"My son picked it as a book to read for his Honors English class and I said I'd read it too. I read it about 30 years ago but forgot most of it. The author, Robert Pirsig was a University Professor at U of Minnesota, I think, and doctoral candidate at University of Chicago when he was diagnosed as clinically insane in the early 60s. This book is the true story of his motorcycle trip with his son and two others about 6 years later. He tries to come to grips with his mental illness by describing the process by which he went insane - an intellectual process that takes the reader through a couple thousand years of philosophy. I think my son almost went insane by the end but he grappled with the issues pretty well for a 16 year old. Glad that book is over so I can start reading some Dean Koontz....."
It's lovely when someone emails me about the book, because then I can quote him/her!
"Yes, you can quote me," said Fred.
I emailed back that I remembered the motorcycles and the philosophy but had completely forgotten the insanity.
"The insanity is the major point of the story. Pirsig went insane trying to develop a philosophy that could encompass both Classical and Romantic views (according to his definition of them). As he talks about this struggle during the book you see that he is starting to show signs of going insane again. At the end you aren't sure if he has turned back into his former self (and gone insane) or has merely incorporated that self into his current personality (and is therefore more whole than he ever was). "
Fred was very patient with me. I see from the Wikipedia article that Pirsig was purposefully alluding to Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel, a book I loved. (It is not, I think, about insanity. It is about learning not to focus on the goal/target/one's desire to hit it but instead to learn how to use the bow and arrow, and to focus on that in each moment, and rather literally let go of the arrow, gently, with beautiful form.)
Today I got a call at work from a woman, a stranger to me, who heard my poem on Poetry Radio today, "A House in Carlock." She said it gave her goosebumps. I was so honored and thrilled.
Then another woman called with a research question, who had heard me on the radio in an interview about the cemetery walk! So a lot of people heard me on the radio today! But I was at work, so I missed me.
Which is very Zen of me, perhaps. And slightly insane.