Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

by Robert M Pirsig
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

by Robert M Pirsig

Paperback(Reprint)

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Overview

Notes From Your Bookseller

It’s not easy for a book about life to stay relevant for half a century (and counting), but this is one such book. Equal parts father and son, personal narrative and a search for meaning, it’s about life and how to live it, and yes it’s about motorcycle maintenance as well. Just slightly.

At its heart, the story is all too simple: a man and his son take a lengthy motorcycle trip through America. But this is not a simple trip at all, for around every corner, through mountain and desert, wind and rain, and searing heat and biting cold, their pilgrimage leads them to new vistas of self-discovery and renewal.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Mantenance is an elemental work that has helped to shape and define the past twenty-five years of American culture. This special audio edition presents this adventure in a compelling way - for the millions who have already taken this journey and want to travel these roads again, and for the many more who will discover for the first time the wonders and challenges of a journey that will change the way they think and feel about their lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061673733
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/30/2008
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 17,114
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 5.76(h) x 1.21(d)

About the Author

Robert M. Pirsig (1928–2017) is the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which has sold more than five-million copies since its publication in 1974, and Lila, a finalist for the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. He graduated from the University of Minnesota (B.A., 1950; M.A., 1958) and attended Benares Hindu University in India, where he studied Eastern philosophy, and the University of Chicago, where he pursued a PhD in philosophy. Pirsig’s motorcycle resides in the Smithsonian Institution.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

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. The wind, even at sixty miles an hour, is warm and humid. When it's this hot and muggy at eight-thirty, I'm wondering what it's going to be like in the afternoon.

In the wind are pungent odors from the marshes by the road. We are in an area of the Central Plains filled with thousands of duck hunting sloughs, heading northwest from Minneapolis toward the Dakotas. This highway is an old concrete two-laner that hasn't had much traffic since a four-laner went in parallel to it several years ago. When we pass a marsh the air suddenly becomes cooler. Then, when we are past, it suddenly warms up again.

I'm happy to be riding back into this country. It is a kind of nowhere, famous for nothing at all and has an appeal because of just that. Tensions disappear along old roads like this. We bump along the beat-up concrete between the cattails and stretches of meadow and then more cattails and marsh grass. Here and there is a stretch of open water and if you look closely you can see wild ducks at the edge of the cattails. And turtles. . . . There's a red-winged blackbird.

I whack Chris's knee and point to it, "What!" he hollers.

"Blackbird!"

He says something I don't hear. "What?" I holler back. He grabs the back of my helmet and hollers up, "I've seen lots of those, Dad!"

"Oh!" I holler back. Then I nod. At age eleven you don't get very impressed with red-winged blackbirds.

You have to get older for that. For me this is all mixed with memories that he doesn't have. Cold mornings long ago when the marsh grass had turned brown andcattails were waving in the northwest wind. The pungent smell then was from muck stirred up by hip boots while we were getting in position for the sun to come up and the duck season to open. Or winters when the sloughs were frozen over and dead and I could walk across the ice and snow between the dead cat-tails and see nothing but grey skies and dead things and cold. The blackbirds were gone then. But now in July they're back and everything is at its alivest and every foot of these sloughs is humming and cricking and buzzing and chirping, a whole community of millions of living things living out their lives in a kind of benign continuum.

You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it's right there, so blurred you can't focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.

Chris and I are traveling to Montana with some friends riding up ahead, and maybe headed farther than that. Plans are deliberately indefinite, more to travel than to arrive anywhere. We are just vacationing. Secondary roads are preferred. Paved county roads are the best, state highways are next. Freeways are the worst. We want to make good time, but for us now this is measured with emphasis on "good" rather than "time" and when you make that shift in emphasis the whole approach changes. Twisting hilly roads are long in terms of seconds but are much more enjoyable on a cycle where you bank into turns and don't get swung from side to side in any compartment. Roads with little traffic are more enjoyable, as well as safer. Roads free of drive-ins and billboards are better, roads where groves and meadows and orchards and lawns come almost to the shoulder, where kids wave to you when you ride by, where people look from their porches to see who it is, where when you stop to ask directions or information the answer tends to be longer than you want rather than short, where people ask where you're from and how long you've been riding.It was some years ago that my wife and I and our friends first began to catch on to these roads. We took them once in a while for variety or for a shortcut to another main highway, and each time the scenery was grand and we left the road with a feeling of relaxation and enjoyment. We did this time after time before realizing what should have been obvious: these roads are truly different from the main ones. The whole pace of life and personality of the people who live along them are different. They're not going anywhere.

Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
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.

Topics for Discussion

  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is at once the story of a motorcycle journey across the country; a meditation on values and the concept of Quality; and an allegorical tale of a man coming to terms with his past. Discuss which aspects of the novel you found most compelling, and why.

  • Discuss Pirsig's Author's Note. What does he mean when he says "much has been changed for rhetorical purposes?" Is he saying the book is fact or fiction? How does his use of a first-person narrator make this a complex question? What is the relationship between author and narrator?

  • Discuss ZMM's epigraph: And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good -- Need we ask anyone to tell us these things? How does this query resemble a Buddhist koan -- a paradoxical or nonsensical question that emphasizes the process of meditating on the question rather than the answer? Why do you think Pirsig chose this excerpt to introduce the book?

  • At the beginning of their trip, the narrator and John have a conversation in which the narrator refers to education as "mass hypnosis," citing as an example the fact that Newton's law of gravity is nothing more than a human invention, as are laws of logic, mathematics, and ghosts. Why doesthis dialogue take place at the outset of the novel, as opposed to somewhere in the middle or the end of the trip? How is Pirsig preparing the reader for the novel's future scenes?

  • In setting out the topic for his Chautauqua, Pirsig compares the current consciousness to a stream overflowing its channels, causing destruction and havoc as it searches for new ones: "There are eras of human history in which the channels of thought have been too deeply cut and no change was possible, and nothing new ever happened, and 'best' was a matter of dogma, but that is not the situation now. Now the stream of our common consciousness seems to be obliterating its own banks, losing its central direction and purpose. . . . Some channel deepening seems called for." (p. 16). Can you explain this metaphor? What sorts of change is he referring to? What does he mean by "channel deepening?"

  • As a writer of technical manuals, the narrator decries the current situation in which the idea of who a man is has become separated from what he does. He claims that in this separation are clues to "what the hell has gone wrong with the twentieth century." How does this concept fit in to what you know of Zen Buddhism, which celebrates the oneness of the universe? Do you feel at one with your occupation? Explain why or why not. If not, what is keeping you from feeling connected to what you do for a living? Would you feel more satisfied, or be a better worker, if you did feel that connection?

  • The narrator divides human understanding into two categories: romantic and classical. Discuss the distinction between the two. How do you fit into either of these dichotomies? Give examples that illustrate the tendencies that make you, personally, either classical or romantic.

  • How does Pirsig introduce and develop the character of Phaedrus? Can you rely on the narrator to offer an accurate picture of Phaedrus's insanity? Do you think Phaedrus really was insane?

  • What do you think of the narrator's son, Chris? Does he seem troubled, or merely a typical boy impatient with his father's behavior? Who do you think is a better father to Chris -- Phaedrus or the narrator?

  • Why do you think the narrator refuses to complete the trek up the mountain, despite Chris's disappointment that they won't be reaching the top? Is the threat of a rock slide real? Is he afraid to "meet" Phaedrus? Is he making a statement about ego relative to Zen philosophy? What is happening in the Chautauqua at this point in the book?

  • Discuss the climactic scene -- a confrontation between Chris and the narrator that takes place on a foggy cliff overlooking the ocean. Where is Phaedrus? What does this scene reveal about all three characters? How does this scene change your interpretations of the events that have lead up to it? What is the significance of Chris and his father removing their helmets for the remainder of the journey?

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