In this best-selling new book, his first in seventeen years, Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, takes us on a poignant and passionate journey as mysterious and compelling as his first life-changing work.
Instead of a motorcycle, a sailboat carries his philosopher-narrator Phaedrus down the Hudson River as winter closes in. Along the way he picks up a most unlikely traveling companion: a woman named Lila who in her desperate sexuality, hostility, and oncoming madness threatens to disrupt his life.
In Lila Robert M. Pirsig has crafted a unique work of adventure and ideas that examines the essential issues of the nineties as his previous classic did the seventies.
Robert Maynard Pirsig was an American writer and philosopher, mainly known as the author of the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, (1974), which has sold millions of copies around the world.
It’s been 21 years since I read this book, and much longer since I read its predecessor, ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE (1974), Persig’s only two books. I kept seeing LILA on my bookshelf and decided it might be worth rereading, both for its sake and to put ZEN in perspective. It was, on both counts. I think LILA is every bit as interesting as ZEN and may be clearer in expressing its central concerns about what makes life good or worthwhile.
LILA has some obvious similarities with ZEN. Both books are travel books about an extended trip. In ZEN it’s on a motorcycle and in Lila it‘s on a small boat which makes its way down the Hudson River and through New York City to the ocean. Phaedrus is a stand-in for the narrator in both books , a man who is obsessed with metaphysical concepts of “quality”, both in the abstract and in his personal life. Phaedrus in ZEN is accompanied by his son, and in LILA he spends much of the journey on his boat with Lila, a woman he has picked up in a riverside tavern. Both are foils, objects of study,for Phaedrus and his speculations about constitutes quality in life.
At the heart of the book is an attempt to explain the world in other than subject-object terms, a notion that is at the core of language itself. When we use words we create a false dichotomy which fails to get at or to “know” reality. We rely on verbal and intellectual concepts to create a sense of order, but it’s a clumsy and arbitrary order. Zen Buddhism recognizes this fact and warns us not to mistake our verbal approximations for the truth. As one Zen koan has it,” if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”, suggesting that if you think you’re “enlightened”, you’re not. All verbal constructs are illusory (even this sentence).
Now, it’s true that for ordinary purposes, the subject-object division works well, and it is at the heart of ordinary living and the bedrock on which the scientific method and western civilization rests. That in turn has led to all of the inventions that make up our lives in the west. Persig/Phaedrus has no problem with this; it’s just that he wants something more inclusive so that we can incorporate “quality” into our lives. He works out a theory that society operates with two patterns. There is a society that he calls “static” – it regulates our lives and allows us to function in predictable ways. Without it, we’d have chaos.
But there is another type of pattern that he calls “dynamic” and it occurs when exceptional, often charismatic, humans appear. Artists, visionary political leaders, sometimes truly revolutionary religious figures such as Christ, Mohammed, and Buddha, see reality in a different way, so different that it shatters normally static society patterns and shifts society into new directions. The point here is that these people, if they functioned in normal “static” ways would never have made these breakthroughs. Where do they come from? Not from the intellect, limited by rigid subject-object perceptions, but from the mysterious realms of “quality” – if it were not mysterious and unexplainable, it would not be quality.
The difficulty, though, is that what is termed “insanity” is also part of a “dynamic” pattern. Insane people, however, are unable to function in a a static society, a condition that Phaedrus has experienced in his past life (mentioned in both books) as what is commonly called a nervous breakdown. In LILA, the woman he picks up teeters on the edge of a breakdown, and part of the dilemma of this book, and something that gives it narrative interest and momentum, is whether her dynamic “quality” is going to prove to be a dead end or a break through.
These remarks are sketchy but I think they suggest some of the important ideas that the book takes up. Persig, I understand from biographical information about him, has a background in philosophy, but he is often dismissed by academic philosophers as of little consequence. The criticism is that Persig can’t make up his mind if he’s writing philosophy or fiction. True, but I think Pirsig would contend he’s trying to bridge the gap between the mental world and the physical world. Not easy to do.
The essential problem is summed up in conversations he had (apparently these really took place) with Robert Redford about exercising the movie rights to ZEN. How can you make a movie that combines action with abstract thought? It’s almost impossible to do, and for that reason, has not been attempted. And I suspect for many readers, both of ZEN and LILA, that they will have experienced the same frustration – the philosophic ideas are interesting, if hard to follow, and the plot or the story, in the real world, while tantalizing, really doesn’t arrive at any destination. Trying to combine the two – well, it’s the elusive matter of “quality” again.
A third reading: I reread LILA twenty-one years after it was published, and again this time eight years later (for a book group – I doubt I would have reread it a third time otherwise). A few supplementary thoughts. Persig writes in LILA about jotting down random ideas as they come to him on slips of paper and later seeing if they come together in any kind of unity. I think a reader goes through somewhat the same process – slips of information, both about the physical journey of the boat, and ideas that Persig thinks about. If they come together at the end, the reader will be satisfied; if not, the reader will be frustrated and wonder what overall unity Persig thought he created. The book closes on this note: “Good is a noun. That was IT. That was what Phaedrus had been looking for. That was the homer, over the fence, that ended the ball game. Good as a noun rather than as an adjective is all the Metaphysics of Quality is about. Of course, the ultimate Quality isn’t a noun or an adjective or any thing else definable, but if you had to reduce the whole metaphysics of Quality to a single sentence, that would be it.” The question of the entire book, of the 400 page plus pages that precede this game-ending home run is whether Lila has any real moral value. Does she embody “quality” or “good”? Persig can only say, “She’s on her way somewhere, just like everybody else. And you can’t say where that somewhere is.” Novels chronicle events and their impact on human beings. Lila is no exception. Her psyche and behavior change, not in conventional ways that could be predicted in a static pattern, but rather tending toward a dynamic evolving pattern, brought about both by external factors and her unconscious self. Whether this evolution will result in what Persig calls morals, a kind of creative breakthrough into productive good, or of madness and breakdown is left undetermined. Quality, including that of Lila, is not “anything definable.” Persig has searched for it, but in the end, I think it inevitably eludes him. The title of the book is an “inquiry”, a questioning - no final answers.
It took me a long time to read this book, and I'm not sure how much these disparate readings affected my overall impression of the book. Pirsig doesn't have a narrative structure, he wanders. And these wanderings tend to circle back around and all tie in to a greater point or idea he's trying to get to the root of. Leaving the book for days or weeks at a time makes it hard to follow that strand and keep a sense of how the ideas you're reading about tie into the overall purpose of the book.
Zen is one of my all time favorite books and had a profound impact on my person. So I'm not 100% certain what it was about this book that didn't work for me. It could be that i'm an older more discerning reader these days, and that maybe if I read Zen again today (though I have re-read it a handful of times in the past) it wouldn't resonate as true with me either. I am certainly more knowledgeable about certain matters of science that I wasn't on my first readings of Zen. This was something that I noticed a few times earlier on in Lila. I found myself disagreeing with some things Pirsig was saying and I questioned whether it was because he was wrong, or if it was something I just wasn't able to grasp yet. This is what struck me as different about this book. When reading Zen I found myself instantaneously agreeing with and seeing the truth of much of what Pirsig said, and the things which I didn't understand in the book I assumed I would in time, after more thought and reading (which I have), because I thoroughly believed in the rest of the ideas i was reading. In the case of Lila, I thought I understood more, and found that I had more disagreements with Pirsig.
This was a first reading though, and having read Zen multiples times, I always get more out of it with each subsequent read. It may be a bit early to fully judge Lila. I've also wondered if Zen was simply more appealing to me because I love motorcycles and was able to instantly connect with that aspect of the book, whereas Lila herself and their story didn't really engage me in any way. Pirsig's thoughts and ideas fascinate, but maybe the story he wrapped them in this time just had no appeal for me. I was also really disappointed with the ending.
My problems with the actual ideas presented were twofold. Certain ideas just rang false based on my understanding of the universe (I'm being vague, i know, but there's too much to respond to specifically). Certain others I question the manner in which he comes to his conclusions. Many of his ideas come to him in flashes. He sees the truth of it, and then puts together all the pieces of the puzzle to explain it. I wonder whether his reasoning is just a post hoc rationalization without any real merit. That he is just finding things to fit his conclusions, which is what makes the simple brilliance of his ideas so right sounding to him (and to the reader).
I will say that my thoughts did seem to change as the book went on. I found his ideas about insanity really insightful. And at some point all his talk of dynamic vs. static quality, inorganic vs. organic patterns, and biological, social, and intellectual patterns all started to make sense. There seemed to be some sort of logical leap at the end though that jumped from the intellectual pattern being subservient to the mystic pattern which I think he equated with full dynamic quality.
