The author of "The Innocence of Objects" and "Silent House" believes all American presidents should read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."
Orhan Pamuk: By the Book
Published: November 8, 2012
The author of “The Innocence of Objects” and “Silent House” believes all American presidents should read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”
Illustration by Jillian Tamaki
What book is on your night stand now?
Ferdowsi’s “Shahnameh” — subtitled “The Persian Book of Kings,” a great translation and compilation by Dick Davis — is a Penguin Classics edition. Like Rumi’s “Masnavi,” or “Arabian Nights,” “Shahnameh” is a great ocean of stories that I browse from time to time in various Turkish and English translations to be inspired by or to adapt an ancient story as I did in “My Name Is Red” and “The Black Book.” At the heart of this epic lies the great warrior Sohrab’s search for his father, Rostam, who without knowing that Sohrab is his son, kills him in a fight.
The place of this great tragic story in the Persian-Ottoman-Mughal literary canon is very similar to the place of the legend of Oedipus in the Western canon, but the story still awaits its inventive Freud to address the similarities and radical differences. Comparative literature can teach us more about East-West than the rhetoric of the “clash of civilizations.”
What’s the last truly great book you read?
The truly great books are always novels: “Anna Karenina,” “The Brothers Karamazov,” “The Magic Mountain.”. . . Just as with “Shahnameh,” I browse these books from time to time to remember how a great book works on us, or to teach my students at Columbia University.
And what’s the worst book you’ve ever read?
The worst books are also bad novels. Just as good books give me the joys of being alive, bad novels depress me and as I notice this sentiment coming from the pages, I stop. I also do not hesitate to walk out of a movie house if the film is bad. Life is short, and we should respect every moment of it.
Any guilty reading pleasures — book, periodical, online?
For a long time I naïvely believed that thrillers and detective novels were a waste of time. And I thought that was why I felt guilty enjoying the novels of Patricia Highsmith. Later I realized that the guilt comes not from reading thrillers but from her ingenious method of making the reader identify with the murderer. She is a great Dostoyevskian crime writer. I also wish I had read more of John Le Carré. I feel guilty if I read too much book-chat on the Internet.
The last book that made you laugh?
Oscar Wilde always makes me smile — with respect and admiration. His short stories prove that it is possible to be both sarcastic, even cynical, but deeply compassionate. Just seeing the cover of one of Wilde’s books in a bookshop makes me smile. Julian Barnes has some of his cruel and humane humor. I liked Barnes’s “The Sense of an Ending” very much.
The last book that made you furious?
Adam Hochschild’s “King Leopold’s Ghost” is about the atrocities committed by the army and people of King Leopold II of Belgium, between 1885 and 1908, with the pretext of “fighting against slavery” but actually simply to make money in the Congo. Leopold’s men killed more or less 10 million people in Africa. We all know too well that the rhetoric of “civilization, modernization” is a good excuse to kill, but this great book was too infuriating for anyone — especially someone like me who believes in the idea of Europe too much.
If you could recommend one book to the American president, what would it be? To the prime minister of Turkey?
Many years before he was elected president, I knew Obama as the author of “Dreams From My Father,” a very good book. To him or to any American president, I would like to recommend a book that I sometimes give as a gift to friends, hoping they read it and ask me, “Why this book, Orhan?” “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values” is a great American book based on the vastness of America and the individual search for values and meaning in life. This highly romantic book is not a novel, but does something every serious novel should do, and does it better than many great novels: making philosophy out of the little details of daily life.
I respected the Turkish prime minister’s politics of pushing the army away from politics and back to the barracks, though I am not happy about going to courts for my political opinions like many, many others during his reign. He sued a cartoonist for picturing him as a cat, though as anyone who comes here knows we all love cats in Istanbul. I am sure Erdogan would enjoy the great Japanese writer Natsume Soseki’s book “I Am a Cat,” a satirical novel about the devilish dangers of too much Westernization, narrated by a smart cat.
You have been charged with “insulting Turkishness” for acknowledging the mass killings of Kurds and Armenians, and have been outspoken about Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. In these instances, were you acting as an engaged citizen or do you think writers have a responsibility for social activism?
At most I was acting as an engaged citizen. I do not have systematical political beliefs, nor am I a self-consciously political writer. Yet my books are political because my characters live in troubled times of political unrest and cultural change. I like to show my readers that my characters do make choices all the time, and that is political in a literary way in my fiction.
I am never motivated by political ideas. I am interested in human situations and funny stories. The political problems I face in Turkey are not because of my novels but because of the international interviews I make. Whatever I say outside of Turkey is twisted, changed a bit back at home to make me look silly and more political than I am.
