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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