“When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kind of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.”
– Robert M. Pirsig
Pirsig wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a philosophical novel I read during my college days. If you read the book – which I recommend – you’ll find that Pirsig knew a lot about doubt.
Zen was personal reading, not assigned for a class. In fact, I remember it took some effort to convince the professor of a Modern Novels class that it was a novel at all, so that I could write a paper on it. He said I should save Zen for a philosophy paper, and choose a nice novel – something actually fictional – for the assignment. Though he was right, he let me do it anyway. But in order to make his decision, my professor had to read the book, which he did overnight. Over one night.
One of the things I loved about college was that I was surrounded by people far smarter than me. (Or is is smarter than I? …Me. “Smart than I” sounds so pretentious.)
Me still meet smart people, but me don’t feel surrounded anymore.
The prof was Lennis C. Dunlap at Chico State, who co-wrote The Forms of Fiction with the novelist John Gardner. Both brilliant men and that book are, sadly, long since out of print. And my dust jacket is getting a little tattered too.
Another thing I liked about college was that there was very little dogma going on. Within the religion of the double space type and the one inch margins, we were encouraged to put our own twist on Knowledge.
Once we were discussing religion in one of Prof Dunlap’s seminars, and he invited us – optionally – to tell what religious group we belonged to, if any. When it came my turn, as I joke I said, “I’m a Druid – Reformed.” I made that up on the spot and thought it was pretty darn funny. Without missing a beat or blinking an eye, Dunlap said, “Is that a local coven or back home?” It’s been 30 years, and that still makes me smile.
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While I was writing this post today, I had the idea to order Zen on my Kindle. But when I looked around at the bookshelves, there it still sits. Since 1982. I was about half disappointed. Strange.
I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on my own in the 70’s. I keep a little notebook and it is listed in there again, to be read and chewed on once more.