Posts Tagged ‘George Perkins Marsh’

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.


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.

News Article relating to George Perkins Marsh “Selections From Man and Nature.”

George Perkins Marsh “Selection from Man and Nature” emphasizes that “Earth was given to him for usufruct alone, not for consumption, still less profligate waste” (Marsh 389). Yet, man-made creations such as the automobile relies on oil, which is a fossil fuel that is essentially one of the causes of global warming. Marsh presents man to be separated from nature. By separating Man and Earth, there is room for conflict and struggle. Marsh says “ but with stationary life or at least with the pastoral state, man at once commences an almost indiscriminate warfare upon all forms of animal and vegetable existence around him, and he advances in civilization, he gradually eradicates or transforms every spontaneous product of the soil he occupies” (Marsh 393). I found an article that connects the underlying theme of how mankind is a contributor to the destruction of the Earth. In “skeptic finds he now agrees global warming is real” by Seth Borenstein, Richard Muller, a Physicist, has spent the last two years trying to determine whether Global Warming is an actual phenomenon. After much research and deliberation, Muller came to the conclusion that our current temperatures are much higher than temperatures in the past. Muller does not present new information to the table. What is interesting is that Muller’s project was funded by other skeptics. For example, Charles Koch Foundation donated one quarter of the $600,000. The Koch family along with others is known to run oil and other greenhouse gas operations.

According to many scientists, global warming is largely due to greenhouse gases. According to Shawn Lawrence Otto, Muller has switched sides and thus is not welcomed in the skeptic’s community anymore. Otto said, “”Now he’s considered a traitor. For the skeptic community, this isn’t about data or fact. It’s about team sports. He’s been traded to the Indians. He’s playing for the wrong team now.” This article is not very different from other global warming articles. The information concurs with the information from other climate scientist. However, “they question how much of it is man-made, view it as less a threat and argue it’s too expensive to do something about, Otto said.” Temperature is always fluctuating. What contributes to these dramatic temperature changes is man’s conscious decision to partake. It is as though man does not realize that his actions have consequences. Marsh said “ the action of man, indeed, is frequently followed by unforeseen and undesired results, yet is nevertheless guided by a self- conscious will aiming as often at secondary and remote as at immediate objects” (Marsh 393). Both the article and Marsh’s excerpt’s question what is the final goal or objection of the decision man- kind take as a whole. The question these large corporations have to address is whether or not they know the ramifications of the burning fossil fuels, clearing parts or entire forests and if they know the consequences, could the government, which is supposed to serve at te best interest of the people and have judgment allow such matters? In the end, our conscious derives from knowledge. the better informed we are the better choices we can make as a whole!


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.


Can find article here:




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.






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.