Robert M. Pirsig Biography

Biography

Robert Maynard Pirsig’s influential Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of the most well known American books of the late twentieth century. He was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on September 6, 1928, the son of Maynard Ernest Pirsig and Harriet Marie Sjobeck. Pirsig’s IQ of 170 did not guarantee him an easy life. A student of Eastern philosophy, he has worked as an operator of a gambling table in Reno, a teacher of rhetoric at the University of Montana, and a writer of technical manuals.

Pirsig served with the United States Army from 1946 to 1948. He received both his B.A. and his M.A. from the University of Minnesota. On May 10, 1954, he married Nancy Ann James. They had two children. Pirsig and his wife were divorced in August of 1978. Their son Chris, who is featured prominently in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, died of a knife wound on November 17, 1979.

Pirsig is a member of the Society of Technical Communicators. He served as secretary of the Minnesota chapter from 1970 to 1971 and as treasurer from 1971 to 1972. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1974 and received an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1979.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is set during a cross-country motorcycle trip taken by Pirsig, his son Chris, and two friends. The book took Pirsig more than two years to write. While he recounts a physical journey, Pirsig is...

(The entire section is 562 words.)

Bibliography

DiSanto, Ronald L., and Thomas J. Steele. Guidebook to “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” New York: Quill, 1990. A useful guide to the background to and symbolism of Pirsig’s book.

Harpham, Geoffrey Galt. “Rhetoric and the Madness of Philosophy in Plato and Pirsig.” Contemporary Literature 29 (Spring, 1988). An in-depth reading of the use of madness in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Hayles, N. Katherine. “Drawn to the Web: The Quality of Rhetoric in Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” In The Cosmic Web: Scientific Field Models and Literary Strategies in the Twentieth Century. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984. Provides a complete analysis of Pirsig’s work, useful biographical information, and an extensive bibliography.

Lee, Ronald J. “Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: The Fusion of Form and Content.” Western American Literature 14 (Fall, 1979). Provides an interesting analysis of the relation of the form of the book to its content.

Raymond, Michael. “Generic Schizophrenia in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” CEA Critic 43 (March, 1981). An in-depth reading of the use of madness in the work.

Roding, Richard H. “Irony and Earnestness in Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 22 (1980). Examines the motives of the book’s main characters and the radical abstraction of the authorial point of view.