July 27, 2007

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Posted in Literature, Philosophy at 2:07 am by egalitaria

Pirsig, in his book classic (which I admittedly never got round to reading till now – when I’ve been sick and stuck at home luxuriously with books in my lap that I finally have some time to look through), “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance“, philosophises upon Quality.

And increasingly gets his readers curious about this concept.

Quality, little thought of concept – or is it really? How does one determine Quality of any object or subject? Does it really even exist? Market-driven?

If Quality exists inherently, then what are the characteristics attached to it? For example in music, is there a standard for quality, i.e. consistency in tone, harmony, melody, elements that we must look out for? Classically yes, music students would be exposed to the typical theories that determine the Quality of a composition. Likewise in art, people are trained to look out for texture and particular talent explicit within a painting.

But then this assumes Quality lies within the object and the subject is left with nothing. Meaning, there is no need in interpreting the Quality therein. And this makes a mockery of critics of literature, art, music. Plus, I believe in the variation of choice and interest. What the market apparently labels as Top Quality (based on American charts), I may find absolutely rubbish. I may instead prefer independent artistes like Death Cab for Cutie and Damien Rice. So this assumes Quality lies with the subject – the interpreter, the observer, as opposed to the object.

Pirsig debates upon this concept and eventually comes to the conclusion that Quality lies not within object or subject but is the source of both. He says that,

The sum of quality does not revolve around the subjects and objects of our existence. It does not just passively illuminate them. It is not subordinate to them in any way. It has created them. They are subordinate to it!

That’s incredible. To me, anyway. It’s a question that I’ve also struggled with, and couldn’t come to any conclusion. I remember entering into an active debate with a friend about this issue sometime last year. Anyway, friend, if you are reading this post, I hope you come to the same conclusion as Pirsig. So Quality lies not in the manifestation but IS the manifestation. It is latent within the object but relies upon the subject to draw out its essence. This is liberating for me. Phew.

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