Inspired by Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, near the end of Chapter One.
Unlike yours truly who, in 1966, recklessly delegated my cycle maintenance, Pirsig worked on his own bike with devotion and found great peace of mind in doing it. Unlike many in his time, he did not shun technology per se, though he knew it was being misused. For him, Buddha resides everywhere for those who pay attention and paying attention to doing a good job of anything requires an enlightened peace of mind.
Persig’s book has been called “the most read philosophy book ever.” Perhaps this is true if we insist on a cover-to-cover read. I enjoyed it very much when I read it for the first time in 2015, studying it intensely. Touching and engaging (as is Persig’s life story) Zen is a work of genius when one considers the dryness and difficulty of traditional philosophy texts.
From Robert M. Pirsig’s wonderful 1974 book, the most read book on philosophy ever, this quote on how Aristotle, who had little respect for the great Sophists, started us on our sad path to alienation from the natural world, via the awesome engine of technology:
And the bones of the Sophists long ago turned to dust and what they said turned to dust with them and the dust was buried under the rubble of declining Athens through its fall and Macedonia through its decline and fall. Through the decline and death of ancient Rome and Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire and the modern states – buried so deep and with such ceremoniousness and such unction that only a madman centuries later could discover the clues needed to uncover them, and see with horror what had been done….
Pirsig, born in 1928, is still alive. Listening to this CBC podcast led me, belatedly, to him. His book is about how he challenged the university system on its perverted rationality in a single-minded, fanatical battle that drove him into isolation from his work and family. He was eventually committed to a mental institution where he was subjected to severe electroshock “therapy.” He eventually faked his “reform” in order to be released from the institution and later, in 1968, took a motorcycle trip with his teenage son, Chris, and two of his adult friends. The therapy had destroyed many of his memories. Calling his former, insane, self Phaedrus, he rebuilt Phaedrus’ thinking through these and other fragments: his notes, the memories of former friends and colleagues and his interaction on this trip with his alienated, troubled son, Chris. He also read and reread philosophers, Greek mythology and history in the rebuilding process. This book is helping me in many ways. It adds new dimension and personal insight into how we got into the dangerous political/technological/moral/philosophical place in which we now, tenuously, live. It offers a process by which we just might get out of it. It helps to clarify, support, grow and even, perhaps, mellow my thinking on human issues and philosophical perspective. It may turn out to be the most important book I have ever read. I don’t think I’m giving too much away in giving you one more, very short, quote:
The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself.
Below is a concept diagram that I have done that is my way of working on understanding and remembering Pirsig’s book. I have written many more notes. Simply reading something like this book doesn’t work for me.
OK. Still not about South America yet, but I warned you last time. Anyway – if I hadn’t gone to teach in Trinidad in 1965, I probably wouldn’t have done the two month South America trip in 1967. So kindly bear with me, or, if not, feel free to skip to the end of this post or go elsewhere with my good wishes and abject apologies.
Our West Indies CUSO volunteer contingent (young adults with university degrees or special skills who had selected to serve in the sunny Caribbean over more distant sunny places like Malaysia, India or Tanzania – about two dozen of us in all) assembled at Ottawa’s international airport on a very chilly morning in early September, 1965. We climbed an outside ladder, waved to our loved ones and entered Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s Canadair North Star. This was not a jet, but a plane powered by four Rolls-Royce Merlin propeller engines. They were proudly termed “turbo-props,” whatever enhancements that meant. Still slow and noisy compared to modern jet planes. Simpler times. It took us 19 hours of island hopping before our 8-member Trinidad contingent arrived at Piarco Airport in Port of Spain, the North Star’s last stop. Continue reading “South America Trip.2”