Mushroom Meanderings

Mushroom at the End of the World : On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. by Tsing, Anna. Princeton University Press, 2015

“I’ve read that when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, thousands of Siberians, suddenly deprived of state guarantees, ran to the woods to collect mushrooms.” (1)

Ha, ha, ha. Ok.

Well, perhaps they did, but mushroom gathering is a joy, an entertainment, and it was a source of additional nourishment in Soviet years as well. Mushrooms always were a profound supplement for those who live in the woods, Siberians no exception.

Mushroom represent the object that triggers and arouses the excitement of the hunter and the amusement of the gatherer. Is not it fun to discover in leaves, in mud, in grass, under the tree, near the stump, something valuable, solid, crisp, shiny, edible (delectable)? Mushroom found is a surprise, a discovery, a prey, a finding, and a treasure. The hunt for mushrooms is saturated with small joys of encounter, revelation, and detection. When under the dying leaves you find a sturdy little thing, tangible, emanating the wet aroma of the sweet decay of the fall, resistant to your urge to unscrew it out of its nest, you experience a surge of pleasure.

For our family, living in Moscow, mushroom hunting (or gathering) was indeed a source of additional nourishment — not that we were starving, unlike many our contemporaries, we weren’t — but what drew us to them is an appeal of entertainment.

“When Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb in 1945, it is said, the first living thing to emerge from the blasted landscape was a matsutake mushroom.” (3)

I am fascinated here with the correspondence of the imagery: the cloud of dust and debris emerging and unfolding in the air as the bomb is dropped, famously reminds humans the mushroom popping out. Thinking about rhizome, the biological concept that was philosophized by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in “Capitalism and Schizophrenia,” mushrooms have the deliberate root system which presupposes the emergence of mushroom in any given point. “Rhizome” corresponds with the unpredictability of emergence of things, as opposed to arborescent structures, which have stems, vertical as opposed to horizontal connection, and characterized by hierarchical connections as opposed to nonlinear.

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