On Quality: Thesis by Ian P. Hornsby
Section One: Inventio|
Finding or discovery, one of the three stages of classical rhetoric.
Chapter One Introductory conversation.
The Scene On The Bank Of The River Albion.
Hannah meets Martin who is sitting on the bank of the river Albion. Martin is watching the flames from a bonfire on the opposite bank, which are stretching and grasping upwards for air. Martin has spent the whole morning re-reading and studying a book entitled Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by the American writer Robert Maynard Pirsig. Hannah expresses great interest in the novel and is told by Martin that she may well do so, for its topic is the re-unification of the human condition, the (re)integration of body and mind or extension and spirit. Martin also informs Hannah that the book is written in the form of a Chautauqua, a word and concept which has dropped out of favour in our modern multimedia world. A Chautauqua was a travelling 'tent-show' of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the listener.(1) Martin entreated to summarise the discourse, professes his inability to do so; however, after some persuading he eventually agrees to read from the notebooks that he carries everywhere with him in a bulky green backpack.
Martin leans back and stretches out a leg to tighten his bootlace. Snap! He looks down at the frayed piece of material in his fingers and curses his rotten luck; then, just as he is about to discard this dysfunctional object he suddenly and surprisingly becomes alive to the delicate weave of the fabric. Martin loosens his grip on the lace and lets it fall into the palm of his hand. He'd always thought that the lace was brown in colour but at this moment he appreciates that the material appears to contain every shade, hue and tincture he'd ever tasted, smelt, heard or touched. In this synaesthetic instant he begins, for some reason unbeknown to his conscious self, to repeat the word brown over and over in his mind until it sounds completely unfamiliar and loses any physical contact, or practical sense of meaning, that it might once have contained.
Martin's eyes fix and widen under the impression of witnessing movement from the object in his hand. He twists his neck and looks sideways at the 'earth worm' that twists in the final moments of this life along the intricate groves of his skin. His mind begins to float and suddenly he understands that this gnarled black root of an ancient yew tree is implanting itself into the flesh of his right hand and is feeding from his sanguine fluid. Then just as the last vital drops of life's blood are extracted from Martin's body the root elapses and so too the boot, the worm, and even the palm of the hand, all vanish. The undulation of the land that Martin is no longer sitting on rises and falls and rises up again as armies of species embrace one another with ferocity in front of the eyes he no longer sees out of. Even the hands that gauge infinite distance and duration fluctuate because there is nowhere left in which to stand and all that remains is a tepid glow of massless singularity.
This no-thing is all that prevails of the entire known universe, and if Quality is of no value then the world will be, like, over. The no-thing begins to 'sing' in a silent scream emitting as it does electromagnetic vibrations like a miniature radio transmitter. This choice of action creates a string of jiggling molecules and as the silent voice grows it evolves into song curling back all six dimensions to leave but four. Energy begins to pump through this newly formed system and the jiggling becomes an abstract dance of merging and over-lapping particles. Before long the dance is in harmonic unison with the voice and the first static particles of low-grade conscious inorganic matter begin to triumph, via the moral laws of nature, over non-existence.
As more and more energy pumps through the system a condensed state of unity changes the particles into waves and back into particles, then into strings and super-strings. . . The undulating hills begin to return and stabilise within a wasteland out of which jut two uneven lengths of iron appearing like upturned swords. Complex organic structures begin to develop into biological patterns in open defiance of the inorganic forces of starvation and death; and the earth heaves and coughs and spits out green phlegm.
The system now pulsates with rich dynamic energy and virtual mutation spawns the recognition of self-reflection and relinquishes its ability for easy respiration in favour of a symbolic growl. The social patterns of morality find the counterweight to balance the scales of injustice and the stage is set for a century of conflict with the intellect versus Goliath. And the air becomes thick with the scent of scorched words. Snap!
Hannah: How did the fire start, Martin?
Martin: Sorry? Oh! All right Hannah, what d'ya say?
Hannah: I just asked how the fire started?
Martin: Oh right! Just a bunch of little kids with a magnifying glass and a few pages from a school history book, about the Ancient Greeks I think they said it was. It's made me think how much I like the scent of burning books, which is somewhat worrying.
Hannah: How long have you been here, not all morning?
Martin: No! Only about half an hour. (He looks at his watch) Wow! I've been here for hours. I needed to get out for a while, clear my head, you know. So I planned to go for a walk across the 'South Downs' but I got stuck here. I've just finished my notes and preparation for the thesis I'm writing on Robert M. Pirsig. I've told you about it before, haven't I?
Hannah: No, not really, you've hinted at it a couple of times but you've never actually explained anything in detail. Why not explain it to me now? It'll do you good to discuss it with someone other than that dummy of yours. I guess you've got it with you.
Martin: Of course, he's in my backpack; would you like to speak with him?
Hannah: No! It's OK, I'll make do with an explanation of your thesis, thanks.
Martin: There's no way that I can explain it to you in just a few minutes; well I could, but I wouldn't do it justice.
Hannah: Come on Martin, aren't you aware that we live in the era of information by sound byte and MTV? You have to be able to summarise everything from the microcosm to the macrocosm in less than three short sentences.
Martin: Which is why I'm writing an 'academic' thesis; it seems to be about the only place left where you can literally say something in depth.
Hannah: But who's going to read it, let alone understand it? Most academic writing is self-indulgent intellectual snobbery, which, once written, is forever consigned to the wasteland of the great unread. Anyway, I didn't really mean I wanted an explanation in a few minutes; I've got the rest of the day to myself with nothing to do, so you can explain it to me now. You don't look very busy and if it's going to take any longer than a day to explain, then I suggest you make it interesting so that I can't wait to come back and hear more.
Martin: In fact, Hannah, my thesis deals with a topic that I'm sure will interest you; I'm examining Pirsig's novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance from a perspective that attempts to define it's central theme as a guide to the re-unification of the human condition.
Hannah: What does that mean?
(Martin stands up and stretches.)
Martin: The fire's going out!
Hannah: But what do you mean by the re-unification of the human condition?
Martin: You said you had the rest of the day to yourself, right?
(Again Hannah nods)
Martin: Well, I'm off for the walk along the South Downs. If you want to come with me, we could talk on the way.
Hannah: Will you explain your thesis to me? We're wasting time and I can tell that you've got your notes with you. Explain your research and I'll come.
Martin: We'll start walking and see how it goes, shall we?
(Hannah gets to her feet and they both begin to walk along the bank of the river Albion.)
Martin: Have I already explained to you how Pirsig has written much of his work in a style he calls the 'Chautauqua'; a method that proves ideal for presenting complex philosophical problems to readers without any formal training in philosophy? In other words it attempts to avoid the intellectual snobbery that you mocked earlier.
Hannah: You still haven't explained to me what you mean by the re-unification of the human condition?
Martin: I'll be glad to do as you ask Hannah; only don't expect too much too soon. There are many layers of past, present, ignored and forgotten thought at play in Pirsig's two novels and I want to show, from both inside and outside the text, that the overall composition of these ideas binds consciousness inseparably with our bodies. I see these ideas, perhaps controversially from a post-structuralist perspective,(2) as not being completely dependent upon the words and letters of the book in isolation, but as caught up in what I have termed the 'intuitive moment'; those occasions where the slightest amount of meditation eradicates a multi-faceted, and at times paradoxically impromptu, realisation of a thing, idea or situation, by fixing it to a single, uncomplicated 'truism'. An everyday example of this can be seen in the humour created from the telling of a joke. In its immediate form the realisation of a joke will often produce the response of unrestrained laughter in the listener; however, if the joke is contemplated or examined it will lose its spontaneity, wit and humour, the elements which caused it to be funny in the first place. Thus, the circumstances which contained the joke's impromptu response, its 'intuitive moment', will be lost in the secondary 'intellectual' contemplation. The 'intuitive moment' is, therefore, created in the link between the reader and the text. This link takes place within the attempt of each to reach out and find a universal and particular element of Quality within itself and within its other, an other which will become itself in the 'intuitive moment'. It is as a result of this union between subject and object that an 'event'(3) as it is in itself, which can often seem indefinable and unknowable, becomes present in the spirituality or spontaneity of the moment; yet its multi-faceted character excludes it from rational explanation.
Hannah: You say that this 'intuitive moment' is created in the interaction between the reader and the words of the book?
Martin: Yeah, I would suggest that it is in some ways equivalent to Wordsworth's 'spots of time' which he refers to in The Prelude;(4) or James Joyce's term 'epiphany',(5) by which he implies that a sudden spiritual manifestation can envelop an individual and cause them to experience an everyday object or situation in an unfamiliar and enlightening way which reveals something of the radiance of existence.
Hannah: So, is this indefinable 'event', as Pirsig calls it, also created through the interaction of the book and the reader?
Martin: No, absolutely not, because, as I'll try to make clear within this thesis, the 'event' is prior to first thought. It's the pre-intellectual reality in which we perceive all of existence as it is at that moment, in its basic, fundamental state, without the names, definitions and descriptions, etc., which we have adopted from traditional reason. The 'event' is the undivided mind (spirit) and matter (physicality), it isn't created between anything, it's above and beyond the book and the reader; because both the language and the interpreter are reaching outwards for an understanding of this 'event'. An 'event' which Pirsig terms 'the moment of pure Quality,'(6) the indefinable instant which may be glimpsed in the immediacy of the 'intuitive moment'.
Hannah: The word moment would seem to indicate time and hence space; so where does this so-called moment exist?
