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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:…
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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (original 1974; edition 1974)

by Robert M. Pirsig

Series: Phaedrus (1)

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14,970213218 (3.84)219
Member:HonourableHusband
Title:Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values
Authors:Robert M. Pirsig
Info:William Morrow (1974), Paperback
Collections:Your library
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Work details

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig (Author) (1974)

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» See also 219 mentions

English (187)  Dutch (7)  Italian (7)  French (4)  Finnish (4)  Portuguese (Brazil) (2)  Danish (1)  All languages (212)
Showing 1-5 of 187 (next | show all)
Finished my third reading tonight, the last book I'll complete in 2018. Still excellent. My sense of overall doom is heightened with this reread by parenthood. Man, wow. Some books will have you checking on your boys in the middle of the night - looking at you, Cormac McCarthy...

This edition has a terrific afterward by Pirsig that I read for the first time. ( )
  kcshankd | Dec 30, 2018 |
I’ve seen this kind of thing before at university, where an academic (who usually has Asperger’s or Autism) drills down so intensely into their subject that they think it is absolutely the most important thing on Earth. They lose proportionality. The individual then reaches the boundary where brilliance becomes madness and no one understands what they are talking about. For example, in microcosm, I was told by an eye-witness to a classic example of this behaviour that when the planes flew into the towers, they shut of the power grid to most of New York. An Asperger’s Syndrome academic at Southampton who believed people were just another form of furniture was jumping up and down with frustration that he couldn’t send his fax through because his opinion (about retail) was the most important subject in New York that day. He believed with no doubt whatsoever that the city had to put all other considerations aside, turn the power back on and receive his piece of paper, then the humans could get back to whatever other nonsense they were up to.

The other thing these people do is compulsively count, catalogue and (in essence) line up their pencils and socks in orders of classification. In some cases, outside of their work they pick a hobby to fixate on, in this case motorcycle maintenance but it could be anything. I heard of one who spent 40 years classifying woodlice. I think this isn’t about the world needing woodlice to be classified or respecting them for doing the work. I think it’s a personal reaction to universal chaos by taking a tiny part of the whole picture which that person can control and then feeling a lot safer. The fear of the fax not being delivered was really the fear that chaos had won, which was all-important to the man. Control or insanity, devils and angels whispering from his shoulders, every minute of every day.

I realised pretty early that the trail the protagonist is following to Phaedrus (Plato has a dialogue called The Phaedrus [wolf], c. 370 BC) and the guy on the motorbike were a split persona, then that was confirmed later into the book when we find Phaedrus was destroyed by personality therapy – “They put a hotwire to my head, ‘cos of the things I did and said” (John Lydon). Actually, it is pretty obvious because the motorbike guy intricately explains Phaedrus’s specialist subject, conflicts in philosophy, and must have extensive background reading in the subject in order to cross reference the schools of thought and leading exponents, so they share identical influences (Occam’s razor would say…). He also delivers Phaedrus’s unformed and unpublished thesis on the nature of Quality, using his hobby as an object lesson to demonstrate his over-arching conclusions. The author then has the arrogance to tell us their IQ is so high only 1 person per 50,000 has it. Oh, so that pre-emptively dismisses any criticism of your book then?

I think the main achievement of the book is how it convinces the reader that the author’s specialist subject and comprehension of ideals are very important. It’s like me convincing you that kite-flying is vital to the future of this planet. Okay, I accept you can’t count/measure/classify beauty or quality and I accept that they both exist and I would notice the difference if they were absent but… so what? Lots of things don’t have energy and mass, can’t be weighed or photographed but we do see their influence and accept they exist. It’s simplistic to think science puts them in the ‘ghost’ category. Yes, if you claim quality doesn’t exist because it can’t be isolated, but then there would be no difference at all between fine art and crap art. These things aren’t objects or constructs but they are there, just like an upset mood is there even if the person’s face doesn’t register it. We’re being told something we already know.

