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Paul Outka

Associate Professor

3022 Wescoe Hall

Areas of Research

19thC U.S. literature and culture, literature and science, American poetry, African American literature. My theoretical foci include ecocriticism, critical race theory, trauma studies, aesthetic theory, and the posthuman.

Selected Publications

Race and Nature from Transcendentalism to the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, 2013 (paper). Winner of the 2009 Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE) Biennial Prize for "Best Book of Ecocriticism" published in 2007-08.


Preface. Asian American Literature and the Environment. Lorna Fitzsimmons, Youngsuk Chae, and Bella Adams, eds. New York: Routledge. Forthcoming July 2014.

"Environmentalism after Despair." Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities. Vol. 1, No. 1 (January 2014).

"Poems, Eyelashes, and other Nonhuman Objects." Forum on the Nonhuman World, J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists. 1.2 (Fall 2013) 411-416.

"Cosmopolitics and the Radical Pastoral: A Conversation with Lawrence Buell, Hsuan Hsu, Anthony Lioi, and Paul Outka." Lance Newman and Laura Walls, Eds., moderators, and participants. The Journal of Ecocriticism. 3.2 (2011) 58-71.

“Posthuman/Postnatural: Ecocriticism and the Sublime in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Environmental Criticism for the Twenty-First Century: Science, History, Scale. Stephanie
Lemenager, Ken Hiltner, and Teresa Shewry, eds. New York: Routledge. Forthcoming.

“History, the Posthuman, and the End of Trauma: Propranolol and Beyond.”Traumatology.
15.4 (2009) 76–81.

“(De)composing Whitman.” ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment,
12.1 (2005) 41-60.

“Whitman and Race (‘he’s queer, he’s unclear, get used to it…’).” Journal of American
Studies, 36 (2002) 293-318.

"Whitmanian Cybernetics." The Mickle Street Review, Summer 2001, No. 14. link.

“Publish or Perish: Food, Hunger, and Self-Construction in Maxine Hong Kingston’s The
Woman Warrior.”Contemporary Literature, 38 (1997) 447-82.Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 114, Gale-Centage, 2002.Rpt. in Short Story Criticism, Vol. 136, Gale-Cengage, Forthcoming, 2010.


Visiting Professor, LIRE (Littérature, idéologies, représentations aux XVIIIe- XIXe siècles) group, Ecole Normale Superiéure de Lyon, Université de Lyon. France. Fall 2013.

President, Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, (ASLE), 2013.

University Graduate Teaching Award. Florida State University (nominated; withdrew after appointment to the University of Kansas).

University of Maine Trustee Professorship, 2007-08.

American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship for Junior Faculty, 2004-05.

Recent Invited Lectures and Presentations

Respondent. "Sustainable Modernities" symposium sponsored by the Potomac Center for the Study of Modernity. Cochran Gallery of Art, Washington DC. April, 2014

Lecture. "Whitman and the Old New Materialism." Ecole Normale Superiéure de Lyon, Université de Lyon. Lyon, France. November, 2013.

Lecture. "Western Landscapes and the Dreamwork of Whiteness." Atelier Amérique du Nord: la fabrique de l'Amérique. l'Université Lyon 2, Ecole Normale Superiéure de Lyon, l'Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Lyon. Lyon, France. November, 2013.

Lecture. "Neuromateriality, Genius, and the Human." Ecole Normale Superiéure de Lyon, Université de Lyon. Lyon, France. December, 2013.

Lecture. "Unnaturally Natural: Poets, Creatures and the Organic Sublime." Ecole Normale Superiéure de Lyon, Université de Lyon. Lyon, France. December, 2013.

Speaker. "Western Landscapes and the Dreamwork of Whiteness." Workshop in American Studies series. Princeton University, April 2012.

Lecture. "The Unbearable Whiteness of Greening: Race, Nature, and Ecocriticism." Intersections: Border Zones in Environmental Studies/Science, Technology, and Society Colloquium Series. Sarah Lawrence College, March 2011.

Faculty Profile

I started my scholarly career as a poetry critic, writing a dissertation and several articles on Whitman, and teaching a range of courses on American poetry from its origins through the present day. While my scholarship has become less structured by genre, I retain an emphasis on close reading and a profound, if often critical, engagement with poetry and literary modes of representation in all my writing.

As my work has developed, I have focused my attention less on particular authors for their own sake, and more on how a range of political, theoretical, and historical problems have been refracted through literary and other forms of cultural representation. I am particularly interested in the environmental humanities and science studies, and had the good fortune to serve as President of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) in 2013. My first book, Race and Nature from Transcendentalism to the Harlem Renaissance, examined a neglected but centrally important issue in critical race studies and ecocriticism: how natural experience became racialized in America from the antebellum period through the early twentieth century. Drawing on theories of sublimity, trauma, and ecocriticism, I offer a critical and cultural history of the racial fault line in American environmentalism that to this day divides largely white wilderness preservation groups and the largely minority environmental justice movement.

I am now deeply engaged with another book project, Evolution, Essentialism, and the Organic Sublime: the Nineteenth-Century Posthuman, a work that builds on Race and Nature's concern with materialism, embodied identity, and ecocriticism. The book argues that in the nineteenth-century transatlantic culture of Europe and the United States, a range of discourses—medical, evolutionary, chemical, environmental, literary—began to suggest that human identity was physical rather than spiritual, a particularly complex expression of the natural. Humans became a part of the earth that learned to talk, not Beings who transcended the earthly. In the book I examine a range of episodes I call the "organic sublime," when an individual experienced a sudden and often profoundly disconcerting awareness of the radical material identity between his or her embodied self and the natural world. This constitutive similarity between self and world, I argue, was akin to what contemporary theorists of biotechnology call the "posthuman," the sense of being a mechanism among mechanisms, of a profound materialist ambiguity (if not, indeed, crisis) in the relations among self, body, technology, and environment. The experience of the organic sublime was often deeply disturbing, both to the subject immediately involved and to the wider ideological formations prevalent in the nineteenth century that depended on a disjunctive relationship between human and nature, particularly essentializing discourses of identity such as racial "science," social Darwinism, and the medicalization of gender. Such discourses, I argue, functioned in part to reestablish qualitative differences between (some) humans and the natural, and thereby to deaden the shock of the eruptive nineteenth-century posthuman. A version of the first chapter of this book was published in Routledge's Environmental Criticism for the 21st Century, another excerpt came out in 2013 in a recent forum on the nonhuman in J19, and in 2013 I also gave four lectures on different chapters in the book at the Ecole Normale Superiéure de Lyon in France.

My interests in evolution and scientific materialism extend into the 20th and 21st century as well. I have published an essay, for example on the implications of a possible pharmacological cure for PTSD in the clinical journal Traumatology, and I offer courses on posthuman theory and biotechnology that stretch from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, to contemporary scientific speculations on the ramifications of emergent biotechnologies, to recent science fiction.

Associate Professor Outka's Curriculum Vitae

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