Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values
Confronting crises of technological annihilation and personal madness, Robert Pirsig finds each to be a manifestation of a deeper crisis of Reason. In response) he suggests an alternative to our current paradigm of rationality, the "art of motorcycle maintenance." By showing that our understanding and performance derive from our emotional and evaluative commitments, he challenges the cultural commonplace which construes "subjective" states as distortions of "objective" reality. In so doing, he asserts that "wholeness" or sanity may be achieved only through "passionate caring," and an awareness and acceptance of how our emotions and values shape our experiences. Further, he shows that technology, a manifestation of our values, may be controlled only through emotional and moral commitment. A restorative rhetoric, on Pirsig's analysis is, then, one in which the passions and values are recognized as the very ground of being in and interpreting the world.
The crisis of reason
As he begins his "Chautauqua," Robert Pirsig finds himself in a twofold crisis. He characterizes the public dimension of the crisis as arising in large part from the technological fragmentation of nature and man. Having transformed nature from a field of daffodils into a field for its own potential appropriation, technology, as Marshall McLuhan has noted, now also "shapes and controls the scale of human association and action" (McLuhan 8). Seemingly indifferent to human values and developing under its own logic, technology increasingly isolates us from our natural environment, from one another, and even from ourselves. For though we may be in touch with Belgrade or Tokyo, our lives have lost much temporal and spatial wholeness or sanity. We are often physically and even emotionally closer to fabricated media "personalities" than we are to the person across the breakfast table. Yet whereas we are never left alone by our technology, we are increasingly lonely, alienated from our deepest selves. For we have lost touch with our own feelings, being educated to ignore them in order to function in a technological world. Like Bergman's "intellectual illiterates," we are so uneducated about our inner feelings that we only learn to talk about them when we "break down," and have to be repaired by the analyst, at the Group, or in the asylum. For, we learn, our feelings distort our "objective" perceptions, and thus prevent us from functioning like our machines. In this vein, Andy Warhol wryly recalls that he had always wanted to be like a machine, for then it was easier to get along with people. We thus find ourselves fragmented, our feelings alienated from our world, our lives as well as our literature being characterizable by T. S. Eliot's phrase, "dissociation of sensibility."
Parallel to this public, cultural crisis of technologically-induced fragmentation, Pirsig faces his own personal...