||Doing What Where ?
- 6th September 1928 - Bob is born -
Robert Maynard Pirsig.
Bob's father is Maynard
His wife, Bob's mother, is Harriet Marie Pirsig (nee Sjobeck), of
Swedish descent. (His father, Bob's grandfather, was Gustav
Pirsig, and was probably the first Pirsig in the southern
Minnesota / northern Iowa area. Gustav's brother is believed to have
been Otto who farmed
with his wife Anna in Blue Earth.)
- Bob's father is at Harvard
University Law School, preparing under Prof. Felix Frankfurter
and Dean of Law, Roscoe Pound, for study in England, helping to create a
new legal field called Judicial Administration.
school Hendon, London, England
house in Hendon backs onto the aerodrome.
begins school there, while his father studies at the Middle and Inner Temple Inns of Court in London, England.
recalls his father having a motorcycle with side-car in which father,
mother and son would travel at this time in England.
& School, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Bob's father returns to teach
law at University of Minnesota Law
(Where he teaches until his retirement in 1970, being Dean from 1948 to
enters into kindergarten but, since he can already read and write
quite well, is moved up almost immediately to second grade. This
creates a crisis in which, being the smallest child in the class, he
is constantly picked upon and, being also forced to write with his
right hand despite being naturally left handed, he begins to develop a
stammer that makes it impossible to continue.
- Q3 39 - Bob receives a
to Blake School (Lila p26), awarded to children of the University of
Minnesota faculty members. He
is transferred into a class of students his own age, is allowed to use
his left hand, the bullying ends
and within a few months so does the stammer.
- Bob scores IQ 170 aged 9 1/2 (Stanford-Binet
Form M Test, a 1 in 50,000 result.) (Z25 p87 quotes this at age 14,
but the 1961 letter from the University of Minnesota Institute of
Child Development and Welfare confirms 1938, aged 9 1/2)
(We and Bob discover much
later, in 1949 and 1961, that Bob is being studied as
an intellectual development research case, and subject to further
testing over a long period of time.)
School, University of Minnesota
- Bob transfers to University of
Minnesota High School. There he is again accelerated by two years.
- During the summer of 1944 Bob
starts and completes the Freshman Chemistry courses at the University
of Minnesota still aged only 15. Phædrus
is already emerging. "If Phædrus had entered
science for ambitious or utilitarian purposes it might never have
occurred to him to ask questions about the nature of scientific
hypothesis as an entity in itself. But he did ask them, and was
unsatisfied with the answers." (Z25 p113)
- Bob is already planning to
specialize in Biochemistry. (Z25 p )
- Phædrus [Bob] is expelled for failing grades,
immaturity and inattention to studies. In a stunned state, starts a
period of lateral drift. (Z25 p118 )
- Bob joins the army and does his
basic training at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, and after three
months is sent to Korea (Z25 p122), where following the end of WWII, the US
mission there is simply to take over from the Japanese occupation.
- (Richard Rorty aged 15 goes
to Chicago University to study Philosophy)
experiences the local culture and writes letters. One particular Korean wall makes
a deep and lasting impression. (Z25
p122) (Some of these letters may survive ?)
the 2006 Guardian interview Bob says this "Most of the army guys were
horrible to Koreans, they called them gooks and beat them up whenever
they could. And we were hated in turn. It was kind of like Iraq in a
way. I was assigned to malarial control in charge of all these local
labourers. The caretaker was a kid about 16, and he spoke perfect
English. I said: 'How in hell did you learn English that well?' And he
said: 'I just picked it up.' This guy was another of these prodigies,
you know, but he had no school. So I paid for him to go to school -
$16. This changed my relationship with the Koreans. I started to teach
them English. The Koreans and I became good friends and they gave me a
Korean chess set. I told them one time the most marvellous thing about
the English language is that in 26 letters you can describe the whole
universe. And they just said: 'No'. That was what started me thinking.
In the East, the basis of experience is not definable. That 16 bucks
set me on the road to Zen."
returning to Seattle.
- After 14 months in Korea as
Private (first class) Bob returns to the US on a troopship where he
reads F.S.C.Northrop's "Meeting of East and West". (Z25 p123).
Bob is honorably discharged. (This is all before the Korean war has
- Bob's lateral drift has ended. He's
actively in pursuit of something now. (Z25 p124)
- Bob goes back to University of
Minnesota to study Philosophy.
- Bob is studying Philosophy.
- Whilst at the university, he takes an
assessment according to "Miller's Analogy", with a raw
score of 83 which puts him in
the top 4% of graduate students entering.
- Bob gains his BA in Philosophy
- Bob enrolls at Benares Hindu
University, studying oriental philosophy for 1 1/2 years graduate
study, funded by the GI Bill. [Quote] Nothing much happened ... He'd entered India an empirical
scientist, and he left India an empirical scientist, not much wiser
than he had been when he'd come. However, he'd been exposed to a lot
and had acquired a kind of latent image that appeared in conjunction
with many other latent images later on..... He became aware that the
doctrinal differences among Hinduism and Buddhism and Taoism are not
anywhere near as important as doctrinal differences among Christianity
and Islam and Judaism. Holy wars are not fought over them .... great
value is placed on the Sanskrit doctrine of Tat tvam asi, "Thou
art that," which asserts that everything you think you are and
everything you think you perceive are undivided. To realize fully this
lack of division is to become enlightened. [Unquote] (Z25 p143)
- This period of study involves no specific course with any qualification.
He also does some work for a tourist agency whilst he is there. It is intriguing given
his cycle from "drifting" in 1946, to being in "active
pursuit of something" in 1948, that at this point in 1951 he announces
that "nothing much happened" and that he has "given
up". We can only speculate as to why the Benares experience had
this effect until such time as Bob decides to expand on this chapter
of his life.
