Recommended Reads: Robert M. Pirsig “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” – Henry David Thoreau

Nature speaks to us and we constantly feel a transcendent urge to experience its sublime beauty. Our youth culture today often resonates strongly with this call of the wild.  However, romantic yearning should not be flippantly sought after as a scapegoat by which humanity may bypass troubles in daily life. Too often people want to experience nature without further thought regarding the emotions they may become filled with.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

After the above sentiments you may feel as if I starkly hope classical rationality may defeat this artistic and creative Romantic ideal. Let me quickly dismiss that thought: I do not condone a conquest; I propose a balance.

As Robert M. Pirsig states in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “To reject the part of the Buddha that attends to the analysis of motorcycles is to miss the Buddha entirely.”  This philosophical novel both explores the twisting back roads of America, as well as surveys the many roads of reason within the mind. “Motorcycle riding is romantic and the motorcycle maintenance is purely classical.” Both are necessary parts that must exist in dichotomy with one another. This first-person narrative nonfiction chronicles a 17-day motorcycle trip, that the author and his son take from Minnesota to California. The main highlights during this trip are the various philosophical discussions that Pirsig refers to as “Chautauquas”. The author wants to, “Pursue further now that same ghost that Phaedrus pursued- rationality itself, that dull, complex, classical ghost for underlying form.” The name Phaedrus here serves as a third person outlook on the author, while also a reference to Plato’s dialogue.  Pirsig conveys how rationality is indeed often, “dull and complex,” but nevertheless important for humanity to expound upon. Throughout the author’s pilgrimage of sorts he realizes that, “the classic reality is primarily theoretic, but has its own esthetics too.  The romantic reality is primarily esthetic, but has its theory too.”  Pirsig finds that both Eastern aesthetic emphasis and Western rationality are valuable philosophical understandings that will aid us in attaining individual spirituality.

This new epiphany of Pirsig’s does not set his mind at ease, but instead leads him to yet another question- the question of Quality.  He wants to understand how someone or something attains Quality, and soon his obsession over Quality begins to drive him to insanity.  After a difficult time, his metaphysics of Quality cause him to conclude that, “The Quality which creates the world emerges as a relationship between man and his experience.  He (humanity) is a participant in the creation of all things.”  Therefore, Pirsig finds a viable means to link both Romantic idealism and Classical reasoning together in a fluid thought process, which compounds his own feelings towards the ideal of Quality.

Pirsig ultimately reminds us that if we want the “truth” that Thoreau and others speak of we cannot just go out into the world.  To seek comfort in Nature is fine, though we must remember that we, as cognitive beings, must also realize our capacity for understanding beneath the surface qualities initially experienced.

Now, friends I urge you to begin your own Chautauqua. Curl up with a good book (e.g. this one) and a hot cup of coffee for the afternoon. Then go out into the crisp November air and experience Nature for all that it may offer to you.  And as Pirsig states, “Remember that it’s peace of mind you’re after and not just a fixed machine.”  Eastern romantic appreciation and Western classical understanding are both necessary.  Learn from both.  Balance both.  Embrace both.


  1. Jarrod

    I’m on Chapter 19, and scared I’m not able to grasp everything quite yet. Just google searched the book title and found this article. So good to see a picture of Robert and Chris.

  2. David

    I just read this a few weeks ago, It seemed like listening to my late night caffeinated thoughts, when the world seems so simple, but the next day…

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