Ride to Think: The Lonely Journey of Robert M. Pirsig

Robert Maynard Pirsig, author of the great 1974 novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, died on April 24, 2017 at the age of 88. This novel was a cornerstone of the late Beat/Hippie literary era, and it continues to touch the hearts of countless readers all over the world.

Though this novel's fetching title makes a big first impression, it's about much more than Buddhist philosophy and combustion engines. As a philosophical novel, it brushes quickly past Eastern philosophy to dive deep into the classics of ancient Greece, and despite all this it's really a novel about parenthood, and about the challenge of staying centered and sane amidst the trials and challenges of everyday American life.

Most of all, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a personal, autobiographical story about a father worrying about how to raise his son. It's only because the novel works so effectively on this raw emotional ground — and not because of its clever title or zeitgest-y Summer of Love vibe — that it remains so widely loved by so many readers today.

The Great Lost American Rock Memoir: Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

The audiobook of Bruce Springsteen's autobiography Born To Run is narrated by Bruce himself. It kicks off with a bizarre, unexpected noise: a slow thundering torrent, familiar but eerily transformed. This is the opening of the great rock anthem "Born To Run" played at half speed: booming drum roll, snaky rockabilly guitar, the surprising ping of a glockenspiel — slowed down to reveal the sonic architecture behind the instrumental chaos.

Well, isn't a revelation like this what a musical autobiography should be all about? And isn't this why I love rock memoirs so much? The uncanny sound that opens Bruce's book prepares us for what we're about to do: slow down musical time, stand still to bask in the ephemeral signposts of subliminal consciousness that bind the listener and the musician together. A great musical autobiography, which is what Bruce's book is, allows us to apprehend the miracle of musical creativity as an act of wonder, a shared journey, a mystery unfolding for reader and author alike.

Midsummer in Winter

I fell particularly in love with Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" when I saw it performed in Central Park in New York City — a perfect setting, long ago, outdoors on a summer night, with William Hurt as a bemused but domineering Oberon.

I loved the play not for its thin various plotlines, but for the metaphysical confrontation at its center. Two quarreling couples and a ragtag theater group wander separately into a forest near Athens where they fall into the clutches of the magical beings who live in wild nature: fairies, sprites, indeterminate magical troublemakers and vengeful rulers of the spirit world, whose various dramas parallel those of the mortals they observe. The play exists where the two realms meet, though the harried souls who populate both worlds are so lost in their private agonies and yearnings that they barely care to register the alternate worlds that exist nearby.

The pranks and romantic mishaps are light touches upon the possibilities Shakespeare's great engine of juxtaposition provides. "Midsummer Night's Dream" succeeds not so much for the play it actually is as for the suggestion of all the plays that could take place in this magical forest where mortals and spirits intersect. The key character is Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, who flits from story to story and laughs about what fools these mortals be. The play's most sublime scene offers the possibility that a hapless but vain local garment worker might find himself suddenly bearing a donkey's head and making love to the great Fairy Queen herself in a comfortable flower petal bed while being tended to by winged forest creatures named Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Mustardseed and Moth.

Our Rhinoceros Year

In the play called Rhinoceros by the Romanian dramatist Eugene Ionesco, two men are sitting in a cafe in a small French town when the improbable news arrives that a rhinoceros was seen in town. Soon the two men look out the window to see several rhinoceroses rampaging through the streets. They are surprised at this development, of course ... and then one of the two men starts transforming into a rhinoceros as well.

Eugene Ionesco had grown up in Romania, one of several Eastern European nations shattered by the first World War that eagerly allied with Hitler for the second. Ionesco's Rhinoceros is about Romania, of course — about decent citizens of a modern society who transform into witless, delirious fascists, and about one decent citizen, the protaganist Berenger, who does not catch the disease but cannot cure those who do.

Rhinoceros presents a blunt metaphor, but Ionesco has also delivered subtler messages about the dangerously thin veneer of civil society during his long career as a Romanian absurdist playwright in French exile. His earlier play The Bald Soprano offers a polite dinner party in which a few friends and romantic partners discover that language has ceased to be a connective tissue between them. They all know each other, and yet they suddenly find themselves unable to discern their relationships and even their own identities. The more they try to talk, the more they teeter towards complete estrangement.