In the end, I think this is a worthwhile read, though it lacked the cohesion of Zen. It purported to be "an inquiry into morals" and in my mind failed in a true exploration of that purpose. But it further explores ideas in Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality and even if many of the ideas he talks about don't all tie together neatly, they are all mostly fascinating in their own right. For every idea I read which I disagreed with there were many more that I not only agreed with, but almost felt this great sigh of relief escape me because here finally someone was able to express in words thoughts I have not been able to do so for myself. Because no matter how rational and logical my reasoning is, how much it is based on a deep scientific understanding of the universe, there is a point where certain ideas i have about morals and ethics and "good" come down to certain assumptions that I have no method or framework to explain. At the base of all his writings Pirsig is trying to explain this same something and so I very much value his works. Not only because I think he is mostly correct in his assertions, but because I believe he is mostly responsible and thoughtful in his methods. I appreciate that his process of explanation incorporates his understanding of physics and biology, evolution and anthropology, eastern mysticism and personal experience, and that he weaves all these different ways of understanding the universe into one grand idea.
Tja was soll ich Euch erzählen? Hüte Dich vor Fortsetzungen, denn sie könnten einfach nur das schale, aufgewärmte Gericht vom letzten Mal sein. Genau das trifft auf dieses Buch zu, es hat sehr wenig mit Moral zu tun und nervt aus mehreren Gründen massiv.
1. Redundanz: Der Autor Pirisg bzw. sein Alter Ego-Phaidros versteigt sich, anstatt ein neues Gedankengebäude für Moral zu entwickeln, noch immer in ewig denselben Qualitätsdefinitionen wie in Zen oder die Kunst ein Motorrad zu warten - er führt sie nur ein bisschen weiter aus, das hätte er aber auch noch in 2 zusätzlichen Kapiteln in Zen machen können.
2. Ungenauigkeit: Er definiert mitunter sehr salopp und ungenau überheblich aus der Sicht eines überlegenen Amerikaners vor allem wenn er auf den "europäischen Lebensstil" runterhauen kann. Er meint viktorianisch, puritanisch, neurreich wenn er europäisch sagt.
"Jedesmal, wenn er herkam, spürte er wie die Menschen förmlicher und unpersönlicher wurden und gerissener. Ausbeuterischer. Europäischer. Und kleinlicher, weniger großzügig."
Pirsig hat einen Knall - den typischen Turbokapitalismus der Republikaner haben die Amis ganz autonom aus den österreichischen Theorien von Hayek entwickelt, das hat nix mit europäischen Werten seit 1945 zu tun. Ist schon komisch, da definiert er sich zuerst über Qualität und Werte einen Wolf, und dann ist er bei dem Wort europäisch dermaßen schlampig, vor allem weil er eine Ohrfeige mitten ins Gesicht eines jeden modernen Europäers klatscht.
3. Präpotenz: Redet der Autor in der Figur des Phaidros über Moral und Gesellschaft, wird er präpotent teilweise sogar größenwahnsinnig. In Zen konnte man das noch nachvollziehen, da er ja verrückt wurde und durch eine Katharsis ging, nach der er sich selbst an den Haaren aus seinem eigenen Sumpf zog. In diesem Roman ist Phaidros jedoch geheilt und der unagenehme onkelhafte Erklärbär vom Typ mainsplainender Oberlehrer, der sogar meint, ein geisteskrankes junges Mädchen heilen zu können, das er natürlich vorher gebumst und ausgenutzt hat. Wäre spannend, ein Buch aus ihrer Perspektive zu lesen.
4. Timing: Die falschen Thesen zur falschen Zeit. In einer Zeit, in der jegliche Aufklärung und Wissenschaft quasi jeder Beruf wie Arzt, Journalist, jeder Naturwissenschaftler grad von pöbelnden Gehirnakrobaten, die in der Schule nicht mal 1 und 1 zusammenzählen konnten, schlichtweg als Systemtrottlen, Lügner und Betrüger in den Sozialen Medien derart grossflächig vernadert werden, dass die Bevölkerung diese Berufe bereits verachtet, giesst ein Buch, das sich philosophisch kritisch mit Technokratie, Positivismus und Empirismus in der Wissenschaft der 80er und 90er Jahre auseinandersetzt, natürlich komplett sinnloserweise Öl ins Feuer. Erstens weil sich die Wissenschaft schon längst gewandelt hat. Ja das haben wir nämlich nun davon, dass Wisssenschaftler der 3. Generation in einem holistischen, ganzheitlichen Ansatz nicht in ihrem Fachgebiet geblieben sind, sondern sich mit ihrem Fachwissen auch in fremde Gebiete begeben haben. Phaidros schwurbelt was von Menschenverstand gegen empirische Wissenschaft in seiner Postivismuskritik - in einer Zeit in der die Aufklärung vielerorts wieder negiert wird von Eso-Freaks, Flacherdlern, Impfkritikern, Chemtrailern..."
In einer Zeit in der sich jeder Depp seine Individualempirie zusammenschustert (ich kenne da aber jemanden...), glauben auch Krethi und Plethi ohne Schulabschluss, mit Diplom von der youtubeUniversität und ohne Verständnis von wissenschaftlichen Theorien, sich irgendwas von einer flachen Erde oder einem Zusammenhang zwischen Impfen und Autismus ...... zusammenzuschwurbeln zu koennen. Plötzlich sind alle empirischen Aussagen, die bereits mit 90-99,9%iger Wahrscheinlichkeit bewiesen wurden, alles graue Theorie und gleichbedeutend mit jeder anderen Schwachsinnstheorie, die sie sich in ihrer Paranioa gegenüber Fachleuten aus ihren Fingern gesogen haben. Und das nur, weil die Wissenschaft nie 100%ige Annahmen trifft - nicht mal bei der Schwerkraft ;-).
Wenn ich das Wort Haus- oder Menschenverstand oder Bauchdenken, mehr fühlen denn Denken, mehr Spiritualität gegenüber Wissenschaft heutzutage schon höre, die der Autor auch mitunter propagiert (selbstverständlich fundierter auf der Basis von wissenschaftlich philosophischen Methoden) geht mir sprichwörtlich das Geimpfte auf (sagt man so auf österreichisch man könnte aber auch sagen,... geht mir ein Impfschaden auf).
Somit ist das Buch, auch wenn der Autor es zwar gut argumentiert hat, aber in ein paar Punkten sowas von falsch liegt, Wasser auf die Mühlen der aufklärungskritischen Deppen von heute.
Ein paar Aussagen zur dynamischen vs. statischen Qualität und zur Wissenschaft und auch zu den Nazis habe ich dennoch sehr gut gefunden.
Fazit: Ich mag zwar die wissenschaftliche Art des Autors, die Welt zu sehen, zu analysieren, zu katalogisieren und zu strukturieren. Leider kommt dabei Pirsig vom Hundertsten ins Tausendste, diese gedankliche Reise war nur mäßiig spannend und führte bedauerlicherweise ins NIRWANA der Mittelmäßigkeit.
1) The story is compelling. Post post midlife crisis man meets younger voluptuous woman. They travel down the river together. The convention is quite cheap. But he never saves her or she him and neither victimizes the other either. That's good. It's not really sensual (except for one scene). And the (self) portrait of the narrator is absolutely unsparing as is his portrait of the girl. She's not a waif or a femme fatale, but a complicated damaged person and him too. 2) The philosophy is narratively compelling. I really don't know how Pirsig manages this. It's his thing, isn't it? Somehow even if substance vs. quality metaphysics sounds like a big hobby horse to you, you will want to find what the protagonist is searching for. Clearly it means something to him and I, as a reader, found that absolutely compelling. There's a particular scene about three quarters of the way through the book in which the narrator meets Robert Redford briefly in a hotel room to discuss selling the rights to his previous book (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintanence) where the drama of the story and the drama of the narrator's evolving ideas are particularly well integrated. The scene is so lonely and absurd. The juxtaposition of Robert Redford (and all that meeting him ought to imply) and the anonymous hotel room in NYC in the winter and the narrator's own crushingly lonely and solitary quest creates this huge tension, demand for an explanation. What could this possibly mean? In the end, even the superficial purpose of the meeting is rendered meaningless as the narrator gives Redford permission to go ahead while privately noting that he can always reverse his decision later. Oddly the more strange the scene feels the more I felt that something important must be going on and would give Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality a chance to explain it all. And 3) His ideas are genuinely interesting. People who are into philosophy or lit crit will probably dismiss what he has to say as unsophisticated or uninformed--basically, "amateurish"--but for those who naively wonder about whether the world might not be constituted of subjects and object, or are merely willing to take Pirsig on his own terms for what insights he might have to offer: his philosphizing is amazingly clear and powerful.
