Robert M Pirsig (6 Sept 1928 – 24 Apr 2017)
Author and creator of
“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (ZMM-1974)
“Lila – an Enquiry into Morals” (Lila-1992)
The Metaphysics of Quality (MoQ)
There are a number of pages and blog posts on Psybertron that are related directly or indirectly to the work of Bob Pirsig and his Metaphysics of Quality. (See [More]) When the Psybertron project started in 2001, there was little indication of the philosophical activist turn it would take, nor that two earlier books I hadn’t yet read would become significant.
They remain significant, not because Bob’s are the last words on the subject, nor are they necessarily entirely original ideas – after all, ideas evolve. However, Psybertron acknowledges the contribution of Pirsig, ZMM, Lila and MoQ to the thought journey. That journey was described in my 2005 conference paper and presentation slides. In many ways Bob was my “seed crystal” – whatever the specific content of his thought and work, reading his words catalysed the confluence of many confused threads of my own thought.
Of lasting significance, in summary, are three things:
- The MoQ as a synthetic view – synthesizing, rather than simply analyzing. The historically recurring dichotomy between things objective, physical & scientific and things subjective, mystical & romantic. We really do “murder to dissect”.
- Careful with that knife, Aristotle !
- Careful with that razor, Occam!
- The MoQ as an evolutionary framework – recognizing that synthesis of the physical and the mental, as the evolution of special patterns through dynamic interaction over time.
- Careful with that meme, Eugene !
- Man and ideas as inseparable and “co-creative” – consistent with the evolutionary process perspective and picking-up on an earlier idea (from Jorn Barger – the original blogger) that any subject of significance and complexity should be presented as a timeline, I created a biographical timeline of Bob’s life. That timeline stands as a biographical resource in its own right, but the process of creating and maintaining it reinforced the view that the context with which to understand a man’s ideas, is the man’s life and motivations. Where was he coming from when he wrote this stuff?
- Careful with that idea, Man !
Current – Proposal to create the “Robert Pirsig Association” in order to exchange information about and maintain future access to Pirsig-related resources – philosophical, rhetorical and physical.
[Note: In recent years, since his death, successful efforts have been made to secure his archives with important institutions (see other news items below). Also a number of Pirsig scholars, clustered originally around the Lila Squad and the MoQ.Discuss Forum have continued to correspond and some continue to maintain their own on-line Pirsig projects (see external Pirsig links below). The proposal is that the RPA be a properly constituted non-profit entity with elected trustees. Several possible entity and domain names have been secured. We will be seeking expressions of interest in creating the RPA constitution, acting as RPA trustees and supporting the RPA through membership.]
August 2021 – Harper Collins announce publication of “On Quality: An Inquiry into Excellence: Selected and Unpublished Writings” by Robert and Wendy Pirsig for 26 april 2022.
February 2021 – Harvard University announce receipt of the full Robert Pirsig archive of papers and correspondence, donated by Wendy Pirsig in late 2020. To be housed alongside the William James collection in The Houghton Library – currently a single archive entry (during Covid limitations).
December 2019 – The Smithsonian accepts the original Honda CB77 350cc Superhawk restored by Bob, and associated archive materials, donated by Wendy Pirsig.
March 2018 – Montana State University acquire Dr Anthony McWatt’s Pirsig correspondence archives.
24th April 2017 – Robert Pirsig dies at his home in Maine after a period of failing health. Thoughts are with Wendy and the rest of the family.
2008 & 2009
- the 35th anniversary of the original publication of ZMM in April 2009, Bob’s 80th birthday 6th Sept 2008 and the 40th anniversary of the original 1968 ZMM motorcycle trip 8th July 2008.
- Mark Richardson‘s book “Zen and Now” was launched on September 9th, 2008. Here a Q&A with the author and my own reflections on this milestone see this post.
- The first part of Ant McWatt ‘s Pirsig documentary film project “Arrive Without Travelling” was released on DVD in January 2008. [My review here]. The second part “On The Road With Robert Pirsig” released in January 2009 is an excellent documentary on Pirsig’s ZMM project [My review here].