Eamon Loingsigh in Exile

Writers create whole worlds; we see this most often in the realms of science fiction and fantasy. Eamon Loingsigh is a Brooklyn writer whose world is fully grounded in urban reality — the rough waterfront docks of Auld Irishtown in Brooklyn, 100 years ago. His first novel Light of the Diddicoy introduced a teenage striver, Liam Garrity, who arrives from Ireland and quickly comes to understand how high the stakes for survival are in New York City. The second book in this trilogy, Exile on Bridge Street, came out in October. The boundaries of Eamon Loingsigh's own difficult literary exile can be mapped via the eclectic, inquisitive articles he has contributed to Literary Kicks over the past few years, including Revolt on Mount Parnassus: An Allegory in Copy/Paste, Lautreamont: The Other, The Salinger Mystique and Taylor Mead: A Bowery Glimpse.

Marc: When Light of the Diddicoy came out in 2014 you told us about your mission to represent the unknown history of Irish-Americans in Brooklyn, and in New York City. But your trilogy is not only about a chronicle of a people but also the story of one lonesome immigrant, struggling to survive in a frightening land. I think William Garrity is a great character, a teenager getting by (just barely) by the power of his courage and wit, and a tormented soul who is forced to make terrible choices without looking back. Is the hero of your book meant to symbolize the Irish-American experience, or does he symbolize something more personal to you?

Eamon: Liam Garrity is fourteen when he travels from a farm in Ireland to New York City, so obviously Liam represents innocence in the summation alone. When you introduce a reader to a new world, such as Brooklyn during the 1910s, it is helpful that the narrator was also experiencing it for the first time. Millions of Irish landed in New York City with no money, but gobs of hope and limitless will. Liam embodies these traits, but they are not just Irish traits, they are human, and the same can be said of our Italian, Jewish, Asian and German ancestors as well as today’s Latino or Arabic immigrants. Hoping for success in a new world so that he can his help his family, like so many immigrants have experienced in this city, is a sweeping, multi-generational theme.

A Time For Kicks, A Time For Inspiration

We always knew our country could fall victim to a right-wing coup. It's happening right now, in the form of a stolen election by the repulsive Donald Trump, and everything we cherish is at stake: our freedom, our democracy, our basic human decency, our lives and the lives of those we love.

Well, who ever said freedom came cheap? Many people I know are shocked into silent despair and fear by the specter of a racist sexual predator con-man dictator throwing our Constitution in the garbage with a phony call to "Make America Great Again". I'm refusing to be silent or afraid, and am fortifying myself with an immortal source of strength: the literature of struggle.

Some Americans in both blue and red states may have grown morally soft through pampered living. We're finding out just how soft many Americans are as we observe the reactions to Trump's fascist coup. But literature offers us guideposts for the fight against totalitarianism and brutal power politics. Many of our greatest writers were intimately familiar with the horrors of dystopian violence and oppression.

November 2016: Our Fight Begins

I saw the Trump victory coming. I hoped with all my heart it wouldn't happen, but I've known since the day he was nominated that my beloved country had fallen prey to a sickness that would not be easily cured.

I spent election night in New York City, hoping to celebrate a Hillary Clinton win but dreading the uncertainty, and I wandered Times Square as the shock of Trump's likely victory set in. Trump is not popular in New York City, and before last night I'd never seen Times Square so filled with people and yet so desolate, so quiet, so sad.

A little after 1 am, I saw a small group of people sitting down on the long sidewalks and closed roads around 43rd Street and Broadway, as if holding a vigil or starting a new Occupy movement. Some were talking loudly, mouthing off, looking for arguments — others murmuring quietly to their friends. It made me feel good to sit there with them a few minutes, and to imagine that this was the beginning of a new sit-in, a new nonviolent protest movement. Maybe it called me back to the joyful hopes I felt five years earlier during the early weeks of the Occupy movement, which seems so far away now, though the experiences we shared in that protest uprising will surely inform us in the next protest uprising that must now begin.

A couple of days earlier, I had written an article for Pacifism21 titled "If Trump Wins, Our Fight Begins". Dear friends, dear Litkicks readers, dear good people everywhere in the world ... I don't know how we will fight back now that we have made the dumb mistake of empowering a fascist authoritarian to have control over our own lives.

Ride to Think: The Lonely Journey of Robert M. Pirsig

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The Great Lost American Rock Memoir: Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

This article is part of the series The Great Lost Rock Memoir. The previous post in the series is The Great Lost Rock Memoir: Inside Out by Nick Mason.
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Midsummer in Winter

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Our Rhinoceros Year

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Eamon Loingsigh in Exile

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A Time For Kicks, A Time For Inspiration

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November 2016: Our Fight Begins

This article is part of the series Big Thinking. The previous post in the series is Big Thinking: Jung and the Electoral Map.
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What Would Leo Tolstoy Tell Us About Donald Trump?

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Beat Nourishment

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