After receiving 121 rejections from publishers, Robert Pirsig finally got Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance published in 1974, which subsequently sold over five million copies and put Pirsig in high demand. Nevertheless, his follow-up book, Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals, didn’t come out until 1991, and he’s published no book-length works since then. What did this towering influence on so many writers, bikers, and lonely misfits do with the rest of his time?
In this video, Pirsig talks about his passion for boating, which is the setting for Lila. As an introduction, we hear John Sutherland, who was a prominently-featured character in the first half of Zen, opining that Pirsig should do some travel writing, and to my ears being a little snarky about the philosophy component of his works. We then get to see Pirsig’s boat and hear him talk about a nearly deadly trip he took across the Atlantic in 1979. (“right where the Titanic was sunk”).
Pirsig’s sparse output shouldn’t be a surprise if you’re familiar with his philosophy, which is all about what he calls “Quality,” a basic (and therefore in an important sense indefinable) component of experience that not only provides a basis for explaining psychology, biology, and physics, but also provides a guide for practical, daily life. Getting pulled into the world of “philosophology,” which he describes as a concern with the history and methods of philosophy, as opposed to actually doing philosophy, would not yield the quality of life that floating around on his boat would.
Mark Linsenmayer runs the Partially Examined Life philosophy podcast and blog.