Robert Pirsig's previous book ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE is a profoundly influential book in my own life. I have probably given copies of it as gifts to more people than any other book except my own. It is a powerful examination of the meaning of life in a pseudo-novelistic framework that makes the philosophical explorations both more palatable and more understandable. Pirsig's sequel, LILA, is an attempt to follow up and expand on the discoveries of the first book. While it is not an unsuccessful book, it is in large far less compelling, far less easily understood, and far less magical than ZEN.... The philosophy Pirsig explores is deeply complex and intricate, something that the first book managed to overcome. In LILA, there is some very rough slogging. The novelistic approach, in which the philosophy is presented as it bears on a presumably fictional story of a mentally ill young woman who falls into the company of the author's alter ego, Phaedrus, on a boat journey down the Hudson River. But only in the latter stages of this book does that story become fascinating, and in the meantime a great deal of effort must be made by minds no more advanced than mine to parse and come to grips with the ruminations on Pirsig's ideas about the Metaphysics of Quality. Pirsig wants to create a new understanding of morality, of good, and his arguments are often convincing, if confusing. Occasionally, some of his insights are riveting, as when he explains the real meaning and ramifications of Victorian morality. But for all its intelligence and eloquence, I fear this will be something of a disappointment to all but the most intellectual fans of ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE, which, still, 30 years after I first read it, is one of the most meaningful books in my life.
In societies that criminalize rather than attempt to understand mental illness, artists and philosophers may be the first to have the guts to discuss the topic 'publicly' or sympathetically. Such societies may first approach understanding mental illness through art rather than through education, medicine or philanthropy, let alone helpful 'treatment'.
For women w/mental illness, societal support toward a true understanding of mental health may be even slower coming than for men, if a male perspective is the society's metric for truth/sanity women's experience will always be a bit aberrant/suspect.
Pirsig differentiates Lila's madness from Phædrus' in his first book and proposes a new way forward.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values the narrator/protagonist, like the author himself, is diagnosed/characterized as schizophrenic and institutionalized. He receives electric shock treatments but the 'treatment' is no "cure" just a means to an end, a way of going back into hiding in plain sight.
Like Pirsig, Phædrus eventually is able to leave institutionalized mental care not because he is cured but because he elects to behave as he expects the staff want a healing patient to behave, by speaking as the staff hope he will etc.
From Lila: "He saw that the sane always know they are good because their culture tells them so. Anyone who tells them otherwise is sick, paranoid, and needs further treatment. To avoid that accusation Phædrus had had to be very careful of what he said when he was in the hospital. He told the sane what they wanted to hear and kept his real thoughts to himself."
In Lila, as he considers options for ways forward for this female character heading toward insanity, the Phædrus character recalls his own previous non-cure:
"In time this strategy had brought Phædrus enough smiles to get out. It made him less honest and it made him more of a conformist to the current cultural status quo but that is what everyone really wanted. It got him out and back to his family and a job and a place in the world again and this new personality of a conforming, role-playing, ex-mental patient who knew how to do as he was told without protest became a sort of permanent stage personality that he never dropped."
"It wasn't a happy solution, to always role-play with people he had once been honest with. It made it impossible to ever really share anything with them. Now he was more isolated than he had been in the insane asylum but there was nothing he could do about it. "
"Her second alternative, he thought, would be to cave in to whatever it was she was fighting, and learn to "adjust." She'd probably go into some kind of cultural dependency, with recurring trips to a psychiatrist or some kind of "social counselor" for "therapy," accept the cultural "reality" that her rebellion was no good, and live with it. In this way she'd continue to lead a "normal" life, continuing her problem, whatever it was, within conventional cultural limits."
"The trouble was, he didn't really like that solution much better than the first."
"And Lila's battle is everybody's battle, you know? Sometimes the insane and the contrarians and the ones who are the closest to suicide are the most valuable people society has. They may be precursors of social change. They've taken the burdens of the culture onto themselves, and in their struggle to solve their own problems they're solving problems for the culture as well."
Pirsig posits that a new way of conceptualizing mental health is necessary: "The way to really deal with insanity, he thought, is to turn the tables and talk about truth instead. Insanity's a medical subject that everyone agrees is bad. Truth's a metaphysical subject that everyone disagrees about. There are lots of different definitions of truth and some of them could throw a whole lot more light on what was happening to Lila than a subject—object metaphysics does."
He goes on to argue that "The Metaphysics of Quality suggests that in addition to the customary solutions to insanity—conform to cultural patterns or stay locked up—there is another one. This solution is to dissolve all static patterns, both sane and insane, and find the base of reality, Dynamic Quality, that is independent of all of them".
This notion of Dynamic Quality -Pirsig's consideration and definition of the concept is where Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals purports to take the reader . . . now 25? years later in an era when discussions of mental health are more likely to be about insurance coverage, access, and Rx's rather than talk therapy, when only the rich or the convicted criminal are likely to find themselves in an institution unless they're there for addiction how does Lila read? Does Pirsig's way forward still look like a door people are likely to open?
This was a fantastic read. There were two "mind-blowing" branches in this book. The first centers around evolution and morality among the three basic forces: biology, society, and intellectualism. The second talks about morality and ties into quality in terms of metaphysics and having "quality" be a scientific metric to judge things. This was a great book - more accessible than its predecessor (to me) and caused me to think quite a bit.
I bought this book in Amsterdam, accidentally, for €0.5. It was lying on an old-book shelf that stood right in the street. I was walking past the book shelf after a meditation session and saw the word “lila” on the cover. I was in the right mood, so purchased this book as a part of inspiration. I haven’t read Pirsig’s first book, but had heard good opinions of it before.
It was quite interesting to read Lila for most part of the book. It is more a philosophical reflection rather than a novel per se. The protagonist discusses his philosophy—the Metaphysics of Quality. I found these reflections to be stimulating at times, while quite outdated at other times.
The protagonist’s views are highly evolutionary, and here they coincide with, for instance, Integral philosophy of Ken Wilber. Pirsig writes about biological, social, and intellectual stages-levels of evolution, where each subsequent stage tried to differentiate from the previous one and in a way negate it. To compare, biological view roughly correlates with the Red-altitude worldview (and below) of Wilber’s developmental model, which is egocentric and archaic, social corresponds to the Amber-altitude worldview (Blue in terms of Spiral Dynamics’ vMEMEs), which is ethnocentered and is all about conventional norms, while the intellectual level in the book involves both Orange (rationalistic and scientifically-minded) and Green (pluralistic; that’s the parts of the book where the protagonist criticizes some of the limitations of cultural relativists).
Pirsig also puts a strong emphasis on states of consciousness (without naming them as such), specifically the ones related to what in meditative traditions is known as nonduality. His idea of the Dynamic Quality—which is contrasted to static patterns—apparently, draws a lot from Whitehead (whose philosophy maintained that each moment is a creative thrust into novelty). Dynamic Quality seems to be analogous to Wilber’s Eros, which in itself to a significant degree draws upon the Platonic tradition.
In overall, the book provides food for an integratively-thinking mind; however, after Ken Wilber’s philosophy it seems a bit outdated (while being more advanced than all positivistic and reductionistic ideas, still rampant in our cultures, so instrumental to various destructive sociocultural processes). Pirsig would have benefited enormously, had he encountered the notion of quadrants (or primordial perspectives of reality in Wilber’s Integral AQAL framework); but the book had been written and published before Wilber made this famous discovery. Pirsig still would have had the chance, had he studied carefully the Platonic lineages, especially Russian religious philosophy, which clearly differentiated (and integrated) the Big Three of the Good, the Beautiful, and the True. The author’s (and protagonist’s) thinking would be much clearer if a clear grasp of the difference between an individual holarchy and a social holarchy were present.
Still, lots of interesting thoughts from the author of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values” (that was his previous book—the first one he wrote, while this one was his second). I don’t think that the reflections on “values” per se were useful, at least to me, but all the picturesque verbal philosophical reflections around Dynamic Quality were energizing to read. Some good intuitions and descriptions of mystical states are included as well.
Lila : An Inquiry into Morals I'm not smart enough to review this book. Robert Pirsig is a certified genius; his I.Q. at age 9 was 170. I read his first book, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," back in the 1970s when it was released, and found that, much to my surprise, I enjoyed the philosophy presented in it as much as I enjoyed the story. I'd like to read it again. His second book, "Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals," is a much more difficult read.I didn't know about this book until around 2004. I was in the library in Auburn, GA and saw that they had a used book sale going on. Someone handed me this book and told me who the writer was. For a dollar, I snapped it up. Since then, I've read it about three or four times, and each time, I learn a little more about what he's trying to say. I'll probably read it again. It does bog down a little when the character has an extended philosophical monologue with himself, and I tend to zone out when it comes to philosophy, but when I pay attention I find a quotable paragraph on almost every page, a revelation that astonishes me.He is a fine writer. His characters come to life in a realistic way that's hard to equal. And while this book may not follow every rule of fiction writing, the story is interesting, and the philosophy riveting. I'm giving it 5 out of 5 stars because no matter how many times I read it, it always makes me think.
There are some really interesting ideas in this book. Here are my favorites (in my own words-mostly):
-Darwin's Theory of Evolution fails to account for improvement; the author posits that it's not about survival, it's about striving towards Quality
-There are 2 kinds of Quality: Static and Dynamic. Dynamic Quality allows for change that creates improvement. Static Quality prevents backsliding. Too much Static Quality leads to stagnation. Too much Dynamic Quality leads to chaos.
-Cells are only interested in survival. "In their scale of time, mind is just some ephemera that arrived a few moments ago, and will probably pass away in a few moments more."
