Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

From Academic Kids

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values is the first of Robert M. Pirsig's books in which he begins to explain a Metaphysics of Quality. The 1974 book contains a description of a journey across the United States, interrupted by numerous philosophical dissertations referred to as chautauquas.

The plot of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance involves a cross-country trip on a motorcycle which the author took with his son and two friends. At the beginning of the novel he explicitly states that large portions of the trip were edited for the novel "for the sake of rhetoric." During this trip, however, the main character divulges his collection of material from a teacher he names 'Phaedrus'. As the trip goes on, the plot splits into three forks: the physical trip, Pirsig's musings on Quality, and the story of Phaedrus.

In this book, the author explores the meaning of the concept "quality". In the sequel to this book (Lila: An Inquiry into Morals), Pirsig expands his exploration into quality into a complete metaphysics which he calls The Metaphysics of Quality. The Metaphysics of Quality is a philosophy, a theory about reality. It asks questions such as what is real, what is good and what is moral. As the title of the book suggests, much of the MOQ has to do with a non-intellectual Zen-like view of the universe. Yet Pirsig departs from Eastern thinking by arguing that reason and logic are just as important in seeking understanding. He explains in the book that, despite its title, "it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles, either."

Pirsig is not the first philosopher to try to bridge the gap between science and mysticism; however, with the MOQ he elevates the whole debate to a new level by structuring both paradigms around a single concept -- value. Pirsig throws new light on issues such as mind and matter, the behavior of particles at the quantum level and the nature of consciousness. At the social level there is much to say about racial tension, celebrity cults and mental illness.

The title is an incongruous play on the title of an earlier, well-known (among Western Buddhists) book Zen and the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel. Now, Pirsig's book is the more well-known.

Pirsig's journey and philosophy are continued in Lila: An Inquiry into Morals.

Trivia: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the bestseller that was rejected by the greatest number of potential publishers (120+).

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