Martin: At the cutting edge of time before either subject or object can be distinguished. What I have termed the 'intuitive moment' is part of our pre-intellectual perception. This is what Pirsig calls the 'awareness of Quality', the realisation that this pre-rational condition is inexpressible in propositions but remains the parent and the source of all subjects and objects. Allow me to read you something of what Pirsig himself writes:
Quality is shapeless, formless, and indestructible. To see shapes and forms is to intellectualise. Quality is independent of all such shapes and forms. The names, the shapes and forms we give Quality depend only partly on the Quality. They also depend partly on the a priori images we have accumulated in our memory. Quality cannot be broken down into subjects and predicates, not because Quality is so mysterious but because Quality is so simple, immediate, and direct. We invent many marvellous analogues in response to our environment, earth and heavens, trees, stones and oceans, gods, music, arts, language, philosophy, engineering, civilisation and science. We call these analogues reality. And they are reality. Yet, to take that which has caused us to create the world and include it in the world we have created is clearly impossible. That is why Quality cannot be defined. If we do define it we are defining something less than Quality itself.(7)
Taking a lead, perhaps, from an influential essay by Alan Watts entitled Beat Zen Square Zen (8) Pirsig writes:
When you subtract Quality you get squareness, the absence of quality is the essence of squareness(9) This squareness may be succinctly and yet thoroughly defined as an inability to see quality before it has been intellectually defined, that is, before it gets all chopped up into words.(10)
As his narrator says about a character in the novel named Sylvia Sutherland, "She understands a peculiar language which has nothing to do with what you are saying. A daughter"(11) This last comment 'A daughter' I find to be quite enigmatic, as Sylvia is not a blood relative of the narrator. Pirsig also describes a situation between the narrator and the narrator's son:
I wish I knew what to say to him. Or what to ask. He seems so close at times, and yet the closeness has nothing to do with what is asked or said.(12)
What Pirsig appears to be implying in these sections, and throughout the work, is that the overall idea or spirit of a discourse is greater than the parts that make it up. Perhaps then, Hannah, when the so-called spirit of the 'intuitive moment' is re-unified with the words of the book and the reader, then, and perhaps only then, in a realm conjured up through words yet beyond words, we may have an answer to the question concerning the meaning behind the term 'the re-unification of the human condition'.
Hannah: In a way I understand what Pirsig is saying, although I'm slightly dubious of his contradictory claims to immediate mediation. However, I can remember many occasions when I've had abstract and in-depth conversations with groups of friends and it seems as if you begin to realise something far more profound than anything any of you've actually said. Yet if you attempt to define the essence of the conversation, it remains elusive and refuses to be fixed down so passively. It loses its beauty somehow, I suppose, because when it's all chopped up into the form of words it becomes less than it actually is. And the next day you just can't seem to explain it to anyone else. It's as if they had to be there to experience the full realisation of the event. Do you know what I mean?
Martin: I do indeed, I've had many similar experiences myself and anyway 'you can sort of tell these things'.(13) However, in answer to your doubts about 'immediate mediation', I think that during the conversation that you've just described to me, a veil has subconsciously begun to lift from your common perception of the world and in this moment, which can't be defined without becoming something less than it is, a strange unknowing awareness becomes present. You have in a sense inflicted a process of defamiliarisation upon your static worldview and have begun to experience existence in a raw state with fewer restrictions in those fragmentary moments.
Hannah: What would you say to the claim, then, that you're simply attempting to create a logical structure within a chaotic universe that you can never hope to know as it is, only as you choose to perceive it. Are you perhaps, by using the power of your will, attempting to claim a false understanding of the universe in order to gain control of your own existential anxieties?
Well said! (Says a muffled little voice from inside martin's backpack)
Hannah: I don't need you to agree with me, thanks very much.
Martin: Keep your words to yourself.
Voice from the backpack: Only if you let me out.
Martin: Not yet. Where was I? Oh yeah, I don't see the 'Quality experience', for want of a better expression, as merely a desire to control a chaotic universe. In the fragmentary moments of a pre-intellectual awareness, a chaotic world would appear as it is for what it is something that you are universally and particularly of, and which is particularly and universally you. Therefore, any attempt to claim a particular truth or understanding of a momentary experience which exists both inside and outside of any single being, would seem to me to be a contradiction of what the experience is. I must admit that I also have a problem with the word 'chaos' for it has gained cultural overtones of negativity simply because an unstructured existence is almost unthinkable in our present way of life. To ignore chaos, to fear it, is a negative value judgement central to a static, logical existence.
Hannah: Perhaps you could present an initial sketch of what you are trying to indicate through the use of the term 'the re-unification of the human condition' before you move on much further?
Voice from the backpack: This should be amusing.
Martin: Our current 'historical' discourse tells the story of an evolving species called Homo-Sapiens, which in its glorious wisdom has created a rational form of knowledge it calls reason. With this system of reason, Homo-sapiens is able to make sense of its infinitely complex universe. Reason is an invaluable tool that creates logic, a static belief system based upon the 'scientific' findings of cause and effect. This system of logical reasoning has enabled a relatively frail species to survive in a hostile universe and helped to produce what one might call a human friendly environment within which to live. However, logic, this prerequisite for human knowledge, has become the great subjugator and along with its positive effects, we, as human beings, cannot ignore the negative side effects it inevitably brings with it. Wherever logic is employed, it has a tendency to compare, measure, discriminate, categorise, and to divide its answers into manageable binary opposites. These oppositions, which can only ever exist in relation to each other, are considered to be true or truly false, depending upon which way one chooses to look at the evidence or phrase the question. These oppositions (which include the general divisions between subject and object, truth and fiction, as well as the particular divisions between good and bad, mind and body) always seem irreconcilable, they appear totally at odds with one another. What Pirsig attempts to highlight in his writing is that these divisions are only a particular way of looking and classifying existence; a way of examining and ordering our perceived universe, which is created and restricted by our compulsion to close off knowledge by way of logical scientific reasoning, or as Pirsig's narrator calls this, 'the church of reason'.(14)
Hannah: Haven't you just fallen into the trap of using binary opposites yourself by balancing creation on the one side and restriction on the other?
Martin: Possibly, and the fact that I was unaware of using terms in opposition goes to show how deeply entrenched this all prevailing form of reason has become.
I think that it is worth bearing in mind however, that Pirsig doesn't suggest that we dispense entirely with this 'church of reason'. We must not assume that simply because the tool is misused that it is necessarily unsound. Instead, Pirsig implies that we may find it more useful to appreciate understanding and knowledge, which by its very condition is generated through extreme contradictions and oppositions, as simply a 'hand full of sand [seized] from the endless landscape of awareness around us. . .[We] call this hand full of sand the world. . .it looks uniform at first, but the longer we look at it the more diverse we find it to be. . .[Then through a] process of discrimination. . .we divide the sand into parts. This and that. Here and there. Black and white. Now and then. The discrimination is the division of the conscious universe into parts.'(15)
Hannah: So is Pirsig arguing that these binary oppositions only exist because of the way we interpret the evidence? That through this form of reason we find opposites because they are the simplest way for us to make sense of a universe that we can never fully hope to understand as it actually is in itself.
Martin: Provisionally I would agree with you but I should also like to guard against a purely subjective interpretation of existence which I believe would eventually lead to relativism without even the subtlest form of self-discipline and order. My reading of Pirsig's work is that he is attempting to highlight the false foundation upon which Western metaphysics prides itself on having being built. Along with many 'post-structuralists' Pirsig is indicating that the groundwork of western metaphysics is not transcendental or supernatural but is rather a human creation and as such can never reveal the truth of the universe as it is in itself. The implication of this is that we have sought, consciously or otherwise, to create conflicting dualities because our human reason needs the binary oppositions (true and false etc.,) in order for it to be able to say anything that it will consider valuable. The 'church of reason' demands that every thesis have an anti-thesis to produce its synthesis. This is the very essence of scientific reason, recreating through conflict.
What Pirsig is attempting in ZMM, and what I see as the meaning behind the expression 'the re-unification of the human condition', is a holistic way of looking beyond the logical scientific form of reason, which by itself creates insurmountable and conflicting dualities, and moving towards a way of experiencing the world which seeks out solidarity by finding a oneness in the disparate elements of existence.
Backpack: I told you that this would be amusing; how much of a contradiction was all of that? First, you say Western metaphysical thought is misguided in its attempt to seek out a synthesis through balancing oppositions and then you talk of solidarity and oneness yourself.
Martin: Right, that's it, you're not coming out of the backpack today.
Backpack: Fascist! One minute you speak of solidarity the next you restrict the freedom of speech, typical!
Martin: As I was saying, the purpose of finding a oneness to existence is to dissolve the barriers between subject and object, mind and body. This is best achieved by highlighting the inter-relatedness within the created differences of subject and object etc. Pirsig attempts to show how values (which he doesn't see as existing in the gap between language and meaning but as actually creating both) are in fact the primary condition of all existence.
Quality or its absence, doesn't reside in either the subject or object; at the moment of pure Quality, there is no subject and there is no object. There is only a sense of Quality that produces a later awareness of subjects and objects. At the moment of pure Quality, subjects and objects are identical.(16)
Pirsig proposes that philosophy, especially since Descartes, has been incapable of transmitting what ought to be chosen in the realm of values. He suggests that this is mainly because modern philosophy has constantly failed to see values as a separate category from either subject or object. Therefore, by assigning values to subjects and objects modern philosophy has diminished the act of choosing in favour of subjectively justifying those choices after they have been made.(17) This would seem to indicate that if a subject or object only has value because it happens to be the one that was chosen, then everything is of absolutely no consequence and nihilism is the only reality. I consider that this not only shows arrogance for the supposed importance and separateness of humanity from the rest of existence, but also goes a long way towards explaining our modern state of existential anxiety. We have an infinite amount of choices but no personal way of evaluating those choices. In both ZMM, and Lila, Pirsig seeks not to confront these views but searches, via the pathway of Quality, for co-operation by asking the simple question 'what is best?'(18)
Hannah: I must admit that this whole 'Quality' thing is beginning to make a lot more sense to me now.
