The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins
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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.
Press, 2003); Jane Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the secret war in Laos, 1942–1992 (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999); Gary Yia Lee, ed., The impact of globalization and transnationalism on the Hmong (St. Paul, MN: Center for Hmong Studies, 2006). 14. Personal communication, 2007. 15. Hjorleifur Jonsson, “War’s ontogeny: Militias and ethnic boundaries in Laos and exile,” Southeast Asian Studies 47, no. 2 (2009): 125–149. CHAPTER 3. SOME PROBLEMS
relocation and internment/incarceration occurring between March–June. In August the Western Defense Commander announces that Japanese American removal and internment is complete. On the other side of things, Mexico declares war on the Axis powers on June 1st and the U.S. establishes the Bracero Program in July 1942 by executive order.” 4. The term comes from Lauren Kessler, Stubborn twig: Three generations in the life of a Japanese American family (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press,
were making it practical to remove all the trees, not just the most desirable ones; thus foresters turned to clear-cutting.12 Clear-cutting would lead to renewal even as it made the forest into units of expansion. The faster the forest was cut, according to this logic, the more productive it would become. Some local foresters were not convinced, but the force of national opinion swept them along. In the 1970s, replanting after cutting became standard practice. Aerial spraying against “weeds” was
ruination—proved disastrous. Somewhere between these extremes lie the world-building proclivities of matsutake. The decline in matsutake in Japan resulted from the loss of actively maintained village woodlands since the 1950s, particularly owing to their conversion to sugi and hinoki plantations. After the 1970s, it was too expensive for owners to maintain them; the making of new plantations stopped. That there are significant patches of pine and broadleaf forest left at all, then, derives from
traffic. This is not the plan. And yet, might not this way of enacting privatization be the saving grace for matsutake? The traffic keeps the forests open, and thus welcoming to pine; it keeps the humus thin and the soils poor, thus allowing matsutake to do its good work of enriching trees. In this area, matsutake pairs with oaks and oak relatives as well as pine; the whole young and scarred forest works with matsutake to survive on mineral soils. Without all the traffic, the duff builds up, the