Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals,as you may have heard, is Pirsig’s sole follow-up book to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, though he’s written some other articles and things since then that I hope to look into via future blog posts here. In it, he elaborates his Metaphysics of Quality further, applies it to critique modern society and the hippie movement in particular that so embraced his first book, and talks about his life of fame and loneliness. We also get some additional back-story about the events that were already in the past as of ZAMM: getting out and staying out of the mental institution, taking peyote back at Bozeman where he taught those creative writing students.
Like ZAMM, Lila is a narrative interwoven with his thoughts, and though the ultimate focus of the narrative, i.e. this unhinged and unpleasant woman that Pirsig hooks up with while cruising around aimlessly on his boat, serves as a case study for his considerations of Quality, a lot of the details of the boat trip itself are easily skimmable, so unlike ZAMM, where I let myself be immersed in the motorcycle trip as described and only later went back to carve out the philosophical ideas, I will freely admit to merely skimming the narrative sections of this book, and even through a few of the discursive parts, to try to get to the central ideas. As in the case of ZAMM, when you do this you reduce Lila to a 50-page-or-so tract with a handful of ideas and thoughtful discussion. Some of of the key ideas from Lila were brought up during our episode, and Dave has sketched out some others in some of his comments on this blog. I plan to pick out a couple for more extensive discussion here over the next days.
As our commenter Derek pointed out, something gets lost when you skip the setting: riding on a motorcycle or sitting on a boat at night are great settings to be alone with your thoughts, to face the wide world in all its mysteriousness, etc. However, I don’t think the particular setting you’re contemplating in is particularly tied to the result. I’ve stayed up many a late night songwriting, or fiction writing, or philosophy writing… it’s just a creative time for me, and the particular quality of the particular night doesn’t affect the content of what I produce so much as what might be most bugging me and/or inspiring me at the time. So no, I don’t think that going light on the boating/driving parts in Pirsig’s boats will keep you from getting his philosophic message. If you think that the driving parts are just beautiful writing, like Cormac McCarthy describing the plains of Mexico or [insert a comparable literary example you can relate to], then by all mean, feast on the book in full. I’m no literary critic, certainly, but for my purposes, ZAMM could have been edited down quite a bit before the majesty of the road and the towns and all that would have been removed from the experience for me. There is a definite literary effect of sheer length, however; the feeling of a journey taken, with the weariness, isolation, and homesickness that entails. So yes, given the way I’ve skimmed Lila, I’m sure there’s some literary effect of that sort I’m not getting.
What I did get from Lila is some insightful commentary on ZAMM, but also some old-guy-crotchetiness and resentment. More on that in part two.