AN INQUIRY INTO VALUES: “You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other.” There’s an understatement! Robert M. Pirsig wrote those words in his famous book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values in 1974. I read the book when it came out and recently enjoyed it again – even more so.
Of course the book is more a work of philosophy and the pursuit of “Quality” than a story about motorcycles.
“…you get a pretty accurate basic description of modern American technology; stylized cars and stylized outboard motors and stylized typewriters and stylized clothes.Â Stylized refrigerators, filled with stylized food in stylized kitchens in stylized houses. Plastic stylized toys for stylized children, who at Christmas and birthdays are in style with their stylish parents.Â You have to be awfully stylish yourself not to get sick of it once in a while.Â It’s the style that gets you; technological ugliness syruped over with romantic phoniness in an effort to produce beauty and profit by people who, though stylish, don’t know where to start because no one has ever told them there’s such a thing as Quality in this world and it’s real, not style.Â Quality isn’t something you lay on top of subjects and objects like tinsel on a Christmas tree.Â Real quality must be the source of the subjects and objects, the cone from which the tree must start.”
However, the story is set against the backdrop of a father and son cross-country motorcycle tour. The tale does include some insightful passages regarding the long-distance riding experience, and the background riding story also represents a contrast to the touring accouterments available to today’s cross-country tourer relative to a simpler era of the 60’s. (Although published in ’74, the ride was in the 60’s).
The book is a great read for anyone philosophically inclined, but holds an especially compelling interest for any motorcyclist. This is a thoughtful book of understated wisdom.
Having said that, I wonder if it’s a book that the majority of modern readers would enjoy.
Have you read it?
Did you enjoy it?
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2 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”
It’s philosophy on two wheels. . .but you also need to read the follow-up exploration called “Zen and Now” where many years later, the writer follows Pirsig’s trail, both historically and philosophically. You learn about Pirsig’s real history and and his son Chris’s personal tragedy. It’s a must read for anyone who wants to know more about Pirsig’s life, and the quest he left for others to follow.
Both read and enjoyed in 2010