LILA by Robert M. Pirsig


An Inquiry into Morals
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Pirsig's absorbing second novel, appearing nearly two decades after Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, continues where his former work left off--in an exploration of the Metaphysics of Quality set against a journey by sailboat to the Atlantic Ocean. Phaedrus, peripatetic author of a successful book about motorcycles, is once again on the road in this philosophical odyssey--or rather on the Hudson River, as he makes his way toward the Atlantic and, eventually, Florida. His initial goal was to isolate himself sufficiently to complete his second novel, which currently consists of hundreds of notes that he regularly reorganizes and stores in rusty card-catalogue drawers. But isolation is the last thing a sailboat captain experiences on the water, Phaedrus discovers, and it's just as well, because his encounters with Lila (an aging former prostitute), Richard (her childhood friend), and assorted others along his journey inspire even more exciting concepts for his philosophical book. Chief among these is the concept of "quality" or value, which Phaedrus posits as the basic organizing principle of the universe. Shifting away from the Western world's reliance on subject-object and cause-and- effect relationships, Phaedrus suggests that everything is instead an expression of more or less quality, and that evolution moves not toward survival of the fittest but toward higher forms of value. While Phaedrus teases a "scientifically-based" morality out of this concept (lower forms of quality, such as individual humans, should be sacrificed if necessary in favor of higher forms, including society and, even higher, ideas), Lila begins exhibiting psychotic behavior and Richard becomes increasingly irritated with Phaedrus' abstract, self-absorbed pose. Readers may occasionally feel the same irritation--scenes that advance the plot seem carelessly scribbled in the author's hurry to get back to his theory--but as ever Pirsig's provocative ideas far outweigh such drawbacks. Engrossingly, utterly Pirsig--fans will not be disappointed.
Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1991
ISBN: 0553299611
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1991


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