Big Pirsig event coming up at MSU, first week in December. Sadly, despite efforts, it doesn’t look like I will be able to be there, just too many other work & travel demands this quarter. Good luck to organizer Chas Pinkava and all involved.
Good to hear James Purefoy in the role of Bob / Phaedrus in Peter Flannery’s dramatisation of Robert Pirsig‘s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on BBC Radio4’s Saturday Drama. It’s there to listen again in BBC Radio4 iPlayer’s “Most Popular” . [Only available until next Saturday 30th June 2012.]
The characterizations, tone and atmosphere were dead right, and despite the need for selective editing to fit the 90 minute format, all the main aspects of the narrative, the back-stories and the underlying chautauqua on quality and mental illness came through. Many original scenes re-ordered and combined, and some dialogue recalled in the mouths of others, to get all the ideas and the marquee quotes in, without losing the context or intent, and still maintaining the overall sequence of the journey. An excellent production.
Noticed a few weeks ago that Matthew Crawford’s “Shop Class as Soul Craft” had been published in the UK under the title “The Case for Working with your Hands“.
Noticed yesterday he was on Andrew Marr’s “Start the Week” on BBC Radio 4 with Martin Rees … billed as the philosopher Matthew Crawford. The listen again link (31st May 2010) is live, and looks like it stays up for a while, even if there is no podcast archive. So much motorcycle maintenance without a single mention of Pirsig’s Zen and the Art … who is duly acknowledged in the book itself. (Wendell Berry is mentioned by Marr.)
Interestingly, The Buddha was the subject of the immediate following program “A History of the World“.
Reminded by Marsha reading Hofstadter’s “I Am A Strange Loop“, that I never did record the Tabletop (or Theatre of Operations) metaphor for creative analogy … that is analogies that actually create things, things as interesting as humans and minds.
I mentioned it twice here and here referring to Hofstadter’s “Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies“, and I know I’ve demonstrated the Tabletop exercise in real life, but I’ve never recorded a description of it.
Scenario : Now is a point in time … everything you know up to that point. You have a decision to make – now. Your available options are laid out in front of you (on the Tabletop). Your decision is in reponse to the last action of the party you are in debate / dialogue / negotiation with. What next ?
The original point of the exercise was in fact to do with how humans created concepts as part of thought processes. However, it’s pretty much a model of any life decision, for any individual or organization … the question being, what next action is the best choice. The core point is that the “available options” laid out on the Tabletop in front of you are NOT all you will consider, even if they are the only available options in a purely practical – pre-defined rules of the game – sense. Your thinking process will invent relationships and analogies that exist in conceptual levels removed from the Tabletop itself, before making your choice. Your real theatre of operations is much greater than the Tabletop and most of it is invented in your head – created.
The example starts, as befits a Tabletop, with random cutlery and crockery, eating utensils chosen in turn by two people sitting across the table from each other. You choose a knife, I choose a knife / the same knife / a fork / what ? Same object, same kind, same relation, same what ? Same by some created analogy, and you’re off … infinite levels of creativity. (In Fluid Analogies, these series of what-nexts start with simple number, letter, symbol, word, quine-series ad-infinitum.) The creative question concerns which next choice is “best“.
Much debate (here Thinking Allowed) since the recent financial crisis on the future of capitalism and global industrialisation, and the failure of economists to keep their eye on the underlying “systemic risks” in the trading of ever more convoluted financial derivatives. (Watched that excellent dramatisation of the Lehman Brothers demise just a couple of evenings ago too. Quality stuff.)
Anyway, talking of systems, I was reminded by David Gurteen that in 1923 F W Taylor wrote
“In the past Man has been first.
In future the system must be first.”
Scary ? Like shooting fish in a barrell to ridicule Taylorism nearly a century on for the excesses of scientific management and it is of course where my agenda started. As David points out, context matters and no surprise, Taylor’s next sentence starts:
“… however …
… the first object of any good system, must be
… first class [people] “
The reason David’s quote caught my eye was a (cover to cover) re-read in the last few days of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Pirsig is often cited as being against “social programs” – in polarizing Capitalist vs Marxist slanging matches – a meme which usually takes about three dialectical exchanges to sink to the level of Hitler & Nazism or Stalin / Mao & Totalitarianism. Bad people. Of course Pirsig too was careful to qualify what he meant:
” … [No] enthusiasm for big programs
full of social planning for big masses of people,
that leave individual Quality out.”
