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Recensione a A. Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World

Mariaenrica Giannuzzi

Science is a translation machine. Not only because protocols and zealous

technicians select the parts to be integrated into a unified system of knowledge.

Science is also translation because its insights are drawn from diverse ways of life.

(217) Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing develops a science of the ecologies of encounter.

This science looks at every form of life across every link of the supply chain.

Every link is a source of surplus; and every link is valorized in the translation

from one form of life into another. This science behaves as unresolved translation.

Interpreting nature, as in the case of the Japanese matsutake science of Shiho

Satsuka, requires training with both the machinic parts and “the eruption of

difference.” Adventures of difference are at the core of Tsing’s groundbreaking

work The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibilities of Life in Capitalist

Ruins. Tsing’s biocentrism decenters the tales of the anthropos. The matsutake

mushroom is the nonhuman protagonist. The nonhuman lens allows multiple

transformative commodifications to emerge, and to reveal how a commodity

organizes life-cycles across the species. Or better yet, how life organizes itself

around patches of local semantics.

Tsing revels in the messiness of science. Here the mushroom plays as

a metaphor for unpredictable insurgencies. A delicacy on the Japanese and

international market, the matsutake is mostly picked in Oregon and other similarly

deforested areas. This labor is carried out by Southern Asian immigrants, as a

post-modern manifestation of freedom, and a side-job. The entanglements of

markets, rituals, the stories of pickers, environmental histories, laws, philosophies

and everyday life are so tight, that the book enhances a morphology of worldhistorical


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