The title you see above is from the marginalia in my copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book I haven’t looked at since I was an undergraduate (a long time ago). I got it out today in order to write this post, and became engrossed, both in the book and in my own underlinings and notes. I must have read it three or four times, because there are all the hallmarks of the OCD student I was. [Ed. note: Am.] I used a blue pen the first time through; a red pen the second. At some point a pencil became involved. Then I came across a section which I had blocked off, and in the margin written: Episcemology (from the Greek for Pisces, and logos, or knowledge). That would be, I believe, the branch of philosophy concerned with can truthfully be said about:
I sat down on the floor, shocked. Maybe all those years my brother and sister spent making me to stay in the recliner while they spun it around in fast circles had really done what Melinda hoped for? And not just the eye-wobbling and toddler drunk-walk, but actual brain damage? I looked more closely at my hand-writing and saw OH IT’S OKAY, THAT ‘C’ ACTUALLY HAD A LITTLE LINE ACROSS THE TOP! It was a T! Epistemology! My GPA was not in jeopardy!
It turns out I didn’t need to review the novel, although it was fun, because Pirsig’s concerns (a definition of ‘Quality,’ which he believes to have Kantian a priori-ness, and the romantic/classical thought divide) are not mine own. I would never mock a philosophical novel that sold millions of copies and was translated into twenty-seven languages. Seriously, bravo. [Ed. note: Haven does actually take issue with Pirsig’s attempts to squash Eastern and Western philosophy together into a Thought Sandwich. And also maybe it would have been a GREAT novel if it had been a novel, or a GREAT guide to motorcycle maintenance if it had actually been one. She is unsure on both counts. She does, however, love the story.]
This is what interests me: my daughter had an amazing history teacher in high school. We shall call him Ben, for that was indeed his name. On the first day of class he said the study of history is nothing more or less than an attempt to figure out how we are to live. When K. came home and told me that, my ears lifted and tilted forward like those of a good bird dog. Because of him I did a most un-Haven thing and acted as a chaperone on a school field trip. [Ed. note: Never before, never since.] I won’t say that Ben was responsible for my daughter going on to earn a degree in philosophy, but I think that was the start, and I am deeply grateful to him. How are we to live? That he asked the question of his students every day – that it became an ongoing and deep interest for some of them – is a wonder. The study of philosophy (or theology, for that matter) is in itself an attempt to find an adequate and satisfying structure around which one may build one’s life.
These are the walls of the house I live in: Children (my own, I mean, although I’m sure yours are also holy). Family and friendship, which are bound for me. Whitehead’s Process philosophy. Quakerism, particularly as it was practiced by the early Friends (George Fox, Margaret Fell, John Woolman, Lucretia Mott, etc.). The New Testament. Poetry. The American Transcendentalists: Twain, Crane, Whitman, Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson. Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Leonard Cohen: consider how he combines various strands of all I love in just the chorus of ‘Anthem’. There is a crack, a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in. Art. Dogs. Conversation. Popcorn.
If I were perfectly honest, Emerson would rise and rise until he was bumping against Whitehead, which he does quite often. I’ll close with one of his most famous and beautiful passages, and an image of a painting of Ralph Waldo my beloved Leslie Staub made for me. I would love to hear from all of you about how we are to live.
Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear.