I am currently reading this book called 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' by Robert Pirsiq. It’s a nonfiction book which is heavily based on philosphy.I had heard a lot about this book from so many people including my dear friend and my Marketing Professor. I am halfway through this book and I like it very much. One big reason why this book is so interesting is because the book is not a bland didactic highbrow philosophy but it is in form of a very interesting real story which has happened with the author himself. Another reason is that the background of the author itself is very connected and very curious. It would make anybody wonder that this book which was first published 3decades back was rejected by 121publishers before it came into print. Robert Pirsiq had gone into depression and was considered lunatic and was put into mental asylum for some period of life. In short he was certified mad, dangerous and homicidal. He had a very bad married life because of several reasons. But another curious fact which must be known is that pirsiq was a born genius and it was proved by his astonishingly IQ score of 170 recorded during his childhood. Now you might be wondering what situations had led him to become a lunatic and suffer from acute depression and to answer that I’d also like to add the fact that his conditions grew so severe later on that he was seen talking to himself and he admitted to be having delusions and diagnosed as schizophrenic. I started reading his book, then left it in the middle, read this book's afterword and then checked some fact about him from internet and I was really surprised.
To give you some causes of Pirsiq’s problems, I think we need to understand something about his book first to gain better understanding about him.
This book is a story of a man and his son and their 2 couple friends who go for a cross country road trip in the Northwestern part of US and while driving author is talking a lot about some of the philosophical ideas which are running into his mind and has explored some key questions and topics which are extremely fundamental. The trip has basically showing the readers a perspective into author’s ideologies through something called CHAUTAUQUA. A Chautauqua is a word which he uses whenever he is on drive and wants to think very deeply on something. He has discussed a lot of issues at length including the philosophy behind motorcycle maintenance,difference between classical and romantic art, Metaphysics of Quality and no of other things. But the interesting thing is that author has coined an imaginary character called Phaedrus (which he has borrowed from the dialogues in Plato’s play namely REPUBLIC and SYMPOSIUM).Phaedrus is author’s anti ego which doesn’t exists actually but author wants to refer every incident using this 2nd person and not himself. But Phaedrus is very unique to author.He is very rational, very value driven, very honest, uncompromising, unrelenting and he acts and does what he things is right irrespective of what society wants him to be even if society is wrong. In short Phaedrus is a very ideal character which author things that the real part of him is Phaedrus himself but he actually disguises himself to be different and pretends in front of society.
Now the real reason which leads to Pirsiq's breakdown is that the imaginary character Phaedrus slowly and slowly starts to dominate his real life and he starts behaving unsocietial.He talks a lot to himself and sometimes he feels that there is actually a person called Phaedrus existing.He is rejected by his family and friends because of this nature and he is given electro thermal therapy in hospital. Slowly and slowly he realizes that if he has to come out of this asylum then he will have to compromise will his 'real' self i.e. Phaedrus which he has testified in his interview long back. But after coming out of hospital ,he is bothered with numerous issues which haunt him so he decided that he must go for a road trip and may be in the pursuit of finding the answers ,he would be again become a satisfied man. After coming back from his trip he becomes so compelled that he decided to write book and what we see as a book becomes a masterpiece by Robert Pirsiq.
Robert pirsiq has also visited BHU, Varanasi to study oriental philosophy in search of his answers, he marries a journalist who comes to his boat for his interview during his long voyage, and he removes the grading system while holding a teaching job in a university.
Read out this book guys, it’s a worth piece to grab!!