Once I complained to the young Paul Auster — a writer I admire, whom I met in Oslo as he was also doing interviews, like me, to promote one of his books — saying that they are asking me political questions all the time, and that it may be easier to be an American writer. He said they are also asking him about the gulf war all the time. This was the first gulf war! In the 20 years that passed in between, I perhaps learned that political questions are a sort of destiny for literary writers, especially if you come from the non-Western world.
The best way to avoid them is to be political — like a diplomat — and answer only the literary questions. But my character is not the character of a successful diplomat. I lose my temper and answer some of the political questions and either end up in court or face a campaign by right-wing newspapers in Turkey. Novels are political not because writers carry party cards — some do, I do not — but because good fiction is about identifying with and understanding people who are not necessarily like us. By nature all good novels are political because identifying with the other is political. At the heart of the “art of the novel” lies the human capacity to see the world through others’ eyes. Compassion is the greatest strength of the novelist.
You can bring three books to a desert island. Which do you choose?
Encyclopaedia Britannica’s 1911 edition, the first edition of “Encyclopaedia of Islam” (1913-1936) and Resat Ekrem Kocu’s “Encyclopedia of Istanbul” (1958-1971), which I wrote about in my book “Istanbul,” will keep me busy for 10 years. My imagination works best with facts — especially if they are a bit dated. After 10 years they should pick me up from the desert island to publish the novels I wrote there.
You’ve lived on and off in America. Which American writers do you especially admire? Any who have influenced your work?
The late John Updike once wrote that all third world writers are influenced by Faulkner. I am one of them. Faulkner showed us that our subject matter may be provincial, away from the centers of the West and politically troubled, yet one can write about it in a very personal and inventive way and be read all over the world.
I’ve read almost all of Faulkner and Hemingway and Fitzgerald. I also read all of Updike’s literary reviews he wrote for The New Yorker. I learned a lot from Updike and benefited from his reviews of my books too. Since I went to an American secular high school in Istanbul, Robert College, I’ve read “Tom Sawyer” as required reading, as well as “A Separate Peace” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” enjoying the democratic and egalitarian spirit of these books. Salinger was not taught at school then, so I read “The Catcher in the Rye” as a subversive book in high school years. I admire the novels of Thomas Pynchon, the intelligence of Nicholson Baker. I respect Dave Eggers. . . .
But when someone asks me about American literature, I immediately think of Hawthorne, Melville and Poe. For me these three writers represent more than anyone else the American spirit. Perhaps because it is easy for me to identify with their anxiety of provincialism and wild imagination, their small number of readers in their time and their energy and optimism, their successes and spectacular failures. In my imagination I associate Poe, Melville and Hawthorne with some mystery just as I associate, say, German Romantic painters and their landscapes with something unknowable.
How has your training as a painter informed the way you write and read your books?
As I wrote in my autobiographical book “Istanbul,” and now in “The Innocence of Objects,” I was raised to be a painter. But when I was 23-years-old, one mysterious screw got loose in my head and I switched to writing novels.
I still enjoy the pleasures of painting. I am a happier person when I paint, but I feel that I am engaged more deeply with the world when I write. Yes, painting and literature are “sister arts” and I taught a class about it at Columbia. I liked to ask my students to close their eyes, entertain a thought and to open their eyes and try to clarify whether it was a word or an image. Correct answer: Both! Novels address both our verbal (Dostoyevsky) and visual (Proust, Nabokov) imaginations. There are so many unforgettable scenes in the novels of Dostoyevsky, but we rarely remember the background, the landscape or the objects in the scenes.
There are also other types of novelists who compose memorable scenes by forming pictures and images in our minds. Before Flaubert’s “perfect word,” there should be a perfect picture in the writer’s imagination. A good reader should occasionally close the novel in her hand and look at the ceiling and clarify in her imagination the writer’s initial picture that triggered the sentence or the paragraph. We writers should write for this kind of imaginative reader. Over the years, the painter in me taught essentially five things to the writer in me:
1) Don’t start to write before you have a strong sense of the whole composition, unless you are writing a lyrical text or a poem.
2) Don’t search for perfection and symmetry — it will kill the life in the work.
3) Obey the rules of point of view and perspective and see the world through your characters’ eyes — but it is permissible to break this rule with inventiveness.
4) Like van Gogh or the neo-Expressionist painters, show your brushstrokes! The reader will enjoy observing the making of the novel if it is made a minor part of the story.
5) Try to identify the accidental beauty where neither the mind conceived of nor the hand intended any. The writer in me and the painter in me are getting to be friendlier every day. That’s why I am now planning novels with pictures and picture books with texts and stories.
The city of Istanbul has changed enormously in the last 50 years. How has this change been reflected in literature?
