Honda SuperHawk CB77 


Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance  

... you were looking for an epic bike story?    


"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" was a landmark book, considered by some to be among the most important books written during the era of the early '70s.  I read it, along with countless others, in a college course on Contemporary American Literature. I recently re-read it last month and found it more profound, now that I am older and, presumably, wiser.  Despite the limited subject matter the title suggests, the book is not about motorcycles in a literal sense.  This explains its broad appeal and wide critical acclaim.  Anyone expecting to read about an epic journey of a father and son traveling across country on their motorcycle will undoubtedly be quickly disinterested when they reach Chapter Three.  It is there that any direct talk of motorcycles slowly dissolves and is replaced with a series of lessons or Chautauquas as Pirsig calls them.

The use of the story line is merely an aid to help the reader see the otherwise abstract messages that the author has to teach.  Motorcycle maintenance is one of the many metaphors. "...A motorcycle functions in accordance with the laws of reason, and a study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself... the real cycle you are working on is the cycle called yourself."

The book should be judged for what it is - a philosophy book.  Pirsig's Chautauguas, or stories with a lesson, should be read much as the author suggests you read books like Thoreau's Walden Pond, a chapter at a time. Let the message act as a seed for thought.  There is no preaching or religious theme throughout the book.  Pirsig takes special attention to not come off this way.

Some of the key ideas he covers are: The theme of relating philosophy to technology; discussions on the philosophical foundations of meaning; questioning our ideas of reality; distinguishing "classic" and "romantic"; limitations of the scientific method; various problems of philosophy and knowledge; distinction between subjectivity and objectivity; describing quality as an undefined concept which divides classic and romantic understanding; clarifies that quality is reality itself - the result of objectivity and subjectivity; suggests quality is the Tao, the Buddha, the central part of Zen; shows caring, inner quality, is essential to good living; and rejects the Greek mythos of subject/object dualism.

If you are still with me, you get my point by now... this is NOT a book about motorcycles and the discussion of it belongs on some literary part of the Internet.  If you feel inclined to read more about philosophy - this is a good beginner’s book.  If you want to read about motorcycle maintenance, look elsewhere.

Does anyone still want to take cheap shots at Pirsig personally; you'll have an easy target.  He was ostracized from the academic world for his radical view of things and finally institutionalized; the description of his torment poignantly told in the book.  Go right ahead, you will only prove his point about how society treats things outside of the main stream."


Ray Meyers   

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