“Baker’s great strengths—apart from the scale and urgency of his wonderfully conceived topic—are his prodigious learning, his luminous intelligence, and his probing diagnostic vision. He has a truly remarkable capacity to move scrupulously and profoundly between poetry and philosophical thought.” —Peter Sacks, Harvard University
In The Extravagant Robert Baker explores the interplay between poetry and philosophy in the modern period, engaging a broad range of writers: Kant, Wordsworth, and Lyotard in a chapter on the sublime; Rimbaud, Nietzsche, and Bataille in a chapter on visionary quest; and Kierkegaard, Dickinson, Mallarmé, and Derrida in a chapter on apocalyptic negativity. His guiding concern is to illuminate adventures of “extravagant” or “wandering” language that, from the romantic period on, both poets and philosophers have undertaken in opposition to the dominant social and discursive frames of a pervasively instrumentalized world.
The larger interpretative narrative shaping the book is that a dialectic of instrumental reason and creative negativity has been at work throughout modern culture. Baker argues that adventures of exploratory wandering emerge in the romantic period as displaced articulations of older religious discourses. Given the dominant trends of the modern world, however, these adventures repeatedly lead to severe collisions and crises, in response to which they are later revised or further displaced. Over time, as instrumental structures come to disfigure every realm of modern life, poetries and philosophies at odds with these structures are forced to criticize and surpass earlier voices in their traditions that seem to have lost a transformative power. Thus, Baker argues, these adventures gradually unfold into various discourses of the negative prominent in contemporary culture: discourses of decentering, dispersing, undoing, and erring. It is this dialectic that Baker traces and interprets in this ambitious study.
“Baker is surely right to see a kind of displaced religious longing behind many of these writers. . . . Scholars looking for common themes uniting Romanticism and now-fading postmodernity will find a support here. . . . .” — Choice
“. . . [Baker’s] richly erudite, lucidly intelligent, and beautifully written book is indispensable for anyone who wants to understand and reflect on the trajectory of modern culture.” — Notre Dame Philosophical Review
“Robert Baker’s The Extravagant: Crossings of Modern Poetry and Modern Philosophy deals boldly and often brilliantly with its titular subjects as ways of exploring perhaps arbitrating lofty, even ultimate issues. . . . [What is] impressive is Baker’s command of his voluminous and difficult subject matter. He seems to have read all the primary and secondary literature of poetry and philosophy, moves with ease between the philosophy, and manages to frame complex arguments in terms that, while hardly simple, are at least relatively accessible and light on jargon.” — The Georgia Review
“The Extravagant is a fascinating and ambitious study of the interplay between philosophy and poetry in the modern period.” — The Virginia Quarterly Review
“. . . Baker sees modernity as a dialectical struggle between increasingly organized instrumental societies and constructive, energetic, and creative negativity.” — Religious Studies Review
“. . . The Extravagant is an engaging book that will have many admirers among the ever-widening circle of ‘religionists without religion.’ It makes a good case for the continuity of romantic and modernist poetics despite the clear break between expressivism and constructivism in twentieth-century theory and practice.” — Christianity and Literature
“In conclusion, and in good extravagant fashion, I’ll say this: Baker’s book is absolutely fascinating, interesting, and compelling, in spite of its forcing the reader to wander almost to exhaustion—but then such is the nature of both the extravagant and the negative.” — Hyperion