This book has been very influential to me and my art practice. The book describes, in first person, a 17-day motorcycle journey from Minnesota to California by the author (though he is not identified in the book) and his son Chris, joined for the first nine days by close friends John and Sylvia Sutherland. The trip is punctuated by numerous philosophical discussions, referred to as Chautauquas by the author, on topics including epistemology, ethical emotivism and the philosophy of science.
Pirsig explores the meaning and concept of quality, a term he deems to be undefinable. Pirsig’s thesis is that to truly experience quality one must both embrace and apply it as best fits the requirements of the situation. According to Pirsig, such an approach would avoid a great deal of frustration and dissatisfaction common to modern life. In the book, the Narrator describes the “Romantic” approach to life of his friend John Sutherland, who chooses not to learn how to maintain his expensive new motorcycle. John simply hopes for the best with his bike, and when problems do occur he often becomes frustrated, and is forced to rely on professional mechanics to repair it. In contrast, the “classical” Narrator has an older motorcycle which he is usually able to diagnose and repair himself through the use of rational problem solving skills.
Pirsig aims towards a perception of the world that embraces both sides, the rational and the romantic. This means encompassing “irrational” sources of wisdom and understanding as well as science, reason and technology. In particular, this must include bursts of creativity and intuition that seemingly come from nowhere and are not (in his view) rationally explicable. Pirsig seeks to demonstrate that rationality and Zen-like “being in the moment” can harmoniously coexist. He suggests such a combination of rationality and romanticism can potentially bring a higher quality of life.