“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 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.]
Also published on Medium.