-"It's as foolish to think of a city or a society as created by human bodies as it is to think of human bodies as a creation of the cells..." Societies are not "inventions of 'man' but ...higher organisms."
-Being crazy is like being a culture of one. What makes you crazy is simply that no on agrees with you.
There are a ton more really interesting ideas in this book that are all pulled together by the idea of "Metaphysics of Quality." It's very thought provoking and showed me perspectives I hadn't considered before.
Not as shattering either in its novelty or emotional impact as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but executing on that formula again as well as it does here, I'm powerless to give anything less than a 5-star rating - I'm just too taken in by Pirsig's shtick. There's nothing quite like being a passenger on the meandering, surprising currents of Phaedrus' thought, no matter how outrageously speculative or unearned his conclusions might feel at times, and savoring the way their path mirrors path of his actual, physical journey (this time, a little more comfortably, on a boat rather than a motorcycle (guess that last book worked out pretty great for him, huh))
It's tempting to catalog the ways in which Lila feels less satisfying than its predecessor, or, frankly, is problematic in ways Zen wasn't necessarily. But then I remind myself that, 40+ years after that book, there's still nothing out there I know of attempting this mix of earnest, accessible philosophizing and urgent, down-to-earth social critique - of making plot *out of* a philosophical idea rather than just inserting it into a plot as subtext for the discerning reader - I can only lament that there aren't more books out there trying to build and improve on his legacy.
This is what Robert Pirsig concludes in his first book, Zen And the Art of Motorcycle maintenance.
Quality can’t be defined because definitions are products of “rigid, formal thinking” and Quality is recognized by a “non thinking process”.
In other words, Quality is a direct experience independent of and prior to intellectual abstractions.
In other, other words, Quality can’t be defined because it precedes definition.
Pirsig got fired from his job, lost his wife, and went clinically insane trying to prove that you can’t define Quality.
So, of course, in his follow-up book, Lila, written 17 years later, he spends 500 pages trying to achieve one thing:
Like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, this book has a lot of deep philosophical discussion interlaced with stories of a journey of some sort that Pirsig is on. In this story, Pirsig is on a trip to sail down the Hudson River into the Atlantic and then down to Florida.
This story begins just outside of Manhattan where solitary Pirsig, sailing down the Hudson River on a trip to Florida, finds himself as the ferryman for Lila, a young and confused woman to whom he is simultaneously attracted and repelled. He is attracted because Lila undoubtedly has “biological Quality.” She’s hot. He is repelled because she is confused, she doesn’t know who she is, and intellectually, “she’s nowhere.”
Lila herself as we find out later in the book about her past lives, has drifted from man to man, killed her own baby and destroyed the life of at least one former lover. Near the end of this book, she goes absolutely insane, and it’s up to the narrator, no stranger to insanity, to save her, and to determine whether they stay together or he gives her up or something else altogether….
...But I don’t want to give too much away! In Pirsig fashion, let me zoom out from the gripping storyline and get into the metaphysical.
Pirsig starts the book telling us about the book he was trying to write.
He begins by looking at the study of Anthropology and proceeds to discount it completely because of the objective-subjective struggle. Science can only be objective, which he says anthropology tries to do, but anthropology will only work if it is subjective.
He tells the story of a former colleague, Dusenberry, who did many studies on Indians (Native Americans) but had no credit with anthropologists because he got in with the Native American culture and really became a part of it. According to academic view of anthropology, this doesn’t work, but, according to Pirsig and Dusenberry, this is really how anthropology should be.
Pirsig also dives into Native American culture and explains that it is more a part of current American culture than we think. He asserts that American values are a clash between Indian and European values. For example, many Europeans think of white Americans as a sloppy, untidy people, but they’re not nearly as untidy as the Indians on the reservations. Europeans often think of white Americans as being too direct and plain-spoken, bad-mannered and sort of insolent the way they do things, but Indians are even more that way.
Indians value Freedom and Equality. Europeans value Order and Status.
As he got further in defining the book, he came across the limitations of the field, anthropology, in bringing such a book to bear. He noted that he could write a totally honest, true and valuable book on the subject, but if he dared call it anthropology it would be either ignored or attacked by the professionals and discarded. He remembered Dusenberry’s hostility and bitterness toward what he called “objective anthropology,” but he always thought Dusenberry was just being iconoclastic.
Not so. Pirsig noted that such a book would run against an unconquerable and invisible wall of prejudice. “Nobody on the inside of that wall is ever going to listen to you; not because what you say isn’t true, but solely because you have been identified as outside that wall. Later, as his Metaphysics of Quality matured, he developed a name for the wall to give it a more structured, integrated meaning. He called it a ‘cultural immune system.” But all he saw now was that he wasn’t going to get anywhere with his talk about Indians until that wall had been breached. There was no way he was going to make any contribution to anthropology with his non-credentials and crazy ideas. The best he could do was mount a careful attack upon that wall.”
It’s not that the subject was unimportant -- but it wouldn’t be received well because the structure of scientific principles that it tries to rest on is inadequate to support it. What was clear was that if he was going to do anything with anthropology the place to do it was not in anthropology itself but in the general body of assumptions upon which it rests.
This brought him back to Metaphysics. Metaphysics, he noted, “would be the expanded format in which whites and white anthropology could be contrasted to Indians and “Indian anthropology” without corrupting everything into a white anthropological walled-in jargonized way of looking at things.”
Western culture divides of the world into “subjects and objects” or “mind and matter”. This is known as the metaphysics of substance, or MOS.
The problem with the MOS is that values (what I think is important, better, deeper, more spiritual, etc.) can only exist in the “subject” or “subjective” side of the equation. A subject can have all the values he wants! But what difference will it make? Where are values? They are nowhere in the world. Objects are value-free, the world is indifferent to values, science claims to be objective, that is, indifferent to values. This attitude is everywhere. It has permeated science and all disciplines that aspire to emulate science.
Pirsig expands: “This is called the ‘fact-value’ dichotomy, and it has been basically unchallenged in Western philosophy for several hundred years. The question quality – values – morals – basically has been banished. They are not part of the object, so they just become part of the subject, and thus subjective.”
To be clear, the subject-object division has led to miracles in modern life. It has led to science, technology, law, some incredible inventions. Pirsig isn’t trying to overthrow it; he’s trying to supplement it. He’s saying The MOS is not enough on its own – it doesn’t take into account morals, art, quality, etc.
This is familiar terrain. He spent the first book outlining the problem. He spends the second book proposing his solution: The Metaphysics of Quality, or MOQ.
The MOQ states that society operates with two patterns. There is a society that he calls “static” – it regulates our lives and allows us to function in predictable ways. Without it, we’d have chaos.
But there is another type of pattern that he calls “dynamic” and it occurs when exceptional, often charismatic, humans appear. “Artists, visionary political leaders, sometimes truly revolutionary religious figures such as Christ, Mohammed, and Buddha, see reality in a different way, so different that it shatters normally static society patterns and shifts society into new directions. The point here is that these people, if they functioned in normal ‘static’ ways would never have made these breakthroughs. Where do they come from? Not from the intellect, limited by rigid subject-object perceptions, but from the mysterious realms of “quality” – if it were not mysterious and unexplainable, it would not be quality.”
The difficulty, though, is that what is termed “insanity” is also part of a “dynamic” pattern. Insane people, however, are unable to function in a static society, a condition that Pirsig has experienced in his past life (mentioned in both books) as what is commonly called a nervous breakdown. In LILA, the woman he picks up teeters on the edge of a breakdown, and part of the dilemma of this book, and something that gives it narrative interest and momentum, is whether her dynamic “quality” is going to prove to be a dead end or a break through.
Dynamic Quality is the cutting edge of life that leads to greatness, and it cannot be described or encapsulated. Almost by definition, it eludes capture; it’s the spur of the moment, the breakthrough, the abrupt discovery the quantum leap, the Black Swan, he sudden realization or accomplishment. There are a lot of words to describe it.
But here is an important accompanying insight: life cannot exist on pure Dynamic Quality alone.
This is the way he puts it:
Without Dynamic Quality the organism cannot grow. Without static quality the organism cannot last. Both are needed.
By this point Pirsig’s reflections have brought him to a four-fold division of Quality, namely, inorganic, biological, social, and intellectual. These four levels refer to the following domains:
Inorganic: laws of nature, expressing the conquest of inorganic patterns over chaos
Biological: Biology over the inorganic, “law of the jungle,” power, lust, sex, etc.
Social: Social patterns over biology; law; manners; civilizing customs, restraints, etiquette, etc
Intellectual: Response to Quality as desire for truth, creative expression and inspiration
Pirsig discusses how all of these levels of Quality are actually in conflict with each other.
This is because once a new level of organization is created on top of an old one, that new level, while dependent on the level beneath it, will have its own goals and aims that are not necessarily in line with its foundation.
For example, a virus will have conflicting motives with a biological organism; an organism can be in conflict with the greater good of society; and perhaps most commonly, an individual's ideas can be in conflict with society pressures.
