Review of 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

zen_and_the_art.jpg A number of years ago I was living in Canada when I heard of this book I simply MUST read with a very unusual name: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I immediately put in an order for the book from a local bookstore but since then it has sat on my shelf unread. Finally I set aside the time to read this while I was on holiday in Crete. Perhaps a good idea to give the book the focus it certainly deserves.

The semi-autobiographical story is told from the perspective of a father who sets out with his son Chris along with friends John and Sylvia as they travel from Minneapolis to points west on two motorcycles. The author sees this trip as what he sees as a “Chautauqua”, that is, named after the old-time travelling tent show of the same name that held talks meant to entertain and educate. In this case his “Chautauqua” is to put forward a number of his thoughts on life with specific interest in the modern separation of “romantic” and “classic” modes of thought. The “romantic” mode would be where the surface appearance of something is of primary importance while the “classic” mode is where everything is understood from a functional perspective. The struggles of the modern-day philosopher whom the author calls “Phaedrus” are examined in detail as he struggled to understand the modes coming to the understanding that the two are one and the same. In the earlier portions of the book we are asked to examine how the modes work in application to the maintenance of the older motorcycle that the author works hard to regularly maintain while John and Sylvia seem to shun not only the technical nature of their motorcycle but also the trappings of modern life. On the motorcycle the travellers travel each day without being able to talk so the trip is of an introspective nature and as time passes we realize that it is the author himself that is really the subject of the trip…will he be able to connect with his distant son? Will they ever complete the trip?

This is most definitely not an easy read and often delves deep into philosophical thought which can be quite confusing and mind-bending. The sections talking about the trip itself were easier for me to follow but quickly I got bogged down in the heavy subjects being discussed, not having too much of a familiarity with the subject. The author states that this book is a response to the philosophy of the hippie era (having been written after this era in 1974) and this very much shows. I think it has a lot of interesting things to say and as you read you being to suspect something about the author that is confirmed as the trip unravels at the end with his son.

Frankly, I am not sure how much I will remember but it has certainly opened my mind to some ideas. I would suggest readers try not to get too deeply into the details but follow the lines of thought to make it through to the intriguing conclusion.

Rating: “It is OK but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2016-10-16

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Bantam New Age Books

Publication Date: 1974

ISBN: 0553277472