Lovecraft) most certainly did not, on the whole he has been ignored by the critical establishment and left to gather dust on the shelves of a Dublin curiosity shop, and indeed it is only recently that critics have tried to take the full measure of his art. Among his more noted stories, “Green Tea” (1872) calls for a careful and close reading indeed, as this article will show.

A brief synopsis for the reader too lazy or stubborn to read it herself: The outer narrator is a former surgeon who served as secretary to Dr. Hesselius, who was also a scholar with an abiding interest in occult medical phenomena. The heart of the story consists of a letter concerning one of his cases, an English clergyman named Jennings who in a fit of scholarly industry began drinking green tea until he began to be visited by an evil black monkey that only he could see, with shining red eyes and an ambient halo reminiscent of hellfire. For many months the monkey merely stared at him relentlessly, but eventually, following the usual petty-criminal progression of such affairs, it moved on to verbal abuse, obscenities, and constant urgings to suicidewhich, of course, was in the end quite successful, otherwise publication would not have been forthcoming. Hesselius stated that green tea is one of the substances that when abused can cause the neural veil separating humans from the spirit world of Swedenborg to be pulled aside, after which an evil spirit is wont to poof into one’s affairs.

Taken in such a bare-boned state, the story itself is not a nice scalding hot cup of green tea so much as a tepid serving of weak tea, and understandably most normal people (this of course leaves James and Lovecraft right out) would yawn and seek something more heavily caffeinated. However, as normal people are really boring, there’s no reason to follow their lead, and indeed a closer look at the story shows that there is a veritable tempest of philosophical thought brewing within. This has been noted by a handful of recent critics: T.R. Cobb, for example, has pointed out that Le Fanu’s noted story lends itself well to a satirical readinggreen tea, the drink of empire, brings home to the few leaders of the Church of England whose eyes are opened the evil monkey of imperialism; Cobb points out that Le Fanu’s deep Tory opposition to Irish home rule almost requires a socio-political reading, though, as his critics have been kind and unkind enough to suggest, Cobb seems bedeviled by a few red-eyed monkeys perched on his own back.

Cobb is indeed representative of the recent critical response to “Green Tea,” though only in the sense that his heretical brand of Really Shiny New Historicism is, like all the others, a seventeenth-hand dilution of one of the standard critical approaches, and like the others is a pretty dull tool with which to try to unscrew the nuts and bolts of the story. Instead, the story easily reveals its secretsat least to a reader with a broader base of knowledge than required for an English degree.

The first thing to note is that on his first visit to Jennings, Hesselius was ushered into his study, where he stopped to read passages in Emanuel Swedenborg’s Arcana Celestia about the creatures of the spirit world; these passages are quoted in the story. As is well known to scholars, at least outside of English departments, Swedenborg was a scientist who in middle age suddenly began receiving visions of angels and spirits, about which he wrote copiously. Angels, he insisted, did not communicate in human language but rather by expressing psychically the fundamental logical elements of thought.

Here we have the key to the story. Angels express the logical form of their thoughts without any necessity to generate a phonetic form. Le Fanu (and for that matter Swedenborg) therefore clearly foresaw the rise of the minimalist brand of Chomskyan linguistics, butprobably through lack of the necessary knowledge base and vocabularycould only express this indirectly. What, then, is the significance of the evil black monkey? Understanding of this point requires closer attention to the first scenes with the monkey. The monkey first appeared to Jennings in an omnibus driving along the street, then followed him along the pavement and on a wall when he walked home. That is, the monkey is closely associated with pavements (strata) and structures, and therefore clearly symbolizes structuralism and stratificationalism, and perhaps all functionalist heresy.

Green tea, therefore, represents the wrong turn away from Chomsky and into the clutches of the dark side. The monkey is first speechless (for such theories have nothing true to say), then abusive and foul (which results whenever adherents of these theories try to challenge the true doctrine), then drives its victims to suicide (for intellectually that is what structuralism and stratificationalism surely are); and that is one of the deep ironies of functionalism, that it renders its victims unable actually to function as real linguists, just as Jennings was unable to preach sermons with the monkey standing on his Bible shouting obscenities at him (the spitting image of every functionalist this author has ever met). This also helps explain Hesselius’ insistence on green tea causing spirit visitation as a neurological phenomenon: “It is the story of the process of a poison, a poison which excites the reciprocal action of spirit and nerve, and paralyses the tissue that separates those cognate functions of the senses, the external and the interior.” Stratificationalism, after all, is just structuralism plus neural nets. Le Fanu’s insistent harping upon nerves is not a half-hearted attempt to wed aspects of materialism and spiritualism, as some critics have stumbled blindly into arguing, but is rather a warning to future generations of the special dangers of stratificationalism: Instead of laying bare to the mind’s eye the neural structures underlying language, the poisoned chalice of green tea leads inexorably to silence, speech disorders, and intellectual suicide.

The Origin of the Modern Pronunciation of “Tea”H.D. Onesimus
Tea: Supreme Ruler of the MorphemesThị Mã Quing, Kofi S. Ucks, Theodore D. Rinker
SpecGram Vol CLXXIII, No 2 Contents