Anna L. TsingDec 6, 2015
The Mushroom at the End of the World
On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins
Princeton University Press 2015
Anna L. Tsing's new book is on my new (as of this post) list of Must-Read-Books-That-All-Humans-Who-Can-Read-Should-Read-And-That-Nonhumans-Should-Find-A-Way-To-Somehow-Engage-Even-If-Reading-Is-Not-Their-Thing. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton University Press, 2015) joyfully bursts forth in a "riot of short chapters" that collectively open out into a mushroom-focused exploration of what Tsing refers to as a "third nature," or "what manages to live despite capitalism." Tsing's book is based on fieldwork conducted between 2004 and 2011 in the US, Japan, Canada, China, and Finland, plus interviews with scientists, foresters, and matsutake traders in those places and in Denmark, Sweden, and Turkey. The book is an exemplar of the kind of work that can come out of thoughtful and extended scholarly collaboration, here resulting from Tsing's work with the Matsutake Worlds Research Group. The book treats matsutake mushrooms as objects and companions that are good to think with, offering an exuberant picture of what it might look like to live "in our messes" as parts of contaminated and contaminating multispecies worlds and assemblages. Tsing calls for renewed attention to the importance of "arts of noticing," of curiosity, of play, of polyphony, of adventure. And at the same time as it accomplishes all of this, The Mushroom at the End of the World is deeply committed to telling stories, taking us into moments in the lives of individual smellers and sellers and pickers and tasters and bosses and crusaders. It is a wonderful work of ethnography that, in many ways, transcends genre and discipline.