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Published on September 9th, 2012 | by Thompson


Love and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“The stream of consciousness moves faster now, and is broader, but it seems to run less deep” (Pirsig, 9).  This stream, now flowing like the Yellowstone, swiftly spreading its oily firewater and poisoning other streams, is the driving force behind both Pirsig (our narrator, who I will refer to as Pirsig throughout) and Phaedrus’ nagging question, “What is Quality,” but more importantly, “Where has it gone,” and “what can we do about it?”

I say this question nags both Phaedrus and Pirsig simply because Pirsig feels the need to reminisce and retell the story of Phaedrus while on his motorcycle trip.  “The narratives we tell (ourselves) create and define the worlds in which we hold our beliefs.  Our narratives are the evidence we have of ourselves and of our convictions.  Argument, then, is not something we make outside ourselves; argument is what we are” (Corder, 415).  This argument about Quality is Phaedrus.  And it is Pirsig because he’s narrating, which tells me he is still haunted by it.

“When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt” (Pirsig, 190).  I think Corder would agree with Pirsig here, since he would argue we are our arguments, and nothing but.  Pirsig’s narrative can become preachy or feel like an enthusiastic lecture at times because Pirsig’s beliefs are in doubt, much like the doubt in the Church of Reason lecture made Phaedrus a tad fanatical.  We become defensive when the very core of us is attacked, scrutinized, marginalized, or even questioned, but Corder would suggest instead of feeling the need to defend our convictions we should embrace the convictions of others to better shape our own.  “If there is to be hope, we have to see each other, to know each other, to be present to each other, to embrace each other” (Corder, 421).  It’s a warm and fuzzy way to look at rhetoric, which has become the antithesis of warm and fuzzy since the Sixties, with politicians and media moguls giving it a bad name, but I think Pirsig and Corder are both searching for the same thing.

Pirsig is searching for Quality long lost, and Corder is searching for the lost quality of Rhetoric.  They’re both trying to inject Quality into a world that sacrificed Quality for productivity and profits in the first place.  Think about the bad name rhetoric has in our society.  The only time I hear the term used (besides the time I spend in Doug’s class) is on every news channel when the ditzy, blonde dimwit behind the anchor desk refers to political “rhetoric” in particularly nasty ways, because the politicians spitting this “rhetoric” spit it in particularly nasty ways.  “When argument is taken as display or presentation, then it eventually becomes a matter of my poster against yours, with the prize to the slickest performance,” (Corder, 423) and political argument has become almost strictly display and presentation.

Apparently, according to the Republican National Convention, politicians don’t even have to speak fact anymore.  We need to pay fact-checkers just to make sure our public servants aren’t lying to us.  That’s not rhetoric.  That’s lying, and “journalists” and “politicians” call it rhetoric.  Pathetic, but Booth tells us, “to abandon ‘rhetoric,’ with its long honorable history, just because it often suggests shoddy practices, would be like abandoning the term ‘philosophy,’ just because people talk about ‘the philosophy of tennis coaching'” (Booth, 229).  I’d love to believe we can breathe life into rhetoric, but to bring it back would require a complete societal revolution.  I’d like to know if Corder had changed his mind since his essay was published in 1985 (he died in 1998), or if he’d “still insist that argument – that rhetoric itself – must begin, proceed, and end in love” (Corder, 424).

The sad thing is I agree with Corder.  Love is what’s missing in this world, and it’s sad because it may be a hopeless endeavor.  Phaedrus also discovers that a lack of love is causing him so much grief.  “A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares.  A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who’s bound to have some characteristics of Quality” (Pirsig, 353).  So caring is Quality, and I’d venture to say Love is caring.  Without Love it’s difficult to attain peace of mind, and “assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind” (Pirsig, 206).

I really do think Quality would improve if more people loved what they did.  Phaedrus makes a good point, “When traditional rationality divides the world into subjects and objects it shuts out Quality, and when you’re really stuck it’s Quality, not any subjects or objects, that tells you where you ought to go” (Pirsig, 361).  When you’re really stuck it’s Love that tells you where you ought to go.  I remember a particular moment after finishing my undergraduate program when I was truly stuck.  I had a good job offer doing something I knew I would hate, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do.  It was Love, a love for writing that pointed me in the right direction.  I’m sure everyone has relied on Love at some point, but the problem with Quality is that we’re not relying on it enough.  Don’t you just hate it when these deep, philosophical questions boil down to a cliché song lyric?  But love really is all you need.

So how do we go about instilling Love into rhetoric, technology, and life?  How do we persuade people to be kind to each other and to not only hear people, but listen to them, and empathize with them?  Bobcat Goldthwait wrote and directed a film, God Bless America, which presents an interesting, gruesome answer to these questions.

