Posts Tagged ‘apocalypse’

Question 3: Wilderness as portrayed by Marsh and Muir

In both texts we read this week, wilderness is portrayed heavily. Interestingly, wilderness is presented in contrasting lights. In John Muir’s “The American Forests,” wilderness is seen as a religious experience, almost intertwining itself with the sublime trope we have seen earlier in the semester. George Marsh, on the other hand, uses pure logic and a scientific basis to present wilderness as a rapidly declining and unfairly treated commodity. Marsh’s rhetorical strategy presents wilderness through the light of contamination- the more humans impede upon our earth, the more wilderness is tainted, and, eventually, forever lost.

                John Muir’s presentation of nature follows Garrard’s discussion of “nature writing texts …as… “rhapsodic” celebration of natural beauty and wildness” (Garrard, 81) precisely.  Muir’s first sentence sums it up perfectly: “The forests of America, however slighted by man, must have been a great delight to God; for they were the best he ever planted” (Muir, 145). Muir goes on to describe trees as “lordly monarchs proclaiming the gospel of beauty like apostles” (Muir, 145). This intensely religious and rapturous discussion of nature in the first few paragraphs lulls the reader into a false sense that everything is “okay.” Although Muir later goes on to make a fervent argument advocating for the conservation and protection of our nation’s landscapes, it is seen as secondary to the celebration of the “lordly monarchs” (Muir, 145) discussed previously.

                Unlike Muir’s arguments, George Marsh discusses nature, and the almost ensured destruction of the earth, from a purely logical and scientific standpoint. After comparing the issues between human impact on the earth with that of lower animals, he begins to discuss the “partial reverse” (Marsh, 44) of earth’s destruction. Marsh states: “These achievements are more glorious than the proudest triumphs of war, but thus far they give but faint hope that we shall yet make full atonement for our spendthrift waste of the bounties of nature” (Marsh, 44). This discussion by Marsh, which basically says the way humans impact the earth means there is no possibility of saving wilderness, echoes discussion in Garrard’s book: “[A] construction of nature reinforces an idea of wilderness, in which any modification of the environment is a form of contamination… The ideal wilderness space is wholly pure by virtue of its independence from humans” (Garrard, 70-71). This idea brings to light the fact that Marsh is arguing the inevitability of earth’s downfall, in whole or in part, because of human’s destructiveness.

                Although both authors come from very different stand points, they both attempt to get the same idea across- that the way man is treating the earth has horribly negative implications for the future. The ways they go about this argument differ wildly, but their overall goal is the same: fight for our nation’s nature (what is left of it, at least) to be preserved for future generations.

Garrard, Greg. Ecocritism: The New Critical Idiom. Ch./Art: Wilderness p. 59-84. Pub. 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

Muir, John. He Atlantic Monthly. 70/178 Ch./Art: The American Forests p/ 145-157. Pub. Atlantic Monthly August 1897

Question 1: George Perkins Marsh

In George Perkins Marsh’s The Earth as Modified by Human Actions, Marsh uses apocalyptic rhetoric that is, for the most part, comic.  Gerrard describes a comic approach by saying, “Comedy conceives of evil not as guilt, but as error” (Gerrard 87).  He also states that in comic texts, “Human agency is real but flawed within the comic frame, and individual actors are typically morally conflicted and ambiguous” (Gerrard 87).  These descriptions easily fit Marsh’s approach to describing human influence on nature.  Marsh describes humans as harbingers of destruction, stating that “Wherever [man] plants his foot, the harmonies of nature are turned to discords” (Marsh 34).  Despite the evil Marsh accuses humans of causing, he nevertheless characterizes them as not inherently evil but misguided, thus allowing a comparison with Gerrard’s characterization of “evil as error” with comic rhetoric.  For example, Marsh states “The action of man, indeed, is frequently followed by unforeseen and undesired results, yet it is nevertheless guided by a self-conscious will aiming as often at secondary and remote as immediate objects” (Marsh 41).  In addition, Marsh provides humans with a means to make amends for their misdeeds, stating that man can “restore fertility and salubrity to soils which his follies or his crimes have made barren” (Marsh 49).  Marsh even argues that a desire to fix past wrongdoings is not only morally right but an inherent part of the American spirit, saying that Americans all have an intrinsic “want of fiexedness, not in form only, but in spirit” (Marsh 396).  In providing a way for humans to make everything right, Marsh appears incredibly optimistic, somewhat undermining the strong language used in the beginning of his text.  His talk of human destruction paints a largely negative portrait of humankind as a whole, and he indicates a coming apocalypse in respects to environmental degradation.  Although powerful, when compared to his final arguments, his language at the end comes across as too optimistic, and his apocalyptic predictions lose some of their power.

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.

