MF Art and technology

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Thu Jan 06 2000 - 06:38:31 GMT


Call it luck or magic. My favorite character, on the best TV show, quoted my
favorite book. And he quoted the part that is most relevant to this month's
discussion. Chris Stevens, the philosophical radio announcer on NORTHERN
EXPOSURE, quoted ZAMM. I happen to know it comes from page 16 in the Bantam
paperback edition...

"The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the curcuits of a
digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top
of a mountain or in the petals of a flower."

But this is not easy to understand in any precise way. I mean, it could
easily be quoted by some new-age airhead without any real comprehension. And
in order to make a person see the point he's making Pirsig has to un-do the
Western Philosophical tradition and overturn our current world-view. No
small task. DLT is right, it IS a philosophical problem, but its also about
the struggle of our own time. In 1974 the backdrop was the whole hippie
thing, which Pirsig describes as a mass anti-technology movement, which is
represented in John and Sylvia. And this neo-Luddite movement is really only
a symptom of a deeper rift, a more fundamental duality. You know, SOM.

Pirsig devotes a lot of words, all of page 15 and then some, to describing
the way John and Sylvia feel about technology. Here are some of them:
inhuman, mechanical, lifeless, a blind monster, a death force, something
hideous, eating up the land, no escape, no way to strike back, barbed wire,
locked gates, STAY OUT! NO TRESPASSING! ugly strange shapes, alienated,
estranged, incomprehensible hostility, dehumanized. That's all just from ONE
page and doesn't even include repeats. John and Sylvia think these feelings
are about machines and factories, but that is really how scientific
objectivity makes us feel. Like a tiny, pointless speck in a meaningless

The split between art and technology is predicated on subject/object dualism
but it has been amplified by the recent ascent of the scientific worldview.
The split between art and science was finalized by scientific objectivity.
The divorce papers were sealed by the industrial revolution.

SOM is the source of lots of other dualities too, not just art and science.
The scene where the narrator is talking with a group of friends about the
instruction manual for the rotisserie (page 144) shows some of the various
dicotomies created by SOM. There is the mechanic and the sculptor, the
fiction writer and the linguistic analyst, and the distinction bewteen art
and art history is also mentioned. We could add more like actor and critic,
mystic and priest, poet and librarian. You get the idea. When we're talking
about the split between art and technology, we're talking about a more
fundamental underlying split. Indeed, this same question, this same theme is
even indicated in the book's title.

If I understand Marcos' question, our task is to explain the first book, in
terms of the second book. Whew! This is very ambitious. Let me just take a
brief stab at his specific questions.

1) Does art still have a dynamic role today?

Its easy to see that art and artists aren't very highly prized compared to
technologists. Just look at who gets all the wealth and power in society. It
ain't the poets who sit behind gold plated desks. On the other hand there
are millions of would-be artists. Every city has an art district, rock bands
rule the world and Hollywood paints the whole culture. Some of it is art. I
think Northern Exposure is art. Oliver Stone and Woody Allen have vision,
and they know how to use a light meter too. But this doesnt really relate to
Pirsig's issues. Sorry.

2) What are technologies' values... in MOQ terms?

I think Pirsig wants to convince us that there is a certain divinity in the
gears of a bike, that the precision of the parts is really about the
presicion of the idea behind the parts, that the structure and the design
and the materials and the mechanic are all involved in the same process. But
the problem is that our technology is flawed because of SOM. It is the
amorality, the lack of values, in our technology that disturbs John and
Sylvia. (See page 86-88)

3) How can technology evolve faster?

Well, I think Pirsig would like to suggest a different attitude toward
technology to begin with and I suppose it would influence the nature of
invention, which is largely driven by the market and the military now.
That's how we get Olestra and hydrogen bombs.

4) What happened to separate art and technology?

To make a long story short, the scientific revolution over-reacted to the
Church's tyranny and disregarded perfectly good social values in the name of
objective truth.

5) Is the divorce definitive?

No its not. But the kids have suffered too much already. So even if they got
back together, ... -

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