Question 1. The Comic Apocalypse in Marsh’s Argument

In Marsh’s essay it is clear that he blames the advancement of human civilization for the destruction of nature and the environment. As he states, “the destructive agency of man becomes more and more energetic and unsparing as he advances in civilization (p. 39).” He uses the comic apocalypse trope to argue that man’s destructiveness is responsible for the environmental crisis of his time. His use of the apocalyptic trope is comic because he does not blame evil forces for the cause; instead he blames man’s selfish economic practices. Also, there is no definitive apocalyptic end in this text, which Garrad claims as necessary for the tragic apocalypse. Marsh was awakened by the crisis and now writes about it, but he seems to have hope for some salvation. Ironically, he believes the salvation will come at the hands of man—the destroyer. According to Marsh, based on the technological advancements of his time, the future advancements will be great enough to allow humans to capture the force of nature in order to help nature—“mechanical philosophers have suggested the possibility of accumulating…for human use some of the greater natural forces…” (p. 45). He wants to “robe” the powerful waves created by storms and “turn their wasting torrents into refreshing streams” to rebuild “this old world, which man has overthrown” (p. 46). What is problematic here is that Marsh is not offering any resolutions that can be implied at the moment. He is hoping for a better future; he is hoping that the next generations will solve the mistakes of the current generation—a mistake that is still made today. Marsh’s generalizations are also a little far-fetched. He seems to believe that man will one day be able to harness the power of hurricanes and other natural disasters; yet, today we still hide from such disasters and try to limit the amount of damage they cause.

Marsh’s argument is further complicated by the fact that he is not clear on the hierarchy pertaining to man and nature. He starts off by stating “that the earth was given to him for usufruct alone, not for consumption, still less for profligate waste (p. 3).” This would imply that man is about nature but he cannot take advantage of it. Still, he wants man to be able to capture the power of nature. Also, he compares humans to wild/brute animals, and says that humans are lower than the brute animals because they do not abuse nature; they are driven by their appetites, while man is driven by greed. As Marsh states, “the action of brutes…is slow and gradual, and usually limited…to a narrow extent of territory. Nature is allowed time and opportunity to set her restorative powers at work…” (p. 42). However, “man…extends his action over vast spaces…and his devastations are, for an almost incalculable time after he has withdrawn” (p. 42). The actions of brute animals are part of nature and evolution, but those of man are a disturbance to nature. Although not capable of conscious thought, these animals seem to have more morality or compassion for nature, as Marsh describes them. If humans are more detestable than brute animals, then how can they be above nature?  Another problematic issue in this text is that Marsh proposes the need to create civilization in unsettled lands and countries even though the spread of civilization is the culprit in all this. He wants “new homes for a European population which is increasing more rapidly” and doing so will require “the proportion of forest [to be] considerably reduced, superfluous waters to be drawn off, and routes of internal communication to be constructed” in “virgin lands” (p. 49). However, he wants the “primitive geographical and climatic features of these countries…to be retained (p. 49).” Marsh wants humans to limit their exploitation of nature, yet he wants them to advance in both science and civilization. He states the obvious but offers no relevant and attainable solutions.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by lmc908 on November 1, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    forgot to cite.

    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

  2. Posted by rebsheppard on November 3, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    While I agree with your assertion that Marsh’s essay fails in demonstrating the tragic apocalypse trope outlined by Garrard, I disagree with your later claim that Marsh ” is not offering any resolutions that can be implied at the moment” and that he is relying entirely on the future generation to solve the environmental issues of the present from which he writes.

    I found that Marsh included several hopeful, progressive ideas in his essay (which I’m not sure I believe is representative of the apocalypse trope at all) that hint towards possible “solutions” to the disastrous issues that he mentions. For example, he highlights the importance of ongoing research in repairing environmental issues, claiming that geological and topographical surveys carried out by scientists “are making yet more important contributions” to “general knowledge” that can be used productively. I think the overarching theme in Marsh’s writing is that there is no definitive solution to the damage which man has inflicted on the Earth, but there is hope to lessen this damage in knowledge.

  3. Posted by etrotta on November 3, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    I agree withyour analysis of Marsh. While he condemns man’s use of nature, he also knows that it is possible to find solutions for man made environmental problems. This is interesting because this writing is categorized as apocalyptic literature.

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