I’m going to start this with a big cliché and say that Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance changed my life. I just finished reading it and it was at the perfect time in my life. Though I read it in hopes to be inspired for one of my novels, it ended up doing much more than that.
I don’t think Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is for everyone. The narrator isn’t all that likable and it’s definitely not plot-based. If you’re the type of person who likes to fall in love with characters and their journeys, this probably isn’t for you.
What is different about this book is the way the narrator looks at the world. He is telling a story of the person he used to be, Phaedrus, and his search for Quality. What is Quality? Well, you have to really read the book to get the full understanding.
Quality is the element of our world that creates a response in conscious beings. Good quality creates a positive response and bad quality does the opposite. It’s what tells us which music and art is good. It’s the source of emotion.
The point that resonated with me most was that our culture doesn’t recognize this value of quality very often. We can appreciate a good song, but it’s something we do on the way to work or in passing between more important things. We don’t recognize quality as having true value.
Why do we do this? Well, we’re caught up in this idea that everything real is tangible and fully understandable. Our scientific method is everything. If it can’t be proven, it’s just not true. What Phaedrus thought, and what I’m beginning to see, is that is limiting us. There is so much we don’t understand, but Quality and art help us to experience it, without grasping onto it.
My favorite part is when Phaedrus is examining a world without quality. Could it function? It’d be really different, but it probably could. Would it be worth living in? No. The key to our existence is this aspect of quality. It’s mysterious, but it certainly exists. It’s what stirs emotional responses in us and makes this interesting.
He does a lot of thinking about the subject versus the object. This is how we view the world. We, the subject, build perceptions about objects. There’s been much debate over whether the perception we build lies within the subject or the object. Do we have these notions because of something in us? Or is there something in the objects we observe that make us think what we think.
Of course anyone can see how that’s limiting. A subject versus object universe is only one way to view it. In Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance we see another way to view this conundrum, a way that offers more hope. It suggests a more interconnected world. But, you’ll have to read it to find out!