- Bob returns to "his
Midwest". In the remainder of the decade does odd jobs, living in
Nevada and Mexico, working as a freelance technical writer and journalist,
writing short stories, reading for pleasure and attempting to start
writing a book. His pursuit of what has been
called the ghost of reason had been given up.
- Early 52 he enrolls at the University to
study Journalism and get a practical qualification, also funded by the
- Bob does some work for the Minnesota
Daily publication of the university.
& Editing. Minneapolis.
- Bob attends creative writing
seminars by Allen Tate at University of Minnesota. (Subjects included
Henry James' Turn of the Screw, "winter afternoons early
started there in 1951.) (Z25 xii)
- May 53 to Sep 53 - Whilst still
studying, Bob also works as technical editor on instruction manuals for
machine tools at the Do-All Corporation Continental Machines Division.
- Sep 53 to Dec 53 - Bob is
co-editing The Ivory
Tower edition of the Minnesota Daily, the
literary magazine of the University of Minnesota, with Nancy Ann
James. (Nancy is an undergraduate student at the school of
journalism, already married but still funded by her parents. Her
father is a building contractor from Janesville, Wisconsin.)
- Bob leaves the journalism school
in the winter of 1953/54 with Nancy.
They go to Reno, Nevada, where she divorces her husband.
- February to September - Bob and
Nancy are working
as dealers in the Nevada Club, Reno, in order to raise sufficient money
to go to Mexico, where living would be cheaper, and Bob would hopefully have
more opportunity to write.
- 10th May 54 - Bob
& Nancy obtain marriage license.
& Freelance Tech-Writing.
Mexico & Minneapolis
- September 54 to May 55 - Living in
Minatitlan on the Bay of Campeche in
Mexico, he works on his writing, but also learns a lesson from an expensive, abortive attempt to have
an ocean-going sailboat built, as a pilot project for a possible export
venture. (Lila p198)
- May 55 to Sept 55 - Bob does
summer relief work for the United Press Service in Minneapolis.
- Sept 55 to May 56 - Bob is
employed writing educational booklets for 7th & 8th grade science
& Freelance Tech-Writing.
- May 56 to Sept 56 - Bob is
employed on production of a marketing education film for the
Minneapolis Grain Exchange.
- Sept 56 (to Apr 58) - Bob starts
as contributing editor, writing articles about R&D for the General
Mills Research Labs.
November 56 - Chris is
& Tech-writing. Bethel, Minnesota.
- Bob and Nancy, with the infant
Chris, move to live in
aged farm house in disrepair on 120 acres of marginal farmland at
Bethel, Minnesota. They own a riding horse and two cars and Bob is
starting to put on middle-aged weight.
- Whilst still writing and editing
technical articles for General Mills, Bob returns to the University of
Minnesota to complete his Journalism studies, considering the need for
the formal masters qualification and the desire to get out of
commercial writing and into (something less commercial and more
vocational, like) teaching and/or post-graduate research.
& Tech-writing. Bethel, Minnesota.
- Theodore (Ted) born
24th. (Ted was 16 when Chris was 17 at the book launch in
- Apr 58 - Bob leaves the job at
General Mills and for the rest of his time at Bethel, works freelance
on two books on the history of science in hospitals for fifth grade
and junior high students, and on trade-journal advertising articles by
Faber Advertising, for the Automatic Control Company of St. Paul.
- Bob gains his MA in Journalism.
His paper on the status of technical writers and technical writing was
"Star" graded. (He subsequently cites professors M. V. Charnley and J. E.
Gerald as referees. There
is no evidence any copies survive ?)
(According to the Minnesota journalism college's own historical record
"The student of the '50s who achieved widest recognition for his writing was Robert M. Pirsig, M.A. 1958.")
- Bob applies for teaching posts.
"He likes animals and children, especially his own." he
- It's extremely
important to notice that he really had given up on the
"ghost of reason" in the 8 years since Benares, even though
he remained in pursuit of writing "a great book". (Z25 p144)
is impressed with Kerouac's "On The Road" on first reading
and generally admires the pre-hippy "beats". Bob later
recalls meeting Allen Ginsberg at an (unspecified) conference - he
said: 'What do you know about Zen?' I said: 'Well, about as much as
you do.' And he said: 'Who is your teacher?' And I said Katagiri Roshi.
'Oh, Katagiri,' he said, 'he's a great guy.'
August 59 - Bob and the family set off for Montana for the first time.
(Same day as Hebgen
59 - Bob takes up post teaching
English (rhetoric and advanced technical writing) to freshmen at Montana
State College, Bozeman
- Bob experiments with
non-prescriptive, non-graded, teaching methods.
- Sarah's "seed crystal" moment brings "Quality"
into focus as the subject being taught. (Z25 p180)
- His radical ideas bring conflict
with college plans to achieve university status. (Later, Montana
state governor has Bob [Phædrus] on a list of 50 radicals when killed
in a plane crash. Z25 p105, See 1962 entry.)
The college records confirm Pirsig's joke that it wasn't too difficult
to be branded a radical in McCarthy's time, even
Eleanor Roosevelt was banned.
- (Bob's political activity in
college education policy affairs are in fact documented in college
archives, examined and described by Sven
Lindqvist in his Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter articles in
- Spring 60 - Bob attends a Northern Cheyenne
"peyote" session on Busby reservation (Lame Deer, Montana) with Verne
Dusenberry, his first pursuit of Indian
Anthropology. (Lila p38)(Lila p465) LaVerne Madigan of the Association of
American Indians also visits with them. (Lila p465).
