In the Margins: Quality
and the Artifice of ZAMM
Date: Mon, Jan 5, 1998 17:42
17:45 Abbotsford, British Columbia - Canada
:: 05 JAN 98
I have this dog-eared and tuckered out copy of Robert M. Pirsig's
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Quality.
It's appropriately dog-eared because it's been dogging me for years.
There's something fundamentally important-and funamentally flawed-in Pirsig's
analysis, something I would have missed entirely were it not for a chance
encounter with the book's sequel, Lila: An Inquiry into Morals.
Problems were apparent from the first read of Zen but until
Lila these seemed largely cosmetic, quibbles about definitions
and different opinions concerning the hearts of science and art.
These problems nonetheless left Pirsig's mystical musings on his central
theme, Quality--what is good--intact.
In Zen, Pirsig railed against "The Church of Reason,"
which demanded that the quantity he had identified, Quality, must be defined
in order to be reasonably employed in academic arguments and papers.
This he resolutely refused to do.
And what is good, Phaedrus,
The way we know Quality is simple: Quality is what we like. But
in Lila the author buckles under the pressure of being an academic.
He chooses to tackle the spectre of a definition he himself spent all of
the first novel establishing as inexpressible. In the process, he
strips whatever beauty and universality exists in the concept of Quality-and
there is much-leaving only the pedestal upon which he erects his own Church
of Reason: Quality becomes What Robert M. Pirsig Likes.
And what is not good-
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?
There is no way for readers of Zen to see this coming.
Lila represents a complete about face. This about face-the
result of it-is my primary target, but to get there we're going to have
to get all the way through Zen first, to develop the full geneology
of Quality. Thus armed, we can easily look back to Zen for
additional insights while tackling the larger problem presented by Lila.
Oh, in Zen Pirsig identifies two primary modes of perceiving
and thinking about the world: Classicism and Romanticism. He differentiates
these by observing that Romantics identify with the surface appearance
of the world and its objects while Classicists study the underlying structure
Pirsig counts himself among the Classicists and so, predictably, fails
in his characterisation of the Romantic point of view. A Romantic
would describe the difference in this way: it is Classicists who
identify with the surface appearance of the world and its objects while
Romantics study the underlying meanings. To put it differently,
Classicists say interesting things about the objective world while Romantics
say interesting things about the subjective world.
I place myself squarely in neither camp, being something of an
integrator. However, I'm likely to advocate the Romantic point of view
often, if only to provide the balance and basis for integration Pirsig
is too single-minded to appreciate.