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am 15. März 1999
My 10-year-old son asked me what I wanted for Christmas last year, and I suggested two books I had known about for 20 years or more, but had never actually read: "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac, and "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert Pirsig. He got them both for me, and now, at age 47, I've read them both. Kerouac's book is a breathless, almost endless series of cross-country treks, written in a continuous "present" with little concept of a past or future.
"Zen", in contrast, is a book I wish I had read years ago, knowing full well I would not have understood or appreciated it until now. Pirsig's literary journey is careful and methodical, painstakingly documenting both the physical landscape through which he and his son are riding, and the elaborate philosophical landscape through which humanity has traveled in the last several millennia. It is a history of philosophy which ultimately rejects much of the Aristotelian analysis underlying Western scientific method. I hated philosophy and theology in college, for a variety of reasons, and wish I had this guidebook (and 40+ years of experience) handy as I sat through Metaphysics. Pirsig makes clear the seminal importance of many of the competing ideas of Eastern and Western philosophy, in ways I don't think any of my college professors could have. On a more personal note, Pirsig develops his complex line of thought while traversing the American west with his son Chris on the back of his motorcycle. His discourse with the reader is extensive, highly emotional and intensely personal, while his interaction with his son is almost non-existent. More than once I wanted to yell at Pirsig to stop the bike and talk to Chris instead, only to realize that my own conversations with my own son Chris were, in many ways, similarly perfunctory and self-limiting. In my opinion, no one can read this book without gaining some insight into their own soul, their own values and their place in the world.
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