"Zen and Now: on the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Mark Richardson

by MediaPhile@evpl on Thursday, November 27 2008, 9:23pm. Viewed 925 times.

zen and now

No, you aren't seeing double.  The cover of this biographical travelogue features zen and the art...an out-of-focus motorcyle.

I was in grad school in 1974 when "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" was published.  I never read it or its British precursor, "Zen in the Art of Archery" -- I wasn't a big fan of either Zen OR motorcycle maintenance.  Starting small,  sales of the book grew by word of mouth, eventually totalling in the millions, with translation into 27 languages.  It became a sort of cult classic with philosophers as well as the counter-culture.

Fast forward 30+ years, and a motorcyle enthusiast and sports writer named Mark Richardson has reproduced Robert Pirsig's 17-day motorcycle trip from Minneapolis to San Francisco.  Pirsig, travelling with his young son Chris and a married couple, had roughed it -- camping every evening. Richardson, armed with GPS and a laptop, did the trip alone and stayed in cheap motels. 

Richardson cleverly intersperses his narrative of his own trip with biographical information about Pirsig.  Pirsig, who claimed an IQ of 170, had degrees and both science and philosophy.  He taught at several colleges, but constantly rankled adminstrators with his refusal to follow the institutional rules.  He was eventually diagnosed as a schizophrenic and endured a series of shock treatments, which he later claimed destroyed a large chunk of his personality.

Pirsig returned to his wife and two sons and took a job as a writer of technical manuals.  He had earlier flown small planes, but now become a motorcyclist.   He found he loved not only the open road, but also the connectedness that resulted from maintaining his own bike.  Hence his cross-country trip and the book of philosophical ruminations that resulted.  Publication brought financial independence, including an ocean-going yacht, but not peace.  Both sons had their own problems, as did his marriage.  And his second book, "Lila," was a relative flop.

I was intrigued enough by this book to attempt to read "Zen and the Art of Motocycle Maintenance,"  but I must admit that I only made it through about the first 75 pages.  I guess I find Pirsig's story more interesting than his thoughts.


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