Jacob Henry Leveton responds to Michael Gamer

Michael Gamer’s response to Newman’s Romantic Tavern attunes us to the work’s stakes for romantic textualities, and the enduring legacies of the tavern space for later revolutions to come. I especially enjoyed Gamer’s drawing our attention to Newman’s reading of Burke’s Reflection on the Revolution in France. By centering Burke’s work as a reaction to the crowd incited by the nonconformist preacher Richard Price’s sermon “Discourse on the Love of Our Country,” Gamer gets us thinking in new ways about texts in social space. Sermons occupy multiple positions as media objects, particularly when impelled by the politics of dissent into the tavern and intensified by the alcohol-soaked environs where Price’s “Discourse” saw its fit reception. Both performance and pamphlet, the sermon is important for what it caused: the movement of a mass of persons to the London Tavern, and the related proliferation of additional “texts”—toasts and speeches culminating in the congratulatory address to the Assembée nationale in Paris. Paraphrasing Gamer, here, strikes me as generative. In thinking between what was written, performed, said, and provoked, the terms of this engagement constellate around Jacques Derrida’s reversal of the privileging of speech and writing. Understanding textuality in this expanded field between Newman on romanticism and Derrida on what writing “distributes in space”—here, the tavern—gets us to think about the relationship between text and event.[1] As Gamer parses the matter between sermon, drinks, and political action, we begin to see the force of alcohol and caffeine in that space. When infusing the right segment of the body politic at the right time, this combination became fuel for revolutionary politics at an intensity scarcely less threatening to the ruling order than the alcohol contained in a Molotov cocktail hurled across the space of a barricade in later times. In this respect, Newman’s achievement is not just for romanticism, although it is certainly a preeminent contribution for this field. Newman’s history of the romantic tavern as a resolutely political history moves us to consider resonant spaces for other revolutionary moments—the right-bank cafés of 1789 Paris, the secret salons in the working-class faubourgs of Paris in 1848, and not unironically, the meetings of Lenin and Trotsky that forged the organization of the eventual Russian Revolution of 1917. Indeed, these meetings of Russian revolutionaries took place neither in bars in Moscow nor in cafés in St. Petersburg, but rather at Three Johns Pub in the London district of Islington.

[1] Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 9.

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Reflection by Michael Gamer

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