Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Part 2

Midway into the book the author poses the question, “What is Quality in thought and statement?”  He writes as a result the atmosphere in his university creative writing class was ‘explosive’.  (I believe we’re talking about Montana State University in the late ‘50s.)

Some of the students whined, ‘How are we to know what quality is? You’re supposed to tell us.’

I had been finding a lot of Pirsig’s discourse on the subject of quality increasingly annoying but then after introducing the question to his class – turning the subject into what he termed ‘ stumbling over a genuine question’ just made me reminiscence on why so many math teachers, so terrified of their subject, inadvertently cascade their fear through the student ranks.

And I have to pause here and ask again why Pirsig – a genius with an IQ of 170 – was literally driving himself insane with all of that lengthy probing into this supposedly elusive mysterious nature of quality.

And now specifically questioning quality as it relates to thought and statement? I mean, really? What is it specifically that is so difficult to understand here?

He reports that his students ‘seemed as frustrated and angered as he had been by the question.’

Without having to give it a great deal of thought I would posit – quality with regard to either thought or statement – could be simply put as ‘those that are clear and concise, and express value.’

If one can express themselves clearly and concisely with value laden statements, I would reckon such an individual would a great orator, a most skillful writer, or a great conversationalist.

Octavio Paz’s essays comprising ‘The Labyrinth of Solitude’ stands as almost peerless example of quality in thought and exposition.

PS – Forty years later and the second time around I am finding this book frustrating.  I agree with the author that many mechanical things have great beauty in their innate mechanicalness. For example, I loved my .45 caliber ACP Model 1911A1 pistol more than anything for the ruthless economy of its design (I could dismantle it in something less than 2 minutes into its 9 constituent parts).

PPS – Functional beauty in my mind marries both the classic and romantic views of life; the substance of which at times strives to be Pirsig’s main theme. I am just wishing that he had spent a little less time down in the weeds wrestling with his obsession over quality as well as with his inability to accept the simple useful nature of the scientific method as it was intended.

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