Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

SIGH.  Let's see.  Where to begin?  Yowsa.  This book is not for the faint of heart.  The text is extremely cerebral and gave me a splitting headache every time I picked it up.  The author's I.Q. was 170 at one time and that level of intelligence is reflected in the writing.  It took me enormous concentration to understand what was being said and I believe I am a reasonably intelligent person.  That said, I enjoyed the book and was glad that I read it.  If it had not been on the Rory Gilmore booklist I probably would never have chosen it for my A to Z Challenge.  (So thank you Gilmore Girls!) 

Through logic and reasoning, the author explains his own philosophy about Values and living a "Quality life".  He gives a history of philosophy in general from the Sophists (pre-Plato) to the present but not in a stuffy historian way.  He also briefly talks about the histories of science and knowledge as they relate to his philosophy.  He discusses mathematics and truth and eastern religions and all of this in a way so as to make it accessible to regular people (who concentrate really, REALLY hard).  :) 

From a Christian standpoint it becomes clear to me that the "Quality" which Pirsig works out for himself is God.  It is obvious and lovely.  I appreciate with what order and detail he proves through logical reasoning that this "Quality" exists.  There are many people in the world who believe that God and logical thinking are mutually exclusive and because Pirsig proves this is not so, I enjoyed reading this book very much.  Ultimately, the author's philosophy is that to change the world, we must change our hearts.  We must have "Quality" in our lives in all that we think and say and do.  When individuals achieve a "Quality" life, the world will become a better place.  What a beautiful message, no?

The book covers a two week, cross-country, motorcycle road trip the author takes with his son and the deep thinking the author does during those long stretches of open road.  Actually it is the deep thinking of his lifetime which he reflects back on during the road trip.  At the beginning of the book the author comes off sounding very intolerant and self-absorbed/arrogant.  He seems to find fault with his travelling companions and their values.  As you get further into the book it seems like the initial judgement was more a projection of what the author perceives as people's general intolerance of each other's ways of thinking and nothing like what he really thinks.  In fact, the "why can't we all just get along" question appears to be what the author sets out to solve when he comes up with his "Quality" philosophy.

I read the book in a few days and when I was finished, I wished I had taken it much more slowly.  I think it would have been easier and more meaningful if I had taken it a little at a time and been more contemplative about it.  (Also, it could have saved me some massive headaches.)  A word of warning:  Mental illness is part of the story of both father and son and is a prominent figure in the book, though not the focus.  Those that are sensitive to mental illness-related issues might find the book a little disturbing.

A real thinker, uplifting, and inspiring- not to mention a mind bender (genius-philosopher-motorcycle dude sat outside my paradigm before reading this)- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is something more substantial than I usually read and it made my head hurt.  A lot.

1 comment:

The Coolest Allen Family said...

I'm going to have to read this one. Maybe with a diet coke and some ibuprofen.