Question 1 Marsh’s Apocalypse

In George Marsh’s “The Earth as Modified by Human Action,” it is hard as a reader to decide what type of apocalyptic rhetoric he uses. In some instances man is to blame for the destruction of nature, for his use of nature beyond living a sustainable life and instead for extravagance and wastefulness. However, in other instances Nature is a powerful entity and man not being of her is unable to understand how to live here correctly. Yet unlike the tragic rhetoric Marsh never proposes a ‘”sacrifice  and the ‘cult of the kill,'” (Garrard 87) instead he proposes solutions for restoring nature to a former more pristine state although he blames man in several instances. In the end though it seems that a comic rhetoric is more prevalent through his work.

For Marsh man has “forgotten that the earth was given to him for usufruct alone, not for consumption…[or] profligate waste” (3).  Here man has is both fallible and to blame – Marsh displays the use of both a tragic rhetoric where man is guilty of destroying nature, and comic rhetoric where man has erred because he has forgotten nature’s original purpose and all he has to do is remember and act accordingly.

Nature is a powerful entity who’s works are “only phenomena of decomposition and recomposition” (Marsh 3). Everything on earth, fauna and flora, have a system of checks and balances Nature has the power to restore herself to a healthy balanced state through natural processes, and man being “not of  her” (Marsh 34) does not fit in to this natural cycle. However, despite nature’s power she is also portrayed as a victim, because man disturbs the natural cycle that maintains nature in a balance – “He has felled the forest whose network of … roots bound the mould to the rocky skeleton of the earth … has broken up the mountain reservoirs …whose waters supplied the fountains that refreshed his cattle…” (Marsh 88). And yet Marsh exempts the “wandering savage,” (80) from this blame it civilized man that makes huge ecological impacts on nature – it is not all of mankind who is to blame.

However, Marsh does not propose a return to a nomadic lifestyle, or the destruction of civilization as we know it. Instead he proposes taking more interest in the land around you and use of practical lessons that have taught men through the ages on how to maintain their land, while man waits for science and technology to reach a point where it can help restore nature.

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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