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Examine the activity/metaphor of motorcycle maintenance.

April 30, 2022
Christopher R. Teeple

The paper must be at least ten complete double-spaced pages. When I say “complete,” I mean make sure that your last page, your tenth page, is a full page. Anything less than this will significantly work against your grade. If you write more than ten pages, this is great; I will read and consider papers longer than the minimum. The reason I ask for ten pages is that this is a requirement of the Department of English for any 4000-level literature course. You should use the default Word settings: 12 point type, Times New Roman. If you want, you can use the 11 point type that is in Calibri. You need to have 1-inch margins on all sides. This is probably what you have set up in your default settings for Word. Please do not send me a PDF file.
You do not need a cover page. Just put your name, the date, the course number, and my name at the top of your first page. Then skip two spaces, provide a title, then skip two more spaces, and start your essay. You do not need a work-cited page and I ask that you use our book and no other sources. The questions I have asked you to consider on the Major Assignments’ links to three books we have read and the discussions we have been having.
Please write your paper in an academic style—we can take some liberties in the on-line environment. Perhaps some of the best models of writing are the discussion postings by your colleagues that I have posted in the Announcements section. You can use “I” in your paper, but only do it if you really need to.
As a rule of thumb, I would say that your paper will be well-served if about fifteen percent of it consists of quotes from ’s novel. Any more suggests that Chiang, Pirsig, or DeLillo is writing your paper. Any less suggests that you are not demonstrating that you are really focused on the text. However, this is a rule of thumb, so do not think that it has to be exactly fifteen percent.
Many of you have already demonstrated that you know how to quote from texts very well. When you use a quote from the novel, make sure that you explain its value to your argument in your own words—please do not assume that any quote, however apt, will explain what you are thinking. This is your paper, so please make the quotes work for you. Contextualize the text you choose to write about for your own purposes.
Things to be thinking about as you read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM). How can you shape them into a thesis for your papers?
1. Examine the activity/metaphor of motorcycle maintenance. How does Pirsig use it to allow us to better understand the problems we might face? Why is it particularly suited to Pirsig’s needs? How might we employ it when we do our own technical writing, literary criticism, or creative writing?
2. How does the concept of journey fit into ZAMM? Pirsig could have sat in his living room or office and just told us his thoughts about Zen, contemporary culture, Western philosophy, and technical writing, but he chose to take us along with him on a trip as he explicated his ideas. Does this better allow Pirsig to engage us? How?
3. Define Pirsig’s concept of Quality. Does it change the way you think about the ways you understand and organize the world (“the world”)? How might it fit in with some of the ideas you might have run across in DeLillo’s White Noise? If you limit your understanding of Quality to just something that is better than another thing, this is not what Pirsig is getting at. There is something new that can be riveting and/or shocking and/or beautiful and memorable and it is something that cannot be defined with a rigid set of rules, yet we know there is something extraordinary about it.
4. How does Phaedrus challenge our more traditional notions of academic rationality (i.e., the Church of Reason) in ZAMM? Think of another class you took where you could use Phaedrus’ challenges. How might you have confronted the professor in this class?
5. Is it really possible to find the Buddha that exists within analytic thought? The gears of a motorcycle? The A 13 Bionic chip on a cellphone? How does one do this?
6. How do the descriiptions of the scenery in ZAMM better allow Pirsig to make his philosophical points?
7. Why is it impossible to describe a real Quality event? How does it differ from describing it in a Chautauqua?
8. Characterize the dilemma that produces Phaedrus’ insanity? Does one have to go insane to understand/see what Phaedrus saw? Why?
9. What does “gumption” mean? How can we use this in our own work as technical writers, creative writers, literary scholars, or any other profession? If you write about gumption, you will need to tie it in to the other parts of ZAMM.

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