New book from Anna Tsing: The Mushroom at the End of the World: on the possibility of life in capitalist ruins

k10581The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, coming from Princeton this September, details here.

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).


“Scientists and artists know that the way to handle an immense topic is often through close attention to a small aspect of it, revealing the whole through the part. In the shape of a finch’s beak we can see all of evolution. So through close, indeed loving, attention to a certain fascinating mushroom, the matsutake, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing discusses how the whole immense crisis of ecology came about and why it continues. Critical of simplistic reductionism, she offers clear analysis, and in place of panicked reaction considers possibilities of rational, humane, resourceful behavior. In a situation where urgency and enormity can overwhelm the mind, she gives us a real way to think about it. I’m very grateful to have this book as a guide through the coming years.”—Ursula K. Le Guin

“If we must survive in the ‘ruins of capitalism’—what some call the Anthropocene—we need an example of how totally unexpected connections can be made between the economy, culture, biology, and survival strategies. In this book, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing offers a marvelous example with the unlikely case of a globalized mushroom.”—Bruno Latour, author of An Inquiry into Modes of Existence

“This is a thoughtful, insightful, and nuanced exploration of the relationships between people and landscapes, landscapes and mushrooms, mushrooms and people. Anthropologists, historians, ecologists, and mushroom lovers alike will appreciate the depth and sensitivity with which Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing follows this modern global commodity chain, from the forests of North America and China to the auction markets of Japan.”—David Arora, author of Mushrooms Demystified

You can get some sense of the project from the video below starting at about 1:03, when Tsing presents:

Charles Vörösmarty, Water in the 21st Century: Sources of Pessimism, Sources of Optimism

Sunita Narain: Challenges for water security in the poor’s world

Keywords for the Age of Austerity 19: Resilience

Keywords: The New Language of Capitalism

Resilience, n., “Elasticity; the power of resuming an original shape or position after compression, bending, etc.”

“The quality or fact of being able to recover quickly or easily from, or resist being affected by, a misfortune, shock, illness, etc.; robustness; adaptability.”

“Resilience” is everywhere, its popularity rising proportionally with the dangers, or perceptions of dangers, facing the planet: climate change, food shortages, financial crisis, or for the Wall Street journal crowd, strikes (also fire and hurricanes). The definitions of the currently voguish term differ, but most trace its origin to C.S. Holling, an environmental scientist who defined it as “a measure of the persistence of systems and of their ability to absorb change and disturbance and still maintain the same relationships between populations.” The field Holling pioneered, “ecological economics,” applied this concept to the management of natural resources, especially in the third world, which…

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I found Wark’s recent book quite good, and it has produced some interesting conversation between Zizek and Wark as well. Here is a recent talk:

Mass Extinction, Security & Intervention in the Anthropocene

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No Promises: Mass Extinction, Security and Intervention in the Anthropocene
The concept of ‘security’ is paradoxical. It acknowledges the fragility of life and promotes strategies of ‘survival’ to mitigate this condition. Yet it also presumes that human interventions can guarantee survival – that is, ensure that life and death ‘go on’. This belief in the power of human agency to shape the conditions of being is epitomized by Anthropocene security interventions, ranging from military invasions to conservation norms to massive geo-engineering projects. But does the concept of security have any meaning in the face of mass extinction? I argue that the temporal dimensions of mass extinction undercut the possibility of security in several ways. First, extinction is not simply an aggregation of deaths; it marks the cessation of both life and death. This undermines the biopolitical logics that contemporary security discourses, especially notions of ‘resilience’ that emphasise the persistence of life processes through time. Second, mass extinction…

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