Robert Pirsig interview …

… in the Guardian online, over here.

“Metaphysics is a restaurant where they give you a 30,000 page menu and no food.”

Pirsig is an interesting character.  I’ve read both the motorbike and the boat book and confess to thinking of him as a bit of a new age character, even though one that derives from Western philosophy.  It’s a while since I’ve looked at his work and I suppose I’m not surprised that he’s disapointed with his reception by western philosophy, but then Pirsig always seemed to be a little like one of those philosophers who doesn’t read philosophers, at least not contemporary ones, and who therefore produce interesting ideas but in such a way that they can’t really plug them into any actual debate amongst philosophers.  Of course this isn’t to denigrate Pirsigs’ work at all, merely to suggest that philosophical debate requires the philosopher to engage in that dialogue, to respond to other philosophers around them as well as to Plato and the classics.  Having said that, Wittgenstein was famous for having read very little philosophy and perhaps was just more lucky in being taken under the wing of an active academic (Russell) who could offer him some shelter inside the academy, something that never happened to Pirsig apparently.  Pirsig’s story also has a certain frisson of tragedy, personal and intellectual, that almost requires that he feel somehow disappointed in his success.  Personally I’d rather be in his position, I think – able to publish my ideas in my own way and be successful with them, rather than any ‘academic’ success (whatever that is exactly – well, essentially the sort of sucecss to which one can respond, ‘it’s academic though’ and mean, ‘it’s not really important’, not really ‘engaged in life’).  Still, the grass is always greener…

Article written by

philosopher and filmmaker from brighton, currently teaching philosophy at the Free University of Brighton

3 Responses

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  1. Phil
    Phil at |

    I think one of the greatest mistakes in life is that we see ‘others’ as a kind of static painting, we judge them, give them value and expect them to be this thing – a sunflower or whatever takes your fancy. Whereas even if art poses for life – it isn’t life – Pirsig is never one thing, as much as Hitler wasn’t, we want to love one and hate the other but to do either is stop the river flowing, to take one wave from the many – to believe that anything is better than nothing – but nothing has no value – can not be judged – so there is only something or nothing – we are always something until we are nothing. People may say “Yo Pirsig loved your book – changed my life man”; but that could only be alien – like meeting someone from school who tells you that they had a crush on you – who is the you – way back then – what has Pirsig got apart from money and a dead son to remember a time that he would rather take antidepressants to forget. You cannot be separated from ‘others’ by judgment and values – that would be like taking a spec of dust and comparing it with the universe – the you and ‘others’, are values and beliefs, which are as transitory as the fleeting moments we have to get one thing right – not alone recognition for that breathe interlude where our voice seemed clearer than the sound of the wind through the trees.

    I for one have never looked at quality in the same way – those that pounce around with their views are simply only doing that – pounce pounce – big deal – even a tigger can do that. I personally loved Pirsigs first book, I was lucky because of my complete ignorance of literature and philosophy – old age not alone new age – there was nothing to compare it with – so it was something! I think it’s one of those great ironic ‘things’ that the most read contemporary philosophy book, is never studied, and that most people having read it go off and read about the other philosophers who in turn – turn their nose up at Pirsig. It is strange that the East and West do not meet in most philosophy – I suppose there is elitism on both sides – also self-perpetuating-history probably has its hand in – if you don’t learn Eastern philosophy then you can’t teach it.

    All in all, be it a bike or a boat life is truly a funny old journey – and my best advice would be take along a few good books for the ride.

  2. idunno
    idunno at |

    Pirsig wasn’t ignored because he was incomprehensible to western academic philosophers or I couldn’t be fit into the debate. That is a completely ridiculous thing to claim. Anyone with the least bit of familiarity with both parties and an ounce of sense could compare the two. It is a telling response, though. Since Wittgenstein western academic philosophy has, it seems to me, been primarily concerned with self-preservation and only marginally concerned with creativity or innovation. Just ask anyone involved in the experimental philosophy movement… Ironically what Pirsig offered was not more limitations but a huge expanse of formal system in which to wallow and analyze – freed from the burden of offering evidence for the claims of the ‘reality’ behind the ‘appearance’, evidence we couldn’t offer without being scientists.

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