20, 1994 23:52
00:25 Santa Monica, California :: 14 NOV 94
I'll bet you didn't realize you were reading a book. That's OK, I only
just now begin to realize I've been writing one. All along I've believed
that these entries represented little more than the musings and observations
from out in left-field of a traveling man, the whimsy of someone a bit
out of sorts with himself and the rest of the world, gone walkabout spurting
out anything of the least significance. These "musings" were
in fact a re-writing of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance,
Robert M. Pirsig's wonder of the '70s.
If you have been paying attention, you may recognize the following.
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.
. . . (pg. 4)
and this . . .
[My son] Chris and I are traveling to Montana with some friends
riding up ahead, and maybe headed farther than that. Plans are deliberately
indefinite, more to travel than arrive anywhere. We are just vacationing.
Secondary roads are preferred. Paved country roads are the best, state
highways are next. Freeways are the worst. We want to make good time,
but for us now this is measured with emphasis on "good" rather
than "time" and when you make that shift in emphasis the whole
approach changes. Twisting hilly roads are long in terms of seconds but
are much more enjoyable on a cycle where you bank into turns and don't
get swung from side to side in any compartment. Roads with little traffic
are more enjoyable, as well as safer. Roads free of drive-ins and billboards
are better, roads where groves and meadows and orchards and lawns come
almost to the shoulder, where kids wave to you when you ride by, where
people look from their porches to see who it is, where when you stop to
ask directions or information the answer tends to be longer than you want
rather than short, where people ask where you're from and how long you've
It was some years ago that my wife and I and our friends first
began to catch on to these roads. We took them once in a while for variety
or for a shortcut to another main highway, and each time the scenery was
grand and we left the road with a feeling of relaxation and enjoyment.
We did this time after time before realizing what should have been obvious:
these roads are truly different from the main ones. The whole pace of
life and personality of the people who live among them are different.
They're not going anywhere. They're not too busy to be courteous. The
hereness and nowness of things is something they know all about. It's
the others, the ones who moved to the cities years ago and their lost
offspring, who have all but forgotten it. The discovery was a real find.
I've wondered why it took us so long to catch on. We saw it
and yet we didn't see. Or rather we were trained not to see it.
Conned, perhaps, into thinking the real action was metropolitan and all
this was just boring hinterland. It was a puzzling thing. The truth knocks
on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth,"
and so it goes away. Puzzling.
. . . (pg. 5)
Whereas Pirsig lists the basic necessities for motorcycle travel (pp.
34 — 37) I list instead the contents and
compromises in an info-gatherer's bags; where Pirsig analytically
dissects the technological constituents of a motorcycle (pp. 63 —
64) I reconstruct the process for selecting technological devices for
collecting information. [Though the entry describing this process is unfinished
and waits, in an appropriate folder, for 'the right time' to be completed.]
And in the following passage, even though he crosses prairies, Pirsig's
description of this crossing broaches themes common to my experience of
I have a feeling none of us fully understands what four days
on this prairie in July will be like. Memories of car trips across them
are always of flatness and great emptiness as far as you can see, extreme
monotony and boredom as you drive for hour after hour, getting nowhere,
wondering how long this is going to last without a turn in road, without
a change in the land going on and on to the horizon.
. . .
[But], to arrive in the Rocky Mountains by plane would be to
see them in one kind of context, as pretty scenery. But to arrive after
days of hard travel across the prairies would be to see them in another
way, as a goal, a promised land. If [say] John and I and Chris arrived
with this feeling and Sylvia arrived seeing them as "nice" and
"pretty," there would be more disharmony among us than we would
get from the heat and monotony of the Dakotas. . .
In my mind, when I look at these fields, I say to her, "See?
. . . See?" and I think she does. I hope later she will see and feel
a thing about these prairies I have given up talking to others about;
a thing that exists here because everything else does not and can be noticed
because other things are absent. She seems so depressed sometimes by the
monotony and boredom of her city life, I thought maybe in this endless
grass and wind she would see a thing that sometimes comes when monotony
and boredom are accepted. It's here, but I have no names for it.
. . . (pp. 17 — 18)
I name this "thing" the Real, the Eternal, the Inescapable
and I experience it sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon, or leaning
into the rain-soaked wind while the ripping ocean crashes thunderously
below, or while traversing the outback by car, observing the changing
landscape expressed in myriad phrases but few themes. For me it is the
humbling experience of my own insignificance that leads to exaltation.
Afterall, the experience provides the undeniable evidence of my very existence;
I am insignificant, nonetheless, I am.
Monotony? Boredom? No. Wonder; delight; grace: being. I revel in my existence.
Descartes thought too hard. Inexplicably, Pirsig fails to comprehend
what he senses. The thing that exists when everything else does not and
can be noticed because other things are absent is simply this:
I am here, noticing all this nothingness; whatever is left must be me.
My experiences leave a different impression: here is all this grandness
and still, here am I, dwarfed in the scales of space and time yet vast
due to my experience of the immense. The thing that exists after I am
removed from everything else is simply this:
With this realization, paradoxically, insignificant little me becomes
god. I cannot imagine a personal responsibility possessed with greater
gravity than this one: I am the creator; I and the other gods my creation
influences live in the reality of my creation.
WHOA! Time to back up.
I read Zen once before, about 10 years ago or longer. I recall
little of it now and am not even certain I ever completed it. Even after
re-reading the first 40 or so pages I recognize little, except to know
that Pirsig the author, the narrator in Zen, and the narrator's
daemon, Phaedrus, all represent the same man. To avoid confusion in the
future I will refer to the individual members of this triumvirate simply
15:48 TWA Gate 70, St. Louis, Missouri :: 15 NOV 94
I come back to Zen now only after reading Pirsig's second Book, Lila:
An Inquiry Into Morals, a book that delighted, confused and, finally,
disturbed me. With Lila, Pirsig continues the inquiry into Quality he
began with Zen. This time he attempts to shuck the Subjective/Objective
metaphysics of Western thought and introduces his Metaphysics of Quality
as replacement. The conclusions of this inquiry ring false. And the metaphysics
23:22 Redmond, Washington :: 20 NOV 94
Last night I finished marking up my copy of Zen. The problem
with paperbacks is the margins that are much too thin. Nevertheless, I
think I understand now where Pirsig derailed his otherwise insightful
work. It seems such a minor point that he doesn't really understand art
but this shortfall shows up his misunderstanding of spirit. His failing
here results in the travesty that is his Metaphysics of Quality.
Most reviewers praise Zen as a highly spiritual book, but Pirsig
is a rationalist, a logician, a rhetoritician. This pattern of thought
reveals itself in Lila where he erects a pedestal for intellect not spirit,
where he attempts to rationally define the undefinable, the One, the Buddha
spirit, The Dao, Quality. In Zen he steadfastly refused just
this endeavour, with good reason. Any spiritualist will tell you that
the One can be known but not expressed, learned but not taught. He should
have let the first work stand on its own.
-- Responses Sought --
The number of rational hypotheses that can explain any given
phenomenon is infinite.