Oh, and how could I forget, the subject of the Denning piece that David Gurteen quotes is Dilbert or maybe Dilbertism. How often Dilbert mirrors real organizational life … now that is scary.
This was an excellent In Our Time … a discussion on William James’ “Varieties of Religious Experience”. Elevating James to the position of the only philosopher that Wittgenstein looked up to.
Telling I feel, how Melvyn struggles when asking the god question, questions within questions, in this religious context.
Loved the caricature at the end in discussing Wittgenstein’s love of James, of seeing the 20th century struggle between the dominance of logic (Russell) winning out over something more than logic (James), yet being signs of a revival of the latter. And earlier the idea of scientists being in the grip of scientistic dogma.
I often wonder if Russell ever got Wittgenstein, but I digress. Time for James and the US pragmatists.
Dave Buchanan over on MoQ-Discuss:
I’m gonna listen to it again. Damn! I thought I was an enthusiast but the guests really have me pumped up now. Did I hear that right? The greatest American philosopher ever? Is that what he said?
I’d like the future of philosophy to revolve around one crucial question for the next few centuries: Who was the greatest, Pirsig or James?
James said something like, “the most important thing about a philosopher is his vision”. He was talking about one’s whole way of seeing, of taking life rather than positions on this or that particular thing. In that sense, I think Pirsig and James offer the same vision.
Something more than logic. James knew his way of doing things would mean of loss of rigor and exactitude, and that’s not the price we pay for what he wanted so much as part of what he wanted. He and Pirsig both think rationality is hollow and brittle without some soul in it, some feeling. Not pasted on but in the roots of our conceptions. Pirsig is making his case against the backdrop of a technological society but James was living in the age of Darwin and positivism. They both began in the sciences and then turned to philosophy.
I don’t read any more than coincidence into this, but spooky none-the-less,
I’ve been in Oslo, around 20 months so far, and have been aware, from mentions by colleagues, of a bar on the other side of town, Grønland on the east side, we live in Majorstua on the west side. The place is Olympen (or Lompa to its friends) … originally a traditional Oslo Brun Cafe, but famous for keeping a great selection of Norwegian and imported beers – hundreds of them, though only a handful on draft. I’ve even walked past the place a handful of times, visting the ethnic shops in Grønland for spices, teas, etc, but visited the place only very recently, 3 times the last week or ten days. (Does great food too.)
Anyway, I was talking to an(other) engineer / project manager at the bar, discussing the engineering / ingenuity / quality angle – she was bemoaning male prejudice and the irony of the classical objectivity impression that engineering has. And the (Brit / brewer) barman having worked out what I liked – by trial and error, you understand – brought up a bottled beer and said, “Here, try this one.”
It was Red Seal Ale from the North Coast Brewery in Mendocino Co, CA (!) Of course I said instantly, that’s weird, do you guys know Pirsig ? (They didn’t as it happens, so I had to explain the significance of the climactic scenes on the Mendocino bluff / cliff-tops. In fact that particular brewery is about as close to the scene as it’s possible for a brewery to be, alongside Fort Bragg, just north of Caspar, now that is spooky.)
Anyway probably because of that I picked-up my first-edition / first-impression copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM) on Sunday and started an umpteenth re-read from the beginning – never actually “read” this particular copy – I have several.
Monday morning Christof sends me a link to his design/engineering and quality lecture video (never even been aware of it before now) – I post the link below. This morning, Tuesday, on the way to work I’m reading towards the end of Part One of ZMM, about the never ending possibility of subdividing the classes of things in the world we perceive – Pirsig using his physical / functional / systematic breakdown of the eponymous motorcycle and Aristotle’s analytic knife to illustrate the dangerous illusion that creates.
This same morning a US colleague sends me a link overnight to a database of (tens of thousands of) distinct piping material components – as if to prove the point, part of our day job – and Bob (Pirsig) responds to yesterday’s post – a very rare event. My colleague here in Oslo, who overheard my exclamation (something less polite than “Good Heavens”), now wants to borrow the book. He’d not heard of it either. Dilemma – to loan the prized first edition … or bring in another copy tomorrow ? … but he’s on holiday after today for almost two weeks ….. aaagghh!