Martin: That's great!
(Martin pulls a small book out from his backpack)
Martin: I feel that Natalie Goldberg addresses many of the issues that I have tried to convey, in her book about creative writing entitled Writing Down The Bones, she writes:
Turn off your logical brain that says that 1 + 1 = 2. Open up your mind to the possibility that 1 + 1 can equal 48, a Mercedes Benz, an apple pie, a blue horse. Forget yourself. Disappear into everything you look at, a street, a glass of water, a cornfield. Everything you feel become totally that feeling, burn all of yourself with it. Don't worry your ego will quickly become nervous and stop such ecstasy. But if you can catch that feeling or smell or sight the moment you are one with it, you will probably have a great poem.(19)
Hannah: Can we stop for a little while, so that I can just listen while you start right from the beginning?
(Martin drops his backpack on to the ground and sits down once more on the bank of the river. Hannah lays back and looks up at the sky.)
Chapter Two Good as a Noun
I feel slightly apprehensive about discussing my thesis; it isn't that I don't know what I want to say, it's just that I feel slightly pretentious saying it. I look around at Hannah who's lying on her back looking up at the sky. She turns her head and looks at me; it's as if she's sensed that I'm looking at her; as if somehow my eyes have beamed out to her and she's responded. She smiles and then turns back to her sky. I unfasten my backpack and peer into the dark cave-like entrance and down into a world of ideas.
Opening my first book of notes, I slowly begin to read, changing words and ideas as I move through the text:
"Robert Pirsig's Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance published in 1974, has been noted to be, 'one of those rare intellectual products of the seventies that can be read and re-read with profit.'(20) The benefit gained from reading, and indeed re-reading, ZMM, in conjunction with Pirsig's other novel Lila (incidentally published seventeen years later), is, in today's so-called 'post-modern' world, of enormous interest. We live in an era where the political ideologies of Fascism and Nationalism, disguised as Communism, are slowly spiralling in ever decreasing waters towards the drain of political history. Both ZMM, and Lila support the reader in projecting from this past, a possible future, which is seemingly rushing up from behind us. Pirsig maps out from this equivocal past, which is silhouetted on to the cave wall in front of us, dominating everything we see, a future which isn't the hegemony of liberal, democratic, free market capitalism, as Francis Fukuyama(21) would suggest, but a new (or perhaps older) philosophy somewhere above, before and beyond both objectivity and subjectivity in a world guided by what he terms, 'Quality'."(22)
The sun of Quality does not revolve around the subjects and objects of our existence. It does not just passively illuminate them. It is not subordinate to them in anyway. It has created them. They are subordinate to it!(23)
Hannah begins to make sounds of interruption, words broken off mid-way through, followed by a succession of 'ifs' and 'buts'. I glance over at her and can't fail to notice the questioning look upon her face. I eventually ask if there's a problem.
"Subjects, objects and Quality?" she inquires. "These intellectually ambiguous terms, especially subject and object, appear to be continually in a state of metamorphosis; with different theorists arguing wildly differing points for each term and sometime in complete opposition to one another. This sort of confusion tends to leave the dilettante wondering how such terms can constantly elude any clear signification. And as for Pirsig's elevated definition of the term Quality, which you've mentioned several times already, I have to admit I'm both intrigued and a little sceptical."
I ponder for a short while and then begin to explain. "I would suggest that most of the signs in any socially communicative system of language will include definitions and expressions which will be for the most part ambiguous. Without this ambiguity, systems of communication would lose their poetic richness, diversity, and freedom of expression. A language, and I use this term in its broadest sense, needs to contain elements of both recognisable signification for precise communication such as mathematics, instruction, law and medicine, but it also requires an allusive component for the artistic, dynamic and creative elements of life. I assume that a language also needs abstract words for concepts that appear just beyond the culture's present intellectual understanding.
As for my own interpretation of the terms 'subject' and 'object', let's take this book as an example. I hold out Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In one way or another every person can sense the existence of this object. The vast majority of us in our culture perceives it in much the same way; i.e., as a rectangular collection of paper sheets, bound together for presenting some form of literary communication. However, the ideas that we receive from reading the type written text within the object don't exist in any place that we can physically grasp. Yet they still exist, they have an extraordinary reality beyond the sensory world of our experience in a realm of ideas, which has been traditionally associated with the subjective world.
These opposing, subjective/objective, positions only came into the common realm of knowledge and discourse with the 'methodological doubt'(24) of Rene Descartes, the seventeenth century scientist, mathematician and philosopher, whose sceptical meditations divided the known universe into two distinct substances of mind (subject) and matter (object)."
"However," says a little voice from the bottom of my backpack, "it could be claimed that this subject/object division grew steadily in ancient Greece from the concept of 'unchangeable being' developed by the pre-Socratic philosopher, Parmenides. Perhaps his celebrated dictum, 'nothing changes,' culminates approximately one hundred years later, in the idealist and materialist philosophies of Plato and Aristotle respectively?"
I reach down into my backpack and pull out the little grey haired ventriloquist's dummy with a permanent grin.
"Your labelling of Plato and Aristotle are a little to simplistic and misleading, don't you think," I say. "Agreed," says the dummy rather flippantly, turning towards my walking companion. "Hello Hannah, did you know that It's believed that Parmenides came to Athens from Elea in southern Italy, around 500 BC, and once there, in this ancient city of intellectual inspiration, he is said to have put forward the concept of 'unchangeable being.' This he did in strong opposition to the concept of 'eternal becoming' advanced by his contemporary, Heraclitus from Ephesus in Asia Minor, who believed in a world of perpetual change. Heraclitus suggested that everything in the universe sprang from the dynamic and cyclical inter-play of opposites that would flow in a state of eternal becoming. An example of Heraclitus' oppositional inter-play would be to suggest that without death one would not appreciate life. Yet more than this, he also believed that these opposites were indeed connected; both life and death inextricably combined, never fixed, or finished, but each permanently becoming, in spite of and perhaps because of, its opposite. This unity of opposites Heraclitus refers to as the Logos,(25) a physical definition, of this, he suggests is fire, its flames created or born out of the destruction or death of the material it consumes. Interestingly Heraclitus's ideas of 'becoming' would appear to resound, in a similar fashion, within the 'eternal recurrence' of one Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche,(26) over two thousand years later."
"So to recapitulate," I add, in an attempt to stop the dummy from digressing from the point of my thesis. "Heraclitus's doctrine of perpetual flux, rests upon the unity brought about by the logos (reason) through a combination of opposites."
"The effacement of this unity," continues the little guy, "begins with Parmenides, who states in his philosophical poem, entitled On Nature(27), that the basic principle, which he calls 'being', is both unique and invariable. He considers change to be impossible and proposes that the changes we perceive in nature are mere illusions of the senses."
"It would appear," I say, "that this argument foreshadows the dualism of Plato's metaphysics in that it produces a separation between spirit and matter."
"However, Plato, who was born more than fifty years after both Parmenides and Heraclitus had put forward their ideas, was concerned, among many things, with the relationship between what is eternal and unchanging on the one hand and that which flows on the other. Plato suggests that everything in our world flows, that all living creatures eventually die and that mountains and monuments erode over time. Plato, who ironically distrusted the artist,(28) uses a variety of beautifully written parables and myths in an attempt to portray his picture of human existence. In what is perhaps the most famous of these poetic allegories, 'The Simile of the Cave,'(29) Plato portrays the sun as a metaphor to represent his 'world of ideas' or 'theory of forms' which he describes as existing beyond appearance in a higher realm of spiritual reality. In this ideal(istic) realm, there is a timeless mould for everything from horses to beds and morals. Plato proposes that these 'ideas' or 'forms' are more real than the phenomena of nature. Firstly, there is the ideal bed, next the actual bed of the sensory world and lastly there is the artist's impression of the bed. Plato believed that his philosophical reasonings had uncovered the eternal order in a world of perpetual change; thus bringing together the opinions of both Heraclitus and Parmenides."
"Plato's aim in all of this," I continue, "is to suggest that we can never have true knowledge of anything that is in a constant state of change. We can only have opinions; and opinions, because they belong to the world of the senses, vary from person to person and can never, therefore, reveal true knowledge. However, in the world of ideas Plato believes that we can discover true knowledge through using our reason."
"Would I be right in thinking that Aristotle, unlike Plato, didn't turn his back, so readily, upon the sensory world?" asks Hannah.
"Indeed he didn't," replies the dummy, "Aristotle, in clear opposition to Plato his teacher and mentor, studied the sensory world in great depth. Aristotle used his senses to dispute Plato's 'theory of forms' suggesting that the form of an object, let us say a bed for instance, is made up from the characteristics common to all beds. In other words we form our idea of a bed after seeing a number of other beds." "Is he suggesting," asks Hannah, "that it is we who find a common denominator within the objects we sense, which then allow us to form the concept and category of that object?"
"Quite so," replies the dummy, "because Aristotle is a sort of empiricist, in that he believes that nothing exists in consciousness that has not first been experienced by the senses."
"So this," I say, "is consequently the major difference between these two influential Greek thinkers. Plato believes that the highest order of reality is that which we meditate through our reason from the transcendental world of ideal forms; whereas Aristotle perceives reality as that which we rationally and empirically receive through our senses from within nature itself."
"And so begins the philosophical conflict that has seized Western philosophy within its paralysing grip for the past two and a half thousand years," remarks the dummy, "the constant conflict of oppositions."
