Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (eBook) by Robert M. Pirsig $2.99 (2022)

Quote from climbhard13 :

Absolutely should be required reading for anyone into motorcycles.

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I read this during spring break in college and less than a month later, i bought my first junky motorcycle. I've been riding ever since, over two decades at this point.

I bought this book about a decade ago after receiving similar advice.

I love motorcycles. I love fixing things. I appreciate attention to detail.

But holy crap this book was tedious beyond belief. Though I can appreciate the lessons it conveyed, I struggled to read it and gave up ~1/3 of the way through. It was a chore to get that far.

I'll never understand the praise for this book. It's terrible. Also, it has almost nothing to do with motorcycles. Motorcycles are used for metaphors throughout, but it's simply a philosophical dive into values, like the cover says. It's excessively verbose, and if you're not into philosophy, don't buy it. I'll quote the best Amazon review, which I think says it far better than I have.

Quote :

Looking at the reviews here, this book is loved by hundreds and reviled by a small percentage. I wonder what causes so much passion? It's wonderful that we have, among those who gave the book just one star, so many people who are so far above it intellectually -- too familiar with philosophy, too personally enlightened, perhaps -- to find any value in it. But I would like to point out to the subset of our best and brightest, those who tell everyone else not to waste their time reading it, that just because you got nothing out of the book doesn't mean no one else will.

One of the complaints I see here is that there isn't much of the title's Zen nor much motorcycle maintenance, either -- and I note that the author says something about this in his introduction, so it must be true, right? -- yet I believe there is plenty of both. If the reader is expecting an introduction to Zen or a How To manual on motorcycle maintenance, those will not be found. It's not even the author sharing his enjoyment of either of the two fields with his audience. But the themes that run throughout the book explore many of the same ideas the Buddha did, and several concepts important to motorcycle maintenance that will not be found in manuals are discussed throughout the work. But the title really represents the duality that Pirsig puts under his microscope: Zen represents the hippie "go with the flow" attitude that is contrasted to the "slice and dice" schemes of technology, via motorcycle maintenance. And in the end, the title doesn't say just motorcycle maintenance; it's the "Art " that's critical, because one thing the book is aiming for is to show us that the science of technology is an art -- or at least should be an art -- and that the two ways of looking at life don't need to be in opposition, but can be quite naturally blended, to the benefit of all concerned.

It might seem like the novel is caught in its time, with language about those who see things as "groovy" vs. "the squares" but the dichotomy between the two has been under discussion in various forms for centuries: romanticism vs. empiricism, passion vs. logic, science vs. religion. The same split is found today underlying two sides of the debate over climate change. If the book is not approached as being literally about Zen and motorcycle maintenance, but as using these as stand-ins for concepts that can be much larger -- or even much smaller -- there is a lot to be gained here.

Another complaint is that the protagonist is not sympathetic, but that's because this isn't a novel written from the romantic side, nor, really, the empirical side -- it's not even a novel, though it reads a lot like one -- it is a true-enough tale of relationships between two related men, and a father and a son, and a road trip that carries with it time for plenty of slow discussion of philosophy. The book takes its time putting the pieces together, and the author isn't trying to win our love -- if you can approach the book on its own terms rather than with a whole load of expectations about what it should do and how it should do it, you may get something out of it -- but to truly enjoy it, you've got to go with the flow, you know?

I know I get a lot out of it every time I read it. I love road stories, and this one is paced just like a real long-distance trip, with long stretches of time to think things through interspersed with short breaks for taking care of the business of life. That what's going on in the environment, relationships, and other encounters reflects what's being thought through in the long stretches is a small bonus. The writing is clean and evocative, enjoyable. For the most part, the carefully constructed introduction to all the elements needed to understand the philosophy is gentle enough to be clear and not overly taxing, at least until the deepest parts, which can be hard to follow (and for good reason). The elements of psychological mystery captivate me each time.

I first read ZAMM the year it was released, in the mid-70s, and have read it at least every five years since then, and each time I thoroughly enjoy it. The first time through, I could not follow the philosophy all the way down into the descent into madness it brought on. Five years later -- with time for the ideas to be examined through my own life -- I got it, even agreed with it. This time, this reading, is the first time I ended up doubting the validity of the greatest philosophical insights the story offers. Ironically, it's my deepening understanding of Buddhism that changed my mind.