- (Bob believed Madigan died some months after
this in 1960, in a plane crash, an odd coincidence given the actual 1962 plane crash
mentioned above. In fact she died in a riding accident involving her
Fergus Bordewich.) (See also Verne
Dusenberry's book "The Montana Cree".)
- (Peyote or Mescal Buttons are the fresh or dried
flowering tuberlces of the spineless dome shaped Peyote Cactus or
Mescal (Lophophora genus, typically Williamsii species, related to
Agave but quite different in appearance). This is a natural
source of several alkaloids including Mescaline, which is itself named
after Mescalero Apaches, just one among many Mexican and American
Indian tribes that made use of it. Timothy Leary is in Mexico at
exactly this time, being introduced to Psilocybin (Magic) Mushrooms (Psilocybe
Mexicana, one of several Psilocybe species of the Agaric genus of
fungus), and he first experiences LSD later in 1962. Mescaline and
Psilocybin are distinct natural alkaloids that share similar "indole-amine"
structures, as does the synthetic drug LSD, common to neurotransmitters like
Serotonin and Norepinephrine, active in normal brain functioning.
Strangely, whilst Mescaline and Psilocybin are distinct, they are so
similar in physical form and effect, that both Mescal Buttons and
Magic Mushrooms are often synonymous with Sacred Mushrooms. Detailed
refs to be added.)
- The search for
"Quality", is already leading Bob back to Greek philosophy.
- Bob decides to find a PhD course
related to Quality, to further his teaching career. His investigations
find that Chicago University offers an "Analysis of Ideas and
Study of Methods" program, and that the Chairman is a professor
of ancient Greek. He seems to have found what he is looking for. (Z25
- Bob applies, is interviewed by a
Professor (possibly Silverstein ?), the program chairman being out of
town at the time, and he is accepted to start on the course in the
Autumn of 1961.
- Early 1961
- Phædrus [Bob] is already thinking hard and exhibiting strange behavior. "We used
to ride in the car to look for you ..." - Chris - "... you
wouldn't even talk to us." (Z25 p175)
- Bob is called for
by the program Chairman (Richard McKeon), after acceptance on
course, in order to discuss and agree his "substantive
field". (Z25 p337)
- June 1961 - Bob receives the results of series of adult intelligence
tests. Although Bob is already
aware of his 1938 IQ test score, this is the first time he is aware
he has been the subject of a "longitudinal" research study
on intellectual development by the Minnesota Institute of Child
Development and Welfare, (See 1938 and 1949 entries). The
latest results reveal that in
terms of general intelligence he continues to score in the top 1% of
1961 - He spends another summer in the
mountains of Montana, contemplating his "substantive field" decision. Decides on
philosophy, but then through conversations with other philosophy
teachers, he is warned about McKeon and through research discovers that he is
notorious Aristotelian. (McKeon
is in fact an authority since the publication of his compilation
"The Basic Works of Aristotle" in 1941. The Aristotelian notoriety at Chicago
University is also documented
by Northrop in the book Pirsig read back in 1948.
Rorty also makes reference. ) Bob writes a megalomaniac letter to
McKeon about his own anti-Aristotelian thesis. (Z25 p337/344)
- End Summer
1961 - Bob receives a rejection letter just as he is departing Bozeman.
He responds that he already has acceptance and travels to Chicago anyway. (Z25 p346)
& Studying, Chicago
1961- On arrival, he takes up paid post teaching rhetoric at the University of Illinois
(Navy Pier). His teaching timetable conflicts with the Chairman's
Ideas and Methods course for which he is registered, so he enrolls on
a Rhetoric course instead, thereby avoiding the Chairman. (Z25
1961 - "Of all the thousands
of students who had studied the ancient Greeks, it is doubtful there
was ever one more dedicated." (Z25 p348) In the first session an
"innocent" student is told that his personal opinions are
not the subject of the course and he doesn't return. (Z25 p361/362)
- Phædrus was there
solely to write a "Great Book" of his own. (Z25 p364)
1961 - The Professor of
Rhetoric likens Bob to a wolf and suggests the name Lycias, from the
character in the Phædrus dialogue. Bob misunderstands this
and assumes the nick-name Phædrus itself, though
it has subsequently been pointed out many times that Phædrus has no
connection with being wolf-like, meaning "one who shines
Bob associates the origin of the Phædrus nick-name for his
alter-ego with this period, and even uses the name when talking about
his earlier periods (eg see 1944), in fact the character name is a
narrative device introduced when editing the already completed ZMM
draft. "He did not appear until the book was written." says
- September / October
seems the professor must have been made aware of Bob's prior knowledge
and alternative views and he gives the impression that he considers Phædrus initially
to be eccentric, then undesirable,
slightly mad, and finally completely insane. (Z25 p75 and p361/393)
after the departure of the innocent student Phædrus ventures a
personal opinion (Z25 p369) [Suggest in fact 7 or 8 weeks later in
mid to late October.]
- 13th October 61 - Bob's
"Quality in Freshman Writing" is delivered to the Rocky Mountain Modern
Language Association in Bozeman, by Professor John Parker of the
Bozeman faculty while Bob is in Chicago. (GBZ p356)
- October / November
1961- The Professor
(mysteriously ill) for several weeks. (Z25 p382/384)
- Early November
1961- The first snow of
winter. (Z25 p383) Both teaching and studying hard for 20 hour days
"in an effort to outflank the whole body of western academic
thought" Phædrus is becoming exhausted. (Z25 p384)
- 2nd Week November
1961- After 4 weeks
the Chairman (McKeon) turns up to take over the course. (Z25 p385) At the very
first session the Chairman is undermined by Phædrus' contributions.
