Quality – Pirsig in Person

Wendy, wife of the late Robert Pirsig, shared an archive gem this weekend on his son Ted’s YouTube channel. An hour-long video of Bob’s talk to a Minneapolis College of Art audience about his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on 20th May 1974, then just a month or so after its publication and becoming a best seller.

Most of the content of the talk itself was transcribed and published earlier this year as the “The Right Way” introductory chapter to “On Quality” – but here we see a lot more in person. The humour and the interaction, as he detects the artistic audience recognising shared experiences in the creative process, and his feeling his way into not just his audience but his new-found celebrity status.

The mechanics of organising his ideas as individual thoughts each on many “paper slips” will later become boxes of 3″ x 5″ index cards by the time we get to his second book Lila. But here, we discover that the actual writing process, of the book written as opposed to the one not, was quite separate to any mechanical plan to write it. The actual writing flowed from narrating the motorcycle trip as a first draft and then editing that against the ideas he’d had in mind. Fascinating.

Interesting also from the outset the mechanics of the technology – videotape recording at the time – plays the part of the motorcycle in the book, against which the romantic aspects of quality are related. The main message of the book embodied in microcosm.

A gem, as I say.

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