Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

I’d always wanted to read Pirsig’s sixties classic. The first exposure which I can recall having towards this book was as a young teenager when I ran across it in a mall bookstore chain, now defunct. (B. Dalton’s for those who remember.) I skimmed it at the time and thought, “there’s no way I could ever read this!”

Having finished it on a plane back in October, I’m still convinced I was right. IT would take me several more read-thoughs to grasp everything Pirsig has set down here. At a dense 500 pages, I don’t expect to ever have that much time.

I enjoyed this book. Pirsig, a student of philosophy turned motorcycle rambler uses a cross country trip taken by he and his son to expose a philosophy which he’s clearly put quite a bit of time into. The book’s subtitle is “An Inquiry into Values” and so it is. Pirsig invites the reader early on to listen in on a series of fairly informal value based debates. These are not Socratic in nature, exactly, since Pirsig has some serious beef with Socrates and the nature of dialog.

Already I’ve found that I’m having a hard time explaining succinctly what Pirsig’s real Values are. But it goes a little sump’n like this:

Humans recognize Quality inherently in thought, deed, and material property. You know when something is Quality. Since this value exists outside of any codified system of Western thought, and across time and culture, it is a universal truth. Plato and Aristotle were unable to rationalize Quality (arête in Greek) into their system of dialectic, and so they vilified it as sloppy thinking. But, in the modern age (the sixties, for Persig) one of the reasons we have all become so uptight is that we can see this huge gulf between Quality in life, and those things we are expected to do, make, buy, etc.

This philosophy makes some sense, though at times it also reads as a window into an acid trip experienced by a particularly bright scholar of the Greek classicists.

Where does motorcycle maintence come into play? Well, turns out that Persig has a real affinity for the mechanical, and he likes to use tuning a cycle, or repairing it, or preaching to others about it’s maintenance as a form of zen meditation, which allows him to become, as the old joke goes, one with everything.

This book was enjoyable, if dated. It’s hippie philosophy, but lots of it rings true. Persig is extremely bright, has good ideas, and presents them in a format that is compelling. He’s no stylist, to be sure, but his book has enough content to keep a person so inclined busy for years.


Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

I enjoyed Gibson’s newest book back in the summer when I read it. In fact, I think it might be the best thing he’s written since Neuromancer. It’s not science fiction. It’s just fiction. The way Gibson writes though, it’s easy to forget that everything described is both possible and probable in the here-and-now. The Professor has my copy in FL. Else I’d quote a particular passage that makes this point. It’s a passage in which Gibson describes the reflective visor of a motorcycle helmet.

Pattern Recognition tells the story of a young woman hired to find the creator of film footage that has generated a cult following on the internet. Her search gets her mixed up with a collection of Gibson’s usual “high-tech low-lifes” across 4 continents.

The language is slick, still an conscious Pyncheon imitation, but with all the descriptive style that Gibson brought to short stories like Burning Chrome so many years ago.

This is a post-9/11 novel, which is very much at home in the immediate now in which it was published. It will be interesting to see how it weathers the years.

Okay. It's been far too long and the next few weeks are likely to be busy enough that I'll not have time to catch up, so I'm determined to do it today. The list of books unchronicled here is getting out of hand. This is bad form, it suggests the breaking of a habit I'd wanted to keep, and there is a stack on my desk now that I'd really like to put back on shelves before I have to box them up. The books in the overdue stack are:

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. PirsigThe Thin Man by Dashiell HammettBalzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai SijieFury by Salman Rushdie‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen KingOn Writing by Stephen KingThe Stand by Stephen KingGalapagos by Kurt Vonnegut

Before I dive in, starting with the Gibson, I'll give the brief update on our lives for indifferent posterity.

I'm typing this now with a ring on a finger of my left hand. After a beautiful, joyous weekend in Playa del Carmen Mexico the Professor and I are officially married. About 25 of our closest friends and families came down do bear witness, to drink, to dance, and to play on the beach for a wonderful weekend. I'll never forget it.

We are moving to Vancouver Canada in about three weeks. Probably. It's been a really interesting last few months for the future. I had to turn down the job in Redmond. I just couldn't get excited about it at all, and decided that it would be a mistake to take a job I couldn't get passionate about. This is a huge luxury, I recognize, and I am appropriately grateful. In any case it turns out to have been a great decision, since shortly thereafter I was offered a really cool position with a gaming software giant in Vancouver, British Columbia! Wow! What an hell of an opportunity! Now though, there is another wrinkle in the tapestry, since I just got a call yesterday from a friend at a Bungie. Turns out there is a position there for which I’m being considered. This is incredibly flattering. So I’m going to visit with them next week. But in all probability, Vancouver it is!

The Professor is in Florida now, where she’s been since the day after we returned from our wedding. Again, the strange inversion that seems to characterize our lives has returned. In the traditional case, one leaves their parents to live with their new husband after the nuptials. In this case, the opposite has occurred. It’s a very understandable turn of events. The Professor seems to be the only sane bedrock upon which a very dysfunctional group of people can build emotional happiness. They need her. And in any case, I’m about to take her far, far away, hopefully to a life where she can spend more time focusing on enriching herself, and not all her time coddling others. We shall see.

This blog is not supposed be a Dear Diary though, so without further ado, on to those stars of the show, the books!