Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Pirsig Vs McKeon

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is after all a novel. There are biographical elements in it but Pirsig is not restrained by a correspondence theory of truth. Never mind the truth feel the quality! By the power invested in the internet certain of his central stances are brought into question. I learnt that although he had lots of E.C.T. and his short term memory was affected his long term memory remained intact mostly. Therefore the basic error of regarding what he calls Aristotelian substance and form as a dualism set against ‘Eastern’ non -dualism cannot be accounted for by mental fog. It may be that intelligence measured as a capacity for organising and retaining vast quantities of information is unsuited to true philosophical understanding. Being a bit stupid and puzzled by everyday assumptions is more adapted to that goal. Pirsig’s rejection of Advaita Vedanta on the basis of rigorist mayavada was hasty. The ironic thing is that a conflation of the aporetic aspects of Aristotelian and Advaitic philosophy might, I believe, be more fruitful for an understanding of the problem of Quality. Add in a soupçon of Maritain’s development of connaturality in Degrees of Knowledge and the mystic broth is just right.

Be that as it may and I will come round to it in time, I also found out that our hero’s nemesis, the Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Methods at Chicago University was Richard McKeon. Was he fair to him? In trying to discover that I read in some of his essays on Rhetoric. That was his specialisation and he knew everything about it, in several languages yet his powers of communication were limited even by academic standards. He is stupefyingly dull. As I read I thought to myself ' he can’t go on with this level of abstract information, soon he will offer examples of how it might work in living discourse’. The similarity of the mental apparatus of McKeon and Pirsig may be the key to their antipathy. I find the case of McKeon dispiriting , the early effort in attaining mastery of his subject stultified by the later failure to attain its objective.

Then there was the Great Books program, an enthusiasm of his of which I am the beneficiary having bought a lot of them very cheaply in perfect condition, never cracked, never ‘pounded’, withal a beacon to guide one through the fog of the inconscient.


skholiast said...

I was just reading the Great Books edition of Pascal. We sometimes turn over whole sets for $100-$300 at the bookshop, nearly pristine, apparently undisturbed in the years they spent adorning someone's wall. I am sure there are pages between which the air of the room has never come.

One gathers from McKeon's accolades that many found him to be an excellent and inspiring teacher -- even some who weren't just blown away by "OMG, he's so brilliant!" But yes, he's very difficult to enjoy reading. My guess is he was either better in person, or else -- as in Pirsig's case -- far, far worse.

ombhurbhuva said...

Pascal. A serious man with added lightness. Now the format of the Great Books is one that is not a pleasurable reading experience. You are always hoving to the adjacent column or being boarded by it. You feel the great weight of the Great Book. Those marching columns. Resistance is futile.

The prescient authors in the field of philosophy wrote short semester length books or long essays. McKeon it seems wrote only essays and the accolades are a hymn to the power that he undoubtedly wielded. I forgot to say that ZAMM holds up well as a novel and so what if he’s wrong about this and that and the other. Hume was wrong about everything but he wrote well. Being genial in the original sense, he could engender thought without ever considering if he had covered ethos, logos and pathos.