You couldn’t make this stuff up.
Post Note : And ….
the brand of beer the travellers refresh themselves with early in Part 2 … Olympia
Very interesting talk from Christof Bartneck at TU/e (Technical University of Eindhoven) explaining Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality (MoQ) in simple design and engineering terms.
As an engineer I might have used the word engineering as much as he used the word design, (and he says in the Q&A session he doesn’t make a real distinction here) but I like the simplified common terminology (in parenthesis) and the venn diagram showing design in the same space as quality overlapping people and artefacts. Love the defence of engineers at the end … creativity in solving problems is the essence … in the root of the word “ingenious”, and the ingenuity means that the creativity is not necessarily visibly obvious to the naked eye.
Like the use of the word “explore” too … really brings out the qualitative / direct participation aspect so much better than generalizing the word research beyond specific scientific methodologies.
Also like the focus on the qualitative choices ahead of scientific methods … wonder if Nick Maxwell, philosopher of science, is on his radar ?
Interesting to see Matthew Crawford’s “Shop Class as Soulcraft” published in Europe as “The Case for Working with your Hands”, and reviewed here in The Irish Times.
Thanks to Henry for forwarding the link.
Ant McWatt has a screening of “On The Road with Robert Pirsig” tomorrow at the second day of the Wirral Film Festival on Merseyside, UK.
Good luck Ant.
Today at last, I had a chance to watch Ant McWatt’s second documentary on the life and work of Robert Pirsig, “On the Road with Robert Pirsig“. (The first installment “Arrive Without Travelling” I reviewed when it came out around a year ago, and it was a little difficult to disguise my disappointment, though relatively easy to blame that on the ordeal of watching my own excruciating contribution as well as the distracting psychedelic overlays in a rookie production effort.)
This second chapter is a great improvement over the first. It stands on its own as a documentary of Pirsig’s “project” in writing Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. There is less “on the road” than the title might suggest, and there is still that theme of 60’s Beatles & Beach Boys psychedelia in the links, but the production and editing is an order of magnitude higher quality than the first effort. The majority of the film is in fact a previously unpublished 2005 interview by Karen Whiteside, ranging from the relaxed and jovial to the intense and emotional, interspersed with contributions from John Sutherland and Ron DiSanto and clips from the Pirsig family archive.
One of several highlights for me personally is seeing Bob recall with much affection the contribution of “Sarah”, the seed crystal that worked its effect on Bob over several months beyond the single remark in the book. Bob should as he does receive the plaudits as the inspired writer of an inspiring rhetorical novel, but his feet are firmly on the ground when it comes to acknowledging the evolution of ideas through the minds of others.
I suspect the first documentary may remain a collectors item for hardcore “MoQ Fans” wishing to remember the first conference on the “Metaphysics of Quality” in Liverpool in 2005. This second On the Road with Robert Pirsig is however an eminently watchable documentary that should be considered a must for anyone with either an existing interest in Pirsig’s highly original Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or simply looking for a brief introduction – from the horse’s mouth – what all the fuss was about back in 1974.
Being sold on e-Bay, Nancy Pirsig’s motorcycle jacket.
This leather jacket belongs to the ex-wife of author Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), whose married name was Nancy Pirsig. She is selling it because she doesn’t need it, since she now lives in a warm climate and no longer rides a motorcycle.
It was purchased around the late sixties or early seventies, and worn on many motorcycle trips – day or weekend trips in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
In the photo, taken in the Pirsigs’ St. Paul driveway in the early seventies, you can see Bob Pirsig in the background.
Proceeds from this sale will go into a college fund for Nancy and Bob’s grandson.
The e-Bay seller on Nancy’s behalf is Ted Pirsig, son of Bob & Nancy, father of said grandson.
As I near the end of a period of living & working in the US, in the Tennessee Valley in northern Alabama, I notice a few of my blog posts recently closing circles, mainly in musical connections. One obvious circle for Sylvia and I is that, purely coincidentally, the move from the US, is not a return to the UK but to Oslo, Norway where we were married 27 years ago.
