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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Summer Reading Presentation By: Corey, Fiona, and Daniel
by

Corey Brown

on 19 September 2012

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Transcript of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

By: Corey, Fiona, and Daniel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Beginnings Characters Phaedrus, a younger form of the narrator, is more of a detached character rather than a younger narrator. It adds a little disconnect to the writing and overall image of the narrator. this mysterious character is often alluded to and not explained until late in the book. Endings There is a great sense of satisfaction at the end when the narrator finally reconciles with his past and inner self. At the same time, he comes to realize and understand his relationship with Chris. Their problems aren't entirely solved, but there is a sense of resolution in their relationship and, "trials never end, of course. Unhappiness and misfortune are bound to occur as long as people live, but there is a feeling now, that was not here before, and is not just on the surface of things, but penetrates all the way through; We've won it. It's going to get better now. You can sort of tell there things." (p 412) The setting is dynamic due to the road trip premise. As Pirsig reaches new locations, he draws parallels between the setting and his mindset. “Beyond is another country. Mountain lakes and pines and snowfields are below. Above and beyond them as far as we can see are farther mountain ranges covered with snow. The high country… I want to talk about another high country… The high country of the mind is found at the uppermost reaches… the most abstract considerations of all” (124, 125). Significance of the Setting This nonfiction book is set during a motorcycle road trip across America. As the trip progresses, Pirsig often has to stop to test the tappets, check the chain oil, and various other things. As he works, he compares different procedures to Zen and other philosophical concepts such as a rusty screw being a gumption trap. The reader comes away with the feeling that Zen can be seen anywhere, even in a practice as obscure as motorcycle maintenance. Significance of the Title “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” (7).

Pirsig sets up the book not as a book, but as a discussion. At first it seems like a lecture, but as it continues, sprinkled with plot, it grows clear that the book is a lesson, and not the boring kind. This passage clearly illustrates his purpose, which is key to appreciating the book as a whole. “Beyond is another country. Mountain lakes and pines and snowfields are below. Above and beyond them as far as we can see are farther mountain ranges covered with snow. The high country… I want to talk about another high country… The high country of the mind is found at the uppermost reaches… the most abstract considerations of all” (124, 125).

This quote from before encapsulates the author’s style and a theme of the whole nonfiction. The story follows the road trip, and the whole time they are traveling Pirsig is drawing parallels between the surroundings and what he knows of philosophy. From Tao to Greece Pirsig explores every concept and origin of thought. Every so often he will pull the reader to the “present” and remind that he is a man crossing the country on a motorcycle, not a philosopher in a lecture hall. Impressions Our impression of the narrator/Phaedrus starts to change from finding him annoying to understanding his predicament and history. As the two start to merge at the end, we see a shift in the narrator's tone towards that of Phaedrus seen in Phaedrus's dialogue.

Our perception of Chris is a strange one. It seemed that he was just in a phase where he needed a lot of attention until his father alludes to the cause possibly being more deeply seeded. Near the end, Chris's dialogue makes more sense and we can see why he said what he did. Characteristics Conflict Foreshadowing Examples were hints to Chris's mental state early on in the book, but it is only later when we read the truth that we resolve the foreshadowing. The narrator makes a clue here: “…John and Sylvia disregard it too. I’m glad they were told what the situation is with [Chris]. It might have created real friction otherwise.” It was very effective in alluding to his condition. The Narrator This book focuses on the shift from disequilibrium to equilibrium. It goes from chaos of his life to the order and reconciliation with his old self Character Roles Pirsig analyses the people he is traveling with and simplifies them. He writes that his companions John and Sylvia are distrustful of technology. Of John specifically he says “That’s the dimension he’s in. The groovy dimension. I’m being awfully square talking about all this mechanical stuff all the time… He’s on this dimensional difference which underlay much of the cultural changes of the sixties” (56). Pirsig analyses everyone he interacts with using everything he knows about them. This passage also speaks heavily to the setting; the trip occurred in the sixties and they encounter much counterculture as a result as they cross the country. Atmosphere is key in ZMM. The setting is so dynamic yet Pirsig maintains a constant atmosphere by connecting sight to sight as he connects thoughts. Voice is also outstanding in the nonfiction. “But the answer is that if you know which facts you’re fishing for you’re no longer fishing. You’ve caught them. I’m trying to think of a specific example…” (319).

The author’s goal was to talk about things that seem important, and by writing like he speaks it effectively sets the tone as casual. It also makes it clear that Pirsig is not writing for the purpose of making a book but rather speaking about what he cares about and the fact that it happens to be in print is inconsequential. “Farther south we find a forest of scrubby trees, subdivided into ridiculous little lots. …we spread out our sleeping bags and discover that the pine needles just barely cover what must be many feet of soft spongy dust. I’ve never seen anything like it. We have to be careful not to kick up the needles or the dust flies up over everything.” Beartooth Pass Highway, MT “…and then walk to a little path that takes us out to the edge of a cliff. A motorcycle on the road almost straight down beneath us could hardly be seen from up here. We bundle up more tightly against the cold and continue upward.” “At Red Lodge the road’s almost joined to the base of the mountain. The dark ominous mass beyond dominates even the roofs of the buildings on either side of the main street” “A town called Riggins comes up and we see a lot of motels, and afterward the road branches away from the canyon and follows a smaller stream. It seems to head upward into forest” The narrator's thoughtful tone in addition to his casual stream-of-consciousness style is consistent throughout the book. The passage: “In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV.” Here the author likens a car to a TV, and his preference for real life is evident. Chris, the son, is introduced as a vehicle for the narrator's thoughts and insights about life. Chris's thoughts are less sophisticated and easier to comprehend, but his motives are only as clear to the reader as they are to his mystified father. When prompted by his dad to look at some blackbirds, Chris replies, “I’ve seen lots of those, Dad!” making the cause for his father's frustration clear. One characteristic of the narrator/Phaedrus was that of thinking. Lots of philosophy and lots of thinking. Especially in this quote, “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called a Religion,” the narrator brings light to a paradox he thought of. He also state his personal thoughts as fact.

Chris, on the other hand, tended to be quieter. He is not quoted directly as much as given by this passage: “He comes to breakfast looking insulted, eats one bite, says he isn’t hungry, his stomach hurts." The conflict can be described as man-vs-self. The narrator's history continues to influence his personality and actions throughout the much of the book. Then conflict is resolved when the narrator finds reconciliation. We learn about the narrator's past and reasons why he writes and thinks the way he does. The introverted, thoughtful personality is translated into his prose and narrative. The narrator likes to play with word exemplified here: “We want to make good time, but for us now this is measured with emphasis on ‘good’ rather than ‘time.’” It gives him a unique, thoughtful style. Overall the writing style, however gimmicky, had much imagery throughout the book clearly illustrating the situation and the setting. The quote, “We bump along the beat-up concrete between the cattails and stretches of meadow and then more cattails and marsh grass. Here and there is a stretch of open water and if you look closely you can see wild ducks at the edge of the cattails,” puts us directly in the scene of the book and places on the motorcycle on the highway. Phaedrus Chris
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