April 2017 | Nate Pedersen

Robert M. Pirsig Dies at 88

Pirsig2005.jpgPhilosophical novelist Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, passed away on Monday at age 88.

Pirsig only published two novels in his lifetime, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and its sequel Lila: an Inquiry into Values, but both works were deeply influential, particularly with the counterculture movement of the second half of the 20th century.

Born in Minneapolis in 1928, Pirsig was a precocious child with a high IQ. He graduated high school at the age of 15, going on to earn a degree in philosophy. He taught philosophy for a brief time at Montana State College in Bozeman and worked as a technical writer before being hospitalized for schizophrenia and depression in the early 1960s. 

Pirsig wrote the loosely autobiographical Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance after a motorcycle road trip from Minneapolis to San Francisco that he undertook with his son Christopher in 1968. After being rejected by over 100 publishers, Zen was finally published by William Morrow in 1974, quickly becoming a bestseller.  Pirsig said of the novel that he "set out to resolve the conflict between classic values that create machinery, such as a motorcycle, and romantic values, such as experiencing the beauty of a country road."

A Guggenheim fellowship allowed him to finally complete a sequel, Lila, which was published in 1991. In the novel, Pirsig expounds upon the value-based metaphysics he first established in Zen

Pirsig lived the last thirty years of his life in South Berwick, Maine. He is survived by his wife Wendy, as well as two children and three grandchildren. His son Christopher, who features heavily in Zen, died in a mugging in San Francisco in 1979.

[Image from Wikipedia]