"Pirsig," I say, "puts forward the hypothesis which claims that 'Quality' has created both objectivity and subjectivity, a theory which attempts to defeat the ancient logical construct known as a 'dilemma', the Greek word for two premises. This type of argument, where the holder of a certain proposition is committed to accepting one of two propositions each of which contradicts his original position, has also been called the 'horned syllogism'(30) and the victim compared to a person certain to be impaled on at least one of the horns of an extremely angry bull. Pirsig avoids both the subjective and objective horns of the Western philosophical argument (which are so deeply entrenched one would be forgiven for believing them to be the only possible positions within philosophy), by implying that:
Quality is the point at which subject and object meet. It's not a thing; it's an event. Quality is the event at which awareness of both subject and object is made possible. This means that Quality is not just the result of a collision between subject and object. The very existence of subject and object themselves is deduced from the Quality event. The Quality event is the cause of the subject and object, which are then mistakenly presumed to be the cause of Quality.(31)
Pirsig goes on to write:
The past exists only in our memories, the future only in our plans. The present is our only reality. The tree that you are aware of intellectually, because of the small time lag, is always in the past and therefore always unreal. Any intellectually conceived object is always in the past and therefore unreal. Reality is always the moment of vision before the intellectualisation takes place. There is no other reality. This preintellectual reality is what Phaedrus [the pseudonym used by Pirsig's narrating character for his former self, before he slipped into insanity and had his memory erased through Electric Shock Therapy] felt he had properly identified as Quality. Since all intellectually identifiable things must emerge from this preintellectual reality, Quality is the parent, the source of all subjects and objects.(32)
Although this pivotal idea is much revised within the pages of Lila and the latter part of ZMM I believe that this is a reasonable sketch of Pirsig's early attempts at explaining what he means by the term Quality."
At this point Hannah becomes quite animated and begins to explain a rather bizarre situation that she had found herself in several days previously.
"I've just remembered something," She blurts out, " I don't quite know why and I'm not so sure that it's appropriate, but it somehow seems important. It happened a couple of days ago when I was in the library looking for a book to read. As soon as I walked in, I got side-tracked picking up a book which appeared to leap out at me. Before I knew it I was reading away and the time was ticking by. When I eventually came to my senses I remembered that I'd come to the library to find a certain book which I hadn't yet found. So, for some bizarre reason I put down the book I was reading and went to look for a book to read. I couldn't find one; I walked round and around but nothing seemed to grab my attention. Eventually I left the library dissatisfied and frustrated. Now, do you know, I can't quite remember for the life of me why I started to tell you the anecdote. I've got an idea, why don't I simply shut up and let you carry on with your thesis?"
Therefore, I did as Hannah requested.
"To begin on the most literal level, ZMM uses a narrative which is built around a trip across America, from Minnesota to California, on a motorcycle. The novel is divided up into four parts, the first of which, as you might imagine, introduces the main themes and characters of the piece. The first characters we meet are the narrator, an editor and author of engineering manuals, and his eleven-year-old son Chris. Next we meet a couple, John and Sylvia Sutherland, who ride with the narrator and his son on a second motorcycle and act as a commonsensical, person-in-the-street, point of view, in a dialectical exchange with the narrator's views about Quality. This exchange continues until John and Sylvia depart at the beginning of chapter fifteen."
"Whilst riding, the narrator delivers a series of discourses to the reader which cover topics as diverse as motorcycle maintenance (which, as the author tells us, quite humorously, in his notes at the beginning of the book, may not actually be very factual on motorcycles at all), an inquiry into moral 'values', and a philosophy which deals with the reconciliation between science, art and humanism. Pirsig's novel has, however, many other connecting levels and can also be seen as the story of the narrator's own confrontation with the 'ghost' of his former self; a chimera who uneasily re-emerges from the depths of the narrator's unconscious mind, after having been electrically suppressed by the psychiatric profession. The pseudonym that Pirsig's narrator gives to this older, darker, personality is 'Phaedrus'; a name taken from a character in Plato's dialogue of the same name. Pirsig's Phaedrus, who was once a brilliant thinker slowly, yet steadily, slipped into madness when he became unable to communicate his ideas to the world. He underwent shock therapy and 'died' only to return in the course of the novel; emerging like a shadow from the edges of the early pages, but growing ominously larger towards the book's conclusion. The narrator and his son must face the 'ghost' together as well as find a reconciliation to their fragile father / son relationship, a relationship which deteriorates as their journey across America together progresses."
"Why does Pirsig choose the name Phaedrus?" asks Hannah
"I'll endeavour to address the question surrounding Pirsig's use of the pseudonym Phaedrus a little later on, if I may?(33) However, for the time being I should like to continue with my exposition of the novel.
"As the odyssey begins, Pirsig establishes the style of the novel, it's an intimate, flowing, first person singular narrative, mildly reminiscent of the fifties 'beat generation' technique of seducing the reader into the authorial world, primarily through the looseness of the prose and its spontaneous self-expression. This approach is interspersed with the style the author calls 'a sort of Chautauqua'.(34) Pirsig uses this Chautauqua method to express some of his more original and challenging ideas and concepts in an absorbing and unique way.
In part one of the novel, Pirsig fertilises the mind of the reader by sowing and propagating the developing seeds of thought, using figurative language. He then leaves these ideas open, ready to be developed later when the nourishment offered in the subsequent chapters will nurture these concepts and help them to grow. This is why, I believe, Pirsig peppers both his novels with many stops for sustenance in cafˇs, restaurants and picnic areas. He wishes to highlight the 'food for thought' that needs to be taken along the journey of enlightenment.
An example of Pirsig's technique of rhetorical germination develops when the reader is informed that the narrator, his son and some friends are travelling to Montana via secondary roads, avoiding freeways at all costs. 'We want to make good time', the narrator notes, 'but for us now this is measured with emphasis on 'good' rather than time and when you make this shift in emphasis the whole approach changes.'(35) This is only the second page of the book and Pirsig is already beginning to thread the concept of Quality into the fabric of the novel. At this point however, the reader is probably focused to a greater extent on the narrator's choice for an aesthetic and relaxing vacation away from the hubbub of busy traffic. Yet, as the novel progresses we begin to realise that this seed of information has a two-fold purpose. The first of these is the purely literal meaning of the narrator's search for a calm and unruffled holiday; the second, and perhaps more important purpose, is the introduction for the reader into Pirsig's 'value created world'. This is an existence where a shift is made in ones approaches to thinking about life, where the emphasis is placed upon what is 'good' and not simply upon cleaving the world up into subjects and objects for the sake of convenience. A slightly obvious example of this can be seen in the way the human condition is so often split between mind (spirit) and body (matter) which independent of one another have little or no existence; yet together the mind and body unite to create a greater 'good', both the human being and the human doing."
"This is a very confusing use of the word good," states the dummy.
"This 'good' which Pirsig talks of is not 'good' as an adjective," I reply, "it is 'good' as a noun. What Pirsig is trying to point out here is that the whole idea of placing things into a particular membership with a structural hierarchy of intellectual categories known as subjects and objects, is simply one way of dividing up and interpreting the world, which we have inherited from the ancient Greeks, and most especially Aristotle. Pirsig is attempting to show us a world interpreted through the concept of Quality or good, which he sees as more valuable than a world divided into subject and object. Pirsig plots this introductory idea throughout both novels and is concluded in the very last paragraph of Lila.
Good as a noun rather than an adjective is all the metaphysics of Quality is about. Of course, the ultimate Quality isn't a noun or an adjective or anything else definable, but if you had to reduce the metaphysics of Quality to a single sentence, that would be it.(36)
ZMM's narrator explains how he often used secondary roads in the past and gained a feeling of relaxation and enjoyment from travelling on them, without truly understanding why. He wonders why 'it took so long to catch on. We saw it and yet we didn't see it. Or rather, we were trained not to see it. Conned, perhaps. . .it was a puzzling thing.'(37) In this paragraph, Pirsig introduces to the reader the idea of opening up the mind to new ways of perceiving the world around us and softening our modern addiction to rigid and closed 'truths'. This is an element that will be invaluable to the reader if they're to attempt the alternative outlook that Pirsig puts forward. As the narrator says, 'the truth knocks upon your door and you say, "Go away I'm looking for the truth," and it goes away. Puzzling.'(38)" Hannah's eyes widen and shine and she leans forward and says excitedly, "Just like when I was in the library the other day and looking for a book to read, I had a book in my hand, I had the truth of my search for a book in my hands, but I didn't recognise it and that's why I left the library frustrated." "Sometimes," I reply, "when the intellect steps in we can lose the quality of the moment to the so-called rationality of the mind."
Hannah now has a smile on her face as broad as the dummy's and as she lies back I continue with my notes.
"As the first section of ZMM develops, the narrator, (who may be fully or only partially autobiographical,) offers us details recalled dimly from his past. For instance, we learn that he is 'happy to be riding back into this country.'(39) We also discover that he has been on a similar journey before but we get a blurred sense of unease in these early pages, not only about the narrator's memories but also about his current state of mind. As the narrator grapples with these partially familiar surroundings we become aware of the main theme in the novel's first section, the divide created by modern technology between those with what Pirsig terms the 'classical mind', who see value in the static patterns of structure, form and precision; and those on the other side with what Pirsig terms the 'romantic mind', people who find value in the dynamic patterns of randomness, inspiration and spontaneity. Those with a 'classical mind' look at the advantages of the technological world and find beauty in its parts, whereas those with the 'romantic mind' look back to a pre-technological society as something more beautiful and superior, in its entirety, to the mechanical ugliness of the modern world. Pirsig sets out ambitiously to conciliate this rift, which can be summarised as the binary opposition between art and craft or subject and object; these being just two of the possible examples of the way the world has been cleaved apart into manageable, simplifying dualistic categories of opposites. I'll come back many times, as Pirsig does within his novels, to this theme of the classic / romantic split. "However, with this attack on binary oppositions made, I next want to embrace a dualistic confrontation myself by evaluating Pirsig's work in relation to Roland Barthes oppositional literary model of the 'readerly' or 'writerly' text."
