Friday, January 27, 2006

I Give Up: Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Ten years after I dated the first guy who told me that this book changed his life, I finally picked up Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. And after a month of trying to read this book, I've given up. It's going back to where I found it, namely on my aunt's bookshelf, where it had sat half-read since 1983.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is the biggest pile of self-aggrandizing, narcissistic, pseudo-philosophical conversation-with-yourself I've ever been party to. The four chapters I managed to read before throwing the book at the wall in utter frustration consisted of the protagonist explaining to the reader that his attitude toward motorcycling is better (more intuitive, purer, etc) than his biking companions'. But it's all a metaphor: the author/protagonist's view on biking is just a way to convey his worldview, which is The Bestest, Rightest Worldview Ever!

I wish I could say that this bit of ego-stroking was at least interesting or amusing, but it isn't. The writing has all the soul of a midlife crisis. It's hard for me to articulate what's wrong with the writing, aside from saying that it's dull, but at the same time, over-done. One might say that the book is full of the author's bloviations.

Take Chapter 3, The Chapter That Made Me Scream. That's the Chapter where the protagonist/author has a "conversation" with his riding companions about the existence of ghosts and spirits. The author/protagonist's view is that spirits are just as real as atoms and "quants" (did he mean "quarks?"). He goes on to tell them (because it's more of a lecture than a conversation) that gravity is also a "ghost." Let me just quote the book:

"So when did this law start? Has it always existed?"
"What I'm driving at," I say, "is the notion that before the beginning of the earth, before the sun and the stars were formed, before the primal generation of anything, the law of gravity existed."
"Sitting there, having no mass of its own, no energy of its own, not in anyone's mind, because there wasn't anyone, not in space, because there was no space either, not anywhere -- the law of gravity still existed?"
"If that law of gravity existed," I say, "I honestly don't know what a thing has to do to be nonexistent. [...] I predict that if you think about it long enough you will find yourself going round and round and round until you finally reach only one possible, rational, intelligent conclusion. The law of gravity and gravity itself did not exist before Isaac Newton."

My head EXPLODES each time I read this!

The "law of gravity" is a mathematical model for describing how gravity works at a macroscopic level. Gravity is a force, it need not have energy or mass. ARGH!

OK, but setting aside the poor grasp of physics this guy has, there are, like, a billion things wrong with this passage. The writing is of the same caliber as a high school student's (I'm not saying my writing's isn't, but I don't write books) and there are enough logical fallacies in that one exerpt to send my CEGEP philosophy prof's head spinning. Moreover, the author has been lazy creating the biking companions because they never once come up with an objection to his ramblings! Neither of them ever says, "Dude, um, just because you don't know about something doesn't mean it doesn't exist."

That never happens. I mean, if the author had made the biking companions with half a brain, he would have had to construct a strawman to tear down instead of just lecturing to an enraptured audience.

Lazy. That's what this is. Lazy.

But now at least I know where my ex-boyfriends they got their insane ideas from and why conversing with them was like talking to a ten year old. It all makes sense now.

I should have read the book sooner. An ounce of prevention could have spared me several painful dinner dates.

No comments:

Post a Comment