Three years ago we were “the parents who left home”, that UK home, when our two boys reached maturity, to go on an adventure of our own. A parallel I find myself drawing in recent days with Bob and Nancy Pirsig, who are described exactly that way in Mark Richardson’s “Zen and Now”, by their younger son Ted, then still at high-school in 1975 with brother Chris just recently off to college. That was when Bob and Nancy had set off on their Great Lakes and trans-Atlantic sailing adventure, part of which provides the narrative backbone to Bob’s second book Lila.
Mark used the word “resolution” several times in launching his book last Tuesday night in Minneapolis-St.Paul. Resolution in Pirsig closing his own circle in the original Zen motorcycle road-trip, a journey designed to loop his philosophical “chautauqua” writing project in time and place around his own troubled biography. And resolution for Mark too, not only in ostensibly closing the chapter in his life he freely refers to as his “mid-life crisis”, but in joining the dots between his own teenage motorcycle travels across the US mid-west and north-west, and those of Pirsig and elder son Chris, retraced in Zen and Now.
Without getting deeply philosophical in any academic sense, Mark also succeeds in summing up the Pirsigian message that whatever “quality” is, evolving a net increase in quality in the world has something to do with the idea that “if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well”, and that doing something well is about total involvement; individual participation in the world of here and now, and engagement with both fellow humans and technolgy. Listen to Mark’s recent public radio interview, also involving Ron DiSanto (author of the “Guide to ZMM”) and Jim Landis (original editor of ZMM) to get a good sense of this.
So why did I make a 2000-plus miles round-trip flying-visit to a friends-of-a-Minnesotan public library branch meeting, to witness the launch of a book by a hitherto unknown author ? That closes a loop or two for me too. Mark kindly acknowledges that his biographical research into the Pirsigs, included in Zen and Now, had originally spun out of research I had collected in a biographical timeline I published as part of the Psybertron blogging project. That timeline had been gathered from public sources and from clarifying correspondence with Bob. Mark took up the baton, to ensure that the Pirsig story was not just the one told “for rhetorical purposes” by Bob in ZMM and Lila, but a more complete view corroborated, and indeed extensively filled-out, by close family and friends.
That baton passing is paralleled in Bob’s story too, when on his second writing project that ultimately created Lila, he had to concede that whilst he had his own creative ideas; and very creative his genius proved to be, one thing he didn’t have was “the knack of eliciting stories from other people”. That, he recgnized, was the skill his friend Verne Dusenberry had in spades. There was a very clear point when my biographical research became Mark’s own. It was when we both realized that I had tracked down points of contact to further information, including for example younger son Ted, and that the biography had changed from analyzing, corroborating and synthesizing from the public record, to one of personal stories from private individuals. Originally I had intended simply to get my own readings of ZMM and Lila on a footing of “where was Pirsig coming from” when he wrote this stuff ? I had to decide where I wanted to take this; Poking into private lives was never my objective, and I was already uncomfortable.
It was a no-brainer. Mark’s journalism skills were essential to finish the job, and if a job’s worth doing …. Well, Mark’s done a great job.
As Mark says, there was, still is, an interesting Pirsig story to be told beyond the pages of Bob’s books, and Mark tells that story with the compassion of a fellow traveler; There but for grace go we all. The circles of lives of the Pirsig family and friends, were fiery hoops, and meeting some of them … ex-wife Nancy and friends, John Sutherland and daughter(s) as well as other friends of the Pirsig sons Chris and Ted … one can feel nothing but respect for those who come through strong, happy and well-adjusted. Chris Pirsig, the boy in the original book, of course did not make it. As Eddie Dean says in his review of Zen and Now in The Wall Street Journal, (and Mark quotes in the recent interview) …
“[The Pirsig story] is a reminder
of how much pain it can take
to make so many people feel better.”
So for me the launch of Mark’s book, closed the loop on a chapter in my own life, a little biographical research project of my own. But like any new human experience, so many new avenues open. Speaking to people at the book launch, as well as at the after-launch party at “the Pirsig house” hosted by current occupants Susan Nemitz and John Curry, so many new conversations, new subjects and letters to write … The White Album, Ivan Denisovich, Dostoevsky, the US-Pragmatists and so much more.
