Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hot Springs: Harbin Hot Springs and Modernity

Harbin Hot Springs and Modernity

I'd like to examine how Harbin Hot Springs as {countercultural} place (Basso) that gives rise to an unique culture (Aubrey, Herder, Brothers Grimm) which emerges as a response to modernity (Baumann & Briggs). By examining this binary relation vis-à-vis de Certeau ("Practices of the Everyday"), 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 Herder's and the Brother Grimm's 'constructions' of traditionality vis-à-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. As place (Basso), too, I'll examine questions of the poetics of Harbin as place, where the experience of 'oneness' as part of the founder Ishvara's understanding of Harbin and New Age practices - particularly in the pools {and the 'relaxation response'} and uniquely mediated by Harbin's milieu - emerges in response to modernity; traditionality, vis-à-vis Native American practices are similarly invoked by Harbin residents and in Harbin literature. As a response to modernity, Harbin's beautiful, natural setting 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') 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 examine ways in which people anthropologically might elicit similar virtual experiences {i.e. in their bathtubs} to those that people actually have at Harbin {i.e. the relaxation response in the pools}, as well as related 'flow: the psychology of optimal experience' experiences (Csikszentmihalyi), thus engaging a virtual experience of Harbin. As a virtual “field site,” I'll examine also ways in which a virtual Harbin may become a countercultural ‘destination’ as field site unto itself, vis-à-vis modernity.

The pools 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, astrological, Human Potential Movement, wildman (Taussig), environmental, and communitarian ideas to cast modernity in a unique-to-Harbin way which gives form to Harbin's milieu, both actually and in a virtual world.

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