Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance will probably be attempted by many young adult readers, as it would have an initial appeal to those learning about the mechanics of cars and especially of motorcycles. Probably few will read to the end, however, for there are some stiff philosophical investigations along the way, and only the basics of motorcycle maintenance are described. More important, according to Pirsig, is developing a good attitude toward technology—learning to care for the machine and, in working on it, becoming one with it. By caring for the machine, Pirsig means obviating the subject-object duality that he insists characterizes Western thinking. Thus, attitudes toward motorcycle maintenance launch the reader into a large and complex philosophical debate in which Pirsig, more or less explicitly, sides with the East over the West. Several different repair shops model different attitudes toward motorcycle maintenance, and it is quite clear which ones are the most successful in helping a machine run well.
The controlling drive of the book is the pursuit of “Quality.” It began with an innocent comment made by a colleague when Pirsig was teaching English composition; she said that she hoped he was teaching Quality to his students. Pirsig shows that although Quality cannot be defined, it is recognized and appreciated. This occurs in his classroom experiments in Bozeman, Montana: Time after time, he and his students agreed on the Quality papers, although when they tried to prescribe Quality, only poor quality resulted. This led Pirsig into a lifelong pursuit into the metaphysics of Quality.
Pirsig takes the reader...
(The entire section is 685 words.)