Rhetoric 2 : Dialectic 0 (Z25 p385/390)
- 3rd Week November
1961- At the second
session with the Chairman, Phædrus is deferential, but the Chairman
is dismissive and Phædrus switches off. (Z25 p392)
- 3rd Week November
1961- At his next
teaching session at Navy Pier (University of Illinois), which has been
going very well to date, Phædrus is non-communicative. (Z25 p393)
1961- Thanksgiving comes
- End November
1961 - "He begins
to walk the streets, his mind spinning …. on the third day he turns
a corner at an intersection of unknown streets and his vision blanks
out ..... when it returns he has the vague impression of having been lying on the sidewalk .... on another occasion, driving with Chris in the car, he gets lost ..... after that he does not leave the apartment. .... stares at the wall
.... cross-legged on the floor ..... no way back. .... three days and
three nights, Phædrus stares at the wall .... his wife asks if he is
sick, and .... he becomes angry, .... he tells his wife to leave with the
children, to consider themselves separated. .... Nancy calls
for help..... Phædrus begins to come apart." (Z25 p393/396)
schizophrenia or hard Zen enlightenment ? Bob is ambivalent with
1961 - Phædrus
is taken into the University
of Chicago mental hospital, where he spends Christmas 1961. (Z25 p75)
Insane, Chicago & Downey, Illinois
- January 1962 - The psychiatrist assigned to
Bob interviews McKeon to try to get Bob reinstated at the University of
Chicago, but McKeon refuses. The psychiatrist tells Bob he's not
previously met anyone like McKeon and that he will be doing something
further about it. He goes to the president of the University of
Chicago and McKeon is overruled so that Bob is actually reinstated.
When Bob meets with the Professor of Rhetoric he advises Bob to
"Just write something."
- 25th January 62
- Montana governor Donald Nutter is one of six killed when their plane
crashes in a snowstorm near Wolf Creek. The governor has Pirsig [Phædrus]
on a list of 50 radicals. (Z25 p105) Bob is not aware at the time, and
learns this much later, probably from Verne Dusenberry.
- 1962 Dusenberry gets his
Anthropology PhD in Stockholm
1962 - Bob also returns
to teaching at the University of Illinois, Navy Pier and is assigned a
(relatively undemanding) Freshman course in business letter writing.
1962 - "If nothing else could
do it, that broke my spirit, so I quit. I had no job, no future in
philosophy, my wife was mad at me, we had two small kids, I was at
this midlife point. I was 34. I would never get a job teaching again.
The world looked pretty bleak." A huge depression sets in so severe
that Bob voluntarily commits himself to a state
run mental hospital at Downey,
- Physically separated from his
family in the Illinois institution, he is seen only from the other
side of a glass door. Images that leave Chris, aged "about
6", with nightmares. (Z25 recurring.)
62 - After " some months"
Bob discharges himself and returns with the family to Minneapolis, to
a house across the street from his parents on Clarence Avenue,
Minneapolis, where it is hoped he will recover and resume a normal
life. In fact, things actually get worse. Nancy cannot understand why
Bob doesn’t want to be "normal" like everyone else. The
contrast between Bob's head full of the "Quality" thoughts
that are eventually to become ZMM and Lila, and the fact that no one
else can see him as anything but a broken down English teacher is now really
driving Bob crazy.
recalls "Things got worse and worse and worse with my wife and
I was getting dangerous, really hostile; I
was swinging at people. I was capable of homicide. I hadn't shot
anyone; Yet. I had pointed the gun ... One policeman came to the front
door and one to the back, and they knew I had a gun."
- It is Bob's father who signs a court order to commit him to incarceration at the
Veterans hospital in Minneapolis, where the therapy will immediately
include EST (Electro-Convulsive Shock Therapy)
- Later, Nov 22, 1963 (The day of JFK's assassination)
will be one of twenty-eight occasions on which he receives EST,
which eventually ends
Phædrus (to reappear 5 years later on July 24th 1968) "He was
dead. Destroyed by order of the court, enforced by the transmission of
high-voltage alternating current through the lobes of his brain.
Approximately 800 mills of amperage at durations of 0.5 to 1.5 seconds
had been applied on twenty-eight consecutive occasions, in a process
known technologically as Annihilation ECS. A whole
personality had been liquidated without a trace in a technologically
faultless act that has defined our relationship ever since. I [Pirsig]
have never met him [Phædrus]. Never will." (Z25 p91)(See
Numbered Footnote 1)
mentions in the Guardian interview, that Nancy, perhaps unsurprisingly,
asked for a divorce during this period, whilst clearly she is wrestling with supporting
Bob and loyalty to the family of two young boys. Bob of course already
suggested they should consider themselves separated during his
breakdown before hospitalisation in 1961. (They do not finally
separate until 1976, and divorce in 1978.)
- The start of Bob's recovery.
After the shock treatments Bob sees that further direct pursuit of the Metaphysics of Quality
will commit him institutionally for life, so he finally caves in and
adopts his role as the narrator of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
(Bob has spent over two years in and out of
of mental hospitals. (1974
NYT Interview). "What I am is a heretic who's recanted, and
thereby in everyone's eyes saved his soul. Everyone's eyes but one,
who knows deep down inside that all he has saved is his skin." )
- Bob concerns himself with the
Phædrus life. Thinking again about writing a book,
still apparently with anthropology and plains Indians as his subject.
- Bob takes up freelance science
and technical writing again, doing occasional work on magazine and trade journal articles
on agricultural and electromechanical machines, but mainly doing abstracts
of papers for "Modern
Medicine". One of
the subjects he writes about is "mortuary cosmetics".
- Bob takes a better paid
full-time job with FMC Corporation, Northern Ordnance Division, as a
Project Technical Author preparing training and instruction manuals
for guided-missile launch systems at the Great Lakes Naval Training
School. During this employment Bob also supervises and trains at least
other technical writer.
