Friday, February 20, 2009

A Brief MOQ Rant

I’ve been browsing the MOQ threads for quite some time now – even subscribed – and I find myself a bit, perhaps put off, by a number of conceptual schemes…

I don’t know, take this statement:
“the basic argument in ZAMM is a pre-existing reality before the subject becomes aware of the objective world. Thus the pre-something (now called Quality) must necessarily be the DQ that
spawns static qualities.”

Ahhh, the wonderful effervescence of pre-suppositionalism… We may as well restate this paragraph to say something like; the basic argument of Christianity is a pre-existing reality before man became aware of the objective world. Thus the pre-something (called God) must necessarily be the thing that spawns human awareness… I’ll add to this that God created everything, but he didn’t create objects per se, he created Goodness; he created a man, called him Adam and said he was “Good”. Of course this sort of language being spoken before the time Plato fk’d us all up.

Sprinkling in that bit of dogma suddenly doesn’t make that paragraph sound so great now does it? Now of course, I can almost hear the screams of packeted electrons flowing across wires to servers all over the world. How dare I, you must not understand the MOQ at all…

The problem with Dynamic Quality, like Zen, and like Yahweh before the Christians got a hold of it, is that it’s (should be) well understood that one cannot talk about such things – as soon as it’s uttered it should be immediately discarded. Consider this statement (another quote from the board):
"Therefore, for Pirsig, immediate experience (or Quality) is experience where there is no distinction between what is experienced and the act of experiencing itself."

Yes, great, so what are we talking about again???

Here’s the deal; Rorty was, for me, always one small phrase/word away from mysticism – in practice his philosophy (as I’ll argue later) is the final act of a Buddhist play. You find Pirsig in the religious/Buddhist sections of book stores (as apposed to philosophy sections) because his language is necessarily mystical. He wants to be fully pragmatic on the one hand (and oh so Zen), while on the other hand he wants to be fully Kantian. People (it seems to me) who are drawn to his philosophy as apposed to his mysticism are those who want a “theory of everything”, a language within which we can capture the essence of all things; and this leads to the sort of pre-suppostional talk I seem to see here and there. Those who are attracted to his mysticism probably don’t do a whole lot of talking about it – although I’m probably wrong about that.

My bet is that Pirsig will forever remain a cult figure as apposed to a respected philosopher – and this is the way it should be. Dynamic Quality, as a philosophy, simply isn’t intellectually honest and shouldn’t be discussed in philosophy classes. If it ever came to pass that it was, then bring on Zen and bring on God…

What is the context under which we should discuss Pirsig and Dynamic Quality?
If we maintain a philosophical discourse, then what ground are we picking up? Why should I include Dynamic Quality in my philosophical language any more then I should include God or Zen?
It’s question begging, and it’s mysticism – why not leave it at that? Certainly his metaphysic makes sense within the context of the game he’s playing, but outside that why have a public discourse on Quality? Not that we are, or that someone is suggesting we should, but certainly as many would like to see Pirsig get his due it would suggest to me that we bring him into the world of philosophy.



  1. I didn't realise you'd succumbed to the MOQ list!

    My basic take on RMP is that he's mystical in ZMM but regresses to a form of Platonism in Lila - and that Platonism generates the ten thousand posts.

  2. I couldn't agree with you more Sam.

    He's trying to bring to life the object of his metaphor - and he went to far. I love the book of course (Lila), but I love it like I love "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" in that, it's fun. If you take it into philosophy though, you'll end up damaged goods.

    I haven't posted, I'm just reading. Thinking about posting brings up bad memories of SyeTenB... Sooner or later though, I'm sure I'll find that I won't be able to help myself.

  3. On a side note (I may have even said this in the past) Lila started out for me as a grand excuse / attempt at justification as to why it’s ok to bone bar room sluts.

    In that context, the book was absolutely brilliant - but no doubt the missus wouldn't buy it for a second.

