Paper Proposal Topic Apocalypse and Wilderness inGeorge Caitlin’ Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and Conditions of the North American Indians

For my paper, essentially I would like to explore the apocalypse trope within George Caitlin’ Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and Conditions of the North American Indians. His basic notion of the clash between an avaricious and decadent culture of “civilization” in comparison to “nature” and the depletion of both buffalo and Native American’s has implications of an impending cataclysm. The fact that culture and nature are at odds makes apocalypse seem not only imminent but also inevitable. His use of Native Americans could serve as an actual and explicit example of extermination. To supplement the notions of “civilized” culture, I would include some references to Thoreau and Washington Irving, also, so as to supplement the ethical, cultural notions of a culture’s trajectory or movement towards apocalypse, especially American culture during that century, as well as similar examples of prairie narrative and its relation to Eastern urban culture.

I find this particularly interesting because of its relevance to contemporary culture, where there is much more rhetorical apocalypticism dealing with the environment now more than ever. I find it interesting that people in an earlier time tended to enjoy the Judeo-Christian idea of a sinful earth, flagellated by a fearsome god, and how also advocates of apocalypse tend to find what the want. Exploring the apocalypse trope in its early American forms can potentially be enlightening as what the current state of apocalypse in our culture.

In an analytical sense, I would like investigate and potentially qualify what type of apocalypse Caitlin subscribes to, either a tragic Millenarian or a comic Augustinian, secular eschatologist or somewhere in between or neither. Also, Caitlin essentially proposes a wilderness or wildness “quarantine” from ‘civil’ culture because of its hunger to impose its will and sustain its material comforts, and thus, depleting the resources of nature.


  1. How much does Caitlin’s apocalypse depend on the elegiac pastoral model? How do they relate?
  2. What kind of authoritative element is prevalent in Caitlin’s desire to “quarantine” wilderness, i.e. why is preserving wilderness important to him?
  3. Although Caitlin relies on the stereotypical Nobel Savage imagery, what type of society does he expect or imply will remain, if any at all? (Future primitivism, total destitution or reduced society after cataclysm)
  4. Can Deep Ecologists be accused of using the apocalypse trope to influence birth rates, or discourage reproduction?
  5. Finally, what solution is there, if human culture inherently uses “nature” will there be any form of living that is not apocalyptic?

9 responses to this post.

  1. Great focus on your goal! You might want to add Judith Plant’s “Feminism and Bioregionalism.” The Apocalyptic trope might be applied here because it addresses the dangers of not paying attention to the Environment. Just to add to the analysis in your last paragraph Question 6 can be: Explain in an ecocritical manner the way in which Wilderness is presented in Catlin’s Letters and Notes on the Manners , Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians.

  2. Posted by al002 on October 27, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Nice topic. The question I found the most interesting was “2. What kind of authoritative element is prevalent in Caitlin’s desire to “quarantine” wilderness, i.e. why is preserving wilderness important to him?” A question I would propose:

    7. By quarantining nature are we able to counter the apocalyptic effect?

  3. Interesting topic. The question I would love to hear more about was: 6. Finally, what solution is there, if human culture inherently uses “nature” will there be any form of living that is not apocalyptic? It does seem to be a cyclic problem so I would be interested to read your analysis on this.

    Another question I would propose: 7. By “quarantining” wilderness, what aspects of it are we losing? Are we trying to postpone the eventual apocalypse?

  4. Posted by kwalley on October 28, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    I find this topic to be very interesting and have thought about it myself. I found your second paragraph illuminating the difference between apocalyptic thoughts in the past and now very interesting and would explore that further within your paper. I found your fourth question to be intriguing because it is not something that I think many would think of and could provide an interesting point of view in your paper. Another question to consider:

    9. The apocalyptic views of today are based on the depletion of our resources due to man’s greed whereas those views in the past were based on an apocalypse as the result of man’s sins, do these texts suggest that man’s exploitation and use of nature is a sin?

  5. This question is important because a different outcome is needed as oppose to the apocalyptic solution.
    Another question: Does the apocalyptic theme cause people to pay closer attention to nature now before its resources are all gone? What purpose does the apocalyptic theme serve?

  6. I found your third question the most interesting, since it would be interesting to take a close look at what the real-life implications of Catlin’s text might have been.

    11. In using the apocalypse trope, does Catlin do more harm than good? With the feelings of panic and fear associated with apocalypse, how does this trope inspire reactions to environmental problems that can do more harm than good?

  7. Your topic is very interesting
    I found your fifth question very interesting. The idea of deep ecologists using an ulterior motive is very compelling.
    12) What are the implications if there is no solution and everything is considered apocalyptic?

  8. I like your focus and insight here on apolocalypticism. Your question 5 poses an interesting idea as to the solution of this use of nature. Doesn’t bioregionalism attempt to find a solution for this? In regards to your question 5 and the

    13.) How do people’s religious and cultural beliefs affect their actions against nature? For example, are those that think Christ is returning soon and hell will be on earth less likely to recycle or adhere to a subsistent living? Do Christians feel entitled to use nature to their advantage because they believe God created the world for the use of mankind? If this is true, would the solution be to challenge hegemonic views of nature one culture at a time?

  9. This is a promising topic. I think you will need to read a larger excerpt of Catlin to really do him justice in a paper; since we read such a small amount, you don’t have a lot to work with for close reading. But the scope of your paper topic works well, from putting Catlin in the context of other authors we’ve read to them going large and talking about the problems and implications of the apocalypse quote for environmental discourse.

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