#Pirsig and the “121 Rejections” Mythology

It was cringeworthy that so many obituaries, and one-line social-media quotes linking to them, chose to lead with the quote that “121 submissions of ZMM were rejected by publishers before William Morrow’s single acceptance”.

Cringeworthy because it’s not at all relevant to Pirsig’s work, simply part of #TheOutsider mythology created as a continuing part of the marketing of ZMM, quoted from a jokey aside in an interview, about only needing one acceptance for publication.

It was for rhetorical purposes, like most of Pirsig’s presentation of his own work. It’s written to be read and shared.

For a fact-checking generation (*), the facts are obviously more complicated than that simple statement, as already noted in my own #Pirsig biographical timeline. (The timeline benefitted from clarifying correspondence with Bob, and my biographical resources were shared with Mark Richardson when writing his own book, who further corresponded with Jim Landis, Bob’s original editor and champion at Morrow. The facts are as clear as they’re ever likely to be. Roughly – Proposal and sample chapters mailed to 120-odd publishers > addressed to pre-researched named-individual publishers where possible to get attention > 20-odd expressions of interest > one ~$3000 dollar advance made by Morrow / Landis to secure deal and …. the rest is history. And note that most of that happened before the ZMM Road Trip itself; the writing of the book for publication was long term, pre-meditated and planned project. Bob’s a writer, not a prophet of a moment of revelation.)

Dan Bloom has done his own fact-checking blog and checked his story with Jim, Mark and myself. He’s right that too many journos and social-media pundits have use the apocryphal quote in ignorance of the detail, and in doing so helped reinforce the mythology. In context that’s no bad thing, in fact given the quality of Bob’s work it’s a very good thing, but it does show how easily “false” facts become fake-news when unchecked. In that Dan is right and I have myself chastised a few on Twitter who should know better than doing so without checking. One journo simply quoting another is not a fact check.


(*) People who believe the world is (should be) made (solely) of objective facts. A topic highly relevant to Pirsig’s work.


[Post Note, and another myth. That as a result of his IQ rating, Pirsig was a “genius”. As Bruce Charlton’s post suggests, he was intelligent and creative and he may have been a genius, but IQ tests don’t really tell us such things. That Pirsig was advanced schooling years more than once, and had his IQ tested several different ways over many years, are not in doubt – recorded in my own timeline (1938 entry referring also to 1949 and 1961) is the reference to the same Minnesota Institute of Child Development testimonial that Bruce uses – but that doesn’t necessarily make him a genius. Hat tip to Sam for spotting Bruce’s post. At the time I created the timeline, I had a paper copy (shared with Mark Richardson) but there was no on-line copy of the testimonial letter, now on Wikipedia (?) though I can’t see it.]

Also published on Medium.

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