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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (1974)
by Robert M. Pirsig
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No current Talk conversations about this book.
Not as good as I remember from back in the day.
As Robert Pirsig himself admits, this book doesn't contain much about Zen, though it appears that Pirsig (1928-2017) and his son Chris (1956-79, killed by a mugger) were Buddhist practitioners. Pirsig's discussion of motorcycle maintenance is a paean to technology and guide to solving technological problems systematically, by breaking them into categories (an Aristotelian technique--ironic, as later chapters reveal). But primarily the book is about philosophy: esthetics ("Quality" being Pirsig's ruling principle) and metaphysics. It's good intellectual exercise for anyone who remembers Plato and Aristotle but doesn't remember them fondly. Among the nuggets I appreciated (having studied Chinese and lived in China): Whereas the grammar of ancient Greece and Western languages generally "finds a strong subject-object differentiation . . . In cultures such as the Chinese, where subject-predicate relationships are not rigidly defined by grammar, one finds a corresponding absence of rigid subject-object philosophy" (Bantam New Age edition, pp.315 and 316).
The book is also an exposé of academic warfare at Montana State College (now University), where Pirsig taught beginning in 1959, and where his obsession with "Quality" was not appreciated. Shortly afterward, Pirsig enrolled at the University of Chicago as a graduate student and became locked in combat with the Platonist and Aristotelian faculty, particularly a tyrannical senior professor (unnamed but identifiable within minutes on Wikipedia). Pirsig became schizophrenic, unable to work or study, and his wife divorced him.
Pirsig breaks up the philosophic discussion with a narrative of his motorcycle journey with son Chris from Minneapolis across the American Northwest to San Francisco. (Enjoyable for me, as I've visited South Dakota, Yellowstone, Bozeman, western Idaho, Mendocino and the Bay Area.) Pirsig narrates the journey and his thoughts on motorcycle maintenance in the first person. But he refers to himself in his past as "Phaedrus" after Plato's Dialogue of that name--as if, before his insanity and involuntary electroshock treatment, he was a different person. Nevertheless, tensions between Pirsig and the uncomprehending Chris (age 12) echo the strife of those academic years. In the end, though, Chris gains appreciation of his father's mental travail and they reconcile.
Not sure what to make of the book, but it started out interesting and then got almost overwhelming. I probably should have read it decades ago, but I don’t think I would have really liked it then. Not sure that I “liked” it now either, but it was very moving.
One is tempted to call the book a psychomelodrama, for Pirsig's intentions are as extravagant as his themes. The attempt to triumph over madness, suicide, death in the self, of his son, for our world, by means of the patient exploration of ideas and emotions is certainly an extravagant ambition. That he succeeds in finding a plausible catharsis through such an enterprise seems to me sufficient reward for the author's perseverance, and ample testimony to his honesty and courage.
Whatever it's true philosophical worth, it is intellectual entertainment of the highest order.
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Fischer Taschenbuch (2020)
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Wikipedia in English (6)
At its heart, the story is all too simple: a man and his son take a lengthy motorcycle trip through America. But this is not a simple trip at all, for around every corner, through mountain and desert, wind and rain, and searing heat and biting cold, their pilgrimage leads them to new vistas of self-discovery and renewal. This is an elemental work that has helped to shape and define the past twenty-five years of American culture. This special audio edition presents this adventure in a compelling way-for the millions who have already taken this journey and want to travel these roads again, and for the many more who will discover for the first time the wonders and challenges of a journey that will change the way they think and feel about their lives.
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That being said, I actually was interested in the relationship between the narrator and his son, Chris.
OK, enough blabbering. Enjoyed. ( )