Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Study Guide

Robert Pirsig

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Course Hero. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Study Guide." Course Hero. 20 Sep. 2017. Web. 16 Jan. 2019. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Zen-and-the-Art-of-Motorcycle-Maintenance/>.

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Course Hero. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Study Guide." September 20, 2017. Accessed January 16, 2019. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Zen-and-the-Art-of-Motorcycle-Maintenance/.


Course Hero, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Study Guide," September 20, 2017, accessed January 16, 2019, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Zen-and-the-Art-of-Motorcycle-Maintenance/.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Part 2, Chapter 13 | Summary



The travelers will soon reach the university in Bozeman, Montana, and the narrator is dreading it. He has nothing but bad memories from that period of his life—for example, the memory of Phaedrus feeling so tense that he vomited every morning before going off to teach. Back then Phaedrus was a controversial figure at the university: "The majority of students avoided his sections like the Black Death." The Montana Legislature was in an ultraconservative phase, the governor wanted to fire the college president, the school was in danger of losing its accreditation, and Phaedrus had privately called for an investigation of the school.

Phaedrus makes it clear he viewed higher education—despite its problems—as a "Church of Reason," a holy place of learning that existed independent of its bricks and books. A real university is a state of mind. Its responsibility is to its students, not its campus, and its ultimate goal is "to serve, through reason, the goal of truth." At this point in his life, Phaedrus is fanatically dedicated to reason and truth. He doesn't realize his obsessive search for and doubts about the nature of reason feed his fanaticism and growing anxieties.

To his coworkers there is nothing amazing about Phaedrus's notion that a university is more than just its buildings. The narrator does not, at this point, explain exactly how Phaedrus views reason or why he cares about it so much. "It was a concept that was deeply felt by him" and one he discusses so vigorously that his students begin to avoid him. But he is unable to clarify why this concept seems so vital: "Here was Phaedrus, fanatically defending an institution, the Church of Reason, that no one ... had any cause to doubt."

The narrator wonders if Phaedrus might have been better understood in the 1970s, once the nation had passed through the tumultuous 60s. He suggests, somewhat obscurely, that what he terms Phaedrus's "discoveries" offered "a solution for it all." But most of those discoveries are lost now (presumably because of Phaedrus's mental breakdown). The fragments of memory that return to him make the narrator feel like an anthropologist sifting through the soil for artifacts.

At this point in the Chautauqua, "Chris suddenly comes to mind." The narrator wonders what his son remembers of those days in Bozeman.


The reader will not find the narrator's devotion to the ideal of acquiring and shaping knowledge surprising. The narrator's journey in life and on the literal trip he is using as his frame for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is all about the journey, the exploration, the process. As he travels (literally and figuratively), he is pursuing knowledge.

At this point, the reader knows the narrator was in college as a teen, undertook the study of philosophy and journalism, traveled to the East and pursued studies there, and taught. The reader also knows the narrator sees tasks that many would think mundane, such as motorcycle repair, as more noble than they seem. With such context, it is no surprise he elevates the university to a status akin to a church. It is not the edifices that make a university, but the ephemeral moments experienced there.

The "minister" of this place has a duty akin to a minister of a church: serve the higher intent (truth), not the community's will. In this, the narrator alludes to Socrates, the first ethicist in philosophy. His primary claim relevant here is that knowledge ought to be sought for knowledge's sake, yet knowledge can never be fully possessed. The narrator suggests students and professors ought to be adhering to this Socratic notion. The very notion of a "teaching college" is at odds with this ideal of the university.

However, the narrator simultaneously admits he had doubts. The reason he struggled to connect with the students and was so obsessive as Phaedrus was because he was not sure. "It was Phaedrus' lack of faith in reason," the narrator says, that "made him such a fanatic teacher."

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