The previous generation of Turkish writers were more busy with life and social injustice in rural Anatolia while my poor Istanbul of the 1950s grew from one million to 14 million in my lifetime. The suburban neighborhoods, small fishermen’s villages, fancy summer resorts for the Westernized upper classes and the factories and working-class quarters that I describe in “Silent House,” along with their angry young men, the nationalists, the fundamentalists and the secularists and their political problems are part of the big metropolis now. I feel so lucky to have observed all this immense, amazing growth from the inside. And since most of it happened in the last 15 years, it is hard to catch up with it too. As I did in the years that I wrote “Silent House,” I still take long walks in the various quarters of the city, as it gets bigger and bigger, enjoying everything I see, observing the high-rises that replace old shantytowns, the fancy malls built on old summer cinema gardens, all sorts of new shops and local fast-food chains representing many communities and endless crowds in the streets.
所以請接受這3000美元的慣例預付金 這可能是最後一筆版稅 (沒想到這書成為美國文化扛鼎作 大暢銷......)
最重要的十年來 書中他兒子CHRIS 在23歲被"謀殺"了 (書第2頁說 有些事 (如紅嘴黑鳥 如cattails 等等11歲的C 是不會懂的 You have to get older for that!)....
這書某處談到"作文模仿" (小還原不懂模仿.....小學到大學的假裝未模仿)等問題 請教他同事 說 在還沒取消學校的評等制等之前 都談不上真學習
鍾漢清書名：Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
出版：1974年由美國William Morrow & Company, Inc出版，中譯本於1993年時報文化出版企業出版，原書412頁，中譯本506頁。
作者：Robert M. PRISIG, 譯者：李昆圳、羅若頻
「Quality」及其同義字一直是24年來西方哲學探討的對象，本書中的「Quality」實應理解為「人生品質真諦」或「質的原點」。中譯本把 Quality譯為「良質」，其範圍可分為狹義品質(Little Q)及廣義品質(Big Q)，本書是作者就日常生活中對人之素質及做事方式，觀察體驗而得，例如對摩托車修理方式而言，作者喜歡身體力行，自行修理，而其遊伴則喜歡由專家修理； 而另一面，任一書中零件失效，都會使貴重之摩托車動彈不得所引發之「失敗成本」的說明等，都很精彩。
禪是不落言詮的，可是作者多次把「品質」比擬為老子道德經之「道」，有時難免過分抽象，但多次品質論中，不乏精闢 見解。本人雖不贊成作者的認識論，但是畢竟瑕不掩瑜，值得推廣介紹。美國哈佛大學行銷學教授Thomas V. Bonoma在其著作 the 中，對本書就「品質」之精心反省和界說，引用十餘次，讚不絕口。
為了使會友體會一下原文精義，我現在轉引Bonoma教授的一段關於「工廠品質管制」的引文，並附上譯文供參考。讀者不妨看看原書(此段譯文出現在 361頁，原文則在288頁)；作者在此把Quality綜合成「心靜或譯為內心(心靈)的平靜(Peace of mind)」：
「Peace of mind isn't at all superficial to technical work. It's the whole thing. That which produces it is good work and that which destroys it is bad work. The specs, the measuring instruments, the quality control the final check-out, these are all means toward the end of satisfying the peace of mind of those responsible for the work. What really counts in the end is that peace of mind and nothing else. [p.288]"
讀者從上述選樣中，或許會同意作者認為世間有兩種人，「理性的人」及「感性的人」，做事方式不同，然而其認識世界方式不過是「品質」的兩面，兩者必 須相輔相成才是真締。作者也悟出：「品質即佛(鍾註：覺者也)，科學之實體，藝術的目標(中譯本 p.342)」。
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values is a 1974 philosophical novel, the first of Robert M. Pirsig's texts in which he explores his Metaphysics of Quality.
The book sold over 4 million copies in twenty-seven languages and was described by the press as "the most widely read philosophy book, ever." It was originally rejected by 121 publishers, more than any other bestselling book, according to the Guinness Book of Records.
The title is an incongruous play on the title of the book Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. In its introduction, Pirsig explains that, despite its title, "it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles, either."
StructureThe book describes, in first person, a 17-day motorcycle journey from Minnesota to California by the author (though he is not identified in the book) and his son Chris, joined for the first nine days by close friends John and Sylvia Sutherland. The trip is punctuated by numerous philosophical discussions, referred to as Chautauquas by the author, on topics including epistemology, ethical emotivism and the philosophy of science.
Many of these discussions are tied together by the story of the narrator's own past self, who is referred to in the third person as Phaedrus (after Plato's dialogue). Phaedrus, a teacher of creative and technical writing at a small college, became engrossed in the question of what defines good writing, and what in general defines good, or "quality". His philosophical investigations eventually drove him insane, and he was subjected to electroshock treatment which permanently changed his personality.