Hannah then suggests that we take a short break, and I'm quick to agree.
Chapter Three Literally Zen
"I would suggest that Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is written in a form Roland Bathes might have termed a 'scriptible' or 'writerly' text. I say this because the reader is not positioned by the author as a passive consumer of the text but as an active producer and co-operative writer of the text." "I was under the impression," says the ventriloquist's dummy, "that when Barthes refers to 'writerly' texts, he is referring to novels such as James Joyce's Finnegans Wake(40), which revolutionise the form and structure of the genre itself. James Joyce uses a unique concoction of portmanteau words and the dreaming stream of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker's interior monologue to cause the reader to create their own interpretation of the text, and therefore, re-writing the text for themselves. Tell me, how do you find it possible to equate Pirsig's, rather familiar, 'chautauqua style' with Barthes definition of the 'writerly' text?"
"I was implying that ZMM, was 'writerly' in terms of its content, in the way it expresses philosophical ideas, as opposed to its style which, as you have pointed out, is not 'writerly' in the way that Joyce's work is. With this said, however, the style Pirsig uses for both ZMM, and Lila is extraordinary in comparison to that of other philosophical texts and although it is written as a novel it is clearly not simply a work of fiction in the traditional sense of this term. If you care to take a look around several book-shops, you'll notice Pirsig's novels in wildly contrasting categories, ranging from the 'occult' and 'new age thinking' to 'maintenance manuals' and 'twentieth century classics'. It would appear as difficult to classify Pirsig's writing as it is to define the concept of 'Quality'."
Men invent responses to Quality, and among these responses is an understanding of what they themselves are. You know something and then the Quality stimulus hits and then you try to define the Quality stimulus, but to define it all you've got to work with is what you know. So your definition is made up of what you know. It has to be. It can't be anything else.(41)
"I suggest that Pirsig's 'writerly', or open style, is an effective technique for questioning the legitimacy of language's claim to uncover 'the truth'. I also feel that it is essential for Pirsig because it allows the individual, secular, one might even say existential, reading of his work which it demands of the reader. Pirsig's 'writerly' approach endeavours to unravel the myth of the 'author' as 'auteur', an omnipotent, 'god-like' entity, who is able to script definitive meanings by claiming a direct route, or rather root, to knowledge via words which are taken to be literally 'the truth of things'."
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was god. . . And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, . . . full of grace and truth.(42)
"So what is the opposite of a writerly text?" asked Hannah.
"A 'lisible' or 'readerly' text. Yet, perhaps opposite isn't quite the right word to use because it infers a duality that I feel sure Barthes didn't intend. I think it would be more advantageous to see Barthes' intentions as providing the terms 'readerly' and 'writerly' as two extreme types of text; neither of which could actually exist in reality for the following reasons. The purely 'writerly' text would be unreadable, and for that matter unwritable, because its language would have to exist in a perpetual present to save it from critical closure. In other words, nothing about it could be pinned down and evaluated. It would contain no common ground on which two interpretations could be discussed (at least not in any sense that we would understand today). In the same way, the purely 'readerly' text would perhaps be unreadable in a literary sense, although not unwritable in the form of a shopping list for example."
"The 'readerly' text," says the dummy, "renders the reader inactive causing them to become lazy and leaving them with little or no freedom to interpret the text. They become static consumers of a text which is dictated to the by an author(ity). "
"So if I understand correctly," says Hannah, "Barthes is suggesting that the author of a text which falls mainly on to the 'readerly' extreme, is confirming the elitist notions of the artist as an omnipotent controller over his or her reading herd."
"Perhaps that is putting it a little crudely," I add, "but an element of what you say strikes me as fair comment."
"This concept," continues Hannah, "seems very deeply rooted within our culture. We constantly place the author as the final arbiter of the text, thereby suppressing the proliferation of meaning and individual interpretation that are possible within any composition."
"I suggest that we can also add the voice[s] of Mikhail Bakhtin's 'polyphonic' or 'dialogic', to the description of Pirsig's literary content," I remark. "By polyphonic Bakhtin literally means 'many voiced', indicating a style of novelistic discourse in which several different points of view interact on a more or less equal basis. In both ZMM, and Lila, Pirsig uses several characters whose points of view conflict with one another to capture and incorporate the diverse selection of opinions that exist on the metaphysical question of Quality. In his Problems of Dostoyevsky's Poetics(43) Bakhtin contrasts Dostoyevsky's interplay of various characters voices as 'dialogic', against Tolstoy's single viewpoint characterisation, which he sees as 'monologic'."
"Yet, Bakhtin implies that this 'polyphony' occurs when the author rejects the urge to impose a final judgement upon his or her text," expresses the dummy. "Surely in the act of writing philosophy Pirsig is trapped into imposing just such a judgement. Fixed meanings are an inevitable consequence of metaphysical discourse."
"I'm sorry but I can't accept this view."
"Rejection is one thing; explanation quite another," says the simulacrum.
"Bakhtin," I respond, "views language as essentially 'dialogic', a term which he uses to express a belief that every speech act springs from previous utterances and therefore includes within its own voice the discourse of the 'Other'. It is Bakhtin's view that this 'other' manages to penetrate the speakers' consciousness through its words and ideas. This dialogic position differs from the 'monological' which, theoretically at least, attempts to maintain a single homogeneous ideological stance through a conscious process of suppressing any contradictory discourse. Consequently, the 'monological' position strives to repress ambivalence. A short study of Pirsig's work will quickly reveal the dialogic nature of his prose. Take the openness with which he discusses his application of rhetorical language throughout ZMM and especially in chapter twenty-nine where Pirsig lays bare his rhetorical agenda."(44)
"I'm still not persuaded by your argument," tenaciously insists the wee dummy.
"I'm in agreement with John Lechte,"(45) I say, "who suggests that. . ."
"Reverting now to the blatant use of rhetoric are we; trying to gain popularity and support by using quotations and explanations from the wise and the famous?" says the puppet.
"At least hear me out," I reply with a wry smile. "Lechte says that '. . .in The Brothers Karamazov, not only words create meaning, but also the contextual relationship between these words.' Pirsig chooses to write his philosophical investigation into the metaphysics of Quality, in the form of a novel, why? I suggest it is because even though words can point towards a partial understanding of his concept of Quality, it is the contextual relationship between culture, history words and ideas etc., which positively enlighten the mind."
In my mind, when I look at these fields, I say to [Sylvia,] 'See? . . .See?' and I think she does. I hope later she will see and feel a thing about these prairies I have given up talking to others about; a thing that exists here because everything else does not and can be noticed because other things are absent. She seems so depressed sometimes by the monotony and boredom of her city life, I thought maybe in this endless grass and wind she would see a thing that sometimes comes when monotony and boredom are accepted. It's here, but I have no name for it.(46)
"I suggest that Pirsig both knowingly and skilfully avoids the 'author' within the authoritative, post-enlightened philosophical position; that predominantly Christian, Anglo-American literary style, which perceives the author as the sole arbiter of the meaning within the text through the 'words made flesh'. The result of this 'authoritative' style of literature tends to be closed, static, and frozen in time. Pirsig seeks an approach to language that is more dynamic, open, and perpetually present. Viewed in these terms the 'writerly', 'dialogic' or 'polyphonic' style has many comparisons to the literature of Zen Buddhism and especially the Zen Koan."
In the distance, the growl of an off road motorcycle gets ever closer to our position on the Downs. "Perhaps," I declare, raising my voice so as to be heard above the engine sound of the fast approaching motorbike, "because of his time spent in the United States Army, serving in Korea(47), or because of his ten years spent living in India studying Oriental Philosophy at Benares Hindu University,(48) Pirsig's writing shows strong, overt and covert, signs of Buddhist influence." "Would I be right in thinking that a Koan is a seemingly non-sense question?" inquires Hannah at the top of her voice, "something like 'the sound of one hand clapping'?"
"The word ko-an," says a young woman who pulls up alongside Hannah and me on her DT Suzuki 250, "literally means 'a public document,'(49) and is as you say a seemingly non-sensical question given to the students of Zen by their teachers, the Zen Buddhist masters." The girl on the motorcycle turns off her engine and takes off her helmet and I'm struck by her uncanny resemblance to Marianne Faithful. "The Koan is given to the Zen student as a subject for meditation or 'Zazen', or its Sanskrit equivalent dhyana, so that the student may open his or her mind to the possibilities of a world outside of the traditional realms of cause and effect. When the student can manage to do this, he or she will move towards a state of consciousness as pure consciousness and obtain a state of mind known as Sartori or Kensho-Godo, illumination or enlightenment. The Koan sets out to violate the postulates of logic thereby emphasising, rather than concealing, the paradoxical elements of existence. This is done in an attempt to awaken the student to the presence of the 'Absolute' or ultimate reality, which can only be appreciated in a realm quite separate from rationality and reason.
"Pirsig," I remark, "quotes from these Koans in each of his novels, but perhaps more than this the whole character of the Koan is perpetuated throughout Pirsig's method of communication. However, on a more specific level, Pirsig uses the Koan entitled 'Joshu's Dog',(50) to indicate the idea that the simplistic binary opposition of a true or false answer is not always sufficient to express the needs of the question."