  4. Let me say this:

    1) The problem that happened to Yahweh wasn't the Christians, but Platonism--the same problem for Pirsig.

    2) "Intellectually honest" is the wrong phrase for the problem with DQ, Zen, and God. That just buys into the Platonistic, intellectual rationalism that Clifford threw at James before "The Will to Believe" was written.

    3) Whatever DQ, or Zen, or God pukes up in our minds shouldn't be immediately discarded. I think Pirsig's discussion of the interrelationship between the concepts of DQ and static patterns is misguided (by even deploying the direct/indirect distinction), but the hunch is right--sometimes we sense intuitively the betterness of this "new thing" (whatever we might encapsulate the new experience with), we just don't know what it is. Hey, and sometimes we're wrong. What I think Dewey got better in his elaborations along the same vein was the experimental quality of experience. Say you sense the intuitive quality of this new idea--test it out. If it lasts, those are the waves of static patterns flowering out behind the DQ edge.

  5. Matt,
    on "1)"
    Yes, agreed.

    On "2)":
    I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that – but I guess what I’m calling attention to here is the fact that those three concepts aren’t intellectual ones in the classic sense. I suppose one could say the classic sense is Platonistic, intellectual rationalism.

    On "3)":

    Well Matt, here’s where I’m going to go ahead and disagree with you a little – and in doing so will contradict myself, but such a case is necessary. The idea that Zen is a religion, or form of mysticism is highly misguided and exists as a result of a language that encapsulates the practice. Or better put, (as apposed to language) a set of books, writings and traditions which all seem to be culturally based. Let me give two examples of Zen.

    Example one:
    Consider the following sermon from Goso:
    If people ask me what Zen is like I will say that it is like learning the art of burglary. The son of a burglar saw his father growing older and thought: “if he is unable to carry out his profession, who will be the bread winner of this family, except myself? I must learn the trade.” He intimated the idea to his father, who approved it. One night the father took the son to a big house, broke through the fence, entered the house, and opening one of the large chests, told the son to go in and pick out the clothings. As soon as he got into it the lid was dropped and the lock was securely applied. The father now came out to the courtyard, and loudly knocking at the door woke up the family, whereas he himself quietly slipped away by the former hole in the fence. The residents got exited and lighted the candles, but found that the burglars had already gone. The son, who remained all the time in the chest securely confined, thought of his cruel father. He was greatly mortified, when a fine idea flashed upon him. He made a noise which sounded like the gnawing of a rat. The family told the maid to take a candle and examine the chest. When the lid was unlocked, out came the prisoner, who blew out the light, pushed away the maid, and fled. The people ran after him. Noticing a well by the road, he picked up a large stone and threw it into the water. The pursuers all gathered around the well trying to find the burglar drowning himself in the dark hole. In the meantime he was safely back in his fathers house. He blamed that latter very much for his narrow escape. Said the father, “Be not offended, my son. Just tell me how you got off.” When the son told him about all his adventures the father remarked, “There you are, you have learned the art!”

    From the western Christian perspective, at first read this seems to present a moral dilemma – could you imagine a preacher/pastor giving this speech before a congregation? Of course not, a better part of Christian sermons is all ado about the establishment of static social patterns. Zen, however, has nothing whatsoever to do with morality. It has everything to do with being caught up in the living of ones life – it’s what Heidegger was trying to capture when he talked about Dasein…

    Example 2, (this one is mine):
    I use this example a lot as I think it nicely captures the essence of things. In my bedroom is a smoke detector, and on it is a little green LED that blinks on and off. At night when the lights are off, the room is dark, and I’m laying awake staring up at the ceiling with various things on my mind, I can see clearly the green light in my peripheral view without a thought otherwise about it. However, once I turn my head to look at it, it disappears and I can no longer see it. It’s there faintly, but I can’t focus on it, it fades out and becomes dull.

