Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Chapter 26 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, the narrator muses that he will likely never sell his motorcycle. The countryside reminds him of a poem, The Rubàiyat of Omar Khayyàm, which he recites to himself as he rides along.
The narrator’s discussion of Quality appears to have put him in high spirits, and he is inspired by the countryside that surrounds him.
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The narrator then addresses a concept he calls “gumption,” which is what motivates an individual to perform a Quality task like fixing a motorcycle. Gumption is vital, and the narrator observes that “gumption traps” can drain an individual’s motivation and ability to perform Quality work. He aims to catalogue these traps for a reader, so that others can learn how to avoid being stymied by gumption traps.
With this discussion of “gumption,” the narrator outlines another facet of his system for achieving Quality. This is likely the sort of productive pedagogy that Phaedrus hoped to achieve as a university instructor.
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The narrator divides gumption traps into two broad categories: “setbacks,” which come from external circumstances, and “hang-ups,” which come from the individual himself. He details several setback scenarios as they relate to motorcycle maintenance, such as failing parts and intermittently functional machinery.
Interestingly, the narrator’s approach to teaching about gumption is a very analytical, taxonomical one. This shows the way that classic and romantic outlooks reappear and intermingle within discussions of Quality, which encompasses them.
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The internal gumption traps, the hang-ups, are divided into three categories: “truth traps,” which block intellectual comprehension; “muscle traps,” which block physical actions; and, most dangerous of all, “value traps,” which interfere with internal understanding. The most common and dangerous value trap is “value rigidity,” in which a calcified understanding of the world prevents repairers from reevaluating problems as they work. Repairers can conquer this value trap by slowing down and developing a genuine interest in the workings of the motorcycle, which will allow them to see their project in new ways.
The principles that allow an individual to overcome gumption traps are very similar to those that allowed Phaedrus to come up with his philosophy of Quality in the first place. Reason stagnated in Phaedrus’s time because people were unwilling or unable to look past their established values to find appropriate ways to address the new sorts of problems that plagued them.
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The narrator and his son stop for lunch. The narrator reflects that his relationship with Chris is stuck in a value trap—the facts he wants to discover about his son are right before his eyes, but obscured due to value rigidity. The narrator brainstorms some possible explanations for Chris’s behavior, but ultimately concludes that he doesn’t understand it. He reflects again on his dream of a glass door separating him from his son, and wonders about its significance.
The narrator’s awareness that a value trap stands in the way of his relationship with Chris illustrates that intellectual understanding alone is not enough to solve a Quality issue.
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Back on the road, the narrator begins to discuss the internal gumption trap of ego. Ego insulates the individual from the reality of Quality, because it makes one more likely to believe flattering details and less likely to believe unflattering ones. To overcome this trap, the narrator suggests adopting a modest outlook.
The detriments of egotistical behavior have been illustrated several times previously, most poignantly in Chris’s unfulfilling climb up the mountain.
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Anxiety is another gumption trap, in which nervousness forces one to commit errors that hinder repair efforts. The best way to avoid these errors is to work out anxieties separately from the repair process, and in so doing achieve the required peace of mind. Boredom is the opposite of anxiety, and the narrator encourages readers to take a break as soon as boredom sets in, or else learn to relish the ritualized familiarity of their tasks. Impatience, another gumption trap, can be staved off by good organization and lack of time pressure.
This discussion simply represents the narrator’s attempts to exhaustively explain his knowledge of value traps, in the hopes that it can help readers avoid the predicaments that have vexed him.
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The narrator and Chris rest in a small, relaxed town. As they resume travel through the desert, the narrator continues his Chautauqua, explaining that truth traps often arise from yes-no logic’s inability to handle certain input data from reality. This dualism prevents us from seeing that for some scenarios, the proper answer is neither yes nor no but the Japanese term “mu,” which means “no thing.” The nature of the Buddha, for example, cannot be encompassed by yes or no, and is an illustration of mu. Mu also appears in the scientific world, and reveals that a scientist must widen the context of his inquiry in order to properly understand the phenomenon being studied. In motorcycle maintenance, mu answers to questions may point a mechanic to the true nature of the problem at hand more effectively than yes/no answers.
Mu is an important symbol in the text because it shows that in order to achieve Quality, an individual must break free of the dualistic impulse to conceptualize the world in terms of “yes” and “no.” It also speaks to a major philosophical difference between Japanese tradition and western philosophy's way of viewing the world.
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Finally, the narrator details psychomotor traps, which can be engendered by unsuitable tools, physical discomfort, or a lack of “mechanic’s feel.” To cultivate the proper feel, one must become comfortable interacting with and manipulating the array of materials used in motorcycle construction and repair.
Psychomotor traps must be overcome by a romantic process. They are difficult to explain because the romantic process of “feeling” defies intellectualization.
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The narrator concludes his discussion of gumption traps by warning that an understanding of possible traps isn’t enough to ensure flawless motorcycle maintenance. Most importantly of all, one must live one’s entire life in a way that avoids gumption traps and channels Quality in all activities. This attitude prevents one from viewing motorcycles and their maintenance as objects separate from one’s self, and allows for seamless, Quality work.
This footnote to the discussion of motorcycle maintenance serves as a reminder of the process’s symbolic status. Maintaining a motorcycle with Quality isn’t a path towards living with Quality. Rather, the ability to maintain a motorcycle with quality is an indication that one has already achieved a life attuned to Quality.
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The narrator notices that the people sharing the road with them appear more distracted and alienated than before. He realizes this is because they have reached the west coast, and condemns the area’s impersonal, egotistical way of life. At long last, after 325 miles of travel that day, Chris and the narrator call it a night and set up camp near Bend, Oregon.
The impersonal attitude of the West Coast offers a striking contrast to the principles of presence and oneness emphasized in the narrator’s Chautauquas.
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