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zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance

I always wanted to read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values"
by Robert M. Pirsig. I first learned about it in college from a technical writing professor I had, she said it was about a writer who saw beauty and truths of life in the mechanical and technical challenges of the world. Then I tried reading it in my 20s, got about halfway through, got distracted. Picked it up again this year because I'm reading so much that a long book isn't so intimidating.

Truth be told, the book is exhausting. This guy is riding a motorcycle across the country thinking about philosophy and his former life. He's obsessed with philosophy, logic, quality... but gets so far out there on these issues that it loses its connection to the practical world. All I could think was "man, you've got a lot of time on your hands."

amazon reviewers love this book in droves, and say that if you don't "get it" then you're a "tweeter" who should just go back to reading john grisham. so if you want to think that about me, fine. I don't think I have an attention span issue though, I think it's more that I'd like to think about other things and little steps to move forward. This book is about a man living a simple life, sure, life on the road camping out with his son, eating cheese and sausage, appreciating little things, and fixating on a tiny question like "what is quality?" for 50 pages. People who love this book think this is a perfect way to live as a human. But for me, if I was going to shun the complexities of this world and live on the road, I'd do more listening and less personal pondering. I'd simplify so I could help other people and be part of the world, the character of this book is so not-part of the world he goes totally insane and has to be hospitalized and treated with electric shocks.

I mean you ever talk to a guy who's just so out there and ungrounded all you can do is shake your head and say "you should get a girlfriend"? that's how I felt. he's harping on how he challenges university professors of philosophy and just nabbing them because he doesn't like Aristotle or whatever and I just can't find it in myself to care all that much.

To further insult the fans of this book, I'm going to recommend to all my friends here to read quotes from it, not the whole thing. There are lots of great quotes! Yes, I'm reducing it.

“The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.”

“You look at where you're going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you've been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

“The real cycle you're working on is a cycle called yourself.”

“You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It's easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.”

“Did Einstein really mean to state that truth was a function of time? To state that would annihilate the most basic presumption of all science!”

I'm not saying you shouldn't read the book. Just saying, if you see a quote and love, if you think to yourself "wow I wish I could read 20 more pages just on this idea!" well then pick up the book. And if you love it, then come back and thank me for introducing it to you while you hate me for not being smart, patient, or tiresome enough to appreciate it as a whole.

I would have liked more motorcycle maintenance.

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( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 26th, 2016 11:19 am (UTC)
Wasn't there a paper somewhere where they used an ML algorithm on some inspiring quote Twitter feed and some people were completely unable to distinguish between the real quotes and utter machine-generated nonsense?

I too once tried to read this in college but didn't get anywhere with it- the eyes kept on rolling out of my head.
Apr. 26th, 2016 01:33 pm (UTC)
This is one of the few books that I could not finish. I think I was trying to read it in my early twenties before I realized that every article about a man who is making it through life with all of his life belongings in a duffle bag really annoys me. A man who only needs the contents of one duffle bag to live has no children or no family. He has no responsibilities. What lessons are we supposed to be learning from an adult who can lead the simple life because he has no responsibilities?
Apr. 26th, 2016 03:08 pm (UTC)
And sometimes they DO have kids! But somehow it's okay that someone else is mostly raising them.
Apr. 26th, 2016 03:18 pm (UTC)
Now we are getting into the life of Buddha before he became Buddha.
Apr. 27th, 2016 01:41 am (UTC)
seriously! I can't describe why but it seems like a real male thing to be able to be admired for helping no one. at one point he even talks about greek mythology and these soldiers who'd leave their wives and families to go off to battle like, well, gotta go BYE! with no concern over the wives and kids getting attached back at home. why is it that when women go off soul searching it's considered frivolous selfish girl time, but when men do it they're getting back to some sacred roots?
Apr. 26th, 2016 01:37 pm (UTC)
Apr. 26th, 2016 02:01 pm (UTC)
I found it unbearably pretentious, but I could see where--at a certain stage in my life--I could have found it moving and profound. Alas, no longer.
Apr. 26th, 2016 03:07 pm (UTC)
I couldn't finish it either.
Apr. 26th, 2016 03:08 pm (UTC)
I think a perfect person would be a terrible painter. Painting is all about sitting with your strangeness and imperfectness and then expressing that visually.
Apr. 26th, 2016 03:54 pm (UTC)
I remember the first wave of this books popularity in the 70s; I couldn't manage to read it then and I'm sure I'd be even less tolerant of it now. But I think it filled a niche; I was a computer tech/electronics major and fair number of the guys (it was all guys except for me) read it, even though this segment of the college population would moan and groan about having to take a philosophy class. So it made some concepts palatable, through the use of manly motorcycles, to guys who would have otherwise never read about philosophy. I have no idea if any of them went on to read other books about the subject, but at least the exposure was there.
Apr. 26th, 2016 03:59 pm (UTC)
When you're a philosophy major (like I was), people always ask if you've read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. There comes a point where you're tired of the questions and so you finally read it.

