Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator distinguishes his Chautauqua orations from the work a novelist might do, saying that he prefers to consider John and Sylvia as friends and not characters. However, he acknowledges that his philosophical musings necessarily distance him from his companions, and laments the isolation that modern life frequently provokes.
This reflection represents a deliberate effort by the author to resist categorization of his book as a novel, which might diminish the gravity of his philosophical propositions.
Themes
Duality Theme Icon
The narrator tells his companions about the man they’ll be visiting in Bozeman, an abstract painter named Robert DeWeese who teaches at the college. He is an old friend of Phaedrus’s, and the narrator worries that DeWeese will expect him to be the same person as the Phaedrus he knew. The narrator recalls that Phaedrus could not understand DeWeese, and for that reason respected him. The two had a habit of reacting to events in bafflingly opposite ways, and the two’s opposing perspectives make each think the other has access to a special type of knowledge.
The narrator’s worries about meeting DeWeese show that there is still a deeply troubling disjunction between his current identity and that of Phaedrus.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Duality Theme Icon
Though the narrator’s account obscured this chronology, Phaedrus did not move to Bozeman immediately after his epiphany about Kant’s philosophy. Before Montana, he studied Oriental philosophy in India. He studies, but has difficulty subscribing to philosophy that advocates breaking down the separation between subject and object. He does not practice Zen meditation because he relies too much on logic and sense.
Phaedrus is not able to shake the dualistic mindset through which he perceives the world in terms of subjects and objects. For this reason, he is unable to fully commit to his studies in India.
Themes
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Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
Duality Theme Icon
Zen Theme Icon
One day at the Indian university, Phaedrus’s teacher explains that the world is illusory, and Phaedrus asks whether the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was illusory. The teacher answers yes, and Phaedrus decides to leave India. Back from India, Phaedrus settled down in the United States, worked as a journalist, married, and had two children. His life became more comfortable, but when he moved to Montana, his old intellectual anxieties began to resurface.
Phaedrus’s response to the teacher’s analysis of the bombing of Hiroshima—which as he sees it took so much human life and affected the world so tremendously that it can't be viewed as anything but very real—shows that he is, at this point, very much anchored in day-to-day reality. His more practical life choices back in the United States affirm this.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Rationality and Irrationality Theme Icon
Duality Theme Icon
Zen Theme Icon
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