Robert M. Pirsig (Robert Maynard Pirsig) Biography
(1928– ), (Robert Maynard Pirsig), Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Moby-Dick
Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Ellis’ [Edith Mary Pargeter] ‘Peters Biography to Portrait of Dora (Portrait de Dora)
American writer, born in Minneapolis, educated at the University of Minnesota. Pirsig became a technical writer for various firms, and a member of the board of directors of the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center in 1973. His enormously influential Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974), a journey of self-discovery permeated by philosophical discussion, and startlingly original and disturbing imagery, was based on an autobiographical account of a journey across the USA on a motorbike undertaken with his son in 1968; the shifts between narrative, analogy, and philosophical meditation have prompted several critics to see this work as a latter-day Moby-Dick. Since then, he has been engaged in ‘anthropological research, intended to relate the metaphysics of quality, as defined in the first book, to cultural problems today’. He became more peripatetic in later years, and a recent edition of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance contains a postscript written in Sweden, in which he attempts to come to terms with the murder of Chris, the son with whom he made the journey. His next novel, Lila: An Inquiry into Morals (1991), is another journey of philosophical exploration, in which Phaedrus, the protagonist of his earlier novel, travels down the Hudson River on a sailboat as winter closes in. He picks up Lila as a travelling companion in a riverside bar, but her desperate sexuality, madness, and hostility begin to threaten his life, and their relationship forces him to rethink the entire philosophical basis of his existence.