RIP Robert Pirsig (Zen/Lila)

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as well as the sequel Lila: an Inquiry into Morals helped shape the way I see the world. RIP.

[quote]In the nearly five years it took Robert Pirsig to sell “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” 121 publishers rejected the rambling novel.

The 122nd gently warned Pirsig, a former rhetoric professor who had a job writing technical manuals, not to expect more than his $3,000 advance.

“The book is not, as I think you now realize from your correspondence with other publishers, a marketing man’s dream,” the editor at William Morrow wrote in a congratulatory note before its 1974 publication.

He was wrong. “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values” sold 50,000 copies in three months and more than 5 million in the decades since. The dense tome has been translated into at least 27 languages. A reviewer for the New Yorker likened its author to Herman Melville. Its popularity made Pirsig “probably the most widely read philosopher alive,” a British journalist wrote in 2006…

…“Zen” and Pirsig’s less successful 1991 novel, “Lila,” are not easy reads. In both, he develops what he calls the “Metaphysics of Quality,” a philosophy that attempts to unite and transcend the mysticism of the East and the reason of the West.[/quote]

Huh. I didn’t know he was still alive, but I hadn’t thought about it really. I was just reminiscing about his work in a blog post a few weeks back, however.

When I was an earnest young geeky social outcast, I went through a phase of reading philosophy- everthing from the classics to Neitzsche to new-agey crap. Pirsig was, of course, in there- pretty much had to be since I grew up around motorcycles (my mom rode a Harley Sportster, and at the time I had a scooter- all I could afford).

I thought his stuff was ok- as far as I was concerned , he was always too heavy on the ‘West’ end of the marriage he was going for. Lots of good lines though, in both Zen… and Lila.

White Wolf’s Mage: The Ascension was explicitly based on his books (and a healthy dose of Bach’s Illusions, which I also loved), and for me that makes it my favorite thing that they ever did.

Oddly, my favorite bit from Zen… wasn’t about the philosophy at all. It was about the motorcycles, and it remains the driving thought of why I still ride year-round to this day (even here in wet Seattle)

“You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.”

RIP, man.

This will maybe sound silly, because you can’t really occupy or appreciate another person’s headspace, but for whatever reason I was reading Motorcycle Maintenance during breaks while I was taking the CPA exam. And is responsible, in some small way, for my abandoning that path. You’ll be missed, sir.

I actually just started reading Zen recently for the first time. RIP :(

As silly as it is, it was Mage: The Ascension that got me to read ZAMM.

It was actually a misleading and kinda hokey title, considering the book’s content. But whatever. It brought some deep thought to the masses.

Zen was actually a good book, although it didn’t really have much to do with Zen, it was just a catchy title.

“Quality” as he put it remains an interesting concept, that has resonances with other philosophies. It’s quite similar to what Sam Harris means by “spirituality”, I think - the baby in the bathwater of religions and the more experientially-oriented philosophies like Buddhism.