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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Brilliant Pirsig might be something of an American Montaigne, producing readable philosophy with a minimum of abtractions That s a gift After undergoing electro convulsive therapy 28 times, Pirsig, in this book, gives his formerly insane self a doppelg nger like alter ego, Phaedrus, and bravely tries to piece together that formerly insane self s thought in order to learn from it This alone is fascinating At the same time Pirsig is reviewing aspects of eastern and western philosophical thought If you are a philosophy major, however, maybe this book s not for you For me, however, the book s essential I need books that make philosophy comprehensible All too often I find the great geniuses incoherent amid their heaped abstractions Another recent philosophy decrypting book I found helpful was Sarah Bakewell s At the Existentialist Caf Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails, in which the author lays bare the foundations of phenomenology and existentialism Another was Walter Kaufman s Nietsche Philosopher Psychologist Antichrist But while those books are, in the first case, explications of two related schools of philosophy, and in the second, of a particular philosopher s thought and how it was abused by fascists, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a forensic reconstruction of a philosophy which sent its author to the nut house.In that respect alone, the book represents an astonishing act of bravery in the face of unimaginable suffering Quality is explained as part of a trinity not equivalent to mind and matter, but anterior to it Quality is the proto reality that exists before our minds can hitch analogues to sensed perceptions I didn t quite understand it at first either Probably because these were the arguments that led Phaedrus to 28 electro convulsive therapies and a long hospitalization He felt something let go and was overwhelmed with a whole new flood of philosophical associations He pulls out his copy of the Tao Te Ching and there it is, his idea of Quality, as revealed by the mystic Lao Tzu 2,400 years ago Insanity.But then slowly, under the patient questioning of the recovered post treatment Pirsig, the argument begins to coalesce We are then introduced to Jules Henri Poincar and learn of the crisis in the exact sciences of his day Poincar goes on to discover the subjectivity of systems, his point of departure being Euclid s troublesome Fifth Postulate Poincar determines that it is facts which are infinite and it is up to the human mind to select subliminal factual harmonies the mathematicians s beautiful proof, for example which rises to consciousness seemingly unbidden in the form of eureka moments Thereby, says Poincar , are systems devised and they are legion In coming to this conclusion, it turns out, Poincar long ago built a back channel to the idea of Quality Phaedrus would develop.The difference between a good mechanic and a bad mechanic, like the difference between a good mathematician and a bad one, is precisely this ability to select the good facts from the bad ones on the basis of quality He has to careThis is an ability about which formal traditional scientific method has nothing to say It s long past time to take a closer look at this qualitative preselection of facts which has seemed so scrupulously ignored by those who make so much of these facts after they are observed I think that it will be found that a formal acknowledgment of the role of Quality in the scientific process doesn t destroy the empirical vision at all It expands it, strengthens it and brings it far closer to actual scientific practice p.288 I have neglected to mention the alternative narrative with which all this woolgathering is contrasted Moby Dick style and that is the cross country motorcycle trip the author takes through Montana and Idaho and Oregon and California with his son, Chris That storyline ties in with the philosophy in a subtle mutually supporting way that s a joy to read I enjoyed the attack on Aristotle, whom I ve always found unreadable But how Pirsig can make sitting through doctoral seminars so riveting is something to be pondered It helps, I suppose, if one s teachers are complete assholes, as they are here The haymaker Phaedrus delivers to the glass jaw of the Great Books curriculum at the University of Chicago is enormous fun to read about Phaedrus attends a course on rhetoric there that is by Pirsig s later definition insane Pirsig claims that everything not on the metaphorical train of Quality is by definition insanity That s why he can t leave the train, no one can I look forward to reading this one again A Great Book in itself perhaps Recommended with alacrity. There are three threads weaving through this book none of which, as is pointed out, has much to do with either eastern philosophy or with motorcycle maintenance The first is a straightforward narration by a man riding across the country with his young son and two friends a married couple This evocative travelogue is by far the most enjoyable aspect of the novel.The second element is a sort of mystery as that man struggles with his memory it s gradually revealed that he s on the road both to escape his past and to attempt to remember it.The last thread is where the book just falls apart Through the narrator s dialogue with himself, Pirsig puts forward his ludicrous philosophy of quality, which essentially holds that quality, whatever that might be, is somehow the fundamental reality of the universe If that sounds like nonsense then you understand it perfectly.When we find out why the narrator had lost his memory in the first place, the answers don t live up to any expectations we might have been unfortunate enough to have developed. When I was quite young my brain said to me, after a particularly long and stoned session listening to Pink Floyd and discussing philosophy, oh give me a break So I said to my brain, there s no need to be so rude, and my brain said, no seriously, I can t handle this any, really, let me take a break So it did and I ve been operating on brain stem alone ever since I don t know it s made that much difference.I wonder if the author s brain was thinking like mine was Certainly when I was reading this book and sort of enjoying it 2 stars worth , I was also thinking I am just too old to be reading this sort of cod philosophy, too old and not stoned enough I read other people s reviews and have to conclude that they all saw something in this book that impressed them as deep and me as deeply populist Either way, I didn t really enjoy it and it only gets two stars because the writing was ok, the book wasn t arduous to read, some parts of it were interesting and enjoyable.I wasn t that