An Inquiry into Values
by Robert M. Pirsig
This is one book I know I didn't understand well. On the surface it is two things: the story of a father and son's road trip across the USA on a motorcycle, and a philosophical exploration of how we think and experience the world. One of the most curious things about it is something I haven't seen mentioned in other reviews, but I do want to speak of it.
***** S P O I L E R * A L E R T *****
Throughout the book, the father is chasing the ghost of his own past. Apparently when he was teaching rhetoric at a university he became so involved in the philosophical question "what is QUALITY?" that it literally drove him insane. He was committed to a hospital, where he received electromagnetic shock that literally "erased his personality" so that his memory is full of holes, his son recognizes that dad is not the same person anymore, and he calls the self he was before the incident by another name, Phaedrus. During the journey he visits the old university and runs into people who remember him as the professor and don't realize he's a stranger now. It's kind of weird. And the son is apparently showing signs of pending mental instability himself. All this is revealed in a few brief sentences that I totally missed the first time I read this book!
I liked reading the parts where Phaedrus tested his theories on his students, where quality is described as being a pervasive force that can permeate everything in one's life, where methods of problem-solving (illustrated via the motorcycle) were outlined. But most of these things didn't come until the second half or near end of the book. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is the kind of book that made my head hurt, and I had to put it aside after every chapter or so. Let it absorb. Try and understand it. As you might have noticed, I've read five other books simultaneously because I had to keep getting away from Zen. But it was intriguing enough that I kept going back until I actually finished it.
Rating: 4/5 Published: 19p 436 pages, 1974
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