#Pirsig as a Post-Post-Modernist – ahead of his time.

Many tweets and memorial pieces coming in, still every 20 seconds or so via social media – most “so long and thanks for all the …. fish” one-liner memories, linking to some already published mainstream obituary. Some like SeymourBlogger @AbbeysBooks (followed by Jim Landis) have their own very specific “learnings”.

Re-reading ZMM (Part 1)
Re-reading ZMM Part 2

Seymour has clearly read more of the “Foggy Froggy” Post-Modernists than I have. I’ve read enough (mainly Foucault) to appreciate what I think I need to know – always dangerous – but have always since branded myself as a “PoPoMo” if I ever need to claim a label in response to some pejorative “PoMo” criticism. After Radical Empiricism, we have Speculative Realism, and more. But I digress.

No detailed review of Seymour’s thesis is possible here – I don’t actually know what it is – but several points to note. Like any of us with very specific reasons to hang our hats on what we learned from journeying with Pirsig, the writing and presentation is a bit idiosyncratic – “crowning” Pirsig – breathless, weird even, but with good reason.

Alterity – what Pirsigians call SOMism or Subject-Object-Metaphysics, what I simply call “identity politics” – the simple fact that by long established convention (an evolved cultural memeplex) all objects (even ourselves) are defined and identified in relation to us as subjects, however arrogantly we “greedy-reductionists” continually claim “evidence-based” objectivity.

Irreversibility – In “Quality” thinking there is a very important distinction to be made in the way things evolve through time. Pirsig’s MoQ (Metaphysics of Quality), contrasted with SOMism, is a framework of evolving Cultural (Intellectual and Social) layers built on top of Life, built in turn on the Physical. The contrast is simply that in this framework there are no fundamental objects other than the “quality” of interactions dynamic or static patterns. Lower (older evolved) static patterns and layers become latches for higher (newer) ones. Pirsig actually influenced many in the Total Quality Management business during the 1980’s; the big name gurus, like Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence with Bob Waterman) as well as many pragmatic individuals directly or indirectly. Anyway, there is something in Pirsig that highlights the 2nd Law, that reverse entropy gradients can only ever result from localised intentional processes, and furthermore, only a subset of this “constructive” activity occurs in ways that are reversible. My original (engineering) mentor, worked with a welding guru, known as Tad Boniczevski who was forever warning us in our engineering specifications to be careful in applying quality management processes and checks to recognise those where “parts become irreversibly incorporated into the whole” as opposed to those that didn’t. Different rules must apply in practice. Reversibility is very much the exception, one of ingenuity.

There is a lot more to recommend in Pirsig; too much to mention again here and many people have thanked Pirsig for many different kinds of inspiration but the technical philosophical and quality stuff is a rich seam.


Also published on Medium.

4 thoughts on “#Pirsig as a Post-Post-Modernist – ahead of his time.”

  1. Alterity is a philosophical conceptual construct by Jean Baudrillard. When one experiences a near death experience and survives, the two “selves” continue on a parallel path that gradually continues parting/continuing to diverge through life. The film Another Earth with Britt Marling is a perfect illustration of what Baudrillard means http://moviesandfilm.blogspot.com/2011/09/review-another-earth-at-moxie-in.html This corresponds to Pirsig’s Phaedrus who is electro shocked into alterity as another person as if just being born with no memory before this new moment.

    Irreversibility is Baudrillard’s great contribution to philosophy. To fully understand his work one must understand he is Nietzschean in blood and bone. Pirsig never mentions Nietzsche once, yet he breathes through this novel. As of course do Foucault and Baudrillard. It is rare than a Foucauldian thinker moves into Baudrillard (Ayn Rand does but is misread by her disciples). Pirsig is so clear with his continuing binary that he cannot come to terms with easily at all. He is not aware of how Baudrillard has separated the Symbolic Order from the Order of Production (PIrsig’s classic and romantic methods of thinking/ reasoning). But there it is, clear as day, the two orders that are separate, the territory and the map as Borges calls it. Or as Jesus does when he overturns the tables of the money changers in the temple, separating the sacred from the worldly. (I am not using profane as that concept has different resonances I don’t want to get into.)Two parallel orders that comprise the world. This conceptual construct can be read through Plato of course also, the REAL and the shadows in the cave. The Order of Production is IRREVERSIBLE. From this capitalism metastasizes like cancer cells (Marx). The Symbolic Order is REVERSIBLE and these terms are Baudrillard’s great contribution according to Simon Critchley. If you want examples I have blogged many of them so ask if you want more on this and I will link you. DeLillo is especially perceptive on this in Cosmopolis.

    But these two terms are philosophical constructs. In Fountainhead we see Gail Wynand is unable to reverse The Banner as it has become firmly planted in the Order of Production. He cannot use it to turn Roark into a hero, a true artist, because Toohey has taken control in homeopathic doses, substituting the territory of journalism into the map of propagandizing. What is left for him finally is to destroy The Banner completely. And that is Nietzsche, excess is required to end what must be stopped so that it implodes.

    Pirsig’s excess on his road journey is also in the Symbolic Order and the Order of Production. The physical trip on the motorcycle and the “trip” in his mind as he pieces his lost fragments of his lost self knitting them together with his present self, his present Alterity. Of course it can be read through the interpretation of Freud’s thinking, or even Jung’s, but I prefer to stay with Foucault and Baudrillard and not take the swampy, sinking path into interpretation from which it will be impossible to get out of and will force Pirsig back into the Dialectic which he has so brilliantly led us to escape from.

  2. Thanks for that. I know I’d need to do a lot more to get to understand the technicalities of the terms in the particular PoMo theses – as I said I hadn’t attempted to in detail. I wasn’t defining / redefining Alterity and Reversibility here, simply riffing on my experience of them in my own Pirsigian context.

    That “escape from the dialectic” I really appreciate. I may come back more on this later.

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