I certainly don’t support Bobcat’s narrative as a possible solution, but it is an interesting, contemporary example of how difficult it would be to accomplish what Phaedrus and even Corder aim to do.  What I fear is that rhetoric’s reputation has been tarnished to the point where lies have become “literary license” and:

“What guarantees the objectivity of the world in which we live is that this world is common to us with other thinking beings.  Through the communications that we have with other men we receive from them ready-made harmonious reasonings.  We know that these reasonings do not come from us and at the same time we recognize in them, because of their harmony, the work of reasonable beings like ourselves.  And as these reasonings appear to fit the world of our sensations, we think we may infer that these reasonable beings have seen the same thing as we; thus it is that we know we haven’t been dreaming.  It is this harmony, this quality if you will, that is the sole basis for the only reality we can ever know.” (Pirsig, 343)

So if the harmony, or Quality, in the reasonings we get from others disappears and is replaced with lies, so does the objectivity.  Now I’m not one to believe in objectivity in the first place, but I like to think the things my free press and public servants shovel me should be more true than false.  When Hunter S. Thompson was blurring the line between fact and fiction through Gonzo journalism, he was doing so for the benefit of his audience – so they may realize a truth much deeper than nonfiction, if it exists, can provide.  Now, journalists tell lies to cover up the truth.  It’s almost as if Hate has infected rhetoric and technology – a hate for a job, a hate for a political party, or a hate for Quality and an undying love for profits.  “Actually a root word of technology, techne, originally meant ‘art.’  The ancient Greeks never separated art from manufacture in their minds, and so never developed separate words for them” (Pirsig, 372).  We should have never taken the art out of things, but I don’t know if Love will ever permeate the Hate we seem to have adopted.

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About the Author

When Thompson isn't busy writing for Go Gonzo Journal, you may find him drunk at the movie theater with Professor Heinous or stirring up trouble in a bar with his attorney. Thompson also enjoys skiing, hiking, camping, and watching and betting on baseball and football.

3 Responses to Love and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

  1. Erica says:

    Love that final paragraph. “So if the harmony, or Quality, in the reasonings we get from others disappears and is replaced with lies, so does the objectivity.”
    I don’t know what to say. That seems to make good, good sense to me. Good sense. But I just blogged about how almost everything is subjective, so…fuck. What does this mean? There’s more subjectivity than objectivity because of disharmony? So really, there is objectivity, we’re just covering it up with lies? Is there absolute truth? Maybe I would have to be more specific out my subject matter to really be able to answer these questions. Either way, I think there is definitely truth in your statement, and I hadn’t thought about it far enough to make the connection between the harmony and the love and the objectivity.

    I also want to say one little thing about your comment “I’d love to believe we can breathe life into rhetoric, but to bring it back would require a complete societal revolution.” You mention earlier that the only time you hear the term “rhetoric”, is either in Doug’s class or on the news. You’re certainly not alone in that. Perhaps we don’t need an entire societal revolution, just more rhetorical in our curriculum. In fact, I’m kind of surprised it’s not more prevalent already, considering how intertwined it is with so many aspects of what we do. Maybe, just a thought, journalists and politicians can get by with such “bad rhetoric” because the majority of people can’t hold them accountable to “good rhetoric”, “love rhetoric”.

    • Thompson says:

      I couldn’t say there’s absolute Truth. That’s just not me, but I think there’s a communicative truth that is generally accepted by most (not just a majority), but this truth is ever changing. So is it really truth at all, or truth at the time, or truth some of the time? I don’t believe in objectivity, so that makes it hard to believe in Truth, but I’m also a humanist, so I believe in the human race, and that they have the interests of society in mind, so I don’t have a problem believing in some of their reasonings, and that is MY truth.

  2. Deb B. says:

    I really liked how you expressed that “Pirsig is searching for Quality long lost, and Corder is searching for the lost quality of Rhetoric.” I think I would add that Fisher, too, is searching for the lost quality of rhetoric in the form of his “narrative paradigm.” I think back to reading Socrates conversation with Phaedrus (I think that we read that in Dr. Sexson’s class last semester), and the whole argument being made centers around the “story” or narrative of lovers. If I recall correctly, within Socrates’s argument there were mentions of the soul and immortality and “winged” beings. It seems that if we go back to the beginnings of what we think of as rhetoric, we find those classical and romantic elements woven together and the use of “stories” as examples to prove a point seems such a softer way to get a point across.

    Your clip was great! I agree the term “rhetoric” has devolved into one that has a negative connotation and it makes it a challenge to rethink “rhetoric” as something different – something that can be used every day and all around us as a way of interacting. I wonder what it would look like if our politicians knew how to engage with one another “with love.” Would they listen to one another and find a way to compromise or meet in the middle? If that were to happen, folks would have to stop seeing the world in black & white and would have to “learn to dispense with what [they] imagined was absolute truth and to pursue the reality of things only partially knowable” (Corder 425). Fat chance, though – that would mean admitting they spent most of their time “spinning” a slant that distorts a truth.

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