- Dusenberry visits Bob in
Minneapolis. Dusenberry already feeling "strange". (Lila
- Bob acquires small motorcycle (6.5hp
/ 45mph), and takes abortive trip north towards Canada with Chris aged
about 8, getting as far as just north of Lake Mille-Lacs. (Z25 p28/30)
- Bob and the family are now
living at the 458 Otis Avenue address.
- March 66 - Bob leaves the FMC job to work
for Fabritek, a firm making computer memory devices. He is writing manuals for a small educational computer and peripheral equipment.
- Bob drives by car to visit
Dusenberry in Calgary, Alberta where he is the museum curator and
director of the Indian Studies Institute of the Glenbow Foundation.
Bob already now knows
Dusenberry is terminally ill with "brain cancer". (Lila p56)
- Bob acquires 1964 Honda CB77
Superhawk motorcycle. ("Bought 2 years before" at the time of
the ZMM trip in 1968.) (GZ p226)
- December 16th 1966 - Verne
Professor, English Department Montana State College, dies as a result
of a brain
tumor, Calgary, Alberta. (Lila p32)
- Bob is writing essays - including a
lighthearted essay for John Sutherland with whom he shared
oriental philosophic interests, eg in Herrigel's Zen in the Art of
Archery, but opposing views on Motorcycle Maintenance. (Z25 Readers
- Bob leaves Fabritek
to take up contract writing for Century Publications (owned
by Stuart Cohen) which, as well as providing freedom from
corporate politics, actually offers better pay too.
- Bob is planning and thinking about
writing his book, and draft outlines of early thoughts. He already has
the working title Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM) from his
essay written for John. (Unless John knows different, Bob says no
copies of this specific essay exist. It was never actually complete,
and was effectively one of the early draft manuscripts that eventually developed
into the book itself.)
- 6th June 68 - Bob writes to 122
publishers (including John C Wiley of William Morrow & Co.)
advising his intent to write the book and indicating the title Zen and
the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, including a couple of sample pages
and asking for expressions of interest. (Z25 Readers Guide p421/427)
- 10th June 68 - James Landis of
William Morrow's responds with positive interest.
Initially 22 publishers expressed interest in fact. Landis was to
correspond with Bob throughout the creation of ZMM, and became its
biggest advocate for publication in 1973, a year before that finally
in July 68 across Mid-West
- Mon 8th July 68 - Bob sets
off on his Honda with Chris, and with John and Sylvia Sutherland on
their BMW, on the motorcycle trip from Minnesota (Minneapolis) via the
Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon to California (San
Francisco). The journey that forms the narrative of ZMM. (See ZMM
Route Map for details. See better map
by Gary Wegner.)
Nancy is not mentioned in the real-time narrative in ZMM. Bob says she
was on another vacation at the time (in Europe with friends), and Ted
was staying with a relative.
- Approaching Breckenridge and
heading through to Oakes, ND on the first day, Bob "sees a
ghost" and experiences a metaphorical thunderstorm, as he faces
the reality that he is retracing routes he travelled many times
between Minneapolis and Bozeman in the difficult period of his life
from 1959 to 1963.
- Sat 13th / Tue 16th - They visit
Robert and Gennie DeWeese in Cottonwood Canyon, Bozeman.
- Wed 17th / Thur 18th - Bob &
Chris go backpacking in the mountains near Bozeman.
- Fri 19th / Wed 24th - Bob &
Chris continue the motorcycle trip to San Francisco
- Working on ZMM. He
is to work on it for over four years. He
had started to keep notes on "Zen" before the trip, and he
is already compiling these as index cards (a process described in the
later book Lila.)
- Continuing to work on ZMM.
- He writes one complete draft and throws
it away after two years of work. He gives up the whole project for
three months and then starts again. "When I had the first chapter
written for the second time I knew I was on the right path."
for the last five chapters, the book is written mostly from
2am to 6am in the Minneapolis office of of Century Publications before he
begins his regular
work. He is going to bed about 6pm, which is hard on his family at
- Beverly White, a friend of Bob's who had
studied Zen Buddhism in Japan in the 50's, knowing the subject of the book
he is working on, suggests he join a Zen group. Bob agrees and joins
this informal group at least partly "to keep
his backside covered". On hearing his title, another member of
the group suggests, quite accurately, that he is "walking on very
thin ice". (Nancy and the family also join, but more than a year later, after a Japanese Zen master
comes from California to head the group.)
- He writes the final five chapters in a two
month period in the early
spring of 1972. To avoid interruptions he acquires a camper and drives
to a commercial campground that is closed for the winter, just north of Two
Harbors, Minnesota, on the north shore of Lake Superior. He
lives and works in the camper, working while there is natural sunlight because lights in the
camper are not adequate. (He remains under contract to Century
publications through this period, until the book's success brings him
the Guggenheim Fellowship grant in 1974.)
the process some 600,000 words have been drafted in creating ZMM,
though the draft offered for publication seems to have been perhaps
230,000 edited down to around 200,000.
- January 73 - Landis confirms his
support to get ZMM published in its final form, and the internal and
external marketing effort this will take. "The book was sold
to Morrow in January 1973".
- April 73 - Landis makes his
formal recommendation to the William Morrow editorial board, ending with the
statement "This book is brilliant beyond belief, it is probably a
work of genius, and will, I'll wager, attain classic stature."
(Z25 Readers Guide p427)
- Bob becomes a Board Member and
Vice-President at the incorporation of a new Minnesota Zen Meditation Centre.
