I was updating the Resources page to add one of my, now, favorite books: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The book was given to me by my mom several years ago. Someone had given it to her and she had said, “Here, I’ll never read this. Maybe you’ll be interested in it.” I put it on the shelf and it sat for some time with it never receiving a second glance. Then one day, I needed something to read. I picked it up and finished it in one day/night. There are some pages that are marked because of something that was written that was epiphanic.
I couldn’t remember how to spell the author’s last name, so I went to Google.
And I found this: Robert Pirsig dies at 88
There were a couple of things in that article that amazed me.
First, Zen was rejected by 121 publishers before it was published. What perseverance to overcome that amount of rejection. Imagine being turned down 121 times and still pushing forward. The book, as one would guess, has perseverance as a theme, but it’s not the main one. Maintenance of anything does take a certain determination and persistence−if one is serious about true maintenance. Persevere, read the whole article, and then soak up the excerpt from the book at the end.
Second, and I had no idea that he authored another book, it took 17 years for him to complete his second book. I haven’t read that one, obviously, but I’m anxious to get my hands on it.
Zen was autobiographical, in a way.
In a review from the NY Times, the reviewer says:
[Pirsig’s] hero . . . in fact goes through madness and beyond, in his desperately determined quest for a unifying vision of what life is and of what life can be in the modern scientific‐industrial world.
I suppose anyone that truly tries to reconcile those two opposites is destined for madness. It appears, from all evidence to date, that they are not easily, even if possibly, unifiable. Some would say that I am mad as well. I’ve been called as much and I’ve certainly done things that could be considered madness. And the looks that I receive when I espouse some of my philosophies: “What planet is this guy from?”
Through revelations as striking as lightning flashes, we learn that “Phatedrus,”[sic] in his desperate search for total understanding, was driven insane, was destroyed and has somehow returned.
Total understanding. There is a short story by Ted Chiang with the very name: Understand. The protagonist in that story was, himself, destroyed when he finally understood.
I understand, sometimes, we, as humans, individuals, conscious entities, are not meant to understand. Or, maybe, we are meant to understand when we are meant to understand and not before. Any attempt to force understanding before we are capable renders us incognizant. Our circuits just can’t handle the raw power that it takes and we fry ourselves. Maybe technology is the apparatus, the analogy, through which we are supposed to learn to understand. But, then, we don’t really use technology to learn. We use it for much more nefarious purposes. Sure, we learn, but that’s not really the goal, in the end . . . for most of us.
And what if you or I did get ultimate knowledge and understanding? I had this conversation with a sister and my dad. It sort of brought me to my knees. What would we do with it? Would we do anything with it? Why would we even want, need, or have it? “I would just have it.” I missed the point of the statement, apparently, and saw hopelessness in it because I feel−rather, I know−that is the end game for most people. They simply “want” for no other reason than to “have”.
I’ve periodically had moments of clarity. I can feel them coming and then, just as suddenly, they pass. I suppose we all have them. We are on the precipice of understanding, of seeing, of knowing and then it, whatever “it” is, disappears into the ether. We then have a choice. We can continue after it, stepping off the precipice into potential madness or we can simply stop and appreciate that it is there and that one day we might just be able to grasp it firmly and make it part of ourselves.
I’ve also had times where I absolutely could not comprehend a thing. I didn’t understand it and, within that, I couldn’t understand why I didn’t understand. Those times were even more maddening.
And understanding, what exactly does that entail? Does it mean that you can explain what you understand? That’s what we are led to believe. But, is it true? I know and understand things that I can’t explain. At least I don’t have the language to explain them. Then again, I don’t have the language that would allow me to explain them so that others would also understand them. And everything gets lost in the attempt.
And then the world unites against you and calls you mad. And soon you almost, for a brief instant, believe it.
If only . . .