Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Robert M. Pirsig (September 6, 1928 – April 24, 2017)

From Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
What I would like to do is use the time that is coming now to talk about some things that have come to mind. We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone. Now that we do have some time, and know it, I would like to use the time to talk in some depth about things that seem important. 
Robert and Chris Pirsig  

What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua— that’s the only name I can think of for it— like the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across America, this America, the one that we are now in, an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer. The Chautauquas were pushed aside by faster-paced radio, movies and TV, and it seems to me the change was not entirely an improvement. Perhaps because of these changes the stream of national consciousness moves faster now, and is broader, but it seems to run less deep. The old channels cannot contain it and in its search for new ones there seems to be growing havoc and destruction along its banks. In this Chautauqua I would like not to cut any new channels of consciousness but simply dig deeper into old ones that have become silted in with the debris of thoughts grown stale and platitudes too often repeated. “What’s new?” is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question “What is best?,” a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream. There are eras of human history in which the channels of thought have been too deeply cut and no change was possible, and nothing new ever happened, and “best” was a matter of dogma, but that is not the situation now. Now the stream of our common consciousness seems to be obliterating its own banks, losing its central direction and purpose, flooding the lowlands, disconnecting and isolating the highlands and to no particular purpose other than the wasteful fulfillment of its own internal momentum. Some channel deepening seems called for.
Pirsig, Robert M.. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (pp. 7-8). HarperTorch. Kindle Edition. 

In memory of Robert M. Pirsig (September 6, 1928 – April 24, 2017)

I didn't understand most of what Pirsig tried to get across in the story within a story within the story of the motorcycle trip with his son Chris in Zen and The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance,  far too lofty for my puny intellect.  But I did understand and love his concept of the Chautauqua...a talk intended to edify and entertain.   Think of it, what are the books, movies, lectures, even chats with friends or lovers that you enjoy the most?  Are they not those that not only entertain but also edify? Indeed, I read the last page in Zen with the very uncomfortable feeling that I just read something profound but most of it slipped past my thick skull.  But, I did grasp the Chautauqua...worth the price of the book and the bigger opportunity cost of reading it alone.  

For an interesting memorial to Pirsig:  

Robert M. Pirsig, Author of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,’ Dies at 88,  By Paul Vitello,  New York Times, April 24, 2017.

Photo Credit:  


  1. I think you have motivated me to read that book again.

    1. Strange, I had the Kindle copy open to the quote I copied, and I began reading from that point. I actually got interested in the story again and read about 10 pages. OK the pages I read was a dialogue with John and Sylvia, his fellow riders about motorcycles and a refusal to maintain them, and not a musing by Phaedrus on the short comings rhetoric and dialectic. But still I found myself thinking, I should read this again.

      Olga always a pleasure, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. I've never read or heard of this book but I like the quote above and I quite agree with it. I think that's why I like to read book and blogs, blogs especially.

    Sometimes when I'm talking in person to someone I can see them drift off, thinking about how they would much rather be checking on their phone into their Facebook/Instagram/SnapChat accounts. And while I'm sure they are interested in what I have to say it's a new world of people with short attention spans. But when I read a blog I can read it, re-read it, take what interests me and post a comment such as this and get a running dialogue with the blogger. Hmmm, I think that is conversation right? Good to see/read you my friend!

    1. Wow! Never heard of ZAMM? Its a classic, but not easy sledding by any means. As I said above most of it went over my head but I got this handful of jewels from it.

      Can't say anything about Facebook/Instagram/SnapChat. Don't even know what the last two are other than something I don't want bothered with. I have an old man's cell phone. I think it can text, but I have no idea of how to do it, nor do I particularly care to learn.

      When I was young I got on a computer buying kick and had to have the latest contraption. Then I sort of grew out of that and I have tried to avoid the siren's call of ever growing technology. Pirsig wrote about the channels running wide but not deep back in the late 60s early 70s before all this instantaneous communication of "this is what I am having for dinner" or "my cat taking a nap." So imagine how broad and shallow the waters run today. Why when I see a group of young people together, who should be having a wonderful time with each other...they are young...their knee and back pain is not the over riding fact of their life, all you see is heads down peering into small screens and hear is tap tap tap? Is it the Googlization of the mind, where there is so much choice that you do nothing but search for ever better results and miss what is right before you?

      One of the sadder Atlantic covers I have seen.

      Indeed conversation...the exchange of ideas and thought. Great to hear from you, Alicia. I hope all is going well.

    2. Last week I had to go on a business trip with a co-worker. I kid you not, she spent the majority of the trip on her phone, facebooking, snapchatting, constantly texting and/or facetiming with her fiance, family and friends. She missed so much in not paying attention at the airport to the people wandering on and off flights.

      I'm a self-admitted lookie-loo and nosy broad! I so enjoyed listening to the conversations of others around me. I watched a group of 5 men and 1 woman get into a verbal altercation with the ticket agent over having missed their flight. Curses and "you just ruined my whole wedding" and F-bombs were being thrown with reckless abandon. I should have picked up my phone and video taped the whole thing. It probably would have gone viral, but it was more fun for me to just watch.

      I watched them burst into tears when they were not allowed to board even though the pilot held the plane for them and instructed the ground crew that he was ok with letting them board. I would have felt bad for them if they had not been so abusive to the young man that was just doing his job. He was on the phone with someone in authority who told him NO WAY. Was he supposed to lose his job just so these idiots could make it to a wedding?

      Anyway, the point of my story is that there is so much to see and hear and to spend your whole life looking at a 5-inch screen is such a waste of a lifetime. My two cents for what it's worth!

  3. I've also tried to read "Zen..." and concluded I had too limited an intellect to understand it. It's on my shelf - maybe I'll try it again. Another book I could not make much of is: "All But for The" by Ali Smith. As I great admirer of your intellect, Sextant, you inspire me to think I may not be as dumb as I thought. Glad you are still posting......

  4. Sextant, where are you? Are you OK?