There really is a lot of Buddhism in this book, and not specifically Zen, either, but the deepest themes common to all forms of Buddhism. The questions about the wisdom of dividing the world up into a duality of the physical vs. the mental, of seeing ourselves as somehow separate from everything else, these were explored by the Buddha, too, though the framework he used to discuss these ideas was -- obviously -- nothing to do with motorcycles. In Dependent Arising he, too, considers how it comes to be that we split the world in two. "Name and form" he calls this split, and later thinkers have described what he was talking about as the same subject-object division that Pirsig is mulling over in ZAMM. The Buddha, though, says that it is "desire for existence" -- not quality -- that, to borrow Pirsig's phrase, "is the generator of everything we know". I tend to agree with the Buddha because I can see in our lives, and through our sciences, what that desire for existence is and why it drives us to divide the world up the way we do, and exactly how it leads us into trouble. I can't say the same for Pirsig's metaphysics, but that doesn't stop me from deep enjoyment of the book. I hope to have another half-dozen five-yearly reads, if I'm lucky, and -- who knows -- maybe I will come around again to see it the way he does.

FAQs

What is the meaning of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? ›

Final word

What Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance tells us is that we won't get to the truth about life through pursuing answers through the rational mind only. The narrator hungered for a rational explanation for everything, but in the end found that both science and philosophy are just maps of the truth.

Is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a true story? ›

The book is a fictionalized autobiography of a 17-day journey that Pirsig made on a motorcycle from Minnesota to Northern California along with his son Chris in 1968. The story of this journey is recounted in a first-person narrative, although the author is not identified.

What does Pirsig value? ›

Pirsig values “the Buddha that exists within analytic thought, and gives that analytic thought its direction.” He explores how discursive thought, though insufficient for understanding the world, should not be silenced or ignored, but observed with curiosity and compassion.

Who is Phaedrus in Zen and the art? ›

Phaedrus was a highly analytical academic prodigy who grew disenchanted with the western intellectual tradition's limited notion of reason. While teaching English at Montana State University in Bozeman, he begins to develop a philosophy that revolves around a concept he calls Quality.

What is Pirsig's philosophy on life? ›

The past exists only in our memories, the future only in our plans. The present is our only reality. The tree that you are aware of intellectually, because of the small time lag, is always in the past and therefore is always unreal. Any intellectually conceived object is always in the past and therefore unreal.

What happens at the end of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? ›

The narrator of Zen eventually reverts back to his original personality, a happy ending by the book's terms. The book suggests that the schizophrenic is the true progenitor behind the "cured" narrator of the book, and that he needs to be let loose to return again to his rightful place.

Was Pirsig schizophrenic? ›

Pirsig, who was told he had schizophrenia in the early 1960s, said that writing the book was partly an effort to make peace with himself after two years of hospital treatments, including electric shock therapy, and the turmoil that he, his wife and children suffered as a result.

What does Chautauqua mean in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? ›

Most people wonder where the term “Chautauqua” came from. Actually, it originates, at least for us, in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig. He uses the word to describe his inquiry into the notion of quality and the best way to visualize the world.

Is Phaedrus real? ›

Phaedrus, (born c. 15 bc, Thrace—died ad 50, Italy), Roman fabulist, the first writer to Latinize whole books of fables, producing free versions in iambic metre of Greek prose fables then circulating under the name of Aesop.

What does Pirsig say about Quality? ›

Equating it with the Tao, Pirsig postulates that Quality is the fundamental force in the universe stimulating everything from atoms to animals to evolve and incorporate ever greater levels of Quality. According to the MOQ, everything (including ideas, and matter) is a product and a result of Quality.

What does Quality mean in Zen and the art? ›

For the uninitiated, the main thread underlying both books is something called Quality, a word Pirsig capitalized to indicate that it represents a unique type of event. It's when a subject and object (or actor and act) become so intertwined that they are hard to separate; they become one.