Tom Ashbrook “On Point” on WBUR Boston public radio, interviews Mark Richardson, Ron DiSanto, Jim Landis (and Henry Gurr, calling in) on Zen and the Art, the Guidebook, and Zen and Now.
Excellent free-ranging discussion across the appeal of the original book, and more.
Mark Richardson’s Zen And Now web-site is now live in time for his book launch this Tuesday (9th Sept). On the news page you’ll find a list of stops on his promotional tour, where you can drop in and say hello.
As someone particularly interested in the biographical side of the Pirsigs, I can safely say there is plenty of newly researched material building on the original timeline, newer even than the two earlier drafts I saw. As a read, it’s easy and witty and well constructed, and neatly encloses several circles of Marks own life and journeys with those of Robert Pirsig. Those with an academic interest in Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality may find the book lightweight, but Mark does capture the essential message and mood of the original Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and makes a good case that new audiences should seek out the timeless value of ZMM – active human participation in real life embracing, but never limited by the social or intellectual constructs of, technology.
And by way of a random example of ZMM continuing to inspire educators.
Post Note (Friday 12th): Great review by Mel over on MoQ-Discuss.
Richardson has written a book that walks/rides a deliberately winding line between homage, biography, invitation to revisit both Pirsig’s thoughts, and the same type of ‘real world’ opportunity to look at things through the lens of quality. It is (deliberately, I think) light on the MOQ but clear on pointing the reader to a shared consensus of Quality.
It is a personal journey and a journalist’s second-pair-of-eyes on the world mythologized in Pirsig’s ZMM book. We get to see some of the “chorus” members of his book cast in a second light. (As those who’ve played at photography know a secondary light source can add depth and complexity and
at time clarity to an image. It can hint and imply more)
His work has a hint of melancholy and a touch of his personal worries. Both add the flavor of the struggle of any seeker after what is “more.” It is smartly written and should serve to open the door to ZMM for those who are daunted by the work itself and yet it is a pleasant literary meditation on the familiar feel of the original journey for readers who’ve come to give a place in their heart to ZMM.
There are technical points that may be arguable by folks who’ve spent years considering the whole-of-it, but just as good Jazz can evoke another piece of music in it’s own terms, this book brings a fresh echo to recall the enduring original.
[Caveat – this review may not do the subject justice, but I didn’t really notice how good a read it was until I was well into it, by which point not only did I not have any notes, but I was committed to read on to a conclusion. So from memory … is the summary (in the bullets) any good ?]
I’ve had a copy of Alastair MacIntyre’s (1981, 2nd Ed 1984) “After Virtue” tucked away on a bookshelf for some time. I vaguely remembered I’d bought it on the recommendation of Rev Sam, but no recollection of why it came to be tucked-away unread. [I since discover it’s Sam’s most important read ever – after being turned onto things philosophical by ZMM, like myself, and away from “scientism”, as I already was before I read ZMM, “After Virtue” turned Sam to Christianity and theology. Wow. Matt too claims MacIntyre and After Virtue as an important route to understanding the Greeks.]
So, my atheistic reading of “After Virtue”:
Firstly, it is a read that requires some effort – it is in large part a scholarly review of the history of philosophy on the subject of morals & ethics – the virtues, from the pre-Socratics forward. That might make him a mere “philosophologist” in Pirsigian terms, if it weren’t that MacIntyre were clearly working towards his own agenda. The difficulty of the scholarly subject matter is compounded by MacIntyre’s somewhat pompous and knowing, even supercilious, style … I regularly got the impression of dense passages concluded with intellectually-smart-ass summaries and even dismissals (pot & kettle here maybe ?). Anyway, with your wits about you, the effort seems worth it.
As a reformed Marxist, he shows great fondness for Nietzsche and Marx, but ultimately these moderns too are flawed when it comes to virtue. In fact although MacIntyre does develop his after virtue agenda, it is clearly just a start to be further developed in his later writings.
In essence he is describing the interminable debate on the best or right ontology of “the virtues” and their relation to the ontology / epistemology of existence generally. That is, not only has the history of that debate been interminable, it is in practice never going to be complete and consistent, and therefore doomed to remain unintelligible, without a missing ingredient. [Ref Tom’s dissertation ?]
