Monday, December 15, 2008

Harbin Hot Springs and Modernity in Progress

Harbin Hot Springs and Modernity

In this paper I'll examine how Harbin Hot Springs as {countercultural} place (Basso) that gives rise to an unique culture (Aubrey, Herder, Brothers Grimm) emerges as a response to modernity (Baumann & Briggs). By examining this binary relation vis-a-vis de Certeau, I'll examine ways in which Harbin as counterculture emerges as a form of tactic in relation to the techno-rational-bureaucratic-legal 'strategies' of modernity. To do this, I'll examine Harbin particularly as a construction of place in terms of Aubrey's, Herder's and Grimm's 'constructions' of traditionality vis-a-vis Romanticism, but also in terms of Harbin as a singularity (Kopytoff). Using interviews and textual analyses, I'll examine also how today's Harbin Hot Springs, emerging from the late 1960s and early 1970s (as counterculture), then, gives rise to place-related practices that instantiate, in an ongoing way, alternative practices in relation to modernity. I'll also examine questions of the poetics (Basso) of Harbin as place, where the experience of 'oneness' as part of the founder Ishvara's understanding of Harbin and New Age practices (and the relaxation response) - particularly in the pools, and uniquely mediated by Harbin's milieu - emerges in response to modernity; traditionality, vis-a-vis Native American practices, is similarly invoked by Harbin residents and in Harbin literature. As a response to modernity, Harbin and it's beautiful, natural setting – it's culture - thus makes possible a return to 'nature,' accentuated by the pools. I'll then examine ways in which Harbin as emerging from counterculture informs a reading of modernity as culture.

In my project to create a virtual Harbin in OpenSim / Second Life 3-D virtual world software, which is ethnographically comparable with actual Harbin, I'll explore ways that information technology and virtual world software emerge from the 'project' of modernity, and in which an 'alternative' virtual Harbin makes in-world (in a virtual 'space' or 'place') ethnographic fieldwork possible through the creation of a virtual field, thus giving rise to new instantiations of countercultural place, virtually. In so doing, however, I'll then examine ways in which people anthropologically might elicit similar virtual experiences {i.e. in-world, in their bathtubs} to those that people experience at Harbin actually {e.g. the relaxation response in the pools}, as well as related 'flow: the psychology of optimal experience' experiences (Csizszentmihalyi) in Harbin's milieu, thus engaging a virtual experience of 'actual' Harbin. As a virtual “field site,” I'll examine also ways in which a virtual Harbin may become a countercultural ‘destination’ or 'place' as field site unto itself, vis-a-vis modernity.

The pools and pool area, and Harbin itself, are central to the Harbin experience as a retreat (from modernity), and many people come to Harbin simply to soak in the pools and relax in the pool area, but also for its alternative culture. This going-to-natural-hot-springs took on unique (counter)cultural and historical expressions in the 1960s and 1970s, which I'll also use to contextualize Harbin's emergence. Methodologically, I'll use fieldwork and interviews to examine how through language (parole in de Certeau's usage) Harbin residents, in what is loosely a hippie commune, engage New Age, Astrology, the Human Potential Movement, wild man (Taussig), environmentalist, and communitarian ideas to cast modernity in an unique-to-Harbin way, that gives form to Harbin's milieu, both actually and in a virtual world.

My argument is that the possibility of virtual Harbin creates new possible articulations of culture technology, and ultimately, an expression of modernity, or something new vis-a-vis an Information Technology Revolution discourse, emerging from counterculture. I'd like to study if and how the far-reaching aspects of Harbin's culture can take shape in virtual Harbin.

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