Anyone who's even taken a 101 survey course of philosophy will side-eye a lot of Pirsig's explanations on philosophy. He's not entirely wrong or off-base, necessary, but he's presenting his interpretation (one that fits into his schema of "quality") as though it's philosophical canon and nope nope nope, that's not how this works. It's been years since I've read it, so I can't remember any moments anymore that made me go "excuse me?" (except his defense of the pre-Socratic Sophists, and I freely admit that the classics/philosophy canon or my own instructors may have been biased but the Sophists and sophistry was generally cast as the bad guy). But there were moments; I was finishing my junior year when I read it so while not ~~an expert in any way, this was my wheelhouse (so to speak). I blasted the book on GoodReads and maybe here on LJ for that, but admitted I couldn't speak to the presentation of the Buddhist aspects of it.

Unrelated to the book, a couple years after I graduated I drifted towards Rinzai Zen Buddhism. Now that I know (a little) more about Buddhism, I feel like I should read the book again to see if it still bothers me so much. Probably. I've heard from people on the other side (i.e. Zen scholars who didn't know so much about classical/Western philosophy) that it's "Orientalist garbage" so I don't think I'll be blown away.

This is too bad because I think Pirsig is really wonderful with his writing. But it's too....idk, I guess "charismatic cultish white dude I've figured it ALL out and yet somehow my life is still a mess" for me to be really ~~~affected by it.
Apr. 26th, 2016 04:59 pm (UTC)
I loved this book when I was in college. I guess I was still too inexperienced to see it as trite or simplistic. Now, even the quotes make me want to gag.
Apr. 26th, 2016 06:22 pm (UTC)
I wonder if it could just be the difference between the literary and the mathematical. Reading just those few quotations, I kind of want to gag, too. The whole stream of consciousness made for a good swim, though. Maybe it helps if the reader is feeling a little out of the mainstream, too. It's a great little odyssey of being lost and finding yourself.

Not too long ago, he also came out with a sequel, but I confess, I didn't even check it out, and I get the impression that it didn't really hit the mark. I thought it would be hard to build on what he did, having said it all already. They say that everyone has one good book in them, and I figured that was probably his.
Apr. 26th, 2016 08:00 pm (UTC)
Yeah. I finished it, and found it really annoying, because the writer waffles in lots of directions to basically cover up the fact that they have no real argument, that they are using multiple meanings of "Quality" to cover up the big holes in their argument, and "common sense" to hide that they make no sense.

I even read a little of the "sequel" and that was even more annoying.
Apr. 27th, 2016 03:45 am (UTC)
I started "Zen" when it was a New Thing and don't think I got 40 pages in. Can't say I've ever thought of giving it another shot. Thanks, FanSee
Apr. 27th, 2016 05:46 am (UTC)
I have not read it, but have come across the title a couple times, and based on the title I thought it would be interesting. I am very disappointed--but also glad that I didn't waste my time.

See, I was expecting motorcycle maintenance presented in a conversational manner, and I thought the zen part would be something to do with how working with your hands can get you into a frame of mind where you find inner peace, or something. I'm so disappointed it doesn't even have much (or any?) motorcycle maintenance.
Apr. 27th, 2016 11:01 am (UTC)
I took a metaphysics class in high school and we had to read that book. I really hated it. Actually, I sort of hated the whole class.
Apr. 28th, 2016 04:07 am (UTC)
I read the book my freshman year of college (got it off bookmooch); the parts about working on motorcycle tuning were great. The parts with the multiple personality disorder starring Phaedrus less great.

Now that I do Quality for a living, I'm tempted to return to it and see if I can sympathize with his rabid obsession, but somehow I doubt it.
Apr. 29th, 2016 02:52 am (UTC)
i read it once; i wasn't too impressed.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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