What is the meaning of Phaedrus? ›

Phaedrus, whose name translates to "bright" or "radiant", was born to a wealthy family sometime in the mid-5th century BC, and was the first cousin of Plato's stepbrother Demos.

Does Phaedrus mean wolf? ›

So I plucked the name of the main character, "Phaedrus" out of the book. The name, according to the book, at the time, meant "wolf" which as a young twenty-something military person sounded appealing."

Who is the protagonist of Phaedrus? ›

The Phaedrus (/ˈfiːdrəs/; Greek: Φαῖδρος, translit. Phaidros), written by Plato, is a dialogue between Plato's protagonist, Socrates, and Phaedrus, an interlocutor in several dialogues. The Phaedrus was presumably composed around 370 BCE, about the same time as Plato's Republic and Symposium.

What is a gumption trap? ›

gumption trap (plural gumption traps) (informal) An event or mindset that can cause a person to lose enthusiasm and become discouraged from starting or continuing a project.

When was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance written? ›

Zen was published in 1974, after being rejected by 121 publishing houses. "The book is brilliant beyond belief," wrote Morrow editor James Landis before publication. "It is probably a work of genius and will, I'll wager, attain classic status."

What motorcycle is in Zen and the art? ›

Pirsig's 1966 Honda Super Hawk motorcycle featured in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values. Pirsig's book, originally published by William Morrow in 1974, has sold more than 5 million copies and has been translated into 27 languages.

What happened to Robert Pirsig? ›

Pirsig died aged 88, at his home in South Berwick, Maine, on April 24, 2017, after a period of failing health.

How old is Chris in Zen and the Art of motorcycle Maintenance? ›

Chris is the oldest son of the narrator/Phaedrus. He is eleven years old when he accompanies the narrator on the transcontinental motorcycle trip that forms the bulk of the storyline.

Who is the narrator in Zen and the Art of motorcycle Maintenance? ›

The entire novel is told from the perspective of the narrator, a forty-year-old man who writes technical manuals for a living. He is undeniably based on Robert Pirsig, the book's author, as the two's biographies overlap quite similarly.

What does the word Chautauqua mean in English? ›

“Chautauqua” is an Iroquois word with multiple meanings, including “a bag tied in the middle” or “two moccasins tied together.” The word describes the shape of Chautauqua Lake, located in southwest New York, which was the setting for the Chautauqua Institution, the first educational assembly in what became a ...

What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua? ›

“What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua-that's the only name I can think of for it-like the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across America, this America, the one that we are now in, an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and ...

What is the main subject of Phaedrus speech? ›

1) Phaedrus' views on the subject of love was many, when professed his feelings on love during his speech he reflected many points. The first point which he describe love in the Symposium was that, “Love is a mighty god, and wonderful among gods and men, but especially wonderful in his birth.

What is the theme of Phaedrus? ›

Physical Love Versus Ideal Love

The main theme of the first half of Phaedrus is the difference between these two kinds of love, and the desirability of each.

What is the thesis of Phaedrus? ›

The central thesis of the dissertation is that in the Phaedrus philosophy is presented as a kind of madness in a strict sense, that is to say, the claim is not that philosophy is necessarily unappreciated by the many, hence considered by their standards as insane, but that the philosophical soul is in a way not in ...

Is the narrator Phaedrus? ›

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Phaedrus is the alter ego of the narrator, Pirsig.

What guidance does Phaedrus think love provides how does it provide it? ›

As Love is the oldest, Phaedrus suggests, he confers the greatest benefits. No young man could derive greater benefit than from a good lover, and no lover could derive greater benefit than from a young loved one.

Is Phaedrus a Pirsig? ›

In the book Phaedrus is Pirsig's alter ego. The name comes from a character in The Symposium, a book by Plato, written about 350 BC, about Socrates, the Athenian philosopher, and his symposia.

Who wrote the book Phaedrus? ›

Phaedrus is widely recognized as one of Plato's most profound and beautiful works. It takes the form of a dialogue between Socrates and Phaedrus and its ostensible subject is love, especially homoerotic love.

When was Phaedrus written? ›

Classical scholarship generally places the composition of the Phaedrus between the years 375 and 365, during the same period in which Plato composed the Republic, another text in which he raises criticism of representional arts, including literature.

