Saturday, February 19, 2005

Zen and the Art of Critical Reading

Robert Pirsig wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in order to communicate with the reader that each of us has a duality about ourselves, each of us has choices to make, and each of us have a need to determine our own definitions of our own values. In order to do this, Mr. Pirsig discusses his own battle with his past using the framework of a cross country motorcycle trek to do so. In each section of the book he introduces new ideas which, in order to be fully understood, must be contemplated with previous ideas and ideas that he introduces later. In this respect he builds the book as if it were the foundation of a house. Each idea is a brick and links to another and another.

Chapter 1

We find ourselves upon a motorcycle riding in the hot morning sharing in the ride smelling the smells and feeling the wind rush by us, we feel the rush of seeing wildlife, hearing the motor roar and trying to yell over the clamor to our passenger or fellow riders. This is a clever literary trick, Mr. Pirsig has shown us that our journey actually began before the book started, perhaps on our way home from purchasing the book, perhaps at the bookstore, perhaps our journey actually began when we discovered that we had self-realization. Perhaps Pirsig's journey began at that same time, an hour ago, yesterday, last week. Pirsig has shown us that the "I" in this book could be the "I" that is reading it. We are the same, yet as we read on we can see that we are different. Here Pirsig makes his first reference to the past as well, tying in this stretch of open road to "memories" that his fellow rider "doesn't have." The fellow rider is Chris, his son.

Pirsig also comments upon how traveling by motorcycle is different than traveling by car or bus or train or plane, in those vehicles one is relegated to being "a passive observer" instead of a part of it all. His comments also regard his anti-establishment views to a certain extent. He mentions that the rural routes and country highways are things that we, the interstate driven people, are "trained not to see."

Those are bricks numbered one and two. Self-realization and being "trained not to see." Though they sound different in aspect, they are related to the modern man in ways that we'll make apparent over the next few weeks. Eventually I will edit these blog entries and create a more cohesive structure which should shed the light on why this book is such an important work that it should be required reading.

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