"This actual Koan, 'Joshu's Dog,' was recorded by the Chinese master Ekai," expresses the motorcycling Buddhist, "who is also known as Mumon. 'Joshu's dog', is taken from one of the classic texts of Zen Buddhism, entitled 'Mu-mon-kan' meaning 'no gate barrier'.(51)
"Around the application of this Koan," I continue, "Pirsig discusses the Japanese word Mu meaning 'no-thing'; he indicates that Mu, like Quality, points outside the process of dualistic discrimination. Mu simply says, 'no class, not yes, not no.' It states that the context of the question is such that a yes or no answer is in error and should not be given. 'Unask the question is what it says.'(52)
"Pirsig suggests that Mu becomes appropriate when the context of the question becomes too small for the 'truth' of the answer. When the Zen monk, Joshu, was asked whether his dog has a Buddha nature, he answers Mu, meaning that if he answers either positively or negatively, he would be answering incorrectly. The Buddha nature cannot be captured within the yes or no answer." "Pirsig adopts a similar position himself in relation to the question 'What is Quality?' He believes the context of the question to be too small for the truth of the answer. However, traditional subject/object metaphysics won't even recognise Quality as a valid question or Mu as a valid answer in response. This situation arises within traditional subject/object metaphysics, because it has bound itself within a straightjacket of etiquette in its attempts to encapsulate knowledge within neat identifiable bundles. It does this by fixing both knowledge and meaning to the limited boundaries of eternal principles such as yes or no, true or false."
"Zen Buddhists," says the young woman, "accept that the universe is ultimately a single, energetic, interdependent entity and that the more we understand ourselves, the more we are able to appreciate that we prevail only in affinity with this entity. Zen Buddhists term this interdependent quality, 'emptiness'; a condition within which all dualities dissolve. Just as the physical elements of our human condition are continuously altering so too are the psychological patterns known as the 'ego'. Zen Buddhists suggest that as the 'ego' dissolves through the search for Sartori, our perception of a frozen duality between subject and object will thaw into a more fluid state of looking at the world. Zen Buddhists describe this unifying situation through statements such as:
'The man sees the mountain, the mountain sees the man.'
"In a similar line taken from the Heart Sutra, which reads: 'Form is emptiness, emptiness is form,' one would be forgiven for thinking that this is little more than a piece of contradictory word play. Another of those esoteric 'Eastern' sentences meaning nothing, yet said to contain the wisdom of the universe. However, if we place our scepticism of 'Eastern' ideas off to one side for one moment, and look at this line in the light of modern science, we will find that in the micro world of quantum physics, atomic forms contain emptiness and emptiness is actually full of atoms and sub-atomic particles. Emptiness cannot therefore be classified as something separate from, or beyond, our existence, it is the relatedness of everything in the universe."
"So what exactly are you getting at?" Hannah inquires.
"Take the doll, that your friend is holding," explains the motorcycle girl, pointing to Jack, my ventriloquist's dummy. "It is both a doll and not a doll, because we can choose to call this particular pattern of atoms at this particular moment by the word doll. In addition, I'm sure that you consider yourself a human being, yet you're also not a human being, but merely a temporary vibrating construction formed by your position in time and space. Zen teaches that our suffering begins when we impose upon this vibrating form of atoms the illusion of self; and then attempt to guard this false sense of self from losing its boundaries to the forces which surround it. Zen suggests that all conflicts arise from the illusion of division and separation in a world that is completely unified and continuous. Enlightenment is the equal recognition of the oneness of all forms and the uniqueness of each form. "The student of Zen Buddhism is always in a sense trying to become a beginner. To experience life as if through the eyes of a child without the weight of accumulated opinions, ideas and the other cultural baggage we acquire as we travel through life. The student seeks what the Zen teachers call 'beginner's mind'. This doesn't mean ignoring cognition, which Buddhists count as the sixth sense, because thought, reflection and meditation enable us to know what is happening directly, the way things are reflected in a clear mirror."
"If we look at the grass with beginner's mind, we simply see the grass. We do not see a particular type of grass or that the grass is a certain shade of green, or that it is shorter than the grass we have growing at home on our front lawn which reminds us that it is about time we got out and cut it. With beginner's mind we simply see the grass. Then because all our senses are liberated we can harmonise them in unison without distraction. We can become alive to all sorts of things that we would otherwise have failed to perceive. We may even sense that the life in the grass is not that different from our own. At this point, we are reaching a level of perception that the Zen masters call 'intimacy', or 'no separation'. Zen teaches that when we are most aware, there is no feeling of separation between subject and object."
The woman sees the grass the grass sees the woman.
"Beginner's mind is unified mind. It is the practice of being completely involved in whatever you are doing. Imagine that you are priming a canvas or painting a door, beginner's mind will enable you to concentrate on the point under the brush. In this way you will not be blinded by the entire surface, or swamped by the size of the job at hand, which could then leave you feeling defeated before you even begin the task. With beginner's mind you are homed into the here and now." "Pirsig calls this practice of beginner's mind, 'care'."(53)
I think it's important now to tie care to Quality by pointing out that care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who's bound to have some characteristics of Quality.(54)
"Zen practice is for those who don't mind always being at the beginning," continues the young woman on the motorcycle, "because every moment is new, which means that we too are new. We are not separate from the moment."
"Similar to the intuitive moment that I spoke of at the beginning of our conversation Hannah," I remarked.
"Which is?" asked the young motorcyclist.
"Have you seen one of those ambiguous pictures in which one image is seen from one perspective and then from another view a completely different image is seen, yet the two images can never be seen together."
"The duck/rabbit, or face/candle pictures, you mean?"
"Exactly. Well, in the intuitive moment the picture is not seen as either a duck or a rabbit, but as both, yet only in the sense that it is perceived as just so many lines on a two dimensional sheet of paper. A clearer example might be to imagine the situation when Isaac Newton asked, 'Why do apples fall to the ground?" Suddenly in that moment he must have intuitively realised that although apples appear to fall to the ground, what he saw could also be described as the gravitational attraction of each to the other. The apple to the ground and the ground to the apple. Perhaps Isaac Newton had that rare quality to dream of ideas and then remember them while the rest of us dream and in the morning, we forget. Yet, isn't this dreaming and remembering what Buddhists mean by having beginner's mind or what Pirsig would call 'caring'? In the intuitive moment a shoelace, a doll, an apple or a blade of grass can inspire the greatest understanding and the greatest beauty."
Quality is the Buddha. Quality is the scientific reality. Quality is the goal of art. It remains to work these concepts into a practical down-to-earth context, and for this, there is nothing more practical or down-to-earth than what I have been talking about all along - the repair of an old motorcycle.(55)
"In an attempt to further illustrate this Zen concept of beginner's mind, Pirsig introduces the idea of 'stuckness', the mental block that accompanies being physically stumped. Those occasions when you're working to solve a problem, you've tried every possible solution and nothing has worked; then you have to face the fact that you're, 'just plain stuck.
In traditional maintenance this is the worst of all possible moments, so bad that you have avoided even thinking about it. . .[and] the basic fault that underlies the problem of stuckness is traditional rationality's insistence upon 'objectivity,' a doctrine that there is a divided reality of subject and object. For true science to take place, these must be rigidly separate from each other. You are the mechanic. There is the motorcycle. You are forever apart from one another. . .This eternally dualistic subject/ object way of approaching the motorcycle sounds right to us because we're used to it. But it's not right. It's always been an artificial interpretation superimposed on reality. It's never been reality itself. When this duality is completely accepted a certain non-divided relationship between the mechanic and the motorcycle, a craftsmanlike feeling for the work, is destroyed. When traditional rationality divides the world into subjects and objects it shuts out Quality, and when you're really stuck it's Quality, not any subjects and objects, that tells you where you ought to go.'(56) After all it is this stuckness that Zen Buddhists go to so much trouble to induce; through Koans, deep breathing, sitting still and the like. [When] your mind is empty, you have a 'hollow-flexible' attitude of beginner's mind. . .Stuckness shouldn't be avoided. It's the physical predecessor of all real understanding. An ego-less acceptance of stuckness is the key to understanding all of Quality, in mechanical work as in other endeavours.'(57)
"I suggest that Pirsig views 'stuckness' as a prime example of the dynamic interruption that is able to dislodge those static patterns of logic, morality and meaning, that we so often perceive as timeless truths rather than man-made catechisms. The Koan suggests that it is impossible to grasp the essence of Zen within the parameters of dualistic reason. It also indicates to the student the limitations of traditional dualistic rationality by creating a state of extreme inner conflict within the mind. So much so that the pupil goes round and around in an attempt to find a solution to the impossible Koan and eventually reaches a point where stuckness is the only way to describe their predicament." "When 'stuckness' is fully accepted," says the young motorcycle woman, "which could take a life-time, Sartori (the Buddhist term meaning enlightenment) is within reach."
"What Pirsig proposes in each of his novels," I add, "is a challenge to the traditional subject/object reality. He presents us with a dynamic alternative in which relativity and contingency are of greater significance than fixed truths. This he does by presenting Quality as the pre-intellectual awareness that gives rise to the changing form and structure of reality. He is careful to avoid the error of assuming a fixed interpretation of reality, meaning, and knowledge.
With Quality as the central undefined term, reality is, in its essential nature, not static but dynamic. And when you really understand dynamic reality you never get stuck. It has forms but the forms are capable of change. To put it in more concrete terms: If you want to fix a motorcycle, then classical, structured, dualistic subject-object knowledge, although necessary, isn't enough. You have to have some feeling for the quality of the work. You have to have a sense of what's good. This sense you can develop. It's not just 'intuition,' not just unexplained 'skill' or 'talent.' It's the direct result of contact with basic reality, Quality, which dualistic reason has in the past tended to conceal.(58)
"In order to illustrate his desire to move beyond the subject/object divide, Pirsig chooses to write in a style which is not in a traditional form of academic philosophy, but a narrative, or 'philo-story', by which I mean, philosophy as a genre of literature."
"Perhaps," says Jack, "Pirsig writes a narrative and not an academic paper because a novel is more profitable?"
"Cynic," says Hannah.