There are too many coincidences, so I think this book (1975) was read by Douglas Adams and influenced the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1978). Not only does HHG contain an obvious reference to this in “Zen and the Art of Going to the Lavatory, by the Asgoths of Kria”, plus both novels have stories with philosophy mixed in, but the motor cyclist narrator in this packs rain gear, insect repellent, a towel and a copy of Chilton’s Motorcycle Troubleshooting Guide for his journey. In HHG, it was wet weather gear, insect repellent, a towel and the Hitchhiker’s Guide. On the philosophical angle, at the moment of the discovery of the Infinite Improbability Drive, I think that Phaedrus (from this novel) was the model for the student left to sweep up the lab after a particularly unsuccessful party, who finds himself reasoning this way… Also, the tag line “This book will change the way you think and feel about life” comes up again in Douglas Adams’ book The Meaning of Liff, which says on the cover “This book will change your life” (the definition of Liff). I think no one has ever spotted this connection before me.

It’s a fun journey but doesn’t get five stars I’m afraid because it isn’t astonishing to hear that motorcycles work better with some care and attention, the author is the centre of interest of his own world, then the philosophical bottom line is, well, … so what? It is important to read this before you die but do try to keep it in perspective. Thanks for the vacation though. ( )
1 vote HavingFaith | Dec 17, 2018 |
Was going through some existential contemplation at mid-life and having always wondered what this book was about decided to pick up a copy and it turned out to be some serious soul food. I would call this the go-to mid life crisis book for any guy. ( )
  Chickenman | Sep 14, 2018 |
There are people that love this book, and those that hate it. As you may have guessed from my rating, I fall into the latter camp.

By the way, feel free to like it. If it speaks to you, great. If you discovered something profound about the universe through reading it, right on.

For me, I found the mixture too rich, like an engine at high altitudes. There's the frame story, the flashbacks, the philosophical Chautauquas. They follow each other in succession, clumsily falling over each other and failing to gel into a narrative. The characters other than the narrator are nothing but straw men, existing to serve a purpose in the philosophical arguments but with no reality of their own, no truth to support them.

There is a fine line between noise and music, sometimes. Perhaps if I had agreed with the content of the philosophy I could have found the groove, but as it stands, it's just a cacophony of nonsense. I rank it right up with Ayn Rand, in the annals of stiff and awkward philosophy made to wear a novel's clothes. ( )
  shabacus | Jul 3, 2018 |
this book meant a lot to me when I read it in the 1970s. It meant a lot again in 2018. Reading it the second time I realized his description of how one approaches a technical problem shaped my life. The same can be said for his analysis of the concept of "quality" post shock treatment mental patient / college professor takes a motorcycle trip with his son; discussion of technology, maintenance, quality ( )
  margaretfield | May 30, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 187 (next | show all)
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.
added by Shortride | editThe New York Times Book Review, Edward Abbey (pay site) (Mar 30, 1975)
 
Whatever it's true philosophical worth, it is intellectual entertainment of the highest order.
 

» Add other authors (20 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pirsig, Robert M.Authorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bacon, PaulCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
And what is good, Phaedrus,

And what is not good -

Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?
Dedication
for my family
Aan mijn familie
First words
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.
Quotations
You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It's easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.
Live in the future, then build what's missing.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Book description
Acclaimed as one of the most exciting books in the history of American letters, this modern epic became an instant bestseller upon publication in 1974, transforming a generation and continuing to inspire millions. This 25th Anniversary Quill Edition features a new introduction by the author; important typographical changes; and a Reader's Guide that includes discussion topics, an interview with the author, and letters and documents detailing how this extraordinary book came to be. A narration of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son, the book becomes a personal and philosophical odyssey into fundamental questions of how to live. The narrator's relationship with his son leads to a powerful self-reckoning; the craft of motorcycle maintenance leads to an austerely beautiful process for reconciling science, religion, and humanism. Resonant with the confusions of existence, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a touching and transcendent book of life.

