|[a] Structure RL|
|[b] Event RL|
Still, even twenty years ago, I could not shake the feeling that both Pierre Bourdieu and Marshall Sahlins could not resist the temptations to skip ahead to the analysis of large structures. I have always considered this a pedagogical, if not (necessarily) theoretical problem. What follows is my rethinking of Bourdieu and Sahlins—Structure 101; it is not so much a critique as a reexamination of what they might see as “simple” matters, but which I regard as vitally important to understanding structure on Chinese mountains.
For me, human beings are structure-negotiating animals. We are interpreting, altering, being constrained by, and fighting “structures” all of the time. These range from mountains of rock (constraining our actions as we move from base to peak) and even gravity to much more ethereal “structures” such as expectations about how to dress, act, travel, and pray. Bourdieu’s notion of habitus is very effective here, but I still like to think of things such as traffic laws as structures, fully invoking the Durkheimian idea of constraint. We “negotiate” a speed limit, to be sure (and people do, too, in China), but constraining forces are at work, including the one that “allows” you to go four or nine miles per hour over the limit—but not twenty).
|[c] No "I" in "teem" RL|
From there, structures continue. For purposes of explanation, I refer to Level Three structures in terms of genre, ideas, and the like. The rules of chess or sonnet composition would be included in this intellectual catch-all category. So, too, would the requirements for a BA degree or the expectations (within any field of study) of what constitutes a doctoral dissertation. Although there is enormous room here for quibbling and revision, it is not hard to get the idea that structures impose constraints of wildly different kinds. History or event is how we happen to “negotiate the structure” at any particular time (I take a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Shanghai and negotiate the Pacific Ocean structure; I drive sixty-eight miles an hour and skirt traffic laws on I-90 in southern Wisconsin). Culture for my purposes is…well, habitus. It is the way that most people at any time happen to negotiate any particular structures.
|[d] Change RL|
Let us now take this set of concepts to the mountains. Negotiating physical space is the first structural challenge, and it is much easier to do now than it was eighty or two-hundred years ago. Getting to Longevity Mountain now requires a plane to Changsha and a bumpy three-hour bus ride to the village of South Peak (or a train and a forty-minute cab ride to the town that is structurally prevented by mountains—for now—from having a train station). Negotiation of the incense seller stalls is another structural challenge. There are thousands (no exaggeration) of almost identical stores or roadside stalls. Then there is the hotel industry in a tourist village. Structures. Pricing. The next stop is the Nanyue (South Peak) Temple. Enter from the “back.” Walk to the back and enter from the “front.” Structure. The temple is structured, but the main event is at the furnaces. Sacrifice. Supplication. Teeming religious energy.
Or not. Visitors from Taiwan are often scandalized by what they regard as the ignorance of pilgrims from the People’s Republic of China, where religious ritual experienced a gap of at least a generation and as many as three, depending on how one counts. For the visitor from Taiwan or Hong Kong, it is as natural as can be to burn one’s incense stick with a tight, red, unobtrusive ember. That is “correct”. For the religiously experienced (in this setting), it is natural. Habitus.
|[f] Trail RL|
Not so much for visitors from far-flung parts of the People’s Republic of China. While many people, young and old, have relearned or remembered the habitus of old (nice, evenly-burning incense), it is startling—I came of ethnographic age in Taiwan—to see the flaming torches of incendiary danger and borderline sacrilege that have become very common in Chinese temples. It is as though thirty years of religious suppression has erased thirty centuries of patterned religiosity. At least partly. On every sacred mountain temple in China today, there is at least one prominent fire extinguisher as evidence that structures change, and are capable of burning down a temple…structure.
And change back. It is as though Chinese temple visitors on the sacred mountains are relearning the old ways—but in a new way. Structures change. To come full circle with Pierre Bourdieu (and I paraphrase)…it is as though we don’t know what we’re doing…ever. We are feeling our way through life with the aid of vaguely remembered habits (habitus; habiti) and even more scantily remembered ideas of what we ought to do. We are feeling our way through life and culture and history in much the way that we find our way to the bathroom in the dark in a familiar house (most of the time) and an unfamiliar one (some of the time).
|[g] Trodden RL|
Life is tough.
This is my message, and it piggybacks on the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Marshall Sahlins. We are structure-negotiating animals, and we weave our way from Changsha to South Peak Village, on to the temple and the furnaces, and up the mountain (by one means of transportation or another) to the Zhurong Temple on the peak.
Our travels are structured every step of the way, indeed, they are constrained in significant (gravity, rock) and minor (incense here but not there) ways. These patterns are learned, remembered, and (sometimes) changed. That is why people take buses and cable cars to the (near) peak.