Pirsig looks at these conflicts through a moral lens. Anytime the lower levels of Quality impinge on the higher levels of Quality, that is an immoral act. It’s immoral when someone abuses alcohol to the point that they injure others in society, and it was immoral for society to persecute Copernicus.
This system also explains why laws that prevent individuals from indulging in their unfettered biological desires are moral. If you look at those impulses from a biological lens, they are completely moral because they feel good. However, from the perspective of society they are dangerous and degenerate. . . and according to Pirsig it is moral for a higher evolutionary system to judge that those impulses must be kept in check. Of course, a still-higher evolutionary system (that of the intellect) can then later develop and notice that, "Hey, society is unjustly suppressing certain biological values (for example, masturbation and premarital sex), and we should really reconsider what we’re trying to achieve here ." That's when you will get a battle between the intellectual and societal notion of value. That is the stage that we have been struggling with for most of the 20th and 21st centuries
Indeed. Pirsig argues that the main feature of life in the 20th century is the attempt by intellect to dominate society. Insofar as this intellectual dominance is a response to Quality, he favors it. But his valuation is nuanced because of his deepening sense for the importance of static quality.
“This has been a century of fantastic intellectual growth and fantastic social destruction,” he remarks. The causes of this fantastic social destruction are not hard to find. 1960s Hippies have upheld the values of biology at the expense of the social. The intellectual pattern of amoral objectivity “… is to blame for the social deterioration of America, because it has undermined the static social values necessary to prevent deterioration.
“In its condemnation of social repression as the enemy of liberty, it has never come forth with a single moral principle that distinguishes a Galileo fighting social repression from a common criminal fighting social repression. It has, as a result, been the champion of both. That’s the root of the problem.”
Pirsig believes that the Victorian era was the last period in which intellectual values had been subordinated to social values. A Minnesota native of German descent, Pirsig grew up in the era of declining Victorian social values, that is, the period in which the white Protestant ascendancy was becoming less and less popular. The First World War signified the collapse of Victorian social values. The election of Woodrow Wilson to the presidency of the United States marked the shift from social domination of intellect to the intellectual domination of society.
“Before Wilson’s time… intelligence and knowledge were considered a high manifestation of social achievement, but intellectuals were not expected to run society itself… They were expected to decorate the social parade, not lead it.”
The domination of intellect over society came to a further stage with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The New Deal was billed as a program for working people, farmers, and laborers, but it was really a new deal for the intellectuals.
“Suddenly, before the old Victorians’ eyes, a whole new social caste, a caste of intellectual Brahmins, was being created above their own military and economic castes.”
Pirsig, still on the track of the Metaphysics of Quality, began to see how the tools of the intellectuals – cultural relativism, objectivity, value-free science, etc., became “a ferocious instrument for the dominance of intellect over society.” Thus to quote Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
“From the perspective of a subject-object science, the world is a completely purposeless, valueless place. There is no point in anything. Nothing is right and nothing is wrong. Everything just functions, like machinery. There is nothing wrong with being lazy, nothing morally wrong with lying, with theft, with suicide, with murder, with genocide. There is nothing morally wrong because there are no morals, just functions.
“Now that the intellect was in command of society for the first time in history, was this the intellectual pattern it was going to run society with?” Pirsig asks, referring to the traditional subject object metaphysics.
To be clear, Robert Pirsig didn’t expect he MOQ to be a quick fix for every moral problem in the universe.
“The image in my mind as I wrote it was of a large football field that gave meaning to the game by telling you who was on the 20-yard line but did not decide which team would win...Just as two sides can go before the U.S. Supreme Court and both claim constitutionality, so two sides can use the Metaphysics of Quality, but that does not mean that either the Constitution or the Metaphysics of Quality is a meaningless set of ideas. Our whole judicial system rests on the presumption that more than one set of conclusions about individual cases can be drawn within a given set of moral rules. The Metaphysics of Quality makes the same presumption.”
This brings us back to the original question, the question he wrestles with throughout the book...does Lila, the woman he slept with but who is “nowehre” intellectually -- does she have Quality?
Pirsig uses Lila’s life, and mental breakdown, to illustrate his “Metaphysics of Quality.” In Pirsig’s view, both static Quality (culture) and dynamic (freedom from culture) work together to create a new, healthy self. Lila’s problem is that in embracing freedom she let go of a culture that would anchor her. She was all about freedom but with this came the obvious chaos in her life. For Pirsig, Lila’s dilemma reflects a larger social-construction-of-reality problem: whereas in the East, freedom is integrated with ritual, in the West, we fluctuate between (too much) ritual and (too much) freedom. Between too much static and too much dynamic.
The reintegration of the static and the dynamic is the Metaphysics of Quality. It’s about values, meaning, purpose and mental health. This stands in contrast to an other-worldly Platonic metaphysics as well as to the unstated underlying Western Metaphysics that eschews morals in favor of facts and dispassionate observation.
I’ll close with a quote from the New York Times Review of his book:
“Finally, the issues in this volume do come down to Lila and whether she has Quality or not. Mr. Pirsig may not be optimistic about the present scene in America. "Today, it seemed to Phaedrus, the overall picture is one of moral movements gone bankrupt. Just as the intellectual revolution" of the New Deal era "undermined social patterns, the Hippies undermined both social and intellectual patterns. Nothing better has been introduced to replace them. The result has been a drop in both social and intellectual quality."
But, in the end, Robert Pirsig does come to understand Lila Blewitt: both the conflicting patterns that compose her and the meaning of what turns out to be her frightening insanity. He finally recognizes that by blindly insisting on her quality, he has bestowed on her a priceless gift and at the same time won for himself a new freedom.”
The novel espouses an ambitious goal — to map out a Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ). While the reasons Pirsig gives for developing a MOQ leave readers wondering at the novel’s purpose— there is a more compelling story at the heart of the book: a reemergence of self-imposed isolation that can only be addressed by revisiting Quality.
Lila progresses as follows: Robert Pirsig is divided between an intellect which isolates him from others and his desire for authentic connection. He sets off on a journey with a companion he initially cannot relate to. After a series of mental calisthenics sufficiently exhaust his intellect, he suddenly finds himself relating to someone he had previously dismissed and feared. Authentic relation plucks him out of isolation and returns him to the wholeness of Quality.
If this sounds familiar, it is because Lila is guided by the same purpose as ZMM: pursuing Quality (for a recap of ZMM and Quality — start here: https://medium.com/@ecallahan/zmms-qu...). The primary difference between the novels is that in Lila, we would expect to find a more aware narrator. Yet, as described below, we find Pirsig to be just as if not even more unsure of himself.
In the first chapter, Pirsig introduces both Lila the person and lila the idea: “There is Lila, this single private person who slept beside him now, who was born and now lived and tossed in her dreams and will soon enough die and then there is someone else — call her lila — who is immortal, who inhabits Lila for a while and then moves on. The sleeping Lila he had just met tonight. But the waking Lila, who never sleeps, had been watching him and he had been watching her for a long time.”
Lila is a sentinel, just as Chris had been in ZMM. He is at once drawn to and threatened by this foreign surveillance. Moreover, Lila is more than the woman next to him — she is the idea of a woman he met many years before but hadn’t had the courage to confidently engage. He first meets Lila at a bar and, sufficiently intoxicated, decides to hit on her. She takes the bait and invites him to the dance floor. Eventually, they end up back at his boat. Reflecting on this later, he finds the whole night to be puzzling: “It’s so strange, he thought. All the tricks and games and lines and promises to get them into bed with you and you work so hard at it and nothing happens. And then someone like this comes along and you don’t try much of anything at all and then she’s the one you wake up next to.” Despite the connection he had with Lila as they danced in each other’s arms, he doesn’t say anything about Quality. He seems suspicious of the whole experience.
Over the ensuing chapters, we notice that the sharp clarity he gained at the end of ZMM has been compromised. When challenged by one of Lila’s acquaintances on whether Lila has Quality, Pirsig disappoints. He says she does, but cannot explain why. Pirsig broods over the exchange for several days. He doesn’t seem convinced by his response.
Seeing how Lila has nowhere to go, Pirsig allows her to accompany him on his journey to New York. He rationalizes this decision by concluding that her presence will help him collect evidence for the project he is working on.
This project of is of course an inquiry into morals which he hopes will lead him to the Metaphysics of Quality. It’s worth examining his reasoning for developing the MOQ. He addresses the need as follows: “What made this so formidable to Phaedrus was that he himself has insisted in his book [ZMM] that Quality cannot be defined. Yet here he was about to define it. Was this some kind of sell-out? His mind went over it many times.”
And then he damningly admits: “There was another part of him that kept saying, ‘Ahh, do it anyway. It’s interesting.’ This was the intellectual part that didn’t like undefined things, and telling it not to define Quality was like telling a fat man to stay out the refrigerator, or an alcoholic to stay out of the bar. To the intellect the process of defining Quality has a compulsive quality of its own.”
