-Billy- wrote:I'm nearly finished with my second time through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance By Robert Persig. Both times I have read it I get about two thirds of the way through the book and start to get lost. I'm not much of a mathmatician these days and I'm not very read on the teachings and writings of Aristotle, and the author makes many references to these subjects through a few of the chapters in that portion of the book. Still, this book is incredible. The discussion of Quality and what it "is" throughout, will truly twist your mind into knots. This being my second time through I have tried to read it more slowly, only allowing myself to read a chapter at a time and then trying to process what I just read. Going at it this way has helped me understand some of the book that was lost in my first time through, but I feel as though I need to read it again and have a notebook alongside to jot down names, notes and such, so that I can put in some research before I really understand everything Robert Persig is talking about.
A truly brilliant book in my, and many others I suppose, opinion. Has anyone else read this in the past few years? Or has it gone by the wayside since being a staple in Philosophy classes during the late 70's?
I read this book back in the day, and it really impressed me. Here is what I wrote on it, in two parts.
Yesterday and today I have been reading a book that has made me realize how intellectually sterile I have been for the past few months. This book contains real food for thought. It is called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance written by Robert M. Pirsig. Pirsig is a good writer and a clear thinker. He makes clear and understandable what is normally impossible for me to grasp. He deals with the subjects of science, mathematics and philosophy in a very clear, straightforward style that is possible to understand and is also important to our times. You could say that this book reconciles the aforethought antithesis of Quality and Technology.
I am inspired once more by the idea of caring about Quality. I am not a scientist, but the cold intellectual beauty of a great discovery is very wonderful. The idea of Quality as a pre-intellectual reality also explains why the mathematician-scientist and the poet can both be creative. If as Maritain argues, poetry comes from the pre-conscious life of the intellect, and scientific discovery from the pre-intellect, then you have two processes that are bound in the same function and derived from the same reality – Quality. Only the basic conventions and ultimate goals are different; the process is the same.
I just had a thought about Pirsig’s dead persona, Phaedrus. I was going to say that Phaedrus was his alter-ego, but he always speaks of him as if dead, like a ghost. Then at the end he says that often he can’t distinguish between the reality of himself and the ghost that used to be himself. This presents a problem when reading the book. Whatever Pirsig used to be before his mental breakdown, the subsequent personality is trying to remember, to explain and justify – in terms of philosophy. The book is very sad because Phaedrus was a fantastic mind caught up in a grand desire to set Quality up as a basis for philosophy. He conceived the idea at a university where he taught. It was a conception sprung from intuition, found at the butt-end of a most complex and orderly logic. Phaedrus then became obsessed with the desire to move the concept of Quality, undefined by its nature but known by its manifestations, to the fountainhead of all knowledge and all philosophy. The sad part is that the Phaedrus that conceived this idea was so paranoid that he gave too much time and energy to a desperate effort to find authority for his concept so that it would have a foundation to stand on top of. How he got this mental mind-set I cannot figure. When you look at the structure of his logical argument, the intellectual footwork and inspirational zeal, there is no reason not to be inspired and enlightened in turn. When you look at his life, however, it is very sad. What he values in Technology is questionable. I do not think of myself as a mirror reflection of what Technology has done. I am not the car I drive, no more than he is is motorcycle. Yet he is implying that the human psyche is somehow welded or merged with the machine it is dependent on. I may be protesting too much, as they say, but I sure hope he’s wrong there.
I just can’t understand how the thought structure of his argument was conceived so brilliantly and so logically in such a sick mind. He is so removed from people and the world, it is horrifying. He is saying that this very removal from the world, the eventual insanity and the dead personality, were not only a necessary criterion for the revolutionary new discovery of a new philosophical fountainhead, but were qualities to be valued in a society where new answers need to be formed. No argument that a new way of looking at Technology is valuable. There is so much ugliness and phoniness that a sensitive person in search of “truth and beauty” needs some philosophic authority to set her path straight. But why it breeds insanity is beyond me. More food for thought there.
There are those who would say that the philosophic system established by Aristotle has provided the foundation upon which our modern society rests. The supremacy of Science and Technology has all but overshadowed the very existence of Truth and Beauty. Our society has grown from the roots of dialectic and Reason. They would say that as long as we allow such a system to maintain its supremacy, our society is lost – doomed. Not until we raise the idea of Quality, by its nature undefined, to the fountainhead of philosophy will we be able to effect a balance. A balance between reason and intuition (instinct) is necessary to the survival or rebirth of anything that is good in society, and probably necessary to prevent the otherwise certain doom of that very society.
Pirsig is very rational as he catalogues the problems inherent in a societal system working on the wrong philosophical premise. But he is insane of his own nature. How do you reconcile the insanity of the subject with the brilliant and logical exposition of the source of his mental illness and the society around him? It just doesn’t make sense. Perhaps such insanity, filtered through the process of writing, can project an appearance of almost super-sanity. It certainly is thought-provoking.