Wednesday, October 13, 2010

American wilderness: Michel Foucault, Care of the Self, How it would work in Virtual Harbin

Harbin ethnography:

... Residents in the actual Harbin Village may well go in and out of their houses, if they choose to, in virtual Harbin, while participating in these far-reaching, digital, communicative practices, especially by participating in the building of virtual Harbin, perhaps like building the Harbin Temple in 2005.

Foucault's Care of the Self and Harbin Hot Springs

In examining how caring for the self functions, Michel Foucault, in the 'Course Summary' in his "Hermeneutics of the Subject," problematizes how caring works. For Foucault, care of the self - epimeleia heautou and cura sui (Foucault 1982: 491) - refers philosophically to taking care of oneself and being concerned about oneself. For Foucault, this involves a kind of therapeutic practice, and also having free time to further this. For Foucault, even as a philosophical activity, it's “a form of activity, where the term epimeleia itself refers not just to an attitude of awareness or a form of attention focused on oneself; it designates a regular occupation, a work with its methods and objectives" (Foucault 1982:493). So the questions I'll problematize in this essay are: “How would care of the self 'function' on-the-ground at Harbin Hot Springs?” What does the concept of self-knowledge (Foucault 1982:494), in caring for the self, refer to for Foucault, using Harbin as a site of inquiry? And what does the concept of askesis (Foucault 1982:498) refer to, also in relation to Harbin. Lastly, what are examples of practices of care of the self at Harbin? Harbin is significant as a site of inquiry because it's an unique assemblage that may make possible specific ways to care for the self.

Foucault uses the metaphor of a farm as his first example of how caring for the self would function, presumably referring to farming practices - caring for and raising plants and animals, presumably as one would oneself. Engaging this metaphor, the aspect of how caring for the self 'functions' that I'm most interested in, vis-a-vis Foucault, has to do with the flourishing and effortlessness that farms at certain times of the year exhibit, to which the practice of farming as a form of caring would give rise.

Foucault's starting point is the “Alcibiades,” concerning the care of the self, in relation to politics, pedagogy, and self-knowledge. With regard to pedagogy, engaging the practice of philosophy – thinking as an activity - provides a method for caring of the self at all ages. For Foucault, this consists of three functions: 1) a critical function (unlearning), 2) struggle (engagement) and 3) the culture of the self which is therapeutic and curative (Foucault 1982:495-496).

For Foucault, care of the self occurs through askesis (self-formation) – training as an athlete would (Foucault 1982:498). For Foucault this includes 1) listening, 2) writing, and 3) taking stock of oneself (Foucault 1982:500). These activities of self-formation engage then the activity of thinking – the practice of philosophy. The purpose of these care of the self techniques, through askesis, is to link together the truth and the subject.

So, the problematization that interests me most, in terms of caring for the self, vis-a-vis the metaphor of the farm, and the practices of self-learning and askesis (self-formation), is how one might cultivate this flourishing which a farm exhibits at certain times of the year, through pedagogy and askesis, informed by philosophy, as a set of practices, in relation to Harbin Hot Springs.

As a farmer can help a farm to flourish through practices that shape it, caring for the self at Harbin Hot Springs, a hot springs' retreat center in northern California that emerged from counterculture in the early 1970s, occurs in a specific assemblage of practices for caring of the self. Fieldwork is one important approach to understanding this assemblage. In addition to examining Harbin ethnographically as a field site, I'd like to problematize the care of the self vis-a-vis Harbin additionally by creating a virtual Harbin - an interactive assemblage - in the form of a field (farm) or even a field site. Creating a virtual Harbin Hot Springs might then even make possible a cultivation of comparable assemblages - actual and virtual Harbins - both of which might lead to an understanding of the care of the self vis-a-vis flourishing, in the ongoing examination of how caring for the self functions.

To further this problematization, and in conclusion, if one constructed a virtual Harbin using OpenSimulator (using open access virtual world software which engages the Second Life library of resources) as open equipment (Koopman et al 2007), how would care of the self function, in terms of pedagogy and askesis in this context? Both writing (ethnography) and programming (vis-a-vis virtual world building), as practices, could then contribute to problematizing the care of the self in new ways.

With respect to Foucault, (as well as vis-a-vis his studies of sexuality, the communication practices I'm interested in, vis-a-vis actual and virtual Harbin, emerging out of the freedom-seeking movements of the 1960s, are communal, idea-sharing oriented, and emerge into a new space – the Harbin pamphlet “Living the Future” (1996) is one example of this – through the creation of both actual and virtual Harbin, where life at actual Harbin may find novel, creative, New Age forms in virtual Harbin. ...


Masanobu Fukuoka (pioneer of ‘natural farming’ in Japan and author of "One Straw Revolution") and Bill Mollison

( - October 13, 2010)

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