By his measure, the inquiry into morals is akin to an addict’s unchecked compulsion. And given what we know about Pirsig, his intellectual compulsions, and where the have landed him, this is no exaggeration. Therefore, it’s not surprising that he concludes: “Writing a metaphysics is, in the strictest mystic sense, a degenerate activity.”
If we are being generous, we could imagine that deliberating on the MOQ is a pilgrimage back to Quality. He fires up his intellect to tackle this “interesting” question so he can recommit himself to the experience.
There is more evidence of an unorganized mania in Lila reminiscent of ZMM. Pirsig indulgences in describing parallels he has found between his observations on American culture and ideas other intellectuals have offered. He spins up theories on how to measure Quality by dividing it into static and Dynamic buckets and then relating these to evolutionary patterns. But often we feel that Pirsig is droning on so he may hide behind his intellect, thereby rejecting the Native Americans’ “plains spoken” attitude he spends some chapters describing. Therefore, while many of his digressions are absorbing, those that do not pertain to Quality do not convincingly belong in the novel.
While ZMM asked “What’s best?” and arrived at Quality, the only clear question Pirsig raises in Lila is “Does Lila have Quality?” And instead of an answer, we are left with an untidy trail of justifications.
After that first night, Lila is cast as a biological pattern. When they make love for the second time, Pirsig confusingly asserts that there were no people involved:
"That was the only good thing that had happened all day, the way their bodies paid no attention to all their social and intellectual differences and had done on in as if these 'people' that 'owned' them didn’t exist at all. That had been at this business of life for too long."
Where people are present, there can be an authentic relation, but because he hasn’t found a way to relate to Lila, he senses an absence of “people” when they come together. The reason for this alienation is that he perceives that Lila condemns him. As he describes: "Lila is a judge….and in the eyes of this judge, he was nobody very important."
Shortly after noting this, he raises a conversation he had with Lila to assert her condescension: "'Sad Sack.' That was the term she used. It had no intellectual meaning, but it had plenty of meaning nevertheless. It meant that in the eyes of this biological judge all his intelligence was some kind of deformity."
So there it is: Pirsig is concerned about his compulsion to intellectualize and is transferring this insecurity onto Lila. Since he is an unreliable narrator, we cannot know whether this is justified. We can only surmise that he resents her because he feels that she denigrates his intellect. Perhaps he senses that she can see the compulsion he carries and that she judges him for it.
As the story develops, Lila escapes the confines of biological pattern and becomes someone Pirsig can relate to. This change is precipitated by her devolving mental faculties. As Lila becomes more unstable, Pirsig is better able to connect with her. Having traveled a similar distance to isolation, Pirsig feels compelled to help Lila arrive back to a shared reality. This identification with insanity rekindles his ability to care for her. Suddenly, there is the possibility for Lila to have Quality. Thus, Part Two ends with Lila’s delusions and Part Three opens as follows: "'Does Lila have Quality?' The question seems inexhaustible. The answer Pirsig had thought of before, “Biologically she does, socially she doesn’t,” still didn’t get all the way to the bottom of it. There was more than society and biology involved."
After having split ways for a day in New York, Pirsig returns to his boat to find Lila given over to a psychotic episode. She is cradling a doll on her lap and doesn’t seem to recognize him. But instead of calling the police and having her committed, he takes her in, feeds and shelters her. In doing so, he hopes to gently help her break through her catatonic state. Pirsig is at his most wise, generous, and human over the course of this event.
Sadly, he is unable to deliver her from her insanity. For unclear reasons, she resists him and takes off with the same acquaintance who had challenged Pirsig earlier in the novel. When she leaves, the empathy he had summoned to help Lila lingers. Using this emotional awareness, he takes her doll, adopts it as a symbol of his own madness, and engages it. He treats it as a divine idol of the religion of one Lila had created for herself. The conversation he has with the idol delivers the reader the same relief as the exchange at the end of ZMM. There is no intellect at work here; he is giving in to authentic relation and in doing so, becoming whole again.
Lila diligently follows the pattern of many sequels: a known character in an unknown land fights a familiar enemy. ZMM and Lila both begin with a conflicted soul and end with a man made whole again. Chris and Lila first are seen as foreign enemies, but later become vehicles that deliver Pirsig passage to emotional connection and self-acceptance.
The pursuit of a MOQ is a means not an end. It mattered insofar as it ground down Pirsig’s intellect, blunted it enough so he could stop feeling the discomfort of unknowing and return to relation again. Both Pirsig’s inquiry into values and his inquiry into morals converge on the same points: authentic relation and peace of mind, those sacred preconditions for Quality to make itself known.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
“A nova cultura que emergiu é a primeira na história a acreditar que os padrões da sociedade devem se subordinar aos padrões do intelecto. A pergunta que prevaleceu nesse século foi — Os padrões sociais do nosso mundo vão reger nossa vida intelectual, ou nossa vida intelectual vai reger os padrões sociais? — E nessa batalha saíram vencedores os padrões intelectuais.”
“Não é ver para crer. E crer para ver.”
Não é uma história com tintas dramáticas, não é propriamente uma história, e sim um pedaço da vida do escritor que imprime longas (agradáveis) pausas e explica o seu pensamento ( E ele tem vastos pensamentos, muita leitura, e divaga ) . Aparentemente ele é a versão moderna de um Dom Quixote empanturrado com livros de cavalaria e que resolver sair lutando contra os moinhos de vento. Um Quixote moderno, quer vencer os gigantes e os moinhos alegóricos , pelo argumento e pela lógica. Passeia até antes de Sócrates e sai pela Índia, pelo Oriente, e tem a força de um Alexandre, porém sua caneta não desatou o nó górdio , e a espada jamais passaria pela sua cabeça.
“Cada pessoa de quem você se aproxima é um espelho diferente. E uma vez que você não passa de uma pessoa como elas, talvez você seja um outro espelho também e não há como verificar se a visão que tem de você mesmo é apenas mais uma distorção. Talvez tudo que você veja sejam reflexos talvez tudo que você venha a ter na vida sejam espelhos. Primeiro os espelhos dos pais, depois dos colegas e professores, depois dos patrões e funcionários, dos padres e ministros, e talvez também dos escritores e pintores. Também é função deles segurar espelhos.”
One of the worst book I’ve read. It has a few interesting ideas but the presentation and writing style were showstoppers for me. Can’t believe it was written by the same person who wrote “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”.
This is the way it is. Pirsig isn't the first to discuss this, nor is he alone in his understanding of the world/experience. Pirsig puts it down as a personal, real, actual exploration towards what is commonly and rather ambiguously referred to as 'The Truth'. He takes a very real experience of his as he is in reality, Pirsig, and sees Phaedrus 'think through many every day experiences to slowly arrive at divisions of Quality, ' finally cracking that nut which he left untouchable but no less real, in Zen.
Phaedrus spares us the breakdown or absolute abandonment of Static patterns as of earlier writing, but holds it peacefully together while handling an ever increasing responsibility. Out of this and his current work at hand, he describes patterns which to the observer are matters of fact, while the 'subjectivity' of the viewer may have been reconsidered by inherent social patterns. So, it is anti establishment but only as far as the individual goes. The rest is part of a set of naturally occurring structure groups (chaotic, static, biological, social, intellectual) in that ascending order of evolution, open ended. It is not that Pirsig has discovered these systems; that is vaguely done by everyone. It is that he has been able to present the ineffable, scientifically challenged theory of it to the table as a highly rational set of well presented theories, well, laws. In fact, what Pirsig is presenting here is no less that a new Law. The metaphysics of Quality is this new Law, but is no less susceptible to static patterns as the last Law.
Pirsig writes Humbly and compassionately, without any flourish, which I at first misunderstood as being perhaps a less than gifted writer with a potentially great idea in his ape hands. But this was not the case, for when the moment asked of it, he gave. It is quite amazing the grace and politeness in which he presents his theory (a Law, really), while in the full knowledge that he is in possession of the very things the great traditions urge to obtain. Yet, it is carried with a quietness, a mere humbleness of another "me" in the world. There is even humor.
If there must be a comparison, it is Lila over Zen. I believe Pirsig would also agree with this. This is his seed coming to fruition. Zen was that seed.
What struck me. The damn thing is autobiographical. Ok, it's not? This is his experiment if you like, on paper as lived. Lila was not what I thought she would be. In the 13 or so years I have awaited the moment to turn its pages, I had built up quite a different idea of what it was to be about. I will not go into spoilers. Another surprise; what made me think he would be discussing a completely new idea?
I had held it in my mind to give this a 4 star rating, due to the writing. But the writing is good.
Were there some holes in the framework? There were a couple. One may have been a typo or a mistake on my behalf, but he mentions that 'biology beat death', where I believe it was written that death was an evolutionary leap from deathlessness, just as sexual choice was also an evolutionary leap on equal footing, as it increased diversity and complexity. Therefore, if death is an evolutionary leap acting as a tool to increase diversity, and hence greater chance for further evolution, then why was it said that 'biology beat death' ?
