Pirsig's book, "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance" was first
published in 1974 to much critical acclaim after having been turned
down by more than a hundred different publishers.
It is a very
personal and involved autobiographical book, which describes not only a
motorcycle journey across the Rocky Mountains, but also Pirsig's
difficult relationship to his son after a mental breakdown.
Amidst this personal narrative is what Pirsig calls a "chautauqua" -
after the movement of travelling road shows of adult education which
were highly popular in the rural United States in the late 19th and
early 20th century. This chautauqua is an exploration of what led to
Pirsig's mental breakdown in the first place, and it is through his
exploration of these themes that Pirsig comes to touch upon Zen and
I read the book in the summer of 2007,
and was immediately taken by the originality of Pirsig's thought, his
perceptive reflections on the nature of quality and how eastern
mysticism in the form of Zen could be applied to western rationality in
the form of motorcycle maintenance.
As Pirsig himself states,
the motorcycle in question is merely a vehicle to help understand how
people relate to technology, and how Zen and mysticism can help relax
our relationship to the tools, which we have created to ease our lives, but at the mercy of which we often find ourselves.
But I was frustrated that these insights were hidden
away, almost obscured within Pirsig's personal narrative, which most of
all presented him as an estranged father incapable of relating to his
son, as well as the longer, rambling passages through which Pirsig
attempted to define quality - a rambling intellectual exercise which he
describes as the cause of his mental breakdown.
Both of these
elements were obviously very important to Pirsig, but they helped make
the book a much longer, much more tiresome read that distracted the
readers whose main interest were the practices mentioned in book's
Thus, I took it upon myself to remix parts of the book
into a shorter, much more pragmatic text focusing solely on our
everyday relationship to technology and how how the fusion of eastern
and western thought can offer us practical means of ensuring
quality - of use, maintenance, and design.
remixing this text, I've added elements describing Zen from the Nihon
Services corporation's translation of Miyamoto Musashi's "The book of
five rings" to give more background on Zen thought.
I have also
rewritten parts of the original text to remove the character of
Phædrus, Pirsig's pre-breakdown alter ego. As Pirsig himself has noted in an interview,
he wrote the entire book in the first person before introducing the
character of Phædrus to reduce the number of 'I''s in the text. I
have merely reinstated those 'I''s.
I have cut out bits from all
over the book and reassembled them in a tighter, more essay-like form.
I have divided these parts into 18 sections which can be accessed
individually above. I have also provided a .pdf version for printing.
of all, this is not meant to be disrespectful to Robert Pirsig in any
way. He certainly takes great pride in his ability as a writer and
stuck by his guns all the way through to get the book published in its
current form. This remix is an experimental attempt to present some of
Pirsig's ideas in an even more accessible format. Ideas that many
people might not otherwise come across because of the way those ideas have been presented so far.
- Andreas Lloyd 2007
|Gentle remix, rough cut|
Table of Contents
I - Opening
II - Caring about your work
III - Two realities of technology
IV - Classic and romantic understanding
V - Hierarchies of the mind
VI - Motorcycles and logic
VII - The a priori motorcycle
VIII - "Assembly of Japanese bicycle requires great peace of mind"
IX - Teaching quality
X - What is quality in thought and statement?
XI - Soul. Quality. The same?
XII - Mystic quality
XIII - On Zen and caring
XIV - On stuckness
XV - Cultivating peace of mind
XVI - Gaining gumption
XVII - Maintaining yourself
XVIII - Improving the world with quality