Nietzsche showed that as currently understood, all existing bases of morals were flawed, and his creative destruction was to sweep them all away. As I do, MacIntyre believes Nietzsche himself did not really provide a satisfactory alternative. MacIntyre uses his study of the Greeks to show that most interpretations of Aristotle which concluded that he too was flawed (haven’t we all ?), threw out too much of the Aristotelian baby with the bathwater.
Much of the history of the debate over the virtues is described – differences between doing the right thing for the right reasons, failing to do the right thing but for the right reasons, doing the apparently right thing but for the wrong reasons, internal and external goods, and so on. The game theory of needing to predict human behaviour in order to decide one’s own best behaviour – and all the Machiavellian twists that evolve from that. Reviewing all the Greek schools of thought, mediaeval, renaissance, post-enlightenment and modern schools – the index of references is a who’s who: Kant, Mill, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, you name ’em.
Sticking in my mind Jane Austen and T E Lawrence. The latter a special interest of mine, the former still largely a source of ignorance to me unfortunately.
The T E Lawrence reference is simply of ironic value to me. In fact MacIntyre mentions TEL only in the context of the wickedness (or otherwise) of sado-masochism – whereas to me the TEL subject is that “it” – life, the universe and everything – “is (not) written” – the irony will become clear in the summary of MacIntyre’s thesis later.
Jane Austen ? A large part of the interminable historical debate on the virtues has been the relationships between them – whether it is possible to hold one virtue and not another – whether there really are virtues or simply virtue. Much of the discussion of the Greeks and other earlier commentators hinges on how imprecisely the linguistic translation of various words for various virtues can be unambiguous anyway. Where’s Wittgenstein when you need him ? MacIntyre draws heavily on the work of Jane Austen to illustrate the complexities of recognizing individual virtues in the lives of people who either are or are not virtuous, and either are or are not free to choose the right actions in their situations.
To cut a long story about which philosophers got what right and wrong, about rights and wrongs, I would summarize MacIntyre’s thesis as follows: So after virtues we get to virtue, and if even virtue is indeterminate, what after virtue … ?
- All decision-making, expressed as well as in action & behaviour, of (human) individuals and institutions, is done with intention and in context.
- In order for that decision-making rationale to be intelligible, to the participants and witnesses, they must be expressed as part of a greater “narrative”. A narrative with a beginning, a history, a middle, a now, a future, and an end. And that’s an end in every sense, place and time yes, but also in terms of telos, purpose and meaning towards that end.
- So, we are all writing our local narratives, rationalizing our thoughts, intents and actions, in the context of that greater narrative, consistent with the telos (or not).
- That greater narrative is provide by a mythological tradition within a culture. Clearly therefore different cultures will maintain and evolve different such narratives, even though they will share common features of being such a necessary telos. The grand narrative – the tradition of moral virtue – is cultural.
- Good governance, of collections of individuals in societies and institutions is really based on that moral tradition of virtue. The rules of politics and institutional law are simply pragmatic issues of effectiveness and efficiency.
- The grand narrative is “written” by the tradition, to provide the context within which individual local narratives may then be written, with or without levels of creativity and freedom, but the local narratives are not themselves pre-written in the tradition.
- Those individual narratives are indeed written by the participants, but the individuals cannot choose their narrative completely independently of the the tradition and still be intelligible.
It is clear that MacIntyre’s thesis is leading to the Christian tradition – he concludes that what we are really waiting for is “another St. Benedict” to lead us out of the “predicament of our times”. Never been convinced of those “of our times” perspectives, but no matter – ’twas ever thus. Clearly the Christian thesis is developed in his later work, so the argument is incomplete here as to which cultural tradition – but the argument so far is well made. I would guess his argument is going to be that the best mythological tradition for you is the one that is already most developed in your culture – they can’t simply be written on a blank slate.
We need a cultural tradition that provides a telos – a purpose and meaning to life. No amount of logic, objectivity, science or rationality can define the narrative mythological content of that tradition. It is simply written. Even a scientist has to take that on “faith”.
[For me this is entirely consistent with the fact that the acceptance of any metaphysics depends on some ineffable core – not amenable to independent objective rationale of any kind. It is also consistent with my fascination for the teleological aspects of the more serious views of anthropic principles.]