Do I believe it? Yes I do. Does it stand up scientifically? I believe the evidence is presented here. Will it pass your judgment as something that is good? Well, that all depends on how much one values static patterns.
Lila is Zen’s sequel.* In Zen, a heavy philosophical work, Pirsig was frustrated with a Western philosophical paradigm that didn’t match up with the way that Pirsig saw reality. In Lila, Pirsig relays that his time in a mental institution was due to his struggle to see the world in his particular way. His insanity was philosophical deviance, not social. He, Phaedrus, was the sophist trying to see reality straight up, within a Western perspective that either engaged in mystery (Plato) or emphasized facts and de-emphasized value (Western science). Both perspectives deny the world of material value – who we are at our core and what gives us meaning.**
The scaffolding for Zen was Pirsig’s motorcycle trip across the country with his son. In Lila, it is Pirsig’s (as Phaedrus) boat trip from upstate New York to New York City, on his way to Florida. Along the way, Phaedrus picks up a stray character, Lila, who had had a hard life and, as Phaedrus came to realize, suffered from mental illness. Phaedrus describes his thoughts on insanity as a culturally-defined condition (he does not mention any organic basis for insanity). Basically, it is being an outlier from accepted social and moral paradigms and morals. While Phaedrus’s insanity was philosophical at its core, Lila’s was everything but intellectual. She is a visceral being who has been constrained by culture when she needed to be free. For Lila, as for Phaedrus himself, a vacation represents, literally, a vacating. It’s an emptying out of oneself which must be done before a recovery is possible.***
Lila’s life, and mental breakdown, illustrates what Phaedrus refers to throughout the book as the “Metaphysics of Quality.” Phaedrus sees a dialectical relationship between the static and conservative (culture) and the dynamic (freedom from culture). In his view, both work together to create a new, healthy self. Lila’s problem is that in embracing freedom she let go of a culture that would anchor her. She was all about freedom but with this came the obvious chaos in her life. For Phaedrus, Lila’s dilemma reflects a larger social-construction-of-reality problem: whereas in the East, freedom is integrated with ritual, in the West, we “spasm” between (too much) ritual and (too much) freedom.
The reintegration of the static and the dynamic is the Metaphysics of Quality (“metaphysics” references a philosophical worldview). It’s about values, meaning, purpose and mental health. This stands in contrast to an other-worldly Platonic metaphysics as well as to the unstated underlying Western science that ostracizes and exorcises value in favor of facts and dispassionate observation.
Phaedrus notes that biology and evolution is all about teleological purpose. It is to live but this dynamic, alone, is a problem as it tears apart social ties. It destroys the static social prong of the dialectic. The Metaphysics of Quality requires a transcendence from this animalistic egoism so that we can tether ourselves to social order. Both the individual and social prongs are necessary. Both work together as value-based good.****
Pirsig, as Phaedrus, characterizes his “Metaphysics of Quality” as a new intellectual paradigm that dialectically combines the organic and the cultural domains. He separates metaphysics into four levels (inorganic, organic, cultural, intellectual), each of which are autonomous, but he goes too far in separating mind from the body. In a dialectic system, the new has its origins in the old. It is the same in what Pirsig puts forward. His intellectual perspective rests on and expresses its biological foundation. As life, we are defenders of our integrity. We are conservative and static that way, and change is only welcomed when it serves our needs. But we also need to be free to seek, to obtain what we need to live, and to live well, and to be individually who we need to be. We are like cells this way, and we have followed this pattern in our individual as well as our evolutionary development. We are born with a dynamic individual nature that protects what it is, yet is open to what it needs to be.
Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality is not divorced from our biology but is it its embodiment. Both our need to be free (Dynamic Quality) and our tribal nature (“culture”) serve our needs for survival and well-being. The intellectual domain (Pirsig’s synthesis stage, though he does not use these dialectical terms), builds upon both (we are need-based beings, needing to be free, individually, and needing to be a member of a “culture”), yet extends them significantly through our capacity for abstract thought. And this intellectual capacity does what it is supposed to do. It regulates our relationship with the environment to protect and promote our interests and who we are. It sorts out the past; it sorts through the possible futures. It combines what we need to do with who we need to be.
This book is as engaging and compelling as Zen. Perhaps more so. At times the dialogue in both books even takes off in a voice like Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. Lila’s (the book) distinctive virtue is that it re-introduces the psychology of value to Western philosophy and science (and negatively critiques what he calls Pirsig’s Western metaphysics).
*Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
**Phaedrus is a character in Plato’s dialogue of that name who, in his debate with Socrates, articulates a this-worldly viewpoint (the dialogue itself deals with metaphysics, madness, the irrational, and divine inspiration). As with Zen, Lila is a hard-to-decipher book. Pirsig is far-ranging in what he puts forward. There are pockets of thought scattered throughout, but all connect to one main theme – the overriding, value-laden importance Quality. As he comments in Lila, Pirsig declined to define Quality in Zen. “What made all this so formidable to Phaedrus was that he himself had insisted in his book [Zen] that Quality cannot be defined. Yet here he was about to define it. Was this some kind of a sell-out? His mind went over this many times.”
***For Phaedrus, the sailboat in open water represents the freedom that he needed. Pirsig writes that what Lila needed was “a huge vacation, an emptying out of the junk of her life. She’s clinging to some new pattern because she thinks it holds back the old pattern. But what she has to do is take a vacation from all patterns, old and new, and just settle into a kind of emptiness for a while. And if she does, the culture has a moral obligation not to bother her. The most moral activity of all is the creation of space for life to move forward.”
****Pirsig ends the book with this: “Good is a noun. That was it. That was what Phaedrus had been looking for. That was the homer, over the fence, that ended the ball game. Good as a noun rather than as an adjective is all the Metaphysics of Quality is about. Of course, the ultimate Quality isn’t a noun or an adjective or anything else definable, but if you had to reduce the whole Metaphysics of Quality to a single sentence, that would be it.”
The basic question is "Does Lila (the book) have quality?"
Overall, the narrative of Phaedrus and Lila is far less engaging than the one between Phaedrus and his son in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM). I did enjoy some of the passages on sailing and the scene where Phaedrus is confronted by a critic of ZAMM but the book lacked a cohesive framework. The scene with Robert Redford was disappointing and the final conclusion in Manhattan is anti-climatic and bland.
I found that Pirsig's musings on philosophy, history, anthropology, etc in Lila to be uninteresting and long winded. There are sections that seem to be on the verge of saying something important but the author's intellect seems to get in the way; causing him to get wrapped up in a historical detail rather than completing his argument.
The book reads like the author is an extremely intelligent hermit who's social isolation prevents him from easily communicating with others. This may have been intentional as Phaedrus's life on the boat makes him a hermit unable to deal his relationship with Lila. Unfortunately, it makes the book feel slow and a chore to read. I read Lila out of respect for Pirsig but I can't see myself rereading it like I do ZAMM.
Does Lila have quality? yes but it is often hard to find.
I just re-read this book as I have also read Pirsig's first book, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" multiple times. Pirsig writes on multiple levels. He writes of his own personal odyssey into himself and his attempt to come to grips with his mind's unique way of viewing the world which has put him in the position of being viewed as not quite sane. He attempts to help someone else (Lila) come to grips with her condition as part of this novel.
At the same time, he delves into the philosophical foundation of American culture, tracing its roots back to the very beginning of Western Civilization. He re-explores the moment in time when man began to see himself as separate from the world around him, and discusses the implications of the that separation.
In doing so, he constructs a new, more inclusive world view that bridges the gap between subject and object and looks for a new definition of reality that exists in the relationships that exist between us and the things of the world. Instead of truth, he sees 'quality' as the driving force of life, that mysterious fusion of subject and object that we aspire to when we are completely immersed in what we are doing.
Pirsig is one of the great influences in my life. I highly recommend this thought-provoking novel/philosophical treatise.
After a brilliant 'Zen and art of motorcycle maintenance', this sequel was just a good one. This time the setting is a boat journey with a mysterious girl in it. Apparently Chris has died and Phradous is all alone now. The brilliant insight into the nature of Quality that he explained in 'Zen...' is explored further in this book. He further divides the quality concepts into static/dynamic and explores these further to form a comprehensive hierarchy. The ideas and the hierarchy is solid enough and interesting. However it is five or six years since I read this and I cannot recollect this hierarchy accurately. So, at least this was not registered accurately in my brain. Also, 'Zen..' provides a better fictional background that helps you to stick to the book. Sometimes when describing a very dry subject such as the philosophy of quality some very good fictional glue is necessary. Unfortunately the 'soft' fictional backdrop of this book is not that captivating. The mysterious girl or the boat journey doesn't give a powerful setting as a cross-country motorcycle journey.
Still I liked the book due to the solidity of the philosophy presented.