    Because a sort of “religiosity” that surrounds the practice of Zen, it gives one the impression that by looking into the text, or by taking part in a tradition or in the dialogue, that Zen will somehow become apparent – that it will show itself through direct observation and/or contact with something apparent about it. But this isn’t the case; it’s only when you discard any notion of Zen and find yourself consumed (as the son above was) that Zen can be clearly seen. But to once call it that which was seen, is to once again loose sight of it.

    Of course it’s this vary name calling, this act of pointing out Zen that gives way to the idea of mysticism. And only in the dialogue does the mysticism exist – it does so as a result of the recognition that something cannot be directly accessed through a dialogue about what that something is, as what that something is is everything. It’s akin to asking the question, “What’s a question?” That’s a mystical question, and one that seeks to have access to access without realizing it’s already accessed itself without having to ask. Heidegger says,
    “Every question is a seeking. Every seeking takes its direction beforehand from what is sought. Questioning is a knowing search for beings in their thatness and whatness…”

    How can an answer be what a question is? Looking at the answer the question fades in and out as the real answer to the question lies in the act of questioning itself – which is what’s being said, but in saying it something is lost. It is the same with Zen, answering the question of Zen, seeking after Zen through answers is to miss the point that Zen is the act of life, it’s a dance.

    When Rorty urges us to put down philosophy, to take up literature and poetry [perhaps], I feel he is in an offhand way urging us to rid ourselves of the sort of dialogues that Zen would like us to rid ourselves of - the sort of dialogue that might ask the question, “What am I”, in an effort to capture some representative essence. The answer to that question, Zen may say, exists in the act of washing one’s soiled bowel after a meal, to turn against the question and participate in the dance – or in Rorty’s case, the act of being within ones own personal irony and ‘the turn against theory and toward a narrative’ (CIS, intro. Pg. xvi). And that’s key; there is no difference between the “dance” of Zen and the “narrative” of Rorty, or so I’d suggest… Theory is not the answer as theory, (the thing) exists within the dance, and is fully an act within the narrative.

    I’m asking to discard DQ, Zen and God, as they remove our intentions away from the dance, away from the narrative and turn us towards theory… Rorty is a religious man without all the fancy cloths, dance moves, crackers and wine… But this is another post…


    Let me add to this and ask the question, “What are we doing right now?”

    Most people might say, since the topic seems philosophical, that a debate about truth is taking place. But I wouldn’t say that at all. I’d rather say that what’s taking place is a sort of courtship, a prelude or first act of a love affair. Now that might sound a bit gay, but as I identify myself to a fuzzy degree as a Christian, and thus to the idea that love is all abound, we are not so much debating as we are stroking, patting, and dancing round a room, flickering looks of approval and disapproval, constantly trying to move towards a climax that is the middle part of a play, but staying far enough away from it to keep the heart wanting.

    The fact that we never seem to get there is indicative of the love of romance as apposed to the love of monotony that follows. Philosophical moves are a teasing of new and untouched areas that contain the mystery of possible rejection, or a new delight – either way the moves keep us in the first act. If once you get to know your lover (as you would get to know your wife), then there’s nothing left to be shared but silence, and whereas this silence may contain the third act of love, it’s lacking of the mystery of romance.

    It’s not so much a truth that’s being sought after then, not so much a settling out of opinions, as much as it is the carrying forth the feeling of romance. To rest in the faith of words that point towards non-existent objects of inquiry (Zen, God, DQ) is to remove oneself from love entirely, to remove ourselves from the idea that we can carry the dialogue forward, that you can touch your lover in ways that she hasn’t been touched before to retain the spirit of romance.

    Perhaps the DQ move has simply become old? Like a love letter read the second time, it loses its spontaneity of reaction. It has lost its sense of poetry (just as Zen and God has) in that it’s become a sort of cliché, or that it now has a sense of simply everydayness. It moves not, it wants not, it touches cold like objectivity does, its missionary style love that serves the purpose of relieving a certain tension without any passion. As it serves to offer an answer, it simply doesn’t dance – passionate love and romance knows no peace of mind, but thrives and delights in the mystery of the next step.