Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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Motorcycle Maintenance Symbol Analysis

Motorcycle Maintenance Symbol Icon
Motorcycle maintenance is, not surprisingly, the central symbol of the text. It is used as a real-life practice that can serve as a conduit for an individual’s awareness of Quality. Across his Chautauquas, the narrator details the ways in which individuals can use motorcycle repair to cultivate “peace of mind” and a focus on simply being present, all of which contribute to a way of life that is mindful of Quality. In essence, motorcycle maintenance serves as a concrete vessel for the narrator’s abstract theses about Quality and its proper role in an individual’s life.

Motorcycle Maintenance Quotes in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance quotes below all refer to the symbol of Motorcycle Maintenance. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Quality Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the HarperTorch edition of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance published in 1974.
Chapter 2 Quotes

And it occurred to me there is no manual that deals with the real business of motorcycle maintenance, the most important aspect of all. Caring about what you are doing is considered either unimportant or taken for granted.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Motorcycle Maintenance
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has been captivated by the memory of previous times that his motorcycle has broken down. He remembers with embarrassment a time that he thought the cycle was broken when in fact it simply ran out of gas. He tests the heat of the cycle he is riding, and explains that since this machine has had past "seizures," he tests it from time to time to make sure they wont recur.

After the first time the engine seized, the narrator took the bike into a shop. At the time, he felt it was too important to do the repair himself. The mechanics completely botched the repair, demonstrating a lack of interest in their work. They were detached from the job and rushed it, ultimately causing damage to the machine. The narrator says the young mechanics were spectators in their work, much like the authors of the computer manuals he edits for his profession. Here, he realizes that "there is no manual that deals with the real business of motorcycle maintenance, the most important aspect of all." All current volumes simply deal with the detached, spectator business of repairing the cycle in a disinterested vacuum. The most important aspect to the narrator is simply caring about the work and being invested in what you are doing. This desire for investment, interest, and active awareness will lead to and be further explicated by the narrator's quest for a philosophy of Quality.

The novel itself can thus be seen as the narrator's manual to fill this niche. By showing the attitude required for quality, meaningful motorcycle care, the narrator hopes to communicate a productive overall life philosophy.

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Chapter 5 Quotes

What we have here is a conflict of visions of reality. The world as you see it right here, right now, is reality, regardless of what the scientists say it might be. That’s the way John sees it. But the world as revealed by its scientific discoveries is also reality, regardless of how it may appear, and people in John’s dimension are going to have to do more than just ignore it if they want to hang on to their vision of reality. …
What you’ve got here, really, are two realities, one of immediate artistic appearance and one of underlying scientific explanation, and they don’t match and they don’t fit and they don’t really have much of anything to do with one another. That’s quite a situation. You might say there’s a little problem here.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), John Sutherland
Related Symbols: Motorcycle Maintenance
Page Number: 68-69
Explanation and Analysis:

Thinking about the very different approaches to motorcycle maintenance that he and John have, the narrator recalls an incident where he tried to help John repair a bike in order to get him interested in mechanics. He realizes that beyond viewing motorcycles differently, the two men have completely different world-views and understanding of reality. The narrator is interested in what things mean, while John is only interested in what things are.

John is invested in the present experience of things. The world how he sees it is reality, "regardless of what scientists say it might be." But the narrator asserts that the world and reality are also described by scientific discoveries, and that "people in John's dimension are going to have to do more than just ignore it." The romantic dimension involved with what things are is aligned with a frustration with and distrust of technology. The narrator also calls it "grooving." But to hold on to that type of living and that reality of immediate artistic appearance, "hip" people must also try to understand the alternate reality of "underlying scientific explanation." These realities, however, seem completely at odds and like they don't relate at all. This dichotomy and contrast is one of the main problems that the narrator will try to reconcile in the Chautauqua.

Chapter 14 Quotes

This divorce of art from technology is completely unnatural. It’s just that it’s gone on so long you have to be an archeologist to find out where the two separated. Rotisserie assembly is actually a long-lost branch of sculpture, so divorced from its roots by centuries of intellectual wrong turns that just to associate the two sounds ludicrous.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Motorcycle Maintenance
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

The travelers have arrived at their destination in Bozeman, Montana, where Phaedrus used to teach, and have met DeWeese, the old friend of Phaedrus with whom they will stay. There they are greeted by a small welcoming party, during which at one point DeWeese asks the narrator to review an instruction manual for a rotisserie (a cooking appliance for roasting meat). The inspection of the manual sends the narrator on a long philosophical speech.

In this speech he returns to the split of the classical and the romantic, explaining some of the content of his private Chautauqua to his friends. Here, he elaborates on the false dichotomy between technology and art, saying that it is "completely unnatural." This idea, he says, has been carried throughout history much since the invention of reason. He says "rotisserie assembly is actually a long-lost branch of sculpture," suggesting that technology and art are one. He explains that instead of there being only one right way to assemble a piece of machinery, there are actually infinite ways. The art is in approaching the problem with peace of mind, and in the process of figuring out and choosing which way to proceed.