"When Pirsig's work is viewed as a philo-story," I continue, "it is no different from the myriad of other pieces of literature situated within the so-called Western tradition of thought. Many of the works that we categorise as philosophy can also be seen as fine works of literature and although many of their ideas have been challenged, surpassed and discredited, their prose remains some of the finest and most beautifully written in the whole history of writing. It is also equally possible to consider much poetry and prose as contributing a valuable insight into ontological, epistemological and metaphysical debate. Take the works of Novalis, Coleridge, Jane Austen, and Kafka, as a small but significant example. The literary distinction and division between creative and theoretical writing is rarely as clear cut as we sometimes believe."
Hannah and I say farewell to the young woman on the motorcycle and as we walk off along the track she starts her engine and growls off into the distance.
A Ghostly Figure In The Landscape.
Hannah begins to amble off along the bank of the river while Martin fumbles with his books and stumbles over his backpack. She looks down into the water and notices how much deeper the river seems now. It is also a little clearer, perhaps because the silt has begun to settle, completely covering the pebbles on the riverbed with a dusky umber veil. Hannah remembers how, when they began the journey the murky water had had to struggle past debris of various shapes and dimensions, at times giving the river the impression of being almost dammed. Yet somehow the water had managed to trickle over, under or around old stained mattresses, rusting shopping trolleys and dustbin liners (that were so full the thin black plastic had formed patterns and profiles that in another environment would have appeared aesthetically pleasing). Hannah imagines that the riverbed that she is now looking at must have been left undisturbed for some considerable time. Perhaps, she thinks, because very few people ever attempt to travel this short distance either to dump their refuse or investigate what might be here.
Hannah is snapped out of her daydream by a knocking sound from behind her. Turning and expecting to see Martin close by, she is surprised to find him still way off down the riverbank. Hannah hurriedly looks around but no one is near. A piece of white oblong card catches her eye; it is pinned to the trunk of a yew tree. Upon it are written the words: 'From the post-man.'
Hannah removes the card and flips it over. On the back, there's a question: 'Ask about the ghostly figure in the landscape.' That's all! Hannah takes a more careful look around but still there appears to be no one, other than Martin, anywhere in sight. Hannah's back begins to tingle as if legions of tiny insects advance down her spine; she shivers.
Eventually Martin catches up to Hannah's position, "Did you just see anyone?" She asks.
"No, not a soul."
As they both begin to walk once more along the side of the river, Hannah's curiosity grows and she feels an inexplicable craving to ask the question from the card.
"You made a reference earlier," she says, in as casual a manner as she can muster, "to a ghostly figure in the landscape; what exactly did you mean by that?"
"I did that's right," remembers Martin, "it was when I was giving a summary of ZMM, right? I said I'd get back to it? Well I suggest that it would be far easier if I start by explaining a little about the character of Phaedrus to begin with; I think you'll see why as I progress, okay?" "As you wish," replies Hannah.
Martin begins by explaining that Phaedrus is the title of a philosophical dialogue composed by the Greek philosopher, Plato. Plato created the character of Phaedrus, a young orator, as a foil for his interpretation of Socrates, who would eventually run intellectual circles around the young Phaedrus during their verbal encounter on the topic of love.(59)
Martin describes how and why Pirsig uses the name Phaedrus as a pseudonym for his narrator's former, insane, self. He gives two main reasons; firstly, it is used as a challenge to Plato's portrayal of Phaedrus as a victim of his own misguided attempts at using rhetoric to give authority to his weak philosophical position. This impressionable young man's opinion is refuted and ultimately defeated by 'Platocrates' superior dialectic method of discovering the 'Truth'. Martin uses the name 'Platocrates' as a way of separating Plato's interpretation of Socrates, from the conflicting accounts of him in the writing of Xenophon.(60) Socrates never wrote down his philosophical meditations and so we have little knowledge of his actual thoughts. "However," Martin is quick to add, "it is thought that he never claimed to have absolute knowledge of things such as truth, goodness and justice. Socrates' celebrated acceptance of his own ignorance is an indication of his own uncertainty and relative scepticism. Plato on the other hand had absolute faith in the certainty of truth, believing them to exist in the super-sensible realities of the ideal forms. What Plato has done is to amalgamate Socrates' method of refutation with his own belief in the Theory of Forms. It is this amalgamation that Martin has termed 'Platocrates'.
Martin concedes that Plato does not portray Phaedrus directly as a Sophist in the same way that he depicts characters such as Gorgias or Protagoras. These two men are shown as professional itinerant teachers of oratory and political skills, whose first priority is in the task of convincing and altering the opinion of others either in law or the affairs of state. In Plato's view, they each have little interest in pursuing what he himself considers the highest moral activity, the search for this Platonic 'Truth'. Plato presents Gorgias as a nihilistic sceptic and Protagoras is portrayed as a person who has become extremely wealthy through his profession. Although Protagoras is depicted as an intelligent person whose reason far exceeds other Sophists, he is still shown to be no match for the debating skills of 'Platocrates'. Phaedrus, on the other hand, is sketched by Plato as a young man with a mediocre knowledge of oratory and rhetorical skills. It is also made clear to the reader that the ideas of which he speaks are not even his own, but those of Lysias, an orator who has just delivered a speech to Phaedrus on the topic of love. The Phaedrus that Plato creates is a rather hollow and two-dimensional characterisation, unlike most of his other creations; he has neither the intelligence nor the experience with which to combat the superior dialectical wisdom of 'Platocrates'.
Martin is convinced that Pirsig appropriates the name Phaedrus in order to claim back recognition for the Sophists and their method of rhetoric.(61) Pirsig recalls that the Sophists, or rhetoricians, were some of the first teachers in the Western world and that Socrates and Plato themselves were often referred to as Sophists. Martin also implies that if there is a division between the persuasive techniques of Plato and the Sophists, then the line is extremely thin.
"And the second reason?" asks Hannah.
"The second reason for Pirsig's use of the name Phaedrus," explains Martin, "is due to its original Greek meaning, which is that of a wolf. In one section of ZMM Pirsig's Phaedrus is so absorbed in thought and meditation he remains for several days without food or proper shelter high up on an isolated mountainside. On one cold morning, Phaedrus comes face to face with a timber wolf. The feral creature appears curious and as they stare into each other's eyes Phaedrus feels a kind of recognition. So much so, that deep within the being of the wolf, Phaedrus begins to see an image of himself."
Hannah suggests that Phaedrus' meditation on the mountain has a striking similarity to Prince Gautama Siddhartha's(62) legendary seven-day meditation under the bodhi tree, which led to his eventual enlightenment. Martin agrees, simply adding that tragically Phaedrus' meditation leads instead to deeper frustration, despair, and an eventual mental breakdown.
Martin continues by indicating that there is a strong and varied intertextual connection between the wolf and humans in literature. He gives examples from Aesop's fables, from fairy tales and even mentions the werewolf of pulp horror fiction. Yet, for Martin, the most noteworthy in connection with Pirsig's writing, is the human/wolf association in the genre of philo-story and in particular the central character of Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse. This poetic novel that is written as a self-portrait, is the study of a man named Harry Haller, whose initials give an indication to the source of this very complex character. Haller feels himself to be half-human and half-wolf, describing himself as 'a wolf of the steppes that has lost its way and strayed into the towns and the life of the herd.'(63) Hesse's novel contains an undercurrent of philosophical connotations and artistic themes that relate to the thoughts and ideas of writers such as Nietzsche, Novalis, and Goethe; three writers, Martin informs Hannah, who have also played an unmistakable part within Pirsig's novels. In a similar way to Pirsig's Phaedrus, Hesse's central character is caught in a conflict between mind and body, spirit and life. And Hesse illustrates this conflict in a simple, yet effective, scene in which Haller quotes a passage from the German Romantic poet Novalis, to his landlady's nephew:
"Most men will not swim before they are able to." Isn't it witty? Naturally, they won't swim! They are born for the solid earth, not for the water. And naturally they won't think. They are made for life, not thought. Yes, and he who thinks, what's more, he who makes thought his business, he may go fa
r in it, but he has bartered the solid earth for the water all the same, and one day he will drown.(64) "And drown," Martin sombrely informs Hannah, "is metaphorically what Phaedrus does. This Faustian view of intellect and knowledge that surrounds Hesse's novel, has so close a relationship to Pirsig's main theme that it is almost impossible to imagine that it has not influenced his work in some way. Yet maybe, and one should not make light of this point, perhaps it was Phaedrus and not Pirsig who read Steppenwolf."
"Now, let us return to that ghostly figure in the landscape," says Martin. He begins by explaining that the existence of Phaedrus as a character in Pirsig's novel is merely hinted at in the early pages of ZMM, 'It was intended earlier simply to restate some of Phaedrus's ideas,' the narrator explains, 'but to omit him now would be to run from something that should not be run from.'(65)
The dummy begins to laugh, eventually remarking, "That was great literature? It was rather like someone implying that, 'he was as scary as a scary thing.'"
"I concede that 'to run from something that should not be run from' is not a classic line, however the point is relevant all the same, don't you think? Plus there is always the possibility that Pirsig is being humorous or ironic," replies Martin.
"Of course!" says the dummy.
"The hints of Phaedrus's ghostly presence," Martin continues, "come via an unsettling feeling the reader receives from the narrator's language. This to me suggests a troubled mind; as I think you'll see in the passage that I'm about to read to you which contains elements of unease, mystery and paranoia:
Lately there's been a sense of something peculiar about this road, apprehensions about something, as if we were being watched or followed. But there is not a car anywhere ahead, and in the mirror are only John and Sylvia way behind.(66)
Martin goes on to describe how literal illustrations of the landscape, from the very early pages of the novel, enable the reader to experience sensually the atmosphere, life and environment of the American West; its dryness and sparseness are expressed through similar prose. "However," adds Martin, "by the time the reader enters the third chapter of the novel the description of the landscape takes on a new role. One which is strongly linked to the characterisation of Phaedrus, the narrator's former self, who must eventually be confronted in the course of the journey back into the narrator's own past. It soon becomes clear to the reader that the landscape is an integral part of who and what Phaedrus was and is; because he still exists in the narrator's mind, yet only here in dull fragments recalled at random from his 'electro-exorcised' past."