- July / August 73 - Landis involves
George Steiner as a reviewer. Steiner compares ZMM to Dostoyevsky,
Broch, Proust and Bergson. Steiner recommends to the New Yorker that a
review should support its publication. Landis considers Steiner's
"stellar reputation" as very influential. (Landis 2nd Aug
1973, Z25 Readers Guide p429)
- After 121 rejections, you only
need one acceptance says Bob. (Z25 Readers Guide p432)
- April 74 - ZMM is eventually
published, to both critical and popular acclaim. "Profoundly important, Disturbing, Deeply moving, Full of
insights, A wonderful book".
- Bob's mysterious recluse persona
is created when the book is published without his photo, and despite a
heavy marketing campaign behind what they believed was going to be a
best seller, the publisher withdraws Bob from a promotional tour with
other new authors.
- 12th April 74 - Local news
report of publication of ZMM, and awarding of Guggenheim
- 14th April 74 - Routine local newspaper
review of ZMM
- 15th April 74 - George
Steiner's review in the New Yorker "Uneasy
Rider". [QUOTE] Told by the blurb that we have here
"one of the most unique and exciting books in the history of
American letters," one bridles both at the grammar of the claim
and at its routine excess. The grammar stays irreparable. But I have a
hunch that the assertion itself is valid. . . . the analogies with
Moby Dick are patent. Robert Pirsig invites the prodigious comparison.
- 23rd April 74 - Rave
review and interview in local newspaper.
- In an interview, Nancy describes
how they, and
their son Ted, are
practicing Zen Buddhists. Every morning, rising early, they start
the day together in their dining room. They move out the furniture and
sit on cushions on the floor where they meditate in silence. Then they
have tea and talk. After that they go for a long walk along the river
near their home. While they have been Orientalists and have been
interested in Zen Buddhism for a long time, they have been practicing
this Japanese religious philosophy for (only) three years (See
- Bob receives award of Guggenheim
Fellow ("Robert Pirsig, Writer, Portsmouth, NH", according
to Guggenheim Foundation records.) (In fact Pirsig didn't move to
NH before 1985 ?)
- May 74 - George
Gent interview in the New York Times.
- 12 July 74 - NPR
Radio Interview with Connie Goldman at Bob's home.
- Now doing interviews about his
best-seller, Bob becomes a "celebrity". Seeking
seclusion, he makes trips in his RV / camper van back to the mountains near
Bozeman, where the ideas for his new writing project can "develop
their own momentum".
August 1974 - Interview in Bozeman by Tom Zito in the Washington Post.
We learn that the working title for his next book he is already
working on is "Them Pesky Redskins"
Montana & Minneapolis
- Spring 75 -
Bob makes a trip to the Cheyenne
reservation (Lame Deer, Montana) where they had known Dusenberry as a "good" man.
(Lila p56 and p466)
- Bob is researching anthropology but is already
forming the view that it would be difficult for him to write about
anthropology with any peer credibility, and anyway unlike Dusenberry
"he didn't have the knack" to elicit information naturally
from conversation with the Indians. (Lila p56 and p63) (This is consistent with Lila p55,
except for "6 years later" which would need to be "8
years later" ?) By the
time he leaves Montana, he has already collected
notebooks and trays full of 4" by 6" slips. (Lila p63)
- 1975 Bob receives US Friends of
Literature Award and University of Minnesota, Outstanding Achievement
- 5th April 75 - Bob
speaks at building fund benefit for the Minnesota Zen Meditation
Center, Minneapolis of which he is currently Vice-President.
- 8th June 75 - Bob writes a
review for New York Times Book review. ( July 18th - His review
draws one particularly
critical reaction). Bob is unaware until much later of this vehement catholic
defensive response of Andrew Greeley, but despite feeling justified and
honest in his review, Bob is never tempted to write another. It
reminds him of an occasion when, looking at a deer he has shot at
close range, now lying dead in front of him, he felt "Now
whatever did I do that for ? I didn't need to do that."
- June / July 75 - Bob and Nancy start
learning to sail over 3-day weekends. ("We got the bug all of
a sudden" says Nancy). They acquire $60,000 cutter-rigged Westsail-32
75 (sometime before he sets sail) Bob is interviewed by Christie
Hefner at home in Minneapolis for a piece published in "Oui"
magazine in November 1975. [1.6
PDF copy online, no text version yet.] Interestingly in
this interview he confirms again the subject of the new book he is
already working on involves the cultural differences between whites
and native "Indians", and more significantly refers to the
"Metaphysics of Quality" (Is this the first reference ?
In ZMM he discusses both Quality and metaphysics, and even refers to
being "caught up in his own world of Quality metaphysics"
but he never gives it a name until Lila is published.)
- Mon 11th August 75 - Bob
sets sail (with a volunteer student from the Zen centre and his
girlfriend as crew) from Bayfield, Wisconsin (Lake
Superior). Nancy is planning to join (soon) for the three week trip through
the Great Lakes. They are "planning" a round the
world trip. Bob is intending to take the boat on through the Erie
Canal / Mohawk River route of the NY State Waterways, into the Hudson to New York City and on down to Florida
leave the boat to return home in time for Christmas, before he and
Nancy rejoin the boat in Florida for the round the world trip. There
is no evidence that Nancy joined the boat until after Florida, in fact
not until after Ted and Bob had taken the boat across to the US Virgin
Islands - see 1976 entry. (Note
the date from the "last
Monday" line in the linked interview with Nancy is exactly
consistent with the date in Lila p145).
