Arrive Without Travelling

“Arrive Without Travelling” (AWT) 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.

[Post Note: The 2nd part “On The Road with Robert Pirsig” (OTR) is since published and reviewed here. OTR is probably most interesting to the public as a documentary of Pirsig and his Metaphysics of Quality. AWT is mainly of special interest as a record of proceedings and discussions around the 2005 Liverpool conference  … here, below.]

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 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.]

Also published on Medium.

4 thoughts on “Arrive Without Travelling”

  1. In response to a number of contacts …. anyone wishing to ask questions, or make observations about the editorial policy of what isn’t incuded in this first DVD in the series should address those to its creator Ant McWatt.

    Comments on the DVD itself, or those items I considered significant enough to the Psybertron agenda to mention in the review above, are of course always welcome, through this comment facility or through personal e-mail if preferred.

  2. Is your decision to publish a review which does not mention the absent Loggins paper (which in many ways defined the conference and arguably the (lack of) direction of the MoQ since) not a classic example of removing text from context, something your friends (of wisdom) are battling so hard against?

    Giving the reader knowledge of what is actually on the DVD without assessing the omissions and values surrounding its conception, execution and production seems to me unwise if one is seeking to enlighten.

    [Post Note: Ian in response to Struan’s comment – Correct, the omission is not highlighted, but the story is there behind the link “as I reported at the time”. It’s relevant to the conference and the history of but the conference is not the subject of the film and the film only uses selections from the conference. The future value of the MoQ stands or falls on its own merits.]

  3. VERSE (*whiskey*)
    Oh, show *me/us/us* the way to the next *whiskey* bar
    Oh, don’t ask why
    *No/Oh/No*, don’t ask why
    For we must find *the/our/the* next *whiskey* bar
    Or if we don’t find *the/our/the* next *whiskey* bar
    I tell you we must die
    I tell you we must die
    I tell you, I tell you, I tell you we must die

    CHORUS (*whiskey*)
    Oh, Moon of Alabama,
    it’s time to say good-bye
    We’ve lost our good ol’ mama,
    and must have *whiskey*, oh, you know why

    CHORUS (*whiskey*)

    VERSE (*little dollar*)

    CHORUS (*dollar*)
    CHORUS (*dollar*)

    VERSE (*little girl*)
    CHORUS (*little girl*)

    Oh, Moon of Alabama
    it’s time to say auf Wiedersehen
    We’ve lost our good ol’ mama
    and must have little girl, oh, you know why
    You know why
    You know why

  4. Hello everyone

    This is a continuation of the “absolute pitch” analogy, which perhaps Struan
    may be interested in. I do thank you, Struan, for allowing me to advance
    this notion and for your continued interest in it, even though I am
    struggling to understand it myself and so fail to make myself as clear as I
    would wish.

    David B. writes:

    Fred and all Pirsigites: I’m was very psyched to see the letter from
    Pirsig. Its kinda like having a bootleg recording of my favorite band.
    Its not available in stores, you gotta get it from the hard core fans.
    Thanks tons!


    I couldn’t have said it better! Thanks again Fred!

    David B.

    I’ve included the section of Pirsig’s letter with the hope that we can
    discuss it here amongst the Zen-heads. The big pargraph in the middle
    seems the most interesting, where he starts out with “Prior to
    enlightenment…” and ends with “…this phemonenon.” I was startled by
    the phrase “wandering thru the mythos” and his description of the

    Mr. Pirsig writes,
    “Making people laugh sympathetically about other people’s disabilities
    is an enormous accomplishment.
    The fact that you are doing so well at it indicates that the phenomena
    that you experienced back in your ‘insane’ days may have been a kind of an
    enlightenment as well as an insanity. The two tend to overlap.
    …Prior to enlightenment there is often a huge opening of the mind to
    the ‘mythos’ which in this case means more than just legends. It means the
    main stream, the whole body of every idea that ever existed or can exist
    which each culture selects from, calling its own selection ‘reality.’ At
    this time there is an abandonment of normal chanels of cultural selectivity
    over thought. The selection goes sort of crazy and you can think of any damn
    thing and think it is real and in a sense it is. When you start wandering in
    this mythos all rules are off and so you can pick up on strange things. I
    think your mind wanderings about me and the ideas in ZMM and Lila probably
    had less to do with me personally than with this phenomenom.
    …Just before entering the University of Chicago… I experienced a
    similar pickup on the film ‘Orpheus’ by Jean Cocteau. I lived inside that
    film and it had the same sort of effect on me that my book seems to have had
    on you.
    …I’m certainly proud that ZMM has had a similar fuction for you and
    that you are a part of the crowd of people working to diminish the misery of
    the world rather than add to it or just ignore it. As I’m sure you know,
    it’s not as easy as it may look.”


    I’d especially like to focus in on the notion that cultures select their
    finite reality from the mythos. Pirsig seems to be implying that there
    is one mythos from shich every culture on Earth is a derivative; that
    the mythos is much larger than any given individual culture.
    Fascinating, no? Further, Pirsig says “At this time there is an
    abandonment of normal channels of cultural selectivity over thought.”
    Which brings me to my question…

    This is not rhetorical. I really don’t know.


    I believe that this has a direct bearing on my “absolute pitch” analogy
    which I have been struggling to come to grips with and share with others. It
    seems to me that the “normal channels of cultural selectivity” are relative
    in nature, depending upon whatever cultural one happens to be immersed in.
    When Pirsig speaks of the “mythos” he is no longer speaking in a relative
    manner, but rather in an absolute, all-prevading manner.

    When he says: “…Prior to enlightenment there is often a huge opening of
    the mind to
    the ‘mythos’ which in this case means more than just legends” he is speaking
    of directly perceiving that which is normally filtered through normal
    (relative) cultural terms, much as those certain rare individuals are able
    to perceive absolute pitch in music. I think the key words here are “opening
    of the mind”.

    This is something that just happens when an individual experiences
    enlightenment, just as absolute pitch just happens, leading to the
    naturalistic notion that only those individuals who are “pre-wired” for the
    experience will indeed experience absolute pitch or enlightenment. The rest
    of us will only be able to listen to those individuals stories of those
    experiences and never actually experience them.

    But everything is much more complex than that. What is “it” that does this
    “pre-wiring”? If we accept the premiss that certain individuals are simply
    born with this ability, do we not also have to accept the premiss that
    experience itself is what pre-wires our attention to certain experiences?
    This is the Buddhist Dharma, the living moment affecting both past and
    future in an ever regenerating fashion. Nothing is set in stone, not even

    We do not start out wishing to experience absolute pitch. Ah, but many start
    out wishing to experience enlightenment. Yet curiously, the more one wishes
    to experience enlightenment, the further away it gets. And sound seems
    intrinsically linked to enlightenment… the pure sound of absolute pitch…
    where suddenly “things” just “are” and no longer “are like”.

    I think that this is why Pirsig says: “…I’m certainly proud that ZMM has
    had a similar fuction for you and
    that you are a part of the crowd of people working to diminish the misery of
    the world rather than add to it or just ignore it. As I’m sure you know,
    it’s not as easy as it may look.”

    Perhaps just by opening our minds to the possibilities, we are all “working
    to diminish the misery of the world” by recognizing our own true natures,
    and the Quality that we call experience simply flows through in some direct
    fashion, each in our own unique style. And “it” is never as easy as it

    Many best wishes to all,


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