Little Bit of This Little Bit of That: Marsh’s Apocalypse

In Marsh’s Destructiveness of Man and other essays, it is difficult to qualify what kind of apocalypticism Marsh applies, whether it is tragic; comic, secular or environmental. It appears that he puts out a smorgasbord of all of them. As Garrard said in the beginning of his book, these tropes tend to bleed together and are not rigidly separated from each other. Between comic and tragic is less difficult to decipher but when examining them it does show the difficulties with his apocalypticism. Because Marsh synthesizes humanity and demarcates the tribal brotherhood of organics versus inorganic man, humanity then essentially does not know itself or what it is, at least Marsh does not offer an opinion about it, and it then becomes difficult to allocate guilt or error. But, clearly his sentiments towards humanity is rife with both error and guilt. And this is what makes deciding between tragic and comic difficult. However, Marsh does set up a time frame, saying, “the world cannot afford to wait till the slow progress of exact science has taught it a better economy” (Marsh 54). He leaves the apocalypse’s due date open-ended—a smart thing to do. The world will end, but when is unknown, which is one of the more effective strategies to apocalypse, it is always around the corner, lurking and we’ll never know when it will rear its ugly head.

It would be precarious to consider Marsh, in religious terms to apocalypse, a millenarian or a tragic Augustinian. He is an amalgamation of the two and plus some. But Marsh is also very critical of the detriments of religion and he has a very strong androcentric view of the earth, saying that everything not human comes from the earth’s womb, creating a dualism of deadly competition. And yet he is also ecocentric, valuing nature over man to vindicate his dualism. Although in his ecocentrism he doesn’t become nihilistic like many of the secular eschatologists in Garrard’s book. Perhaps this is because he didn’t read Nietzsche. Marsh strives for a better relationship with the earth, a co-existence and demands of science to provide technologies for the answer to the human problem. But it is this in-humanism that could quarter his writing as secular apocalyptic rhetoric, but his lines of rhetoric are not clearly delineated.

On the other hand, the Marsh quote above may be the easiest to draw from and call him a tragic secularist, where humans are a contaminant (although he does not account for the origins or nature thereof) to the earth, which also gives his work the authority Garrard refers to in the segment of Environmental apocalypse, “we can see characteristic features of tragic apocalypse rhetoric. The warning is presented in terms of absolute authority; the material threat (humanity) is ‘evil’, and by association, are the authors of it” (Garrard 95). Marsh’s authority is that mankind is a sick and contagious creature that needs to be cured, but even that may be too organic for him. Of science and technology he pines for more but is unequivocal of his fellow man, “The earth was not, in its natural condition, completely adapted to the use of man, but only to the sustenance of wild animals and wild vegetation” (Marsh 36). Who could refute this? It is so general yet so relatively temporal that is nearly impeccable.

Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Marsh, George P. The Earth as Modified by Human Action. Ch./Art: Destructiveness of Man; Instability of AMerican Life p. 33-55, 396-397. pub Arno Press 1970.

 

 

 

 

 

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