- Bob is working on his second
book, and it seems he still has plans to be "about
Indians in general, their differences from whites and their
different values, which are not minor but very significant" says
has been his theme since meeting Dusenberry. (Lila various)
- 8th October 75 - 9 weeks
later, Bob calls Nancy from the Hudson
River, though not clear where precisely). (Nancy's
loyalty in the 1975 interviews, and the fact that there is no
Nancy in Lila, the autobiographical record of this boat trip, sadly
belies the fact that the distancing and breakdown which will lead to
their divorce and destructive break-up of the family in 1978, has already
begun. Bob mentions in the
Guardian interview that he believed Nancy had first requested a
divorce back in 1963 during the violent breakdown and hospitalization,
though he himself referred to "separation" before that.)
- October 75 - When the Lila
narrative starts they are on the Hudson, already south of Albany
and Castleton, moored for the night near Kingston on a small side
creek (the end of an old canal that leads off behind New Jersey via
the Delaware into the Atlantic). He and the others he meets first
became aware of each other back at Rochester, which is Lila's
hometown. Though Bob is in no real hurry other than his tentative plan
to reach Florida before the winter, he and several other vacationing
boat parties have been delayed several weeks by problems with the
locks on the Oswego section, then through Rome and Amsterdam, and down
through the steep locks into the Hudson at Troy.
- At Kingston he meets Lila, and
Bob confirms he's on his way to New York
City, expecting to reach Florida in a month. (In
fact though the journey and all the locations are real, "Lila M. Blewitt" and her acquaintances are a
fiction created to exemplify Bob's theses on Quality and Morals, more
specifically sexual infidelity. "Does Lila Have Quality ?"
is the koan to which the only answer can be "Mu" - no thing,
forget it, no answer possible. Given that
Bob's alter-ego is named Phædrus, "one who shines
brilliantly" it is interesting also to note that the other main fictional
characters in Lila are lawyer "Rigel" and his younger
companion "Capella". Bob doesn't meet the real Wendy until a
year later - see below.)
- The trip continues past
Poughkeepsie, West Point (Worlds End), Nyack, to Manhattan and a couple
of days in downtown NYC. In the narrative he meets Robert Redford
discuss the potential project of turning ZMM into a movie. (In
reality, whilst Bob did meet Redford twice to discuss the ZMM film
project, these events during the Lila trip are a fictional pastiche.
liked Redford, and Redford made three separate offers for the film
rights - see letters in GBZ - but they couldn't agree on the right
price and terms. Bob has
since suggested Wendy could sell the rights after his death.)
- Then on to Sandy Hook, Horseshoe Cove,
Highlands of Navesink, Atlantic Highlands, and who knows where after
that. (In fact, this is where the book ends, but
Bob's sailing adventures have only just begun, continuing immediately
to Florida via the intra-coastal waterway.)
and Cruising, Caribbean, Bermuda & East Coast US to Florida
- Ted joins Bob on the boat in
together with the crewman, they sail to Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands.
- Nancy joins them there and Ted
goes back, before they sail on to Bermuda, back to New York then New
Haven (Connecticut). There Bob spends time researching and working on
his book in the Yale University Library. (Labor
Day - first Monday in September 76 - Bob and Nancy are interviewed by
Ed Zuckerman on their boat in Boston Harbor. Already Bob refers to
the fact that his current writing project is using the 1975 Hudson
boat trip as its narrative basis. Already Bob refers to his ZMM
"cult" followers as "Pirsig Pilgrims" visiting
such locations as the MSU building in Bozeman.) At the "end of the summer" of
76, they set sail down the intra-coastal waterway, and reach
Maryland before Nancy and Bob finally separate.
- Bob continues single-handed
towards Miami, Florida. On another boat en-route, he meets Wendy
Kimball, a freelance journalist who wants to interview him.
- From Autumn 76 until Spring 78
Bob and Wendy live on the boat moored at Dinner Key anchorage off
Coconut Grove, just south of Miami, Florida, where Bob continues to
work on his book, and Wendy continues to work as a reporter for a newspaper in
on the boat in Florida
- Bob is living with Wendy on the boat in
- May 77 - Writes "Cruising
Blues and Their Cure" for Esquire magazine, clearly speaking
from his direct experience, about
the stress of boredom and claustrophobia, living in close proximity
with loved ones in the confines of a boat.
77 - The Ed Zuckerman interview from September 76 is published in
and Cruising. Florida, Bahamas, New Hampshire & Maine.
- Spring 78 - Bob and Wendy sail
to Great Abaco in The Bahamas.
- Early Summer 78 - Bob and Wendy
escape the summer heat by sailing back to Block Island, Rhode Island,
then on to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, not far from Wendy's origins.
- Late Summer - Bob and Wendy sail
on to Maine, and anchor in Soames Sound, Mount Desert Island.
- August 78 - Bob and Nancy's
divorce is complete.
- Winter 78 - Bob and Wendy moor
the boat at nearby Southwest Harbor, and spend the winter in the house
of another sailor who is away for the winter.
- 28th December 78 - Bob and Wendy
marry in Tremont, Maine. Sailing friends John and Helena Gannon attend
the wedding, and a few days later both Chris and Ted pay a visit.
and Cruising. North Atlantic & England
- 1979 - Bob receives American Academy
and Institute of Arts and Letters Award.
- Summer 79 - Bob and Wendy set
sail for England, by way of Nova Scotia, past Newfoundland and across the North
- 13th and 14th August 1979 - The fast but rough crossing
climaxes in a storm 300 miles off the coast of England, responsible
for the catastrophic
deaths of 15 yachtsmen involved in the annual Fastnet Race, from
Cowes, Isle of Wight, around the Fastnet Rock off the south coast of
Ireland, returning for a second crossing of the Western Approaches to
finish in Plymouth.
Bob and Wendy shelter in the Isles
of Scilly for a few days.
