Quality on the Road Again

As well as his use of religious language throughout – bible, gospel, god(s) – we can forgive J R Patterson’s focus on long-distance motorcycling since, like Robert Pirsig, he too is a writer “with dirt under his fingernails”.


In his latest piece, “The Biker’s Bible” published in New Humanist, he compares notes of his own (2012) reading of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (ZMM, 1974) with fellow bikers and with another travelogue-genre writer Ted Simon (1979) “Jupiter’s Travels”. He also notes correctly that it’s a genre applied to situating gods in the world as old as Homer and Virgil.

He draws on widow Wendy Pirsig’s recent edited selection of Bob’s work “On Quality” which reset the focus of all Pirsig fans on quality itself:

“Quality then, is a kind of religion, though one preaching improvement for its own sake, rather than in the service of some deity … Much of its appeal lies in Pirsig’s prose …”

Well OK “kind of”.
I say “fans” because as Patterson says:

“Like most adherents, there was among them more enthusiasm (which means, as Pirsig points out, “filled with theos”, or God) for Pirsig than drive for understanding.”

The drive for actually understanding quality is of course hampered by it’s being ineffable, undefinable, an event rather than a thing. Something “you know when you see it”. Enthusiasm is much easier than understanding on the terms expected of “the church of reason”. Significant, maybe, that Patterson’s piece is published in New Humanist, the organ of The Rationalist Association of which (full disclosure) I have been a trustee and continue to be a member.

“The book, a bestseller, continues to be read by motorcyclists, philosophers and everyone in between …

We will not produce another writer like Robert Pirsig until we can differentiate quantity from Quality”

He’s right.



I’m in the process of housekeeping my Pirsig content. I must add him to my list of living thinkers, educators  and writers openly influenced by Pirsig.


2 thoughts on “Quality on the Road Again”

  1. Coincidentally, another blogger I follow, Perilous Resonance, also posted high praise for Persig today:

    “[Pirsig’s book is really world class literature – possibly just a step below Dostoyevsky, which is high praise from me.]”

  2. Fascinating AJ.

    Of course Dostoevsky is one of those comparisons made by George Steiner in his marketing review that coincided with original publication.
    (And the source of my own interest in Dostoevsky.)

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