ROBERT PIRSIG Biography - Writers


Biography » writers » robert pirsig


September 6, 1928, witnessed the birth of Robert Maynard Pirsig in Minneapolis,         
Minnesota. He is the author of the cult classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle           
Maintenance. Pirsig's father, Maynard, taught at the University of Minnesota Law         
School from 1934 until retiring in 1970. He served as Dean from 1948 to 1955.           
Pirsig's mother, Harriet Marie Pirsig (Sjobeck), is of Swedish origin.                   
By the age of 9, Pirsig, a precocious child, already possessed an I.Q. of 170.           
He was promoted over several grades, and his lack of normal socialization,               
combined with a vexing stammer, made childhood difficult for him.                       
In 1943, Pirsig entered the University of Minnesota, where he struggled for the         
next two years with his classes. He was expelled in 1945 for failing grades,             
immaturity, and inattention to his studies. After traveling to Montana where he         
drifted aimlessly for several months, he joined the Army and served in Korea             
before returning to school, where he resumed his studies, concentrating on               
chemistry and philosophy. He received a B.A. in 1950 and enrolled in the                 
University's School of Journalism two years later. He also attended Benares             
Hindu University in India, where he pursued knowledge about Oriental philosophy,         
although later references to his studies there cast doubt on how much he gained         
from the experience.                                                                     
In September, 1953, Pirsig became co-editor with Nancy Ann James of The Ivory           
Tower, part of the University's literary magazine. James was an undergraduate           
journalism student who was married and still being supported by her parents.             
Pirsig and Nancy left school in the winter of 1953-54 and traveled to Reno,             
where she obtained a divorce. The two worked for a while as dealers in Reno's           
Nevada Club in order to capitalize a trip to Mexico, where Pirsig felt they             
could live more inexpensively while he tried his hand at writing professionally.         
Pirsig and James married on May 10, 1954, and moved that September to Minatitlan         
on the Bay of Campeche for eight months. In May 1955, they returned to the               
states, where he pursued a variety of jobs. He returned to school and received           
his MA in journalism in 1958.                                                           
In the early Sixties, following a slow dance through hell with depression and           
mental illness that left him in and out of hospitals and treatment centers for           
more than two years, Pirsig had completed enough of his book entitled Zen and           
the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to begin sending it off to publishers. He             
received more than 120 rejection slips before the manuscript finally landed in           
the hands of James Landis, an editor at William Morrow. Landis responded                 
positively, encouraging Pirsig to finish the book. Finally, in 1973, after               
several false starts and numerous discarded drafts, he turned the completed             
manuscript over to Landis.                                                               
Pitching ZMM before Morrow's editorial board, Landis said, "This book is                 
brilliant beyond belief, it is probably a work of genius and will, I'll wager,           
attain classic stature." Morrow paid the author its standard $3,000 advance and         
published the book the same year to rave reviews.                                       
In 1975, Pirsig and his wife bought a boat together and began taking sailing             
lessons. Naively, they planned a trip around the world. Two years later, Pirsig         
was living on the boat in England with a woman named Wendy Kimball. He wrote an         
article entitled "Cruising Blues and Their Cure" for Esquire magazine. It was           
about the stress of boredom and claustrophobia, living in close proximity with           
loved ones in the confines of a boat. The following year, he divorced Nancy and         
married Wendy. In 1979, his first son, Chris, who had played an important role           
in the development of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was stabbed to         
death during a random mugging in San Francisco.                                         
The following year, Pirsig moved his second wife back to the more familiar               
grounds of Minnesota, where they lived near his paternal grandfather until               
wanderlust struck once more. In 1984, the couple moved to Sweden, where Pirsig           
began work on his second book, Lila, which was published in 1991.                       
Pirsig created the Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ) to explain in his books the             
connection between quality and morality to reality. Both of his books claim that         
the topic they are exploring cannot be precisely defined because of humanity's           
limited experience. ZMM in particular is an important work because it functions         
at several different levels:                                                             
as a history or summary of philosophy                                                   
as a reply to anti-technology movements                                                 
as an introduction to thinking in general                                               
as a skeptical book, questioning everything from our language and education             
system to the scientific method                                                         
as a complaint of the low level of craftsmanship in modern trades                       
In his work, Pirsig has coined several memorable phrases that refuse to die. He         
said that his book was luckily successful because it happened to be a culture-bearing   
book, and he called the fields of metaphysics and philosophy the high country of         
the mind.