Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Mass Market Paperback – Mar 1 1984
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In his now classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig brings us a literary chautauqua, a novel that is meant to both entertain and edify. It scores high on both counts.
Phaedrus, our narrator, takes a present-tense cross-country motorcycle trip with his son during which the maintenance of the motorcycle becomes an illustration of how we can unify the cold, rational realm of technology with the warm, imaginative realm of artistry. As in Zen, the trick is to become one with the activity, to engage in it fully, to see and appreciate all details--be it hiking in the woods, penning an essay, or tightening the chain on a motorcycle.
In his autobiographical first novel, Pirsig wrestles both with the ghost of his past and with the most important philosophical questions of the 20th century--why has technology alienated us from our world? what are the limits of rational analysis? if we can't define the good, how can we live it? Unfortunately, while exploring the defects of our philosophical heritage from Socrates and the Sophists to Hume and Kant, Pirsig inexplicably stops at the middle of the 19th century. With the exception of Poincaré, he ignores the more recent philosophers who have tackled his most urgent questions, thinkers such as Peirce, Nietzsche (to whom Phaedrus bears a passing resemblance), Heidegger, Whitehead, Dewey, Sartre, Wittgenstein, and Kuhn. In the end, the narrator's claims to originality turn out to be overstated, his reasoning questionable, and his understanding of the history of Western thought sketchy. His solution to a synthesis of the rational and creative by elevating Quality to a metaphysical level simply repeats the mistakes of the premodern philosophers. But in contrast to most other philosophers, Pirsig writes a compelling story. And he is a true innovator in his attempt to popularize a reconciliation of Eastern mindfulness and nonrationalism with Western subject/object dualism. The magic of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance turns out to lie not in the answers it gives, but in the questions it raises and the way it raises them. Like a cross between The Razor's Edge and Sophie's World, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance takes us into "the high country of the mind" and opens our eyes to vistas of possibility. --Brian Bruya --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Profoundly important... full of insights into our most perplexing contemporary dilemmas... It is intellectual entertainment of the highest order." -- The New York Times
"It lodges in the mind as few recent novels have... The book is inspired, original... As the mountains gentle toward the sea--with father and child locked in a ghostly grip--the narrative tact, the perfect economy of effect defy criticism... The analogies with Moby Dick are patent. Robert Pirsig invites the prodigious comparison... What more can one say?" -- The New Yorker
"It's a miracle.. sparkles like an electric dream. Freshness, originality... that seduces you into loving motorcycles, as tender in their pistons as the petals in the Buddah's dawn lotus." -- The Village Voice
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Top Customer Reviews
The journey is not only a geographical one. As he travels west, he relives the course of his illness. When the story begins, it is told from the point of view of the recovered patient. But as the journey progresses, it becomes clear that the narrator is undergoing a parallel internal journey of his own. His illness returns and as the journey progresses, his voice becomes more and more that of Phaedrus, his alter ego who is the source of his "madness".
Unfortunately, he has dragged his young son along for the ride.
Most of the story takes place in the narrator's head. He holds "chataquas", information sessions where he expounds on his beliefs, reviewing his thoughts in his head as he travel across the countryside. The first of these are somewhat reasonable and give the book its title. He strongly believes in wholly embracing every task completely, living it, internalizing it and becoming totally absorbed in it. This is the "zen" of the title. He applies this belief to his motorcycle, which is where the "motorcycle maintenance" part of the title comes in. He is a staunch believer in maintaining one's own motorcycle. However, he can't stop there. His traveling companions do not share his opinions. In fact, they want nothing to do with maintaining their own motorbikes. And this is where it becomes apparent that something is wrong.Read more ›
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a journey written by Robert M. Pirsig. It was released in 1974 after facing rejection from over 100 publishers. And now it a cultural milestone and modern philosophical classic that have spawned a sequel and multiple guidebooks. My first discovery of this book was over 20 years ago and it still resides in me. The adventure never really ended.
The Chautauqua, as the author calls it, of this story is a simple motorcycle trip across America. He and his son are trying to sort out the father's issues. And there are many. Being a lifelong philosopher, Pirsig has spent insurmountable time pondering the question of Quality. What is Quality? How do you define it? His family and his life take a backseat to this quest, causing disruptions to his psyche. A nervous breakdown and time in a mental institution follow, coupled with slight memory loss. Now, on this motorcycle trip with his younger son Chris, he is desperately trying to recover his lost past and reconnect with his child. It does not go well.
Veering between three strands, all parts of the story accelerate to a scary ending. You will fear for them both in the last chapter.
One part of the tapestry is the motorcycle trip itself. Where they go and with whom. The places they visit and the people they meet. All contribute to Pirsig's musings on Quality. You feel this is simply the backdrop, a collage with which to hang the other threads on. This person reminds Pirsig of this idea, so now he will expound on it. Whether the events of ride are completely accurate is left for the reader to decide.Read more ›
Am I sorry I read the book? No, I think that in sum it was a worthwhile experience. Would I rush to read it again? No, I wouldn't, and I would offer only a qualified recommendation to anyone who asked if they should read this book. I would tell them that if they were willing to be patient and were willing to allot a significant chunk of time to the book then they would almost certainly get something out of it and they would have enhanced, in some small way, their general cultural literacy.
Coming from a background of the dry sciences, my reading of classical literature is hardly amazing. These two topics do not go together and rarely have anything to bridge the gap. This book does that job wonderfully. For the first time, I understood literature of this complexity, because it deals with the sciences and the arts; it kept me interested and also made me relate my life to the characters lives.
So, what do I suggest? If you have the time, the patience, and an open mind, this book will do you wonders and will stick with you for years to come.
Most recent customer reviews
This is the third time I've read this book, and it gets more clever and meaningful every time. A book to be savoured...Published 1 month ago by hen3ry
It is definitely not a light read. Rather, it is one of those books that you can enjoy reading slowly and reflecting on as you go along.
What i do not understand is why this book is constantly listed under religion and spirituality! This book has absolutely nothing to do with either topic.Published 9 months ago by Brett B.
All these years later I finally got around to reading this classic book that so many have praised and recommended. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Tim B.
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