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The Written Image: Robert Pirsig

On July 8, 1968, Robert Pirsig and his eleven-year-old son, Chris, started off on a cross-country road trip driving an old twenty-eight-horsepower Honda Superhawk CB77 motorcycle. Their seventeen-day journey took them from their home in Saint Paul through the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon, to San Francisco, and ultimately into literary history. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values, the book Pirsig wrote about the trip—and about his thoughts on the meaning of "quality"

and other philosophical concepts—became a cult classic when it was published by William Morrow in 1974. Translated into more than two dozen languages, the "philosophical novel," touted as "the most widely read philosophy book, ever," has sold more than five million copies worldwide. The image above is a photograph of Pirsig and his son (who, five years after the publication of the book, was stabbed to death outside the San Francisco Zen Center) at a rest stop in North Dakota on the first day of their trip. This month, to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of Pirsig's journey, Knopf is publishing Zen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Mark Richardson, a journalist who retraced Pirsig's route, interviewed the reclusive author, and discovered the lasting value of a literary classic. A new edition of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is being published by Harper Perennial Modern Classics in October.

Credit: Photograph courtesy of Henry Gurr (ww2.usca.edu/researchprojects/professorgurr). Used with permission of Robert Pirsig.

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The Written Image: Robert Pirsig (September/October 2008)
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