The Mushroom at the End of the World

This is a book by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing about matsutake, a mushroom that grows only in disturbed forests. It showed me how different cultures approach differently to the issues of conservation and exploitation, and how resurgence happens with nature discovering ways to rebalance the mess we make.

I read this:

What do you do when your world starts to fall appart? I go for a walk, and if I’m really lucky, I find mushrooms.

and then I knew this book has many things to teach me :slight_smile:

Here I want to highlight quotes from the book related to three topics.

Issues of scale

  • A rush of stories cannot be neatly summed up. Its scales do not nest neatly; they draw attention to interrupting geographies and tempos. […] these interruptions […] step out of the bounds of science, which demands the possibility for infinite expansion without changing the research framework. […] To have any hope of thinking with mushrooms, we must get outside this expectation.

  • […] scalability banishes meaningful diversity, that is, diversity that might change things.

  • It is time to turn attention to the nonscalable, not only as objects for description but also as incitements to theory.

  • [Investors] posited that everything on earth–and beyond–might be scalable, and thus exchangeable at market values. This was utilitarianism, which eventually congealed as modern economics and contributed to forging more scalability–or at least its appearance.

Life in a damaged planet

  • We are stuck with the problem of living despite economic and ecological ruination. Neither tales of progress nor of ruin tell us how to think about collaborative survival.

  • Even when disguised through […] terms such as “agency,” “consciousness,” and “intention,”, we learn over and over that humans are different from the rest of the living world because we look forward–while other species, which live day to day, are thus depending on us.

  • […] the modern human conceit is not the only plan for making worlds: we are surrounded by many world-making projects, human and not human. World-making projects emerge from practical activities for making lives; in the process these projects alter our planet.

  • staying alive–for every species–requires livable collaborations. Collaboration means working across difference, which leads to contamination. Without collaborations, we all die.

  • The diversity that allows us to enter collaborations emerges from histories of extermination, imperialism, and all the rest. Contamination makes diversity.

  • Restoration requires disturbance–but disturbance to enhance diversity and the healthy functioning of ecosystems.

  • Disturbance realigns possibilities for transformative encounter.

  • I search for fugitive moments of entanglement in midst of institutionalized alienation. These are sites in which to seek allies. One might think of them as latent commons. They are latent in two senses: first, while ubiquitous, we rarely notice them, and second, they are undeveloped. They bubble with unrealized possibilities; they are elusive.

  • Latent commons are not exclusive human enclaves. Opening the commons to other beings shifts everything. Once we include pests and diseases, we can’t hope for harmony; the lion will not lie down with the lamb. And organisms don’t just eat each other; they also make divergent ecologies. Latent commons are those mutualist and nonantagonistic entanglements found within the play of this confusion.

  • Latent commons are not good for everyone. Every instance of collaboration makes room for some and leaves out others. Whole species lose out in some collaborations. The best we can do is to aim for “good-enough” worlds, where “good-enough” is always imperfect and under revision.

  • Latent [commons] don’t insitutionalize well. Attempts to turn the commons into policy are commendably brave, but they do not capture the effervescence of the latent commons. The latent commons moves in law’s interstices; it is catalyzed by infraction, infection, inattention–and poaching.

  • Latent commons cannot redeem us. Some radical thinkers hope that progress will lead us to a redemptive and utopian commons. In contrast, the latent commons is here and now, amidst the trouble. And humans are never fully in control.

The arts of noticing

  • […] agnostic about where we are going, we might look for what has been ignored because it never fit the time line of progress.

  • It is in listening to that cacophony of troubled stories that we might encounter our best hopes for precarious survival.

  • […] I understand that we are learning to listen–even if we don’t yet know how to have a discussion.

  • How, for example, shall we make common cause with other living beings? Listening is no longer enough; other forms of awareness will have to kick in.

  • It makes no sense to crystallize first principles or seek natural laws that generate best cases. Instead, I practice arts of noticing. I comb through the mess of existing worlds-in-the-making, looking for treasures–each distinctive and unlikely to be found again, at least in that form.

1 Like