Pirsig used this book as a vehicle to carry his own personal philosophy. This vehicle is in serious need of repair. This vehicle is a rusted 1982 Honda Civic that needs new brake pads..The narrative in which the philosophy is suppose to be realized is hardly a narrative. The minute the narrative starts to gain depth or breadth or meaning, the narrator divulges twenty pages of metaphysics (although very interesting metaphysics), meanwhile the reader is left hanging. The author clumsily navigates between the narrative and the philosophy with seldom and feeble attempts to tie the two together. I would have been much more content reading a book solely comprised of Pirsig's metaphysical rants. The combination is full of holes and sinks, which I was hoping Phaedrus' boat would do by the end of the book. Three stars for the metaphysical aspect of the book only.
This is my 4th time through this book. Come to think of it I don’t think I’ve ever read another book this many times. I always get something new out of this book. It’s definitely a cerebral kind of read but Pirsig makes philosophy pretty accessible. His Metaphysics of Quality is a massive step beyond the primitive Cartesian subject-object philosophies that still somehow manages to dominant our unconscious assumptions of the experience of life. Not as popular as Zen & the art of motorcycle maintenance but a much more satisfying book in terms of its exposition of his philosophy.
I got a strange urge to re-read this book as I've been delving into some interesting social criticism of late (Chomsky's Necessary Illusions being the most mind-blowing). In picking it up again, I realize just how much of my present-day outlook was shaped by Pirsig's ideas. Granted, I was very impressionable toward the close of my college career, but it's alternately shocking, worrying and reassuring to remember just how much I assimilated his fascinating Metaphysics of Quality as presented here. That said, I changed my original 5-star rating to 4 stars because I was able to read it with a more critical eye almost 10 years later, and I found the writing occasionally stilted and self-congratulatory, more often the latter than the former.
Pirsig's first major philosophical step in this book is to separate his Quality (as sort of not-defined in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) into two types of Quality: static and dynamic. With this basic division of reality he aims to supplant the more-traditional-though now-fairly-outdated separation of reality into subject and object (or mind and matter). Thus his two forms of Quality either take the shape of static, traditional patterns of moral value or of dynamic, immediate, nirvana-like perception of pure Reality.
One of the best illustrations he uses to explain this division is in listening to a great new song. The first time you hear it you are blown away by the newness, every note seems earth-shattering, and you can't get enough of it. Gradually, however, that feeling wears away, and though you still recognize the song as "good" it's not likely to make you drop everything just to listen to it, to hang on every note. Dynamic is new and exciting, static is oldie-but-goodie. Pirsig eventually explains how each type of Quality depends on the other, and how one of them without the other will quickly lead to disaster -- wild degeneracy in the case of the former, and stale, suffocating rot in the case of the latter.
Besides this interesting and useful division, the two main ideas I took away when I originally read it (and the two that continue to seem to be the most important ideas of his MoQ) are difficult to separate from one another. First you have the idea of purpose- or goal-driven evolution, which is anathema to most biologists. Coupled very closely with this idea of intentional evolution is Pirsig's separation of levels of organization into four different systems: inorganic, biological, social, and intellectual.
What this means essentially is that when inorganic particles and elements originally combined to make organic compounds, this was an evolution toward Value or Quality, or in other words a moral movement. Eventually these inorganic compounds, through the initiative of Dynamic Quality, organized to a higher level of evolution and formed a biological organism. Eventually biological organisms, likewise inspired by Dynamic Quality or "moral" movement toward higher Quality, organized to form societies. And similarly, societies eventually evolved in the direction of Dynamic Quality and created intellectual patterns of thought, reason, and logic, by which we can analyze and govern our lives.
This idea really gets interesting when Pirsig discusses how all of these levels of Quality are actually in conflict with each other. This is because once a new level of organization is created on top of an old one, that new level, while dependent on the effective aspiration toward Quality of the level beneath it, will have its own goals and aims that are not necessarily in line with its foundation. In this way, a virus will have conflicting motives with a biological organism, and an organism can be in conflict with the greater good of society. Perhaps most applicably, an individual's ideas can be in conflict with society pressures.
Here, Pirsig proposes and (IMO) pulls off a neat trick by looking at these conflicts through the lens of morality. Because he has already proposed the division of Quality and because he has already explained how Quality has evolved from a very low level to a very high level, and continues to evolve, he can now say that any time the lower levels of Quality impinge on the higher levels of Quality, that is an immoral act. Thus he can philosophically explain why it is immoral that someone abuses drugs to the point that they must steal from or injure others in society, and why it was immoral for society to persecute Galileo and Copernicus.
This system also explains why laws that inhibit individuals from indulging in their unfettered biological impulses are moral. If you look at those impulses from the perspective of biology, they are completely moral because they feel good. However, from the perspective of society they are dangerous and degenerate. . . it is moral for a higher evolutionary system to judge that those impulses must be kept in check. Of course, a still-higher evolutionary system (that of the intellect) can then later develop and notice that, "Hey, society is unreasonably and unfairly suppressing certain biological values (for example, premarital sex and marijuana use), and we should really rethink that." That's when you will get a battle between the intellectual and societal notion of value. That is the stage that we have been struggling with for most of the 20th and 21st centuries.
There's a lot of different ways you can go with this, and Pirsig goes in a lot of them. That's part of the drawback to the writing, how disperse it is and how daunting the entire system ends up seeming (although it is quite easy to understand in the way he explains it). Around this part of the book it seemed to me that the system he had developed begged the question of what sort of level of organization may lie beyond the intellectual pattern of value. This question never seems to occur to Pirsig, who sticks with his four levels plus the highest good of all: Dynamic Quality.
I haven't studied enough philosophy to know how new these ideas are. Pirsig seems to give a lot of credit to William James for developing a similar framework. When I explained it to my philosopher wife she said it sounded like Hegel and didn't sound too impressed. She also cautioned that any time you have someone setting up an absolute morality or objective Truth or Value, you encounter a dangerous arrogance that threatens to overwhelm any culture that doesn't buy into the paradigm. Specifically in this case, despite Pirsig's cautioning against the over-reliance on rationality and science, his system is still one that is very much grounded in the Western paradigm of reason/logic/rationality. He admits as much.
Without being a cultural relativist, you can acknowledge how dangerous it might be to invalidate any non-rational way of perceiving truth. . . mysticism, for example, or the shamanistic rites of certain non-Westernized tribes. I could be wrong, but it seems like Pirsig would have to say that those societies are less moral because they don't perceive Truth intellectually. . . they still operate completely in the social level of value. I actually argued about this with my wife, because I happen to agree with that statement. In my own view of the evolution of consciousness, or enlightenment, or whatever, I think it is necessary to pass through rational thought and analysis -- to know the extreme, as it were -- before you can truly know what it's like to reject that extreme and embrace the mystical nature of the universe. My wife, on the other hand, pretty much thinks I'm a chauvinist.
Anyway, this is getting way too long. I will say that Pirsig's book has greatly informed my own outlook on life. Additionally, this go-round I was really able to appreciate how he weaved his philosophy into the narrative. The first time I read it I didn't notice the meta-book in here, how Pirsig explains to us how he's struggling to organize these thoughts and then divulges the thoughts at the same time he's looking at the "slips" that he's trying to organize. Another example occurs in the end, when he talks about how he must remember to tie his book back into the Native-Americans (of course just by mentioning them in the reminder he is doing that). It's pretty ingenious.
Additionally, the creation of the character of Lila and Rigel was a nifty way to illustrate several of the more obscure ideas in his metaphysics. The way he describes Lila's detour into insanity is captivating and totally organic. If you think about it you will perhaps find yourself in the strange position of feeling lucky that Pirsig himself went crazy so that he is able to explain it so authentically. The fact that the narrative drags at points as he tries to cram a lot of tangential information into the story does not detract from the overall seamless way that he weaves it all together.
It's an impressive achievement, and I wish Pirsig had more mainstream recognition. Despite the book not being as perfect as I remember, I am glad to say that most of the impressive points he makes still seem to hold up. My opinion of Pirsig as one of the most refreshing and innovative thinkers in recent history is corroborated. I highly recommend both this and Zen.
This was a tricky book. I’m not sure I could explain what the plot had to do with Phaedrus’ arguments about philosophy. I’m not sure I could explain the arguments themselves, or even the counter arguments they were pitted against. This book has a very important prerequisite in Motorcycle Maintenance, and for a better understanding I should have reread Zen before starting this one, and then brushed up on philosophy 201, and then sat down with Lila.
Though I enjoyed a lot of the meandering discussion (was there more structure to the plot / themes than it seemed? I can’t say) a lot of the arguments struck me as: “Here’s why Broccoli doesn’t work in a subject-object metaphysics. But if you reimagine Broccoli as a collection of values, everything makes much more sense.” That being said, I’ll attribute my loose grasp of the material to my ignorance rather than a major problem with the writing.
The last few pages’ happy ending and nice summary of Phaedrus’ metaphysics of Quality brought this from a 3 to a 4. “Good is a noun rather than an adjective.” I like books whose last few pages really impact my impression of the story overall. Enjoyed this one. Couldn’t describe it to save my life, but enjoyed it.