Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
By: Robert Pirsig
Type: Philosophical Novel
Setting: The highways and backroads of the north central United States, as well as the cerebral roads of Mind and Memory
Pirsig takes us on a mental and physical journey into what makes up the realms of Quality and balance, whether those entities are definable (if they even need to be), and how to strive for them. Beautifully interlaced with the philosophical and metaphysical aspects of the story are scenes involving Pirsig and his son, Chris, which provide us with character sketches and the reminder that the people in the story are all too human, despite Pirsig’s lofty ideals. The sketches also serve to show us that being human isn’t all that bad. Keeping in mind that Chris was murdered outside a Buddhist temple many years after the book was written adds an eerie feeling to the exchanges between father and son, as well.
Zen is the kind of book you can reread several times and still get something new out of it each time. It changes levels with you as you learn, and I suspect that is why it continues to be a classic book of modern light philosophy. It is not always easy to like Pirsig’s characterization of himself; some of the things he does and says are inconsistent, but the reason becomes apparent as the book progresses. The book leaves you with the feeling that you can’t tell how much of it it is based in truth and how much isn’t, but that’s not the point. The point is to teach people that they can accept responsibility for their actions and can learn how to keep their bodies and minds in good repair, just like a good motorcycle. Our Selves need maintenance just like our machines do, and Pirsig gives us a few wrenches to work with, as well as showing us what happens when we let ourselves slip out of balance.
Though not for everyone, this book is ideal for young adults looking to find a path to follow after their college or high school lives are over. Zen is also useful for those of us who feel we have lost our sense of ourselves, those who thought we knew ourselves well only to find that we have a few surprises left.