keen on the author s exploration of his mental breakdown either I find when other people tell me the dreams they had last night, or I have to read them in a book I turn off as well I really don t know why, nor do I know if others also feel this way When telling last night s major really interesting dream to someone else, I ve never said, Do you find this as boring as I would if it was you telling me Actually that s a load of guff, I don t tell other people my dreams because I suspect they would be bored rigid and neither do I tell them about my mental breakdown when I saw three rainbows in the sky and didn t kill myself because I couldn t find a nightie that was suitable See, boring I kept thinking that Roberts the author of Shantaram and Pirsig would get on really well They could sit in cafes in foreign parts swapping tales of derring do, drugs and their fascinating insights whilst waiting for an audience to join them That s a bit mean spirited as Pirsig is a great dealappealing as an author and person than the somewhat sleazy Roberts, but I think you get what I mean And I will say that it s quite readable, the travel descriptions are very well done, the characters, apart from the hero, are in general interesting but I still couldn t get into it.Anyway, it s a Sunday, much love and an extra star After years of people saying, Oh, you re a philosophy major Have you heard of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance You should read it I finally broke down and bought a copy I am usually wary of books that seem to hold promises of sweetness and light and spiritual awakening, in this age of The Purpose Driven Life and Silver Ravenwolf.My thoughts on the book, even months after reading it, are still mixed Artistically, I do think it s a polished and respectable piece of literature It s well written and compelling But my philosophy major side is hesitant about it I don t know much about Zen Buddhism, so I can t speak for how Pirsig treated that aspect, but the rundowns on philosophy made me anxious in the way that Philosophy for Dummies makes me anxious you have to assume that the author s interpretation is one that is valid And sometimes there was enough value judgment language that it felt like the text was conveniently interpreting the philosopher at hand, as opposed to fairly.It s a good book, and I recommend it, but I also recommend readingabout the philosophies Pirsig touches on, eg Kant, Hume, Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, etc Anything that turns people on to philosophy can t be all bad, after all. I must start by saying that this is one of my favorite books ever Although it is deep and complicated and takes a lot of focus to read, I feel that there are a lot of great messages here in the author s search for Quality This was my second time reading this book, and I liked itthis time Interlaced with stories from an across the west motorcycle trip with his son and some friends, Pirsig tells the story of his past in an almost former life before being admitted to a mental institution after going crazy in his pursuit of Quality He often uses the motorcycle as an analogy, as well as climbing mountains With what many would see as too much depth and detail but not me , he dissects the ideas of rhetoric, quality, the scientific method, technology and many ideas of the ancient Greek philosophers and tries to take down an entire academic department in the search of a unifying truth god connecting force I don t really feel that there is a lot that I can say to do this book justice in a short review form like this I ll just write up a bunch of underlined quotes instead physical discomfort is important only when the mood is wrong Then you fasten on to whatever thing is uncomfortable and call that the cause But if the mood is right, then physical discomfort doesn t mean much Caring about what you are doing is considered either unimportant or taken for granted That s the first normal thing I ve said in weeks The rest of the time I m feigning twentieth century lunacy just like you are So as to not draw attention to myself Nobody is concerned any about tidily conserving space The land isn t valuable any We are in a Western town But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory If a revolution destroys a systematic government , but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government There s so much talk about the system And so little understanding If the purpose of scientific method is to select from among a multitude of hypotheses, and if the number of hypotheses grows faster than experimental method can handle, then it is clear that all hypotheses can never be tested If all hypotheses cannot be tested, then the results of any experiment are inconclusive and the entire scientific method falls short of its goal of establishing proven knowledge Sometimes it s a little better to travel than to arrive You look at where you re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you ve been and a pattern seems to emerge And if you project forward from that pattern, then sometimes you can come up with something But what s happening is that each year our old flat earth of conventional reason becomes less and less adequate to handle the experiences we have and this is creating widespread feelings of topsy turviness As a result we re gettingandpeople in irrational areas of thought occultism, mysticism, drug changes and the like because they feel the inadequacy of classical reason to handle what they know are real experiences The trouble is that essays always have to sound like God talking for eternity, and that isn t the way it ever is People should see that it s never anything other than just one person talking from one place in time and space and circumstance It s never been anything else, ever, but you can t get that across in an essay The allegory of a physical mountain for the spiritual one that stands between each soul and its goal is an easy and natural one to make Like those in the valley behind us, most people stand in sight of the spiritual mountains all their lives and never enter them, being content to listen to others who have been there and thus avoid the hardships Some travel into the mountains accompanied by experienced guides who know the best and least dangerous routes by which they arrive at their destination Still others, inexperienced and untrusting, attempt to make their own routes Few of these are successful, but occasionally some, by sheer will and luck and grace, do make it Once there they becomeaware than any of the others that there s no single or fixed number of routes There are as many routes as there are individual souls He was just stopped Waiting For that missing seed crystal of thought that would suddenly solidify everything Any effort that has self glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it And even if you do it s a hollow victory In order to sustain the victory you have to prove yourself again and again in some other way, and again and again and again, driven forever to fill a false image, haunted by the fear that the image is not true and someone will find out That s never the way The holiness of the mountain infused into their own spirits enabled them to endure farthan anything he, with his greater physical strength, could take Care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who s bound to have some characteristic of quality They have patience, care and attentiveness to what they re doing, butthan this there s a kind of inner peace of mind that isn t contrived but results from a kind of harmony with the work in which there s no leader and no follower The material and the craftsman s thoughts change together in a progression of smooth, even changes until his mind is at rest at the exact instant the material is right Or if he takes whatever dull job he s stuck with and they are all, sooner or later, dull and, just to keep himself amused, starts to look for options of Quality, and secretly pursues these options, just for their own sake, thus making an art out of what he is doing, he s likely to discover he becomes a muchinteresting person and much less of an object to the people around him because his Quality decisions change him too And not only the job and him, but others, too, because the Quality tends to fan out like waves The Quality job he didn t think anyone was going to see is seen, and the person who sees it feels a little better because of it and is likely to pass that feeling on to others, and in that way the Quality tends to keep on going.My personal feeling is that this is how any further improvement of the world will be done by individuals making Quality decisions and that s all.God, I don t want to have anyenthusiasm for big programs full of social planning for big masses of people that leave individual Quality out These can be left alone for a while There s a place for them but they ve got to be built on a foundation of Quality within the individuals involved We ve had that individual quality in the past, exploited as a natural resource without knowing it, and now it s just about depleted Everyone s just about out if gumption And I think it s about time to return the rebuilding of this American resource individual worth There are political reactionaries who ve been saying something close to this for years I m not one of them, but to the extent they re talking about real individual worth and not just an excuse for givingmoney to the rich, they re right We do need a return to individual integrity, self reliance and old fashioned gumption We really do What is good, Phaedrus, and what is not good need we ask anyone to tell us these things Plato s Phaedrus said, And what is written well and what is written badlyneed we ask Lysias or any other poet or orator who ever wrote or will write either a political or other work, in meter or out of meter, poet or prose writer, to teach us this Modern Phaedrus said, And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good Need we ask anyone to tell us these things I keep re reading passages from Zen and the Art and Tao of Pooh and Siddhartha and try to make sense in the context of everyday life which is where I firmly believe any philosophical questions need to be answered If it is not applicable in your kitchen, it is not real philosophy and quite strangely the answers seem to come from tying in the learning from these metaphysical and spiritual works with a book like The Story of Stuff neither a great book nor a literary achievement or a leap in thinking but it helped me understand the real meaning of the word materialism when I read it in parallel with these other books I will try to give an expanded review soon as a blog post at my blogAnd Then I am Ph drus, that is who I am, and they are going to destroy me for speaking the Truth You can sort of tell these things OK, maybe I m being a little too harsh I actually enjoyed the idea of the cross country motorcycle ride, the details about motorcycle mechanics, and especially the portrayal of the narrator s relationship with his son The son was the best part of the whole book Unfortunately, there wasn t much space for sonny, because dad was too busy advertising the author s brilliant philisophical insights Evenunfortunately, the insights weren t brilliant, and consumed hundreds of tedious pages It occured to me to wonder whether the author was trying to make the point that the narrator was a pompous idiot however, the intent seemed to be for the reader to be blown away by the brilliance of the narrator s philosophical insights, and hence by the brilliance of the author who conceived of the narrator and the philosophical insights I can t believe I made it through 380 pages of this. Robert M Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I can see by my watch, without taking my hand from the left grip of the cycle, that it is eight thirty in the morning I have read Zen probably four or five times The clinical precision of the author is apparent in all the detail here left grip , eight thirty The self reference of the author looking at his own watch will become a leitmotif as the entire book is about the author looking deep into his own soul so deep in fact that the real author became temporarily insane between finishing Zen and starting the sequel Lila The author is definitely a morning kind of a guy, already rolling down the highway early in the morning The fact that he looks without taking his hand of the grip, gives us a very cinematic presentation of this otherwise banal scene Also, the mundane nature of riding a motorcycle and looking at a watch and finding the even important enough to write about centers us on the cycle itself and foreshadows the many allusions and allegories that will come between philosophy and cycling.lZen for me remains a go to book for solace and reflection I deeply mourn the passage of Pirsig as a misunderstood and under estimated thinker and writer R.I.P. I feel like Robert M Pirsig has wronged me personally. Robert M Pirsig S Zen The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance Is Anexamination Of How We Live, A Meditation On How To Live Better Set Around The Narration Of A Summer Motorcycle Trip Across America S Northwest, Undertaken By A Father His Young Son

About the Author: Robert M. Pirsig

Robert Maynard Pirsig was an American writer and philosopher, mainly known as the author of the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance An Inquiry into Values, 1974 , which has sold millions of copies around the world.

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