Was Socrates a real person? ›

Socrates was an ancient Greek philosopher, one of the three greatest figures of the ancient period of Western philosophy (the others were Plato and Aristotle), who lived in Athens in the 5th century BCE.

What roles do apollodorus and aristodemus play in the symposium? ›

Apollodorus is the narrator of Symposium who describes the speeches of the symposium to his unnamed companion, although he wasn't there himself. He heard about the speeches from Aristodemus, and he shared the details in turn with Glaucon. Apollodorus is from the city of Phalerum, not far from Athens, Greece.

Who said things are not always what they seem? ›

In his dialogues with the ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, a guy named Phaedrus supposedly said, “Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.” Things are not always what they seem.

Who proposes that each person at the symposium make a speech in praise of love? ›

After they have finished eating, Eryximachus picks up on a suggestion of Phaedrus', that each person should in turn make a speech in praise of the god of Love. Phaedrus begins by saying that Love is one of the oldest of the gods, and the one that does the most to promote virtue in people.

What does Chautauqua mean in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? ›

Most people wonder where the term “Chautauqua” came from. Actually, it originates, at least for us, in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig. He uses the word to describe his inquiry into the notion of quality and the best way to visualize the world.

What is Zen in art? ›

Zen art is known for its elegant simplicity, embodied in the many paintings and calligraphies in this exhibit that consist of black ink on white paper or silk. With a few brushstrokes, Zen monks create expressions of enlightenment, from a simple circle to an image of Zen's Indian founder Bodhidharma.

Who wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? ›

Author Robert Pirsig works on a motorcycle in 1975. Zen was published in 1974, after being rejected by 121 publishing houses. "The book is brilliant beyond belief," wrote Morrow editor James Landis before publication. "It is probably a work of genius and will, I'll wager, attain classic status."

When was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance written? ›

Pirsig was a college writing instructor and freelance technical writer when the novel — its full title was “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values” — was published in 1974 to critical acclaim and explosive popularity, selling a million copies in its first year and several million more since.

What does the word Chautauqua mean in English? ›

“Chautauqua” is an Iroquois word with multiple meanings, including “a bag tied in the middle” or “two moccasins tied together.” The word describes the shape of Chautauqua Lake, located in southwest New York, which was the setting for the Chautauqua Institution, the first educational assembly in what became a ...

Is Phaedrus real? ›

Phaedrus, (born c. 15 bc, Thrace—died ad 50, Italy), Roman fabulist, the first writer to Latinize whole books of fables, producing free versions in iambic metre of Greek prose fables then circulating under the name of Aesop.

What is the symbol for Zen? ›

The classic symbol for Zen is the enso. It is known as the circle of enlightenment. There are two common symbol for zen enso's. One is a brushstroke of a closed circle.

Is Zen a religion or philosophy? ›

Zen is not a philosophy or a religion. Zen tries to free the mind from the slavery of words and the constriction of logic. Zen in its essence is the art of seeing into the nature of one's own being, and it points the way from bondage to freedom. Zen is meditation.

What is a Zen attitude? ›

relaxed and not worrying about things that you cannot change: Don't worry about doing the right thing with your baby - be more zen about it and you'll be happier. Thesaurus: synonyms, antonyms, and examples. relaxed.

How old is Chris in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? ›

Chris is the oldest son of the narrator/Phaedrus. He is eleven years old when he accompanies the narrator on the transcontinental motorcycle trip that forms the bulk of the storyline.

What happened to Robert Pirsig? ›

Pirsig died aged 88, at his home in South Berwick, Maine, on April 24, 2017, after a period of failing health.

What is a gumption trap? ›

gumption trap (plural gumption traps) (informal) An event or mindset that can cause a person to lose enthusiasm and become discouraged from starting or continuing a project.

Is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a best seller? ›

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Appears in Guinness Book of Records as the bestselling book rejected by the largest number of publishers (121). Sold 5m copies worldwide.

What motorcycle is in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? ›

Pirsig's 1966 Honda Super Hawk motorcycle featured in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values. Pirsig's book, originally published by William Morrow in 1974, has sold more than 5 million copies and has been translated into 27 languages.

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