Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator wakes up and his surroundings feel very familiar to him. The group decides to reach Bozeman by a road that Phaedrus traveled often. Phaedrus would traverse the area during his frequent multi-day excursions into the wilderness. He took these trips in order to work out his thoughts in solitude, away from institutional constraint.
The narrator’s awareness of his surroundings shows that, for better or worse, he is becoming steadily more in touch with Phaedrus’s experiences.
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After dropping out of college, Phaedrus’s “lateral drift” led him to enlist in the military. He is sent to Korea. His writings from this period are more emotional than before. The narrator recalls fragments of Phaedrus’s encounters with the country’s unfamiliar culture. Another memory dates from Phaedrus’s voyage back from Korea, on which he reads a book about Oriental philosophy. This book, The Meeting of East and West by F.S.C. Northrop, details the Eastern affinity for the esthetic and the Western affinity for the theoretic—a split that parallels Phaedrus’s “romantic” and “classic” divisions, respectively.
Phaedrus’s search for alternative forms of truth brings him into contact and with forms of thought unlike the western intellectual tradition. His increased knowledge helps him better comprehend the split between romantic and classic thought that he so passionately desires to address.
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Once Phaedrus returns from Korea, he spends two weeks in deep thought. After this time, his lateral search for truth is finished, and he decides to enroll in a university to study philosophy. Phaedrus sees philosophy as a higher discipline than science, one that allows him to ask the sorts of larger questions that the scientific method cannot support. As the narrator relates this story, he also describes the group’s ascent through the scenic mountains of Montana.
Phaedrus’s time spent drifting has expanded his reasoning and afforded him a broader perspective than science alone could have provided.
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This “high country” of Montana parallels another sort of “high country”—one that exists solely in the mind. Phaedrus traverses this mental terrain, and he reads many philosophical texts for guidance. However, he reads at first in an uncharitable, adversarial manner.
The travelers’ ascent into the high country literalizes Phaedrus’s advances into more esoteric regions of thought.
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By reading the texts of David Hume and Immanuel Kant, Phaedrus begins to better understand the predicament of classicism versus romanticism. Hume is an empiricist: he believes that all knowledge stems from sensory input. Therefore, humans cannot perceive any “substance” that emits this sensory data; only the sense impressions can be apprehended. This in turn means that humans cannot deduce causation or establish natural laws, since they possess sense impressions alone. It seems, then, that Hume’s conclusions invalidate empirical reason.
The narrator’s discussion of Hume and Kant serves to legitimize Phaedrus’s thought by contextualizing it alongside the established philosophical canon.
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Kant, a later philosopher, seeks to redeem empirical reason from Hume’s somewhat nihilistic conclusions. Kant posits that humans possess a priori conceptions of things, which exist independently of sense data but are reinforced by sensory input. The narrator gives the example of a motorcycle, which is an a priori concept that is modified by continuously changing sense data: the wear and tear on the tires, paint job, etc.
This further elaboration of philosophical tradition gives untrained readers a gloss of the philosophical underpinnings of Phaedrus’s thought.
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To the narrator, Kant’s thought is a revolutionary breakthrough in reason, reminiscent of Nicholas Copernicus’s theory of a heliocentric solar system. According to the narrator, Phaedrus performs a similar shift in reason in order to reconcile romantic and classic viewpoints.
The narrator’s description of Kant’s philosophy lends perspective to the philosophical shift that Phaedrus hoped to achieve.
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