In his now classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig brings us a literary chautauqua, a novel that is meant to both entertain and edify. It scores high on both counts. Phaedrus, our narrator, takes a present-tense cross-country motorcycle trip with his son during which the maintenance of the motorcycle becomes an illustration of how we can unify the cold, rational realm of technology with the warm, imaginative realm of artistry. As in Zen, the trick is to become one with the activity, to engage in it fully, to see and appreciate all details--be it hiking in the woods, penning an essay, or tightening the chain on a motorcycle. In his autobiographical first novel, Pirsig wrestles both with the ghost of his past and with the most important philosophical questions of the 20th century--why has technology alienated us from our world? what are the limits of rational analysis? if we can't define the good, how can we live it? Unfortunately, while exploring the defects of our philosophical heritage from Socrates and the Sophists to Hume and Kant, Pirsig inexplicably stops at the middle of the 19th century. With the exception of Poincaré, he ignores the more recent philosophers who have tackled his most urgent questions, thinkers such as Peirce, Nietzsche (to whom Phaedrus bears a passing resemblance), Heidegger, Whitehead, Dewey, Sartre, Wittgenstein, and Kuhn. In the end, the narrator's claims to originality turn out to be overstated, his reasoning questionable, and his understanding of the history of Western thought sketchy. His solution to a synthesis of the rational and creative by elevating Quality to a metaphysical level simply repeats the mistakes of the premodern philosophers. But in contrast to most other philosophers, Pirsig writes a compelling story. And he is a true innovator in his attempt to popularize a reconciliation of Eastern mindfulness and nonrationalism with Western subject/object dualism. The magic of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance turns out to lie not in the answers it gives, but in the questions it raises and the way it raises them. Like a cross between The Razor's Edge and Sophie's World, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance takes us into "the high country of the mind" and opens our eyes to vistas of possibility. --Brian Bruya
Haiku summary
Biker -- deep thinker:

finally finds acceptance

for his peace of mind.

(legallypuzzled)

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060589469, Mass Market Paperback)

In his now classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig brings us a literary chautauqua, a novel that is meant to both entertain and edify. It scores high on both counts.

Phaedrus, our narrator, takes a present-tense cross-country motorcycle trip with his son during which the maintenance of the motorcycle becomes an illustration of how we can unify the cold, rational realm of technology with the warm, imaginative realm of artistry. As in Zen, the trick is to become one with the activity, to engage in it fully, to see and appreciate all details--be it hiking in the woods, penning an essay, or tightening the chain on a motorcycle.

In his autobiographical first novel, Pirsig wrestles both with the ghost of his past and with the most important philosophical questions of the 20th century--why has technology alienated us from our world? what are the limits of rational analysis? if we can't define the good, how can we live it? Unfortunately, while exploring the defects of our philosophical heritage from Socrates and the Sophists to Hume and Kant, Pirsig inexplicably stops at the middle of the 19th century. With the exception of Poincaré, he ignores the more recent philosophers who have tackled his most urgent questions, thinkers such as Peirce, Nietzsche (to whom Phaedrus bears a passing resemblance), Heidegger, Whitehead, Dewey, Sartre, Wittgenstein, and Kuhn. In the end, the narrator's claims to originality turn out to be overstated, his reasoning questionable, and his understanding of the history of Western thought sketchy. His solution to a synthesis of the rational and creative by elevating Quality to a metaphysical level simply repeats the mistakes of the premodern philosophers. But in contrast to most other philosophers, Pirsig writes a compelling story. And he is a true innovator in his attempt to popularize a reconciliation of Eastern mindfulness and nonrationalism with Western subject/object dualism. The magic of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance turns out to lie not in the answers it gives, but in the questions it raises and the way it raises them. Like a cross between The Razor's Edge and Sophie's World, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance takes us into "the high country of the mind" and opens our eyes to vistas of possibility. --Brian Bruya

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:19 -0400)

(see all 11 descriptions)

The novel, published in 1974, uses a long motorcycle trip to frame a prolonged exploration of the world of ideas, about life and how best to live it. It references perspectives from Western and Eastern Civilizations as it explores the central question of the how to pursue technology so that human life is enriched rather than degraded. Narrated in the first person, it incorporates a parallel presentation of trip details and an ongoing retrospective concerning dramatic events from the Narrator's past, creating rich symbolism and including numerous analogies reinforcing the overall theme of coming to terms with the mysteries of why we exist and how best to live.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 17 descriptions

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