Robert Pirsig's
Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance


Remixer's notes

Robert 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" -
named 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 Motorcycle maintenance.

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 title.

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.


In 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.

Most 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