Chapter 24 Quotes

There has been a haze, a backup problem in this Chautauqua so far; I talked about caring the first day and then realized I couldn’t say anything meaningful about caring until its inverse side, Quality, is understood. I think it’s important now to tie care to Quality by pointing out that care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. 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.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Motorcycle Maintenance, The Glass Door
Page Number: 353
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator has woken up from a Glass Door nightmare. The nightmare shows an incident at the hospital, where Phaedrus sees his family on the other side of a glass door and is unable to open it. Note that the nightmare chapter is written in a different font, since it is from Phaedrus's perspective. After waking, the narrator and Chris get back on the motorcycle, and the narrator continues with the Chautauqua.

He explains that there has been a "haze, a backup problem" so far. He began with the issue at hand, the technological hopelessness of people like John, but in order to get to Quality, he had to back up and explain "classical" and "romantic" and give the history of Phaedrus' breakdown. Now, finally turning back to his original point, the narrator shows how Quality is linked to caring. He says that the two ideas are "internal and external aspects of the same thing." In other words, someone who cares a lot about their work produces Quality, and someone who produces something with Quality is someone who cares. Motorcycle maintenance, then, is the real-life application of Phaedrus' ideas, and the narrator has thus been talking about Quality in a way even before it was formally introduced.

Stuckness shouldn’t be avoided. It’s the psychic predecessor of all real understanding. An egoless acceptance of stuckness is a key to an understanding of all Quality, in mechanical work as in other endeavors. It’s this understanding of Quality as revealed by stuckness which so often makes self-taught mechanics so superior to institute-trained men who have learned how to handle everything except a new situation.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Motorcycle Maintenance
Page Number: 366
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the Chautauqua, the narrator is discussing the feeling of stuckness that occurs when reason fails to solve a problem. The example he uses is of a screw stuck in a motorcycle you are trying to repair. Like the screw itself, you become stuck, unable to remove it and unable to proceed. Such a moment can be extremely frustrating.

However, the narrator suggests that moments like this are actually key to new ideas and recognizing Quality. Stuckness is what comes before true understanding. Rather than avoiding stuckness, he says it should be embraced. Without ego, we need to accept this position of stuckness as a key to understanding Quality. It is this patience and embrace of stuckness, he says, that makes self-taught mechanics better than "institute-trained men." The self-taught person knows how to move past stuckness and figure out ingenious solutions to new problems, but the institute-trained person knows only a set of procedures which sometimes can lead to the unfamiliar stuckness he or she can't handle.

Chapter 26 Quotes

If you’re going to repair a motorcycle, an adequate supply of gumption is the first and most important tool. If you haven’t got that you might as well gather up all the other tools and put them away, because they won’t do you any good.

Gumption is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going. If you haven’t got it there’s no way the motorcycle can possibly be fixed. But if you have got it and know how to keep it there’s absolutely no way in this whole world that motorcycle can keep from getting fixed. It’s bound to happen. Therefore the thing that must be monitored at all times and preserved before anything else is the gumption.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Motorcycle Maintenance
Page Number: 389-390
Explanation and Analysis:

In this stage of the Chautauqua, the narrator addresses the necessity of gumption, meaning spirit, initiative, or drive. He says that in order to repair a motorcycle (or approach any task), first and foremost you need enough gumption to get you through it. No matter what else you have, like literal tools and expertise, without gumption you won't get anywhere in your repair.

The narrator deems gumption the "psychic gasoline" that energizes and sustains the whole process. Without it the motorcycle will never be fixed, since you won't have the energy or the drive to fix it and break past "stuckness" and frustration, and to keep focusing and striving for Quality. With enough gumption and the ability to sustain your gumption levels, however, nothing in the world can stop you from completing your task and fixing the motorcycle. Therefore, the narrator says, when repairing a motorcycle one must constantly monitor and preserve his or her levels of gumption. He will go on to explain "gumption traps," or possible pitfalls which might enable you to lose gumption, and methods to avoid them and keep your drive at a healthy, working level.

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Motorcycle Maintenance Symbol Timeline in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The timeline below shows where the symbol Motorcycle Maintenance appears in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
Zen Theme Icon
...down, yet John has inconvenienced himself by rebuffing the narrator’s efforts to teach him about motorcycle maintenance . There are very few shops in middle America that can repair John’s motorcycle, a... (full context)
Chapter 6
Identity Theme Icon
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
Duality Theme Icon
...towards emotions and intuitions. The narrator explains that motorcycle riding is a romantic experience, while motorcycle maintenance is more of a classic task. (full context)
Chapter 24
Quality Theme Icon
Zen Theme Icon
...scientific reality,” and “Quality is the goal of Art”—by showing how they come together in motorcycle maintenance . (full context)
Chapter 25
Quality Theme Icon
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
Duality Theme Icon
Zen Theme Icon
...work, and instead enter a state of “just doing.” When conducted properly, the act of motorcycle maintenance prevents one from separating one’s self from one’s surroundings. This reformed individual consciousness is, to... (full context)
Chapter 26
Quality Theme Icon
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
Zen Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Quality Theme Icon
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
Duality Theme Icon
Zen Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Quality Theme Icon
Duality Theme Icon
Zen Theme Icon
...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... (full context)