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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

PART 2 REREADING PIRSIG'S ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE

The Sutherlands accompany Pirsig in the beginning part of this road trip from Minnesota to California. Their differences lead to explanations of Pirsig's dichotomy of understanding in people. He divides human understanding into two kinds - classical understanding and romantic understanding. 

At this point in his story Pirsig is still thinking inside the Dominating Discourse of the classical Hegelian dialectic. He has not yet met the unknown Foucault head on in his thinking. He is still linear, continuous, progressive, historical.

A classical understanding sees the world primarily as underlying form itself. A romantic understanding sees it primarily in terms of immediate experience.

He will continue to expand on these definitions. The romantic is emotional, the NOW so prevalent in the 60's, the moment, the intuitive, the gut instinct. It is based on FEELINGS!

The classic is formal, logical, it accumulates past knowledge and information, it is reasonable.

Now we move to 1993 and the work of Jean Baudrillard in France with his Symbolic Exchange and Death.
A Monumental work in continental Philosophy
There is no doubt Baudrillard was pondering all this at the time Pirsig was, but he will not publish it fully until 1991-3. Baudrillard has been influenced by Foucault and now thinks genealogically saying it is really the only way to think. It is certainly the most powerful, decisive, analytical way to think and has become the DISCOURSE now by those who are the original thinkers in Continental Philosophy at this time. Pirsig is not yet there though he is following his solitary journey without anyone with whom he can discuss all that he is thinking. 

Baudrillard's great contribution to our understanding is his eliciting of the TWO ORDERS in our world. The Symbolic Order and the Order of Production. These are parallel orders co-existing. The Map and the Territory, encroaching more and more into the Symbolic Order.

Pirsig will introduce his former self named Phaedrus and bring us to another Baudrillardian conceptual frame, that of Alterity. A personal life continues until and if Destiny intervenes with DEATH. An EVENT in which the individual experiences their "almost death" leads to a splitting, the concept of alterity and the individual continues living as the same and also as other now. The two selves increasingly deviate apart from their former self and the present self. Pirsig introduces us to his former self named Phaedrus who was given shock therapy until all his philosophical thinking was wiped out, burned away. But their are shreds, fragments that tweak Pirsig's memory as he continues on his road journey and we will find out this journey has old places to be revisited in its agenda. Neither Foucault nor Baudrillard escaped unscathed from this thinking either BTW. It was their great good fortune that others were on this path with them while the entrenched academic powers fought them and continue to do so now in a much weakened position. One wonders that without the internet if all this European thought might not have fallen into the folds of archival history in our time in the US which despises it so.

Returning to the two modes of understanding - the Classical mode is in the Order of Production. It is cumulative, logical, reasonable and is part of the Dominating Discourse. It's primary attribute is its irreversibility. Capitalism resides in this order. The Romantic mode is in the Symbolic Order - emotional, intuitive, creative, changeable, and its primary attribute is its reversibility. These are the two great concepts Baudrillard has given us to understand the world we now live in. 

It is clear that Pirsig sees all this in his original way. He comes to it on his road trip. While Foucault labors in the archives with yellowed, torn, hardly legible old papers, Pirsig is coming to it at a slightly later time from Foucault who begins publishing in 1960 with Madness and Civilization, The Birth of the Clinic, The Order of Things and most importantly The Archaeology of Knowledge. 



This is what Pirsig is doing as he flies on his cycle through mountains, down into valleys of green and then desert, along rivers, through small towns staying the same through changing times. A wild ride paralleled by quiet, intense, arduous digging in libraries.

And Pirsig digs deeper than Foucault through his madness, risking it all once more.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

REREADING PIRSIG'S ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE


Rereading this 1974 blockbuster novel of its time is an astonishing experience. Pirsig has gone his solitary way through all of Continental Philosophy of his time and beyond without referring to Foucault, Baudrillard, Zizek, Lacan, walking along in their footsteps without knowing of their existence. He arrives at the same conclusions and consequences by a parallel path not an identical one. And he digs even deeper than Foucault, something I had never expected from anyone.

Pirsig is grounding his thought concretely by alternating between motorcycle maintenance, a journey on his motorcycle with his young adolescent son across the midwest and north of the US to California. While Foucault is digging in dusty old archives, tattered and yellowed papers, Pirsig is whizzing through mountainous landscapes, desert valleys, campgrounds and highways as he pieces fragments of his alterity and continued musings of his past and present thinking.

He begins with the perception of landscape through an automobile's windows and the difference as it surrounds one on a motorcycle. The car frames the scene - turning it into the screen - as it changes, displaying what the frame frames. The motorcycle puts you in the landscape making you a part of it, not an observer of it. The scene through the auto window is a simulacrum, the surround on the motorcycle is the REAL. And this is the thought of Jean Baudrillard. 

Is Baudrillard a Simulacrum here?

The great danger of our time felt by Pirsig and articulated by Baudrillard. The loss of the REAL and the worship of the Simulacrum. The Hunger Games. Panem and the Districts. The REAL and the SCREEN.

Reading through McLuhan the motorcycle is the MEDIUM and the MESSAGE is invisible. Or the GROUND is invisible. The auto is the MEDIUM and the MESSAGE is different. The GROUND is now the inside of the car which is invisible as one looks out the window at the passing screen. Pirsig has lifted the curtain of invisibility so we now see the once invisible MESSAGE of the cycle and the auto. He has waved the magic wand, Dorothy has clicked her red heels three times and she is in Oz then back to the canvas of Kansas again. Has Baudrillard or McLuhan ever been so clearly understood before?

This is what is troubling him all through his journey. Small patches of lawn a plastic faking of open green spaces, plastic toys of artificial style to deceive. None of this is escaping his eyes as he sees through the cultural faking that passes for authenticity by those who cannot see or recognize QUALITY.

Read it again and go with him again on the wild trip you once breathlessly accompanied him on. There is much more I have to say about this wondrous journey of his.

END of PART ONE