Robert M. Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” [excerpts]



By Robert M. Pirsig (1974)

(Ed. Harper Torch Philosophy,
New York, 1999, 540 pgs.)

“Clichés and stereotypes such as ‘beatnik’ or ‘hippie’ have been invented for the antitechnologists, the antisystem people, and will continue to be. But one does not convert individuals into mass people with the simple coining of a mass term. John and Sylvia are not mass people and neither are most of the others going their way. It is against being a mass person that they seem to be revolting.” (pg. 21)

* * * * *

“…to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic tought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the suceeding government…” (pg. 122)

* * * * *

“It’s sometimes argued that there’s no real progress; that a civilization that kills multitudes in mass warfare, that pollutes the land and oceans with ever larger quantities of debris, that destroys the dignity of individuals by subjecting them to a forced mechanized existence can hardly be called an advance over the simpler hunting and gathering and agricultural existence of prehistoric times. But this argument, though romantically appealing, doesn’t hold up. The primitive tribes permiteed far less individual freedom than does modern society. Ancient wars were committed with far less moral justification than modern ones. A technology that produces debris can find, and is finding, ways of disposing of it without ecological upset. And the schoolbook pictures of primitive man sometimes omit some of the detractions of his primitive life – the pain, the disease, famine, the hard labor needed just to stay alive. From that agony of bare existence to modern life can be soberly described only as upward progress, and the sole agent for this progress is quite clearly reason itself.” (pg. 157)

* * * * *

“No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt. The militancy of the Jesuits he somewhat resembled is a case in point. Historically their zeal stems not from the strenght of the Catholic Church but from its weakness in the face of the Reformation. It was Phaedrus lack of faith in reason that made him such a fanatic teacher. (…) He was telling them you have to have faith in reason because there isn’t anything eles. But it was a faith he didn’t have himself.” (pg. 190)

* * * * *

“What was behind this smug presumption that what pleased you was bad, or at least unimportant in comparison to other things? It seemed the quintessence of the squareness he was fighting. Little children were trained not to do ‘just what they liked’ but… but what?… Of course! What others liked. And which others? Parents, teachers, supervisors, policemen, judges, officials, kings, dictators. All authorities. When you are trained to despise ‘just what you like’ then, of course, you become a much more obedient servant of others – a good slave. When you learn not to do ‘just what you like’ then the System loves you. But suppose you do just what you like? Does that mean you’re going to go out and shoot heroin, rob banks and rape old ladies? (…) Soon he saw there was much more to this than he had been aware of. When people said, ‘Don’t do just what you like’, they didn’t just mean, ‘Obey authority’. They also meant something else. This ‘something eles’ opened up into a huge area of classic scientific belief which stated that ‘what you like’ is unimportant because it’s all composed of irrational emotions within yourself.” (pg. 297)

* * * * *

“…at the cutting edge of time, before an object could be distinguished, there must be a kind of nonintellectual awareness, which he called awareness of Quality. You can’t be aware that you’ve seen a tree until after you’ve seen the tree, and between the instant of vision and instant of awareness there must be a time lag. We sometimes think of that time lag as unimportant. But there’s no justification for thinking that the time lag is unimportant – none whatsoever. The past exists only in our memories, the future only in our plans. The present is our only reality. The tree that you are aware of intellectually, because of that small time laf, is always in the past and therefore is always unreal. Any intellectually conceived object is always in the past and therefore unreal. Reality is always the moment of vision before the intellectualization takes place. There is no other reality. The preintellectual reality is what Phaedrus felt he had properly identified as Quality. (…) He showed a way by which reason may be expanded to include elements that have previously been unassimilable and thus have been considered irrational. I think it’s the overwhelming presence of these irrational elements crying for assimilation that creates the present bad quality, the chaotic, disconnect spirit of the 20th century.” (pg. 315 – 327)

* * * * *

“One thing about pioneers that you don’t hear mentioned is that they are invariably, by their nature, mess-makers. They go forging ahead, seeing only their noble, distant goal, and never notice any of the crud and debris they leave behind them. Someone else gets to clean that up and it’s not a very glamorous or interesting job.” (pg. 326)

* * * * *

“Reality is, in its essential nature, not static but dynamic. And when you really understand dynamic reality you never get stuck. It has forms but the forms are capable of change.” (pg. 364)

One thought on “Robert M. Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” [excerpts]

  1. Pingback: Um peregrino cheio de espanto… Novo blog na área! | A Casa de Vidro

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