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," September 20, 2017, accessed November 21, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Zen-and-the-Art-of-Motorcycle-Maintenance/.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Part 2, Chapter 14 | Summary



The four travelers arrive at the home of Robert DeWeese and his wife, Gennie, where they will spend the night. The narrator finds it hard to know what to say and feels awkward and exposed. It's especially painful to realize DeWeese, who doesn't know about the narrator's breakdown, thinks he's talking to the Phaedrus he used to know.

Slowly DeWeese begins to realize something about the narrator is different. "You've changed a lot," he says. The narrator replies that a lot has happened since they were last together and the point of this trip is to process what has taken place. He does his best to chat with the DeWeeses' other guests, and he notices John Sutherland is better at casual conversation.

At dinner the narrator expounds on the concept of peace of mind. Unless you can maintain serenity while working on a machine, he says, "you're likely to build your personal problems right into the machine itself." When true craftspeople work on a machine, it absorbs and consumes them, ever attentive and in harmony with the machine. With a flicker of insight, the narrator acknowledges to himself he's been "speechifying." He adds that "when you've got a Chautauqua in your head, it's extremely hard not to inflict it on innocent people."

When the guests leave, the narrator and the DeWeeses have a long conversation as the narrator struggles to explain his thinking. He goes into more detail to explain his view of the crisis of wrong thinking in the world today and why people feel so disconnected from the world and from each other. Technology isn't the problem, says the narrator, but that "it's not connected in any real way with matters of the spirit." He says the solution isn't to "abandon rationality" but to "expand the nature of rationality so that it's capable of coming up with a solution." He finds himself at the same rational roadblock Phaedrus found. He doubts rational, scientific solutions exist to all problems and thinks a "new form of reason" is needed to deal with the qualities of technology that alienate people. Because conventional reason is inadequate to deal with technological change, people are acting in irrational ways: "occultism, mysticism, drug changes and the like."

The conversation ends on a positive note as DeWeese points out the change the narrator searches for might be possible because young people are really listening "not just at you—to you ... to you. It makes all the difference." In the late 1960s and early 1970s, political and social ferment especially among youth in the United States and Europe really did seem to suggest a potential for deep social change was at hand.


The issue of technology recurs often in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. John and Sylvia, for instance, have resisted learning about the motorcycle in regard to their leaky pipe. The narrator's answer is that the sense of alienation created by technology can be overcome. He thinks some of this alienation comes from the idea—implied in any instructions—that there is only one correct way. This notion, he says, "wipes out all creativity."

The romantic personality would prefer multiple solutions to problems, both logical and creative. The narrator uses the example of his instructions for his Japanese bicycle, which begin with "Assembly of Japanese bicycle require[s] great peace of mind." The bicycle maker approaches instructions the same way the narrator approaches motorcycle maintenance. He does not see the process as alienating or separate from art or thought. In contrast, he says, it's the "divorce of art from technology" that is unnatural.

Within his private conversation with DeWeese and Gennie, he also touches again on the topic of mental illness, comparing it to the fear of "falling off the edge of the world." Much like his conversations on technology, his contemplation of mental illness will recur again and again. From the perspective of narrative technique, the repetition has a purpose. The narrator comes at certain concepts repeatedly in different ways, helping to make complicated ideas more accessible.

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