Montana State University

Schedule announced for Dec. 7-8 MSU event celebrating Robert Pirsig

November 9, 2012


Speakers and teachers, philosophers and artists, filmmakers and motorcycle enthusiasts will gather at MSU Dec. 7-8 for a two-day event, Chautauqua 2012, saluting the work of writer Robert Pirsig. Pirsig, shown with his late son, was a former professor at what was then Montana State College who wrote about a motorcycle trip he took to Bozeman in the celebrated "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." Photo courtesy of Tina DeWeese.   High-Res Available

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Montana State University will be the site for "Chautauqua 2012," a two-day conference on Dec. 7 and 8 celebrating the writings of Robert Pirsig.

Pirsig is the author of the book, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," an international bestseller published in 1974.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Pirsig taught in the English department at what was then Montana State College. He later wrote "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," an account of his motorcycle trip to revisit Bozeman after a battle with mental illness.

"A blend of romance, ghost story, travelogue, philosophy, and religious pilgrimage, the book and its sequel, 'Lila,' have become for millions of readers a reflection of their own quest for quality in a world more interested in 'what's new,' rather than 'what's best,'" said Charles Pinkava, project director and teacher of critical thinking at MSU.

Pinkava said that the two-day Chautauqua will include appearances by national and internationally known speakers and teachers, philosophers and artists, filmmakers and motorcycle enthusiasts who will discuss Pirsig's work, its meaning, and its legacy. All events will be held on the MSU campus and are free and open to the public.

The event will open at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, in room 101 of Gaines Hall with introductory remarks by MSU President Waded Cruzado, a short film on Pirsig's legendary motorcycle trip, as well as talks by three philosophers. Sara Waller, MSU philosophy professor, will speak on "Consciousness, Focus, and Not Knowing about Motorcycles." Dustin Dallman, a student at MSU, will address the issue of Pirsig as an American philosopher, and David Buchanan, a Denver-based Pirsig specialist, will talk about motorcycle maintenance as the central metaphor in the two books. Following a question-and-answer session, a catered reception will be provided for attendees. Michael Sexson, MSU professor of English, will be the master of ceremonies for the event.

Sessions will continue Saturday, Dec. 8, in the MSU Sub Ballrooms. From 10 a.m. through noon, Anthony McWatt, a British philosopher, will talk on "Bricks, Zen, and the Art of Celebrity," an exploration of how Pirsig's phrase "The Metaphysics of Quality" connects to the world of art.

Following a lunch reception, activities continue at 1 p.m. with an open forum with the "Pirsig Pilgrims," fans of the book who have recreated Pirsig's motorcycle journey. The forum will be open to comments from attendees who wish to contribute recollections and reflections on their experiences with the two books.

Lee Glover will show his film, "MERIDIAN," based on his five-year odyssey to understand "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," at 3 p.m. in the Procrastinator Theater. The theme of the film is "What is Quality in Thought and Statement?"

Henry Gurr, a physicist who lives in South Carolina and a primary Pirsig researcher and archivist, will speak at 5 p.m. in the SUB ballrooms on "Travel Descriptions as Fact and Metaphor" in Pirsig's books.

Although the conference formally concludes at 6 p.m., those who wish to conduct informal sessions following the event may do so.

This blending of formal and informal proceedings, according to Pinkava, concurs with the meaning of the word "Chautauqua," a word derived from the traveling shows of 19th century America that brought to outlying communities lectures by scholars and philosophers as well as the cracker-barrel wisdom of "just folks."

According to Pinkava, Pirsig himself refers to his books as "chautauquas," intended "to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer."

For more information, visit the Chautauqua 2012 website at www.montana.edu/pirsig.

Charles L. Pinkava, 994-5572 or Michael Sexson, 994-5189, msuchautauqua@gmail.com