It was 40 years ago today …
Cap’n Bob rode his bike away …
So let me introduce to you …
The one and only ZMM …
On the 8th July 1968 Robert Pirsig set out on the road-trip that became Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The rest as they say, is history.
“Arrive Without Travelling” is the first in a series of documentary films by Anthony McWatt about the work of Robert M Pirsig. Ant is to be congratulated on achieving his debut film-making milestone, the culmination of his own determined journey down a long and winding road, paved with intentions of many kinds.
The major content of AWT was filmed at and around the 2005 Liverpool Conference, about which I reported at the time. If it achieves nothing else, the film nails any lingering suggestion that Bob’s relationship with his “fans” is anything remotely close to being a celebrity guru with his acolytes. And that’s not just in the relaxed participation and conversation recorded, but also in the fact that Bob makes it abundantly clear that despite his own creation of the rhetoric represented by his two books (ZMM & Lila), the philosophical ideas originated with “his mentor” F S C Northrop, and no-one, not even Bob can teach or define the dynamic quality at the core of that Metaphysics of Quality. That requires enlightened and enlightening participation in real life. “Ideas have their own evolution.” as Bob says.
As well as a large part of the papers presented and a number of interviews with Bob and the participants, perhaps the most important content is that informal footage and recording of discussion and free conversation, with the shy and reclusive Bob as simply one of the participants, relaxed amongst friends. Participation again is the key component. The publication as a film allows more more people to participate, albeit once removed from the original.
A few caveats about this review, in the interests of balance, before I proceed. Firstly, as a participant at the conference myself, I am an interested party, but I have to say that I find my own recorded contribution almost excruciating to watch, even edited down by about one third. Secondly as a matter of taste, the use of the psychedelic Beatles clips as links and overlays, has obvious relevance to the Liverpool location and the hippy age in which much of the thesis was developed, but I’m not entirely sure the effect will prove net positive. Thirdly, it was a surprise to find that this first in a series of documentary films, is in fact a full 100 minutes feature length, with extended recordings of the conference proceedings. As a record of the event and contributions, it is invaluable, but time will tell if the format can attract and educate new interest in the subject matter.
Extracts from the talks by Mati Palm-Leis, and Khoo Hock Aun are included, and Gavin Gee-Clough’s paper is included almost in full. [Conference Papers]
The highlight of the film, as it was at the conference, is David Buchanan’s paper “Fun With Blasphemy”, and Bob’s emotional reaction to it. Although David’s paper is published, it would still feel like a spoiler to divulge the punchline here. As I reported at the time, we were all fortunate that Dave’s delivery was recorded for posterity, and here is the proof, presented in full. Dave analyses perennial myths across many cultures, drawing on the work of Joseph Campbell, settles on the myth of Orpheus, and speculates on a possible Orphic screenplay and players to exemplify the MoQ messages, in contrast to earlier proposals to film narrative’s of the ZMM or Lila stories. The idea is genius in itself, reinforced by the specific Liverpool connection in his choice of creative muse. Go watch.
What moved Bob to label Dave as “cool” – in acknowledgement of a “cool” thread in the paper – was that Dave had struck upon something central to Pirsig’s own story. Enlightenment; Christ you know it ain’t easy, and most readers will know that Pirsig went through the occupational hazard of a serious mental breakdown en-route to creating his own enlightened work. [Timeline 1961] It transpires that Bob saw Cocteau’s film “Orpheus” during his descent into madness, just before he left Bozeman and moved to Chicago (featured coincidentally as locations in “Orpheus”) where he suffered his breakdown. In Bob’s emotional words “I entered that film and never really came out.” Dave had of course selected the Orphic myth, of entering an otherworld and returning enlightened for the very reason that it mirrored Pirsig’s own life journey. But little did we know [*].
As Dave says, it’s “the coolest thing that ever happened me.”
Electric moments of dynamic quality captured on film.
Get a copy from www.robertpirsig.org and enlighten yourself.
[*][Post Note – Though the parallel between Bob’s personal journey of enlightenment and the Orphic myth, and Dave’s “Mythos” agenda are well known, you would need to be a close reader of MoQ.Discuss back in 1999 to note that Bob had mentioned the Cocteau film before.
But, little did we know how significant to Bob.]