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The Buddha in the MachineArt, Technology, and the Meeting of East and West$

R. John Williams

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780300194470

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300194470.001.0001

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Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

(p.174) 7. Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism
The Buddha in the Machine

R. John Williams

Yale University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the notion of technê-Zen: a discourse premised on the supposed commensurability and mutual determination of Zen Buddhism (including all of its related Taoist notions and techniques of spiritual and aestheticized practice—in short, its technê) and the possibilities of an organic and holistic form of rationalist technocracy. In analyzing the discourse of technê-Zen in Robert Pirsig's novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