2006 – Tim Adams of The Observer interviews Bob in Boston on what he claimed would be [and now turns out to have been] his last interview. It was published in three parts:
Older historical milestones can be found in The Pirsig Timeline.
- The Psybertron key retrospective / summary posts:
from September 2008, from April 2017 and from July 2018
- The Psybertron picture / mental image of Pirsig’s MoQ. Also reviewed again in June 2017.
- The Psybertron blog post category “Pirsig” (little used)
- The Psybertron searches on “Pirsig”, “MoQ”, “ZMM”, “Lila”, and more … (little used)
- The Psybertron Pirsig Biographical Timeline (Much used web resource, source of much content published by others. Not significantly updated in scope since 2009, simply a matter of historical record and links to sources. But new links to published historical materials and reviews are added into the timeline.)
- The now defunct Psybertron ZMM Route Map – The best place to go is Gary Wegner’s Google Maps ZMM Route (Map active, but other content unmaintained.)
- The Psybertron blog post reporting on the 2005 Pirsig Conference
- The Psybertron paper presented at the 2005 Conference (with slides here).
- The Psybertron collection of old media clippings.
- The Psybertron collection of Pirsig Photos and links to more.
- The original Psybertron Pirsig Pages (increasingly redundant but plenty more links).
- David Harding’s “Good Metaphysics” – High quality web pages dedicated to Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality in the context of our all-prevailing “subject-object-metaphysics”. (Current and active in 2018 also via Blog and Twitter.)
- Henry Gurr’s “ZMM Quality” – dedicated primarily to locations, details and photos of the ZMM journey – and a gold-mine of interesting information and links. (Current and active in 2018, inc FB Page ZMMQuality.)
- Dr McWatt’s “robertpirsig.org” – dedicated to academic philosophical research into Pirsig’s MoQ, a documentary film project and linking to new publications. (Fallen into disuse. Domain secured in 2019 as holding pages at robertpirsig.org and themoquniversity.org as part of attempts to create “The Robert Pirsig Association” for posterity. UPDATE: pirsig.org is now also secured.)
- “MoQ.org” – the original “Lila Squad” / MoQ-Discuss (MD) on-line resource for discussing and interpreting Pirsig’s work – not for the faint-hearted; (almost) no-holds barred – moderated by the ever patient “Horse”. (Currently inactive in 2018.)
- “Lila’s Child” – web-site of the book by Dan Glover of the original Lila Squad collaborating with the author to elaborate on the MoQ. (Live but infrequently active in 2018.)
- Gary Wegner’s “ZMM Route Map” – the definitive detailed Google Maps version of the ZMM Route complete with GPS waypoints. (Map live and current in 2018. Other content dead.)
- Matt Kundert’s “Affliction” – a blog with many long thoughtful essays relating Pirsig to modern pragmatists, and in particular Richard Rorty. (Live but infrequently active in 2018. Last MD related post in 2010.)
- Paul Turner’s “Twelvelinks” – a blog specializing on interpreting Zen (and other) Buddhist aspects of Pirsig’s work. (Inactive since 2008. Paul’s later essays can be found at robertpirsig.org currently also inactive.)
- Sam Norton’s “Elizaphanian” – a blog originating in Pirsig interests, but focussing on relating the Reverend’s day-job to the big issues of the day. (Still active in 2018, but few recent Pirsig references.)
- Caryl Johnson’s “Meta-Q” – a blog dedicated to the furtherance of MoQ, with many excellent essay-length posts. (Inactive since 201o.)
- Mark Richardson’s “Zen & Now” – promoting his book “Zen & Now”. (Inactive since 2008.)
- Doug Renselle’s “Quantonics” – Some of the earliest on-line Pirsig-related material including author correspondence. Idiosyncratic attempt at new language of MoQ. (Live in 2018 and active on many political and ethical topics.)
- Wikipedia on MoQ – Make of it what you will, literally.
- The MoQ Wiki – Ditto, make of it what you will.
- And, the original Psybertron Pirsig Pages contain many more such links. [These pages are kept as a matter of record only, and a number of other links on that page and in the blog side-bar have being re-organised onto these pages.]