Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Phaedrus begins to examine “esthetics,” the formalized study of Quality, but is repulsed by the intellectualism of the field. He arrives at an understanding of Quality that states that the concept cannot be defined, but is bothered by his anti-rational refusal to define a central concept.
Phaedrus’s rational approach to Quality stands in his way of truly understanding the concept—his preoccupation with defining something that may not be definable vexes him.
Themes
Quality Theme Icon
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
Chris falls down, angry about the hike. The narrator does not condemn his son’s bratty behavior, and the pair resumes hiking. Meanwhile, the narrator recreates Phaedrus’s image of a world without quality, and concludes that a world without quality is a completely “square” one, devoid of artistic interest. He uses this revelation to divide the world into classic and romantic spheres.
The realization that a quality-less world is a “square” one helps Phaedrus realize that Quality may be at the root of the disagreement between “hip” and “square” ideologies in American culture.
Themes
Quality Theme Icon
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
Duality Theme Icon
Chris pretends to have hurt his ankle. The narrator carries Chris’s share of the equipment and they continue hiking. While the two rest, Chris begins to cry, and the narrator laments his son’s egotism.
Chris’s selfish concerns contrast with the narrator’s contentedness in his surroundings.
Themes
Zen Theme Icon
The narrator emphasizes that Quality bridges the gap between romantic and classic modes of thought. Phaedrus’s refusal to define Quality means that the concept cannot be viewed from an analytical, classic standpoint. As he and Chris hike on, Chris’s spirits seem to have improved. The pair then sets up camp for the night.
Phaedrus’s inability to define Quality has become less of a frustration and more of an indication of how groundbreaking the concept is: it transcends the conventional mechanisms of reason.
Themes
Quality Theme Icon
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
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