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The Mushroom At The End Of The World

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing


Taking as her subject the Matsutake mushroom—prized as a gift in Japan and scavenged in ruined post-industrial forests around the world—Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing has created a grand synthesis that interrogates and integrates everything from current anthropological methodology to the foundations of Darwinism to the history of post-industrial capital formation. Tsing has done her homework: There are individual interviews with American pickers, Finnish planners, and Japanese scientists; there are histories of U.S. Forest Service regulations and Japanese village commons; there are scientific papers and field trips to labs and pickers’ camps. Using this wealth of data, Tsing creates mushroom and methodological “patches,” temporary and fluid “entanglements” of people, practices, economies, and stories that proceed from the scrub pine and Khmer pickers of the Pacific Northwest to the shipping containers and international traders of the Japanese market.

       For all its theoretical and political ambitions, The Mushroom at the End of the World is a response to a growing feeling of helplessness and despair: a sense of the precariousness of our current economic and ecological status combined with the indeterminacy of events beyond our control. And even though Tsing has managed to provide a convincing argument for a world free of the comforting fantasies of progress and stability, she has also revealed the hidden freedoms, alliances, discussions, and visions that might proceed from such a world. For Tsing, entanglement and patches are not just descriptive methodologies; they provide a new way to understand agency as shared and always emerging from interspecies, intercultural, and historical interactions. These are tools for a new type of being, a new type of knowledge, a new type of planet. Consistent for a book built on the indeterminate and precarious, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel for Anna Tsing. But there are campfires, shared stories, and, when the stars align, moments of revelation.

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