The Mushroom At The End of the World - after capitalism

I wrote a comment the other day in BNR where I post several each morning, and ChroneWit suggested that I post the comment here on C99% as an article.

That comment was on Karl Polanyi who wrote a classic book on political economics in 1946 that is relevant today in Bernie's democratic socialism. The title of the article is "Karl Polnayi for President" Here is a link to that comment. The big insight for me was to realize that Bernie is speaking about RIGHTS, not policies. Right to health care, etc.

Bernie calls for rights, not just policies

This post is about a book that I just found out about and some people here may be interested in reading the whole book review. Again I posted this as a comment to BNR (Bernie News Roundup)

The Mushroom At The End of the World

I will give the punchline first and then go into a book review. This is the home page from Princeton University Press that published the book.

Matsutake is the most valuable mushroom in the world—and a weed that grows in human-disturbed forests across the northern hemisphere. Through its ability to nurture trees, matsutake helps forests to grow in daunting places. It is also an edible delicacy in Japan, where it sometimes commands astronomical prices. In all its contradictions, matsutake offers insights into areas far beyond just mushrooms and addresses a crucial question: what manages to live in the ruins we have made?

A tale of diversity within our damaged landscapes, The Mushroom at the End of the World follows one of the strangest commodity chains of our times to explore the unexpected corners of capitalism. Here, we witness the varied and peculiar worlds of matsutake commerce: the worlds of Japanese gourmets, capitalist traders, Hmong jungle fighters, industrial forests, Yi Chinese goat herders, Finnish nature guides, and more. These companions also lead us into fungal ecologies and forest histories to better understand the promise of cohabitation in a time of massive human destruction.

By investigating one of the world’s most sought-after fungi, The Mushroom at the End of the World presents an original examination into the relation between capitalist destruction and collaborative survival within multispecies landscapes, the prerequisite for continuing life on earth.

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Niels Bohr Professor at Aarhus University in Denmark, where she codirects Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene (AURA). She is the author of Friction and In the Realm of the Diamond Queen (both Princeton).

A book review will be linked at the bottom. The first paragraph starts off

Yeah. What a nice book. Thank goodness there are feminists at the controls as we enter the ecological—which is to say, truly post-modern (note the hyphen) era. This is a profoundly nonviolent, and therefore genuinely threatening, book
Isn’t that an insight? Non violence is a threat. Sounds like us in the Bernie movement. But what about the end of the earth?

The first paragraph continues right off with a contrast — men to the fight

I was shocked by how Simon Critchley chose to enter ecological discursive space on the back of Roy Scranton’s Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: “We’re fucked. We know it. Kind of.” Do we? Do we know that? Or is that one of those lies in the form of the truth, the kind that show up in Blake’s Songs of Experience? And since when did being fucked count as the worst thing that could happen to “us”?

Not through with the first paragraph — it continues

And since when did being fucked equal the triumphantly horrified rubbernecking of one’s own catastrophe, which incidentally implies the horrifying extinction of actually existing nonhumans? And furthermore, since when did a deconstructor feel like resorting to an explosive monosyllabic slap upside the head (seven of them, actually in three “punchy” sentences), as if we needed any more slapping from any direction whatsoever,

And here comes the author of the book — mushrooms & neo liberal economics still in the first paragraph

slapping from any direction whatsoever, given what Anna Tsing says, absolutely accurately, about the current state of neoliberal play in this wonderfully playful yet serious, light yet strong, fleeting yet resilient, collective yet not communitarian mushroom of a book? A very particular mushroom, just like the very particular mushroom (the Japanese matsutake) that is its occasion.

Skipping the second short paragraph and the first part of the third paragraph to

...The horror-aggression of We’re fucked is destructive agricultural logistics in full-throated tragedy mode (Oedipally “knowing it”), tragedy being how agricultural society computes (but doesn’t at all transcend) its operating software: OMG, I killed my dad! We need to find the laughter. Then perhaps we can cry for real. Out with the corn fields, bring on the mushrooms on the forest floor.

The author of the book review is an English Professor but I know him from the philosophers he runs around with. I too often am in a defeatist mood about the end of the earth …

This really got my attention

This is a book that shows you how to live beyond the deadly concept survival(27–34), ….

Are we ready to live beyond the deadly concept survival? I will have to think about that...

Tsing points out that according to legend it was a mushroom that first grew out of the devastation of Hiroshima’s mushroom cloud. Like Adorno’s Beckett’s Watt, mushrooms seem to get on with the “going on” business in a post-1945, Great Acceleration world. (The Great Acceleration, that is, of the Anthropocene, a massive upward spike in Earth system disaster chemicals.) But unlike Watt, this is a going-on with a delicious flavor and dirty flair rather than knotted stuttering…...

“Our first step is to bring back curiosity” (6). Exactly. Horror is just the tail end of the literal scorched-earth policies of mass extinction. Our ability to think otherwise, to keep the future open, is collateral damage. Curiosity is a playful, possibly eroticized peering at ground level, far below the floodlights of the patriarchal-agricultural gaze, living like a small rodent after the dinosaur-wiping asteroid. Critique has collapsed into cynical reason, we think we know all the answers: “We’re fucked. We know it.” But cynical reason is impossible in an ecological era, because interdependence reduces every decision (cognitive, social or otherwise) to hypocrisy: there is no way to achieve escape velocity from one’s “living-space entanglements” as Tsing puts it (6), and that means not everyone can be included in one’s network—a one-size-fits-all format (again, in philosophical or social or psychic space) is impossible. As one rushes to protect the bunnies, bunny parasites get the thin end of the wedge. There is no way to get it “right”—and this book plays joyfully with this fragile predicament on so very many levels that one realizes one can’t find a one-size-fits-all format for a book review. The book mushrooms, bursting with pesky spores.

That’s enough. If you want more, you will have to go to the book review. And there are many more insights there.

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s “The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins”

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Hi Don,
I lived in Japan and love me some maitake , which BTW translateso as 'dancing mushroom', either because its frilly edges are like a dancer,s flowing costume or because they are so delicious and rare that one dances with joy upon finding some. At least, that's the lay person's explanation.

I like a lot of the ideas touched on in your piece, but couldn't make much sense of the whole. I'll have to read it again!

Thanks for sharing this food for thought (pun intended!) I will look for this book.

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