"It was," Martin goes on to inform Hannah, "in this landscape that the narrator last travelled and at that time he was Phaedrus and the man he has now become did not exist. This is why the ghost is situated within the landscape, not because the author has contrived it this way for literary effect, but because Phaedrus, in a very real sense, is a ghost not only within the landscape but also materialising out of it. This next section clearly expresses these points:
It seems huge, overpowering. The prairie here is huge but above it the hugeness of this ominous grey mass ready to descend is frightening. We are travelling at its mercy now. When and where it will come is nothing we can control. All we can do is watch it move in closer and closer.(67)
What Martin observes in this short paragraph is how Pirsig uses repetition; the word 'huge' is employed three times in the first sentence and a half. Martin suggests that Pirsig is applying language which crowds and surrounds the reader with signs which imply fear and anxiety; words such as 'overpowering', 'ominous', 'mass', 'descend', 'frightening' and 'mercy'. Next to these words and among them are indications of the narrator's powerlessness, fragility and impotency when confronted by this apparition; phrases like 'nothing we can control' and 'all we can do is watch.' "Then," says Martin, "there is the sublime, metaphorical, imagery of the 'overpowering, ominous grey mass of storm clouds which descend uncontrollable from above'. This description of a torturous firmament brings to mind the sublimely romantic skies of Turner's paintings.(68)
"Phaedrus is here; we as readers may not be fully aware of it in these early stages of the novel," Martin reminds Hannah, "but when we do learn of his existence the strength of these early passages returns to us and augments our awareness of his dominating presence. As the narrator lies sleeplessly in a hotel room looking out of the window he comments that, 'there is no question about it. Phaedrus saw all of this. What he was doing here I have no idea. Why he came this way, I will probably never know. But he has been here, steered us on to this strange road, has been with us all along. There is no escape.'(69)
Martin now describes how the narrator first discovered Phaedrus when drawing a conclusion from a mysterious series of events that took place many years before the novel was written. The narrator believes he remembers going to a party one Friday night as Phaedrus, where, after talking to everyone too long and too loudly and drinking way too much, he went into a back room to lie down for a while. When he awoke it was daylight and the room was not at all like the one he'd gone to sleep in. His clothes were changed and the room he was in led out, not into a house, but into a hospital corridor. Slowly there grew a body of evidence to argue against the 'drunken party experience.'(70) Was this memory not his own?
The narrator explains that it took him more than a week to work out that everything before his waking up was a dream and everything afterwards was reality. The narrator was now a new personality, his old one, Phaedrus, was dead.
Martin now explains how the narrator coldly and technically describes Phaedrus' fate after he had been committed as insane and destroyed by order of the court. Martin describes how Phaedrus is subjected to the transmission of high voltage alternating current through the lobes of his brain on twenty-eight separate occasions, in a process known technologically as 'Annihilation ECS.' Phaedrus' whole personality is erased without a trace in a faultless act that defines the relationship of Pirsig's narrator to Phaedrus. 'I have never met him.' Says the narrator, 'Never will.'(71)
Martin continues to explain that Phaedrus had seen these roads that the narrator is now travelling along, seen them with the same eyes because he once looked out from behind them. The narrator explains that he often receives strange fragments of thought and memory that are not his own. This feeling, he tells us, is real fear, knowing that there is nowhere that he can run away from Phaedrus, nowhere that he can hide.
Martin describes Phaedrus's descent into madness as resembling a journey into the heart of the Minotaur's cave. Getting deeper and more confused in the darkness of his venture, until finally the safety string, which bound him to the outside world of 'common sense,' snaps without his knowledge. He ventures further into the darkness until eventually, with no way of finding his way back to the comforting light of 'reality,' he is lost.
As the narrator travels across America delivering his Chautauqua to the reader, an increasing number of memories involving Phaedrus begin to flood back to him. Perhaps one of the most poetic of these recollections is of Phaedrus copying out by hand the 2,400 year old Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu.(72) As Phaedrus reads the text, he sees in this ancient work an identical reflection of his own ideas about 'Quality'. As this realisation takes hold, his mind becomes feverishly active and begins to run away from itself. Pirsig writes: '. . .but now the slippage that Phaedrus had felt earlier, the integral parting of his mind, suddenly gathered momentum, as do the rocks at the top of the mountain. Before he could stop it, the sudden accumulated mass of awareness began to grow and grow into an avalanche of thought and awareness out of control. . .Until there was nothing left to stand. No more anything. It all gave way from under him.'(73) Phaedrus then became completely enveloped by insanity, an isolated figure in a threatening landscape, like Casper David Friedrich's, 'traveller' From the Summit,(74) who stands upon a mountain top looking over a sea of fog. However, says Martin, in Pirsig's version of this scene, the summit upon which the traveller stands is crumbling away from under his feet.
Martin recounts how the narrator's dreams contain obscure flashbacks, memories of white painted rooms, glass doors and dark figures hiding in the shadows. The energies in these dream sequences have a slightly surreal quality about them. Pirsig's language seeks to break down boundaries between the reasonable and the illogical. The author achieves this through the techniques of automatic writing(75) and the juxtaposition of random images, to reveal something of the unconscious workings of Phaedrus's mind.
"This is an old Dadaist technique," says the dummy, "which is about as successful at ridding the author's cerebral censorship, as their Cut-up(76) technique is at ridding the reader's conscious control."
"It has also been used by writers such as William Burroughs in his novel Naked Lunch and in Tuli Kupferburg's poem Greenwich Village of my Dreams," says Martin. "However I remain reticent about Pirsig's success in using this technique in these dream sequences."
"You say, 'these dream sequences,'" remarks Hannah, "are there several?"
"There are indeed three dream sequences in ZMM, each of which gets progressively more detailed," he explains. "It is interesting also to see how the narrator's reaction changes after each dream. In the first sequence, the narrator sees himself standing in a white room, looking at a glass door. On the other side of this door stands Chris. The narrator feels that the explanation of this dream is obviously related to his strained relationship with his young son. At this point he is either unwilling to accept, or is unaware of, the existence of Phaedrus. The morning after this first dream Chris says that his Dad has kept him awake all night talking; the narrator remembers none of this and becomes extremely concerned; especially when he learns that he had told Chris in his sleep that he will meet him at the top of the mountain. How can he, the narrator, meet Chris at the top of the mountain when he is already with Chris? The narrator begins to wonder if he is suffering from temporary memory loss, or if Phaedrus possesses him in his sleep. Will Phaedrus and all his former insanity finally return at the top of the mountain?"
The next two dream sequences are highlighted by the use of Italics. Martin feels that this adds a visual component to the already gothic element of horror and mystery in these passages. "These dreams are easier to place than the first," Martin explains, " because they are linked to the narrator's mental hospital experiences. In the first of these two later dreams,(77) Phaedrus explains to Chris, before he is cut off by the dark figure from the shadows, that he cannot now meet him on the mountain because the mountain has gone, but that he'll meet him at the bottom of the sea. Then the narrator finds himself standing all-alone surrounded by the deserted ruins of a city, which stretches out endlessly in all directions. This would seem to indicate the state of the narrator's mind, as it slowly begins to crumble back into the madness of Phaedrus. At this stage of the novel the narrator is dangerously close to regressing back into his former state of insanity."
"However," continues Martin, "in the third and final dream sequence,(78) the dark figure is no longer threatening, but frightened, and stands cowering in the corner of the white room, pitifully afraid. The narrator grabs this 'loathsome, evil thing' and begins to strangle it, only to find a terrified Chris waking him up. The narrator sees fear, along with tears, in his son's eyes. The oncoming threat of insanity surrounds the narrator; he is near the centre of the Minotaur's cave and is holding only the tinniest thread of string in the tips of his fingers. His is a mind clearly divided against itself. These are very tense moments indeed and in a rather cryptic passage the reader is thrown even further into turmoil, with Pirsig using several confusing metaphors, such as: 'The we of the truck is upon us.'(79) However, in the depth of this confusion a realisation occurs which indicates that the narrator is slowly reweaving the threads of the string and may now, not only find his way out of the cave, but also pacify and befriend the minotaur. The narrator's reunification with Phaedrus and his son are beginning to materialise. We see in these final passages of the novel Chris rocking and wailing on the ground in complete mental torture; the narrator is completely at a loss for what to do and just at the breaking point of his own near suicidal hopelessness, he begins to speak to Chris with a voice which is not his own. Chris stops rocking and begins to listen:
Everything is all right now, Chris.
Chris slowly sits up and stares at me. The truck arrives, stops, and the driver looks out to see if we need a ride. I shake my head no and wave on. He nods, puts the truck in gear, and it whines off through the mist again and there is only Chris and me.(80)
The voice is that of Phaedrus, returned to save the sanity of his son and his usurping doppelganger. Yet, this is not the Phaedrus of old, dogmatic, and unrelenting, but one who is reunited with the narrator, creating a balance between the Classic and the Romantic. Perhaps the truck that Phaedrus waves away is a symbol of the institutional system of psychological rehabilitation and shock therapy. Martin admits that he is not altogether sure, but what does become apparent in the final pages of the novel is that when the father explains his hospitalisation to Chris, the facts of which have never been discussed before by them, the boy is relieved of a huge burden. After these events the father and son carry on their journey together, riding now with their motorcycle helmets off. They can feel the air all around them and their heads are free to move naturally. They can finally hear each other's words. Chris stands up on the passenger's foot-pegs and can now see clear ahead. Here the novel ends, leaving the reader with a sense of reconciliation and optimism.
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