- They sail on to anchor in the
Helford River, near Helston, Cornwall, England, and a few days after
that they move round to Falmouth Harbour. Barring a single trip to
London by train, and the one return flight to the US (see next
this is where they are to moor and live for the rest of that winter,
spending most of their time in Cornwall.
the boat in England
- Saturday 17th November 79 - Chris
is murdered by stabbing near Haight / Octavia in San Francisco,
after leaving the Zen centre where
he lived and studied, just two weeks before his 23rd birthday.
(Z25 Afterword p415) (Photo
of Chris taken during his time in SF - Carol Geary
"Caroling" at WholeoBlog
has records of a retreat shared with Nancy and Chris, including photos
by Nancy. Carol is an artist, who was in Minneapolis back in 1961.)
- Bob returns for Chris' funeral
and takes his belongings to "his grandfather's house" in
Minnesota. (That's paternal grandfather Maynard, Also implies neither
Bob nor Nancy has the 458 Otis Avenue, St.Paul address any longer.)
- When Katagiri Roshi gave the
funeral address tears were just running down
his face. He suffered almost more than Bob did.
and Cruising. Holland / Belgium
- Spring 80 - With
their UK visa now expired, Bob and Wendy sail
up the English Channel and over to Holland, where they moor on the canal
between Terneuzen (On the Westerschelde in Holland) and Ghent (in
- Bob continues to work on his
- Nell is conceived, giving Bob doubts about fatherhood in his 50's
Holland / Belgium
- Nell is born, "filling a
hole left by Chris in the pattern of things". (Z25 Afterword)
is keeping a journal of their travels, and Bob has suggested she might
be the "authoritative" biographer one day.
and Cruising. Norway
- Spring 82 - Bob, Wendy and Nell are
"kicked-out" of their moorings in Holland / Belgium, and
sail around the North Sea to Tananger, near Stavanger, Norway.
- Bob continues researching and writing his book.
and Cruising. Sweden
- Bob, Wendy and Nell sail round
to Frilesas, Sweden. (Sweden is the origin
of Bob's mother's ancestors.)
- The book Bob is drafting mutates
from being specifically about Indian anthropology into his second work on the
Metaphysics of Quality, "Lila - An Enquiry Into Morals", woven around the story of the Hudson sailboat
trip in 1975.
- Living on the boat in Sweden,
the afterword referring to Chris'
death is added to all new editions of ZMM.
- Bob is still working on writing Lila.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
- Spring 85 - Bob and Wendy
repatriate to the US with Nell, soon to be
starting nursery school aged 4, after
they notice Nell missing out on English-speaking peers.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
- November 1991 - "Lila - An
Inquiry Into Morals" published. (First
published as a Bantam Hardback. Although as publishers of ZMM, William
Morrow had first refusal on publishing Lila, they did not offer the
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
- August 1994 - Sven Lindqvist
publishes his series of articles in the Swedish newspaper Dagens
Nyheter describing his retracing the ZMM journey, and reviewing
Pirsig's ideas in the process. Contains additional biographical
material from Linqvist's researches at the college in Bozeman. Offline
English translations are available. The original essay is included in
a collection soon to be published by Lindqvist (2006)
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
- 1st June 1995 - Presents
Subjects, Objects, Data and Values (SODV) at the "Einstein meets
Magritte" conference (17:00 - 18:00, Plenary session 11,
Thursday, June 1, 1995, Robert M Pirsig, from "England") (Ref, Link)
(Although the paper seems to be well received, Bob is not tempted
to write and publish or present any further papers. Note Francis
Heylighen of VUB, University of Brussels, was one of the organisers of
this conference, and he cites Pirsig in his ongoing work in
- 5th February 1997 - Bob's
father, Maynard Pirsig, then of New Brighton, dies at the age of 95.
- 17th February 1997 - Memorial
service held in the auditorium of the William Mitchell College of Law,
- Recounting meeting the retired
Maynard Pirsig in the university law school library, one student
recalled how they were mystified at how, whilst not being a member of
staff, he seemed to have a key to the library. When challenged, he
explained "First you have to graduate top of your class, then you
must join the law school faculty, then you must be elected dean of the
school, and finally when you retire, becoming professor emeritus, then
they give you one of these keys."
- Searches attribute Bob
contributing the "1998
Cumulative Supplement" to his father's legal reference work
on Minnesota Pleading". (Presumably this is an editorial supplement concerning
the fact that Maynard Pirsig is recently deceased and therefore unable
to continue future editions and supplements. In any event Bob has no
involvement with this, and the attribution is simply a confusion over
- ZMM 25th Anniversary Edition is published.
- Lila's Child published by the MoQ
Lila Squad, with commentary / annotation by Bob.
- 30th Anniversary of ZMM publication.
- Spring 2004 - Nell graduates from
- Summer 2004 - "After 19 years
dormant in their backyard", renovation of their boat
is finally complete and, with Wendy and Nell, Bob takes her out
"onto the rolling swells of the North Atlantic once
7th July 2005. The first ever conference on Robert M Pirsig's
Metaphysics of Quality is organized by Dr Anthony McWatt at Liverpool
University, England, to coincide with his awarding of the first ever
academic PhD specifically concerned with the subject. [Conference
papers here.] [Report
and photographs here.]
conference is filmed as part of a possible documentary project. (See
- January 2008 - First part of Ant
McWatt ’s Pirsig film documentary project “Arrive
Without Travelling” released on DVD. Includes footage of the
2005 conference as well as interviews with Pirsig and others "on
- July 2008 is the 40th
anniversary of the original 1968 motorcycle trip around which ZMM
- 6th September 2008 - Bob's 80th
- 9th September 2008 - Publication
of Mark Richardson’s book
and Now”. The story of Mark's own motorcycles trip(s) across the
ZMM route, interwoven with as yet unpublished biographical detail.
Published in Hardback by Random
House / Knopf.