2007 Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert Pirsig)

Excerpts from the letter of transmittal written by the students who chose the text:

We chose the book from a long list of nominations offered by various faculty and students that included the close contender, Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age by Bill McKibben.  The decision wasn’t easy, and the criteria we used (“Quality” of the read, connection with the Honors curriculum, ability to be provocative and stimulate discussion, etc.) only got us so far.  In this case, the decision to choose Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance speaks highly to the overall quality of the text.  We hope that you read it carefully over the course of the summer.

One of the primary threads in Zen is the comparison between the two spheres of science and romanticism, and the notion that there can be a bridge between rationality and emotion.  Rationalism and romanticism arise often in the Honors sequence; you might ask yourself whether or not they have to conflict as you read the book.  In addition, we’d also suggest that you look beyond the surface details of objects and events in the book, such as the motorcycle merely being a motorcycle or its metallic components merely being metallic components.  That may seem obvious, but in Zen it’s sometimes easy to get caught up in the narrative.

When you arrive at the University, you will be discussing the ideas presented in the text with your colleagues under the direction of your Honors preceptor.  Like other books in the Civilizations sequence such as The Odyssey and The Aeneid, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance looks at the journey of the individual in context of the world around them.  This is particularly relevant to you as an incoming student, since you are at the beginning of your own journey.  Ideas in the book include ones of quality, values, and how you arrive at your conclusions.  Pirsig approaches these subjects thoughtfully, and we trust that you will do likewise.