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Robert M. Pirsig


Robert M. Pirsig was born on 6 September 1928, in Minneapolis. His father was a lecturer at Minnesota University Law School and later became Dean. It was soon apparent that Robert was a precocious child, with an IQ of 170 at the age of 9.


Around 1943, whilst studying biochemistry, Pirsig was struck by the fact that there was always more than one workable hypothesis to explain any given phenomenon, and the number of hypotheses appeared unlimited. He pondered whether scientific endeavour itself was at a dead end. This question so consumed and distracted him that he was eventually dismissed from the university.


After serving in the Korean War, where his interest in Buddhism began, he obtained his degree in philosophy and then attended Banaras Hindu University in India to study Eastern philosophy.


Until the publication of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig earned a living teaching English and Rhetoric at Montana State University. He married his first wife in 1954 and they had two children, Chris and Theodore. In 1979, Chris – whose alter ego appears in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – was stabbed to death during a street robbery.




In the early 1960s, a breakdown led Pirsig to periods in and out of institutions where he underwent shock therapy. It was at that point that he began to articulate his ideas in writing to ‘keep a tenuous grip on his former self’ and soon a narrative began to take shape. Zen is cited in Guinness World Records as the manuscript with largest number of official rejections before its eventual publication in 1974 and subsequent international best-selling status. In 1991, Pirsig followed the ‘outward journey’ of Zen, with the ‘return journey’ in the novel Lila: An Inquiry into Morals where his philosophy turns away from the tarmac to the tide of the Hudson River.


Today, Robert M. Pirsig avoids the public eye. He travels around the Atlantic by boat dividing his time between Europe and the USA. But he remains a writer, and a human being committed to the process of living:


“My doctor says that the years after 80 are ‘the bonus years’ which means, I think, that if you get to be 80, that’s all you deserve. At 20 I thought it would be a horrible age, but now I share the Oriental view that 20 is the horrible age and 80 is wonderful. There’s no more work. No more responsibility. No more fear of failure. ”

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