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Reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Chapter 12
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Summary
Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides. Life Imitates Art. Bob and Gennie DeWeese, mentioned in the book as friends of Phaedrus and the narrator from Bozeman, are real historical figures. The DeWeeses have received many visits from diehard Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance fans, eager to make a pilgrimage to a site mentioned in the book. Anchors Away.
The novel, published in , uses a long motorcycle trip to frame a prolonged exploration of the world of ideas, about life and how best to live it. It references perspectives from Western and Eastern Civilizations as it explores the central question of the how to pursue technology so that human life is enriched rather than degraded. Narrated in the first person, it incorporates a parallel presentation of trip details and an ongoing retrospective concerning dramatic events from the Narrator's past, creating rich symbolism and including numerous analogies reinforcing the overall theme of coming to terms with the mysteries of why we exist and how best to live. Initially, the Narrator and his son, Chris, ride on one cycle, and a couple, the Sutherlands, ride on another. The Narrator represents someone who is relatively comfortable with technology, and the Sutherlands represent people who feel oppressed by it, but who, at the same time, are dependent on it; conflicted. They travel together northwest to Bozeman, Montana; an important location related to the Narrator's college teaching career and dramatic past.
What does Zen, a holistic, meditative and spiritual practice, have to do with tinkering with the gears and shafts of a greasy motorcycle? So how do we overcome this gap, and live a balanced and harmonious life? Well, we take a road trip, of course — one that can teach us how to travel that magic middle road. When presented with an engine, for example, a classical mind is fascinated by the rich underlying symbols and functions of form that make a machine work — the gears, the belts, the pistons and all the complicated interactions that make a machine what it is. Looking beyond motorcycle maintenance, other examples of classical thinking include things such as the scientific method, logic and mathematics. These fields are underpinned by highly systematic, reliable and rational systems. They abide by an established set of rules that have been tested and verified.
The Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Community Note includes chapter-by-chapter summary and analysis, character list, theme list, historical context.
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Robert M. Pirsig
Sign up for our newsletters! Discuss which aspects of the novel you found most compelling, and why. Discuss Pirsig's Author's Note. What does he mean when he says "much has been changed for rhetorical purposes? How does his use of a first-person narrator make this a complex question? What is the relationship between author and narrator? How does this query resemble a Buddhist koan -- a paradoxical or nonsensical question that emphasizes the process of meditating on the question rather than the answer?
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