Turning 50: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Turning 50: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” is a BBC Radio 4 “Archive on 4” edition broadcast last weekend to mark the 50th anniversary of publication of Robert Pirsig’s “culture-bearing” book in 1974. #ZMM50th

The host and interviewer is Dr Chris Harding, the voice of BBC Radio 3’s “Free Thinking” so I really shouldn’t have been surprised at what an excellent documentary the BBC has created. (At the Robert Pirsig Association (RPA) we had helped with existing audio-visual resources and contacts, but I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t properly twigged who “Chris” was until listening to the result. Well done to the production team, Sam Peach and Luke Mulhall for making it happen.)

“Blimey!” was my initial reaction shared with the RPA team “I was waiting with ‘bated breath to hear the result. A truly excellent piece of work, from beginning to end – a whole hour documentary on Pirsig and Quality. Chris Harding clearly knew his subject, empathetic and creative in the selection and construction of content.”

And others responded, some already on their 2nd and 3rd listenings …

“Yes, great job!”

“Excellent selection and mixing of interviews and readings, the overall creative design.”

“It is wonderful! Touching on Quality as the ultimate origin, which is my own #1, life-changing takeaway from the book.”

“The BBC production is indeed excellent !!! ”

“Loved the interview with Jonathan Rowson as well as the creative selection of existing recordings and readings. The exhaustion with the profound, the choice of putting values at the centre, very insightful from Rufus Hound. Great to finish on the same story – told twice from both sides – of Bob and Jim first meeting each other after publication. The whole hour is a great piece of work. The profound in the cliché. Not really mad. Brilliant”

As well as Chris’ own interviews with Bob’s widow and archivist Wendy Pirsig, Bob’s original editor Jim Landis, comedian & actor Rufus Hound, philosopher and chess grand-master Jonathan Rowson and poet & law professor Ann Tweedy – there was a selection of archive recordings from python Michel Palin with reference to playwright Alan Bennett, DJ Johnnie Walker, artist Grayson Perry and more. Fascinating, life-changing snippets of biography woven into a compelling story of why ZMM remains vital for human attention to our relationship with technology, fathers with sons, and with fellow humans in the wider world. Vital to our mental health, individually and culturally.

A gem of a documentary that will be a landmark of lasting value – true Quality.


See previously on Psybertron:

Jonathan Rowson on “Attention as a Moral Act” and the connection from Pirsig to Iain McGilhrist’s worldview. (Post Note: Jonathan Rowson’s own reflections on the interview and the documentary and more.)

Salman Rushdie and Robert Pirsig – As well as referencing Pirsig’s use of Chautauqua, Gumption and Quality in his latest book “Knife in which Rushdie also describes writing and talking about his previous book Victory City, he also mentioned the significance of Pirsig’s ZMM when interviewed about Quichotte, his book before that.

Rushdie’s 2019 book Quichotte is a sci-fi, magical realist retelling of Cervante’s Don Quixote by way of the American roadtrip novel, influenced in part by Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. As Rushdie explains in an Audible Blog interview with Tricia Ford…

“…actually, one of the books that helped me, strangely, was again an old book that happened to have some kind of anniversary, and I picked it up again, which is Robert Pirsig’s book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. And in which I thought, never mind about the Zen and never mind about the motorcycle maintenance, but in the middle of it, there’s this very beautifully told relationship between him and his son going on this motorbike ride across America to try and get closer. And I thought, mine is also a novel about fathers and sons. And there are two father-son relationships in the book that are both very central to it

… And that was a book that helped me think about that.”

Testimonials from more Pirsig readers at the Robert Pirsig Association (RPA) in this #ZMM50th year.


4 thoughts on “Turning 50: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

  1. Hi, Ian. I just ran into a link that I thought you might find interesting:


    The title of the thesis is “A PROCESS ANALYSIS OF QUALITY: A.N. WHITEHEAD AND R. PIRSIG ON EXISTENCE AND VALUE.” I haven’t read it — just passing this along — but I also noticed the name “Ilya Prigogine” at the start of the third paragraph. Not that you need a longer reading list! 🙂

  2. Hi AJ, thanks.

    The Sneddon Thesis is well known to us, and we (The Robert Pirsig Association) manage the http://www.robertpirsig.org site. I think I uploaded that copy, as well as having a copy previously linked on the Psybertron Pirsig Pages. It was one of those works that consolidated my own suspicions that Whitehead was pretty consistent with Pirsig.
    (Once the #ZMM50thRide events are over we will turn our attention to how all our RPA resources are consolidated, organised and linked publicly.)

    Prigogine I have mentioned and read his “The End of Certainty” some time ago – and he’s generally considered one of the founders of chaos and complexity theory – I wasn’t that impressed at the time. His work with Isabelle Stengers keeps cropping up, so I will have to try and read him/them again one day 🙂


  3. Hi, Ian. For some reason I thought you’d expressed interest in Prigogine’s work. I thought it had something to do with systems. Personally I haven’t read him, although I keep bumping into the name.

    After alerting you to the Sneddon paper (which I came across while looking into Whitehead and “attractors”), I realized that you were probably already aware of the Persig site and its contents. I wasn’t clear on your involvement, but I know you’re quite active in Persig circles.

  4. Yes, as per the other comment thread on your site, I had forgotten I’d already highlighted my renewed interest in Prigogine, stuff I need to read / re-read in the new light of my “systems thinking” – when I get time.

    I’m up to my neck (eyeballs maybe) in Pirsig stuff right now 🙂 after being involved up to the waist for two decades.

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