Robert Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974), will be celebrated at Montana State University in Bozeman on the weekend of December 7th and 8th. On December 15th, during their commencement ceremonies, he will receive an honorary Doctorate from MSU.
These events offer some sweet redemption for Pirsig both personally and philosophically. In terms of his own philosophical journey, as his readers will know, Bozeman is ground zero. His quest for “Quality” began on the campus of MSU and led him to enroll in a Doctoral program at the University of Chicago, which then led him into madness and/or enlightenment. (Pirsig himself does not dispute either interpretation.)
He never did get his Ph.D. but with millions of readers (5 or 6 million copies sold in 27 languages), it’s hard to imagine how his book could have been any more successful. Now, fifty years later, Pirsig is finally getting that degree and in recent years his work has been officially established within academic philosophy, thanks to Anthony McWatt, who wrote the world’s first dissertation on Pirsig’s work in 2005 and to David Granger’s dissertation, published in 2006 as John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living. It’s like one of those happy endings written in Hollywood, almost too neat and tidy to be true. It’s a full circle from Bozeman to Bozeman in life, in the book, and in life again. It’s a fifty year cycle that almost literally begins and ends in same building, Montana Hall, right in the center of campus. This neat vindication is all the sweeter because Pirsig, who is 84 years of age, is still around to see this happen.