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Pirsig on quality and art. (click HERE for previous point in thread)   Share:  
Thrust of argument: Pirsig writes "The trouble is that essays always have to sound like God talking for eternity, and that isn't the way it ever is. People should see that it's never anything other than just one person talking from one place in time and space and circumstance. It's never been anything else, ever, but you can't get that across in an essay." Direction of resistance / implied resistance: Nonetheless, he goes on: "He returned to his notes but it wasn't long before thought about them was interrupted by a recall of her strange remark. What the hell was she talking about? Quality? Of course he was teaching Quality. Who wasn't? He continued with the notes.

Another thing that depressed him was prescriptive rhetoric, which supposedly had been done away with but was still around. This was the old slap-on-the-fingers- if-your-modifiers-were-caught-dangling stuff. Correct spelling, correct punctuation, correct grammar. Hundreds of rules for itsy-bitsy people. No one could remember all that stuff and concentrate on what he was trying to write about. It was all table manners, not derived from any sense of kindness or decency or humanity, but originally from an egotistic desire to look like gentlemen and ladies. Gentlemen and ladies had good table manners and spoke and wrote grammatically. It was what identified one with the upper classes. In Montana, however, it didn't have this effect at all. It identified one, instead, as a stuck-up Eastern ass. There was a minimum prescriptive-rhetoric requirement in the department, but like the other teachers he scrupulously avoided any defense of prescriptive rhetoric other than as a "requirement of the college."

Soon the thought interrupted again. Quality? There was something irritating, even angering about that question. He thought about it, and then thought some more, and then looked out the window, and then thought about it some more. Quality?

Four hours later he still sat there with his feet on the window ledge and stared out into what had become a dark sky. The phone rang, and it was his wife calling to find out what had happened. He told her he would be home soon, but then forgot about this and everything else. It wasn't until three o'clock in the morning that he wearily confessed to himself that he didn't have a clue as to what Quality was, picked up his briefcase and headed home.

Most people would have forgotten about Quality at this point, or just left it hanging suspended because they were getting nowhere and had other things to do. But he was so despondent about his own inability to teach what he believed, he really didn't give a damn about whatever else it was he was supposed to do, and when he woke up the next morning there was Quality staring him in the face. Three hours of sleep and he was so tired he knew he wouldn't be up to giving a lecture that day, and besides, his notes had never been completed, so he wrote on the blackboard: "Write a 350-word essay answering the question, What is quality in thought and statement?" Then he sat by the radiator while they wrote and thought about quality himself.

At the end of the hour no one seemed to have finished, so he allowed the students to take their papers home. This class didn't meet again for two days, and that gave him some time to think about the question some more too. During that interim he saw some of the students walking between classes, nodded to them and got looks of anger and fear in return. He guessed they were having the same trouble he was.

Quality - you know what it is, yet you don't know what it is. But that's self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There's nothing to talk about. But if you can't say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn't exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist. What else are the grades based on? Why else would people pay fortunes for some things and throw others in the trash pile? Obviously some things are better than others - but what's the "betterness"? -- So round and round you go, spinning mental wheels and nowhere finding anyplace to get traction. What the hell is Quality? What is it?"


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Removal of resistance: Pirsig talks of his pre-lobotomised self as another person. Unification: Indeed he refers to this person, this "phantom", as "Phædrus".
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