The Apocalyptic Trope in Marsh

In Marsh’s writing, there is evidence of the apocalyptic trope that Garrard discusses. As Marsh discusses the utter destruction that humans cause the trope really becomes evident. “When the forest is gone, the great reservoir of moisture stored up in its vegetable mould is evaporated, and returns only in deluges of rain to wash away the parched dust into which that mould has been converted,” (43). Marsh’s quotation shows how man can take the lush environment of a forest, and turn it into a desolate, barren, wasteland. As I analyze this quote, I continually refer back to what Garrard writes about “apocalypticism”, “Each generation of humans can beget a still larger next generation, whereas increases in agricultural production by cultivation of new ground can be achieved only incrementally:” (94). The problem with creating larger generations is the continual destruction we cause to the environment. Marsh writes, “But man is everywhere a disturbing agent,” (34). Because man is a destructive agent, the apocalyptic trope is apparent. Moreover, this is a successful strategy because it allows for multiple perspectives of analysis of a text. We can argue the Christian perspective of the apocalyptic trope because of the signs of the apocalypse (88). In the Christian mindset, the apocalypse is unavoidable. So, if we take that mindset and apply it to the writing of Marsh we can see how the destruction of the Earth can point towards a coming end. One reoccurring problem in Marsh’s writing is how much damage man has done, and how difficult it will be to restore nature, if that is even possible.
The apocalyptic trope can be deemed a little depressing, but it stands to serve a purpose. Marsh is capable of writing about the “elephant in the room” that many people refuse to discuss. He wants readers to understand that we are the potential cause of the apocalypse and if we continue on this path, the future generations will not have to ability to enjoy the earth.

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.

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.






Marsh Apocalypse

Marsh has a strong apocalyptic trope. Where this presentation of the trope varies from the normal idea of apocalypse, is that Marsh seems to think if the world is going to end, it wont be a natural disaster, but at the hands of men. His collection of short essays in Selections from Man and Nature all chronicle mans mistreatment of nature. In Destructiveness of Man Marsh says, “ But man is everywhere a disturbing agent. Wherever he plants his foot, the harmonies of nature are turned to discords.” (34), suggesting that man cant live on this planet without destroying everything he touches.  He argues that, “all animal life feeds upon, and, of course, destroys other life,- but this destruction is balances by compensations.” (34), he goes on to say that man destroys without repaying what he has taken and that he kills way more than he can consume. Marsh shares the beliefs of Cooper in the Pioneers with the character Natty Bumppo. Marsh goes on to document and list all the destruction that man has done to the earth, all of which he implies will lead to an apocalypse, he uses examples like railroads, dams and depletion of reservoirs. His last essay, however, details what man can do to try and fix what he has done. Marsh says, “ how far man can permanently modify and ameliorate those physical conditions of terrestrial surface and climate on which his material welfare depends; how far he can compensate, arrest, or retard the deterioration which many of his agricultural and industrial processes tend to produce” (48).  He says they way to avoid the apocalypse and fix his wrongs he should make new bee hives, replant trees, repair depleted water supplies and other such works. Marsh values nature for its intrinsic value and for its uses to humans, he just wants to make sure we don’t use it all up.

Group 1’s 5th Blog Response

Nature preservationist John Muir with US Presi...

Nature preservationist John Muir with US President Theodore Roosevelt on Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, 1906; Image via Wikipedia

For this blog response, you have a few different writing options. Choose only ONE of these topics to write your response. Be sure to make it clear which question you chose in the subject line of your post. Remember, this blog response is for Group 1 only!

  1. Write a response in which you consider how the apocalypse trope functions in either George Perkins Marsh’s The Earth as Modified by Human Action or John Muir’s “The American Forests.” Possible questions to address include: What type of apocalyptic rhetoric does the author use–tragic or comic? For what purpose? Do you find this rhetorical strategy successful or problematic and why?
  2. Write a rhetorical analysis of John Muir’s article “The American Forests.” What is Muir’s purpose in writing this article? What are his main arguments? What strategies does he use to appeal to the reader? How does Muir use the rhetorical triangle (logos, pathos, and/or ethos) to convince the reader of his position? How/where does Muir anticipate and rebut counter-arguments? Do you believe these writing strategies are successful? Why or why not?
  3. Discuss the portrayal of wilderness in both Muir and Marsh’s texts. Think about the various meanings of wilderness that Garrard describes–do you see any of these definitions at work in Muir and Marsh’s texts? How do each of these authors conceive of wilderness, and what role do humans play in it? What views do they share and where do they diverge?
  4. Find a contemporary newspaper or magazine article that relates to an idea in Muir or Marsh’s text OR illustrates how the apocalypse trope functions in relation to environmental issues today. In your response, explain the connection between the article and the readings, making sure to quote from each to showcase the connection. Besides giving a BRIEF summary of the article and thoroughly explaining the connection to the readings, be sure to also address the significance of the connection. You are also required to include a link to the article in your post.

Remember, your posts should follow these requirements and guidelines:

  • Posts must be at least 300 words.
  • Posts must include at least one quote from the text. If you are writing about more than one text, then you’ll need at least one quote from each as support. If the question you chose asks for more than one quote in the instructions above, then be sure to follow those instructions.
  • Stay focused on answering the prompt question above. Avoid repeating the question and be as specific as possible in your answer.
  • Please note that you do not need to answer every “thinking question” I have posted (the questions after the bold directive). These are just options, so you could focus on one or a few. Avoid writing a response that looks like a Q & A or laundry list of answers to these smaller questions; make sure your response flows smoothly and has unity.
  • Your response should make an argument, not summarize the text. If some summary is asked for in the prompt you chose, keep that summary brief and concise.
  • Use specific moments from the text(s) to support and illustrate your argument.
  • Be sure to introduce, quote, cite, and comment on all quotes.
  • Don’t forget to tag your posts! Before adding a new tag, check the “choose from the most used tabs” menu to make sure it is not already listed.
  • Don’t forget your Works Cited!

Group 1, your blog response is due by class time on Tuesday, November 1.

Group 2, blog comments are due by class time on Thursday, November 3.

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?