USA :: December '96 -- May '97

Subject: A Journey Within a Journey
Date: Fri, Jan 31, 1997

20:59 Monte 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 later...

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 went wrong.

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 adventure.
  graphical element M.L. von Franz
Man and his Symbols
ed. Carl G. Jung

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