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Against SustainabilityReading Nineteenth-Century America in the Age of Climate Crisis$
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Michelle Neely

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780823288229

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823288229.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM FORDHAM SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.fordham.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Fordham University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in FSO for personal use.date: 05 August 2021

The Problem with Preservation: Aesthetics and Sanctuary in Catlin, Parkman, Erdrich, Melville, and Byatt

The Problem with Preservation: Aesthetics and Sanctuary in Catlin, Parkman, Erdrich, Melville, and Byatt

Chapter:
(p.85) Chapter 3 The Problem with Preservation: Aesthetics and Sanctuary in Catlin, Parkman, Erdrich, Melville, and Byatt
Source:
Against Sustainability
Author(s):

Michelle C. Neely

Publisher:
Fordham University Press
DOI:10.5422/fordham/9780823288229.003.0004

Chapter three traces preservation’s antebellum theorization and long-lasting repercussions. The first parts of this chapter delineate the flawed aesthetic logic of preservation, beginning with the earliest proposal for a “Nation’s Park” in painter and writer George Catlin’s Letters and Notes (1844). Preservation emerges as an environmental ethic because indigenous, “wild” natural spectacles are imagined to benefit an expanding, increasingly “civilized” white U.S. population. While Catlin calls for preservation of the beauty he sees in the Plains peoples, bison, and their threatened landscape, Francis Parkman Jr.’s The Oregon Trail (1849) writes of an ugliness in need of violent eradication. Louise Erdrich’s Shadow Tag (2010) illustrates the pernicious persistence of such aesthetic violence. The final portion of the chapter illuminates preservation’s flawed spatial logic. Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) rejects the possibility of whale extinction by insisting that whales have ocean sanctuaries to which they can retreat. A. S. Byatt’s plastic pollution tale, “Sea Story” (2013), plays out the destructive twenty-first-century consequences of Moby-Dick’s romantic ideas about nature. Altogether, the chapter suggests that preservation is an environmental ethic imbricated in settler colonialism, incapable of fostering meaningful human or interspecies community, and whose meagre benefits only continue to diminish as anthropogenic climate crisis intensifies.

Keywords:   A. S. Byatt, George Catlin, Louise Erdrich, extinction, Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, Francis Parkman Jr., plastic, pollution, preservation

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