MF Art and technology

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Mon Jan 10 2000 - 00:02:00 GMT


I don't think John B. provided good enough reason to think the
rotisserie-as-sculpture idea is crap, but I'll try to defend the opposite
view anyway.

In that relevant scene Pirsig said to the crowd, "Rotisserie assembly is
actually a long-lost branch of sculpture, so divorced from its roots by
centuries of intellectual wrong turns that just to associate the two sounds

The sculptor in the book didn't care for Pirsig's idea any more than John
does, saying, "I think I'll just stick to regular sculpture." But after that
"assembly instructions" scene, after the party and the laughs, the issue is
raised again. Gennie and DeWeese stay up and discuss it with him until two
in the morning. I'd urge everyone to look at these few pages again. It
occurs at the end of chapter 14 in ZAMM, which are pages 149-153 in my copy.
A few quotes from there...

"So I guess what I'm trying to say is that the solution to the problem isn't
that you abandon rationality but that you expand the nature of rationality
so that its capable of coming up with a solution." Pirsig then sites
Newton's invention of calculus as an example of expanding rationality.
"Newton INVENTED a new form of reason. He expanded reason to handle
infinitesimal changes and I think what is needed now is a similar expansion
of reason to handle technological ugliness." And he points out that this
can't be done at the branches it has to be done at the roots, which is why
he goes back to ancient Greece and re-invents metaphysics. The roots.

"Analytic reason, dialectic reason...Its always been completely bankrupt
with regard to abstract art. Nonrepresentative art is one of the root
experiences I'm talking about. Some people still condemn it because it
doesn't make 'sense'. But what's really wrong is not the art but the
'sense', the classical reason, which can't grasp it."

The rotisserie assembly scene is about the ugliness of technology and the
apparent meaninglessness of modern art. But he doesn't just want to make
pretty machines or rationalize aesthetics. That scene is just one of many
concrete examples. Motorcycle maintenance is another. What he's getting at
with these examples is the philosophical rift created by SOM. His examples
are all symptoms of that rift.

The poor quality of the assembly instructions were attributed to the way
such things are put together, by some flunky down at the factory. This is
where I have questions. I think Pirsig is correct as far as bike repair and
sculpting BBQs go, but what about industrial mass production, where "quality
control" usually means meeting the minimum legal standard in the cheapest
way? What about arms makers? Pokemon? Pirsig would have us al enter into an
intimate and personal relationship with out machines. And he'd like us to
understand the ideas behind the technology in our lives so we can relate to
ideas behind those inventions. But I'm just not smart enough to understand
all the technology in my life. I can play a radio station like a musical
instrument, even though it looked like the Concord's cockpit the first time
I saw one. But a VCR or a TV? I don't know how to repair my phone or fridge
if they break. The furnace, the stove? Forget it. I gotta call someone.
Oooops, my toilet is over-flowing... gotta go.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat Aug 17 2002 - 16:03:18 BST