Towards the end of the book, Phaedrus's personality begins to re-emerge and the narrator is reconciled with his past.
WritingIn a 1974 interview with National Public Radio, Pirsig stated that the book took him four years to write. During two of these years, Pirsig continued working at his job of writing computer manuals. This caused him to fall into an unorthodox schedule, waking up very early and writing Zen from 2 a.m. until 6 a.m., then eating and going to his day job. He would sleep during his lunch break and then go to bed around 6 in the evening. Pirsig joked that his coworkers noticed that he was "a lot less perky" than everyone else.
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In the book, the Narrator describes the "romantic" approach to life of his friend John Sutherland, who refuses to learn how to maintain his own expensive new BMW motorcycle. John simply hopes for the best with his bike, and when problems do occur he becomes extremely frustrated and is forced to rely on professional mechanics to repair it. In contrast, the Narrator has an older motorcycle which he is mostly able to diagnose and repair himself through the use of rational problem solving skills. The Narrator exemplifies the "classical" approach to life.
In another example, Pirsig explains to the reader how one should pay attention and learn: when the Narrator and his friends came into Miles City, Montana, he had noticed (second page of chapter 8) that the engine "idle was loping a little", a sign that the fuel/air mixture was too rich. The next day he is thinking of this as he is going through his ritual to adjust the valves on his cycle's engine, because it "has picked up a noise". In the process, he notes that both spark plugs are black, another sign of rich mixture. He solves the puzzle as he is thinking about the feel-good-higher-altitude-mountain-air; the altitude is causing the engine to run rich. New jets are purchased, and installed, and with the valves adjusted, the engine runs well. His cycle begins coughing and almost quits when they get into the mountains of Montana. This is a more severe altitude problem, but he knows it will go away when they get back to lower altitude. He does adjust the carburetor to prevent overheating on the way down.
With this, the book details two types of personalities: those who are interested mostly in gestalts (romantic viewpoints, such as Zen, focused on being "in the moment", and not on rational analysis), and those who need to know details, the inner workings, mechanics (classic viewpoints with application of rational analysis, vis-a-vis motorcycle maintenance) and so on.
The Sutherlands represent an exclusively romantic attitude toward the world. The Narrator initially appears to prefer the classic approach. It later becomes apparent that he understands both viewpoints and is aiming, not for the middle ground, but for the necessary ground that includes both. He understands that technology, and the "dehumanized world" it carries with it, appears ugly and repulsive to a romantic person. He knows that such persons are determined to shoehorn all of life's experience into the romantic view. Pirsig is capable of seeing the beauty of technology and feels good about mechanical work, where the goal is "to achieve an inner peace of mind". The book demonstrates that motorcycle maintenance may be dull and tedious drudgery or an enjoyable and pleasurable pastime; it all depends on attitude.
Truths" derives from the first Greek philosophers who were establishing the concept of truth, against the opposing force of "The Good". He argues that although rational thought may find truth (or The Truth) it may not be valid for all experiences. Therefore, what is needed is an approach to viewing life that is more varied and inclusive and has a wider range of application. He makes a thorough case that originally the Greeks did not distinguish between "Quality" and "Truth" – they were one and the same – and that the divorce was, in fact, artificial (though needed at the time) and is now a source of much frustration and unhappiness in the world, particularly overall dissatisfaction with modern life.
Pirsig aims towards a perception of the world that embraces both sides, the rational and the romantic. This means encompassing "irrational" sources of wisdom and understanding as well as science, reason and technology. In particular, this must include bursts of creativity and intuition that seemingly come from nowhere and are not (in his view) rationally explicable. Pirsig seeks to demonstrate that rationality and Zen-like "being in the moment" can harmoniously coexist. He suggests such a combination of rationality and romanticism can potentially bring a higher quality of life.
- Pirsig's metaphysics of quality
- Lila: An Inquiry into Morals
- Quality (philosophy)
- Emotional Intelligence
- Gestalt psychology
- Gumption trap
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Please help improve this article by adding reliable references. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (May 2010)
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance at the Open Directory Project
- robertpirsig.org, A website containing a number of papers concerned with the Metaphysics of Quality.
- Pictures taken by Pirsig from the trip made famous in his book
- Audio: 1974 NPR Interview with Pirsig
- Audio: 1992 NPR Interview with Pirsig
- Interview from 2005 regarding MoQ
- Guardian interview from 2006 Short version and Long version.
- ZAMM Travel Route.
- Motorcycle Maintenance Without the Zen, A featured critique from the Skeptic.com