A Journey Within a Journey
Jan 31, 1997
Vista; Mesa, Arizona -- USA :: 19 JAN 97
The previous entry, Desert Drag Strip,
is a response to the opening passages of Robert Pirsig's Zen & the
Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. A response to words such as these:
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.
Hopefully, I've dispelled the notion that the world seen through
a car window is just more boring TV.
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.
Yes, the windshield forms a frame, but so too does a helmet visor,
so too the rushing wind, and so too the human eye. Each point of perspective
provides unique advantages, and each perspective suffers unique disadvantages.
13:30 Monte Vista; Mesa, Arizona -- USA :: 23 JAN 97
Most importantly, regardless of our perspective, with no effort
at all we remove ourselves consciously from all that is happening around
us--even on a motorcycle-- as Pirsig himself should well know. A few pages
All of a sudden John passes me, his palm down, signaling
a stop. We slow down and look for a place to pull off on the gravelly
shoulder. The edge of the concrete is sharp and the gravel is loose and
I'm not a bit fond of this maneuver. Chris asks, ``What are we stopping
for?'' ``I think we missed our turn back there,'' John says. I look back
and see nothing. ``I didn't see any sign,'' I say. John shakes his head.
``Big as a barn door.'' ``Really?'' He and Sylvia both nod. He leans over,
studies my map and points to where the turn was and then to a freeway
overpass beyond it. ``We've already crossed this freeway,'' he says. I
see he is right. Embarrassing. ``Go back or go ahead?'' I ask. He thinks
about it. ``Well, I guess there's really no reason to go back. All right.
Let's just go ahead. We'll get there one way or another.'' And now tagging
along behind them I think, Why should I do a thing like that? I hardly
noticed the freeway. And just now I forgot to tell them about the storm.
Things are getting a little unsettling.
Things often do get a little unsettling when we forget who we are,
where we are, what we are doing. Just when things are going along swimmingly,
something else we hadn't noticed asserts itself: reality. Riding a motorcycle
protects us no more from that than any other mode of travel. Even if the
pavement is there, just below your foot, rolling past in a blur, you must
still look at it to see it, you must still reach down with your foot to
touch it. Otherwise you might as well be home, curled up on the couch boring
yourself with television. For all the vaunted perfection of your perspective,
you see nothing with closed eyes.
Pirsig's been on my mind for some time now, off and on since
discovering late in1994 Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals (LILA),
his long awaited sequel to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
An Inquiry Into Values (ZAMM). Sometime in my early twenties I first
read ZAMM. Reading it was not the profound experience so many other people
tell me about. I immediately recognised its value and Pirsig's cleverness--in
his ideas and in his communication of them--but the novel eventually slipped
into that category of books one keeps on their shelves, remembering it
as a good read, thinking perhaps, someday, it'll be worth reading again.
I read a lot of valuable books written by clever people and, since I have
no permanent home and thus no bookshelves, the boxes in my storage locker
are full of them.
I found my copy of LILA while in Alice Springs, the geographical
center of Australia. It seemed a marvellous discovery at the time. There
was a whole pile of them in hard-cover, for two Australian dollars each.
I thought, "Ahhh, so what has he to add?"
12:47 Monte Vista; Mesa, Arizona -- USA :: 31 JAN 97
LILA struck me as worse than a bad read--it is a book of disturbing
ideas. I remembered a spiritually insightful Pirsig in ZAMM; LILA seems
the kind of book that begets scary political parties. Wondering where
LILA came from, I went back for another look at ZAMM and I saw where he
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig illuminates the values that have gone missing in our modern
society, using the banner, Quality, as signifier. He provides different
perspectives on what it means to value something, to perceive Quality.
He describes some methods for puting value, Quality, back into our lives.
He steadfastly refused to define just what Quality is. The closest he
came? "Quality is what you like." And more profoundly, "Quality is the
Buddha." This is the mystic's approach to understanding life, the universe
and everything. Mystics do not describe enlightenment, they illuminate
it. They help you recognize the path. No one can give you enlightenment,
teach you what it is; it must be discovered. This mystical quality made
ZAMM a deeply moving experience for many people.
But Lila: An Inquiry into Morals, attempts to define
Quality. Pirsig tries to rationally describe what is for him enlightenment.
He forgets the very admonition with which he set the foundation of ZAMM.
And what is good, Phaedrus,
And what is not good...
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?
After reading LILA, rereading ZAMM will likely leave a different
taste in one's mouth. Where once I saw in ZAMM the Quality I liked, now
I see something smeared by Pirsig's description of the Quality he likes.
Enlightenment is probably a different experience for each and every one
of us. That is why the wise say it cannot be taught.
Over the next year or so I want to retrace Pirsig's journey,
the spiritual one rather than across the United States--I've my own itinerary
in mind. I want to try and explain how and why I am so affected by it
what he has written. It's unclear why I set myself such a task. I am compelled.
I wonder, am I kidding myself? Do I really have anything important to
say about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book that
is now part of the philosophy programs at many Universities? Thinking
about this thought leads to another question: is what I am about to do
my own quest or does it rise out of some self-aggrandising psychological
undercurrent that seeks the 15 minutes Andy Warhol promised? I don't know
the answer. What I do know, writing this down forces me to evaluate my
thoughts more rigourously than simply pondering them. Motivations aside,
it will be a spiritual journey so long as I am honest.
I just hope I can make it an interesting read for all of you.
With a little inspiration here and there, I'll try to write more in the
style of Desert Drag Strip than thoughtful drivels
such as this.
~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
Thus the modern discovery of the unconscious shuts
one door forever. It definitely excludes the illusory idea, so favored
by some individuals, that a man can know spiritual reality in itself.
In modern physics, too, a door has been closed by Heisenberg's "principle
of in- determinacy," shutting out the delusion that we can com- prehend
an absolute physical reality. The discovery of the unconscious, however,
compensates for the loss of these beloved illusions by opening before
us an immense and unexplored new field of realizations, within which objective
scientific investigation combines in a strange new way with personal ethical