Mycorrhizal Metaphors: The Buried Life of Language and Elizabeth-Jane Burnett’s "The Grassling"
Keywords:fungi, language, metaphor, memoir, Elizabeth-Jane Burnett
Fungi generate and demand subterranean thinking: thinking beyond the visible, thinking that makes connections between things previously supposed to be separate or individual. This article traces an extended subterranean metaphor that likens human language to fungal networks, showing how thinking fungally can transform how we conceive of the strange, underground life of language and our entanglements in it. The article opens with a brief exploration of the relevant mycological science and the ways in which “symbiotic” metaphors shape and transform human thinking. I then offer a close reading of Elizabeth-Jane Burnett’s beautiful reflection on the relations between memory, language and landscape, The Grassling: A Geological Memoir (2019). I show how Burnett is attuned to what I call “the buried life of language”: its subterranean or invisible connectivities, its undoing of notions of individuality and centrality, and its dispersed and incalculable mode of co-creation that troubles assumptions about human agency. I argue that the etymological and lyrical mode of The Grassling invites us to recognise what lies below the surface of land, language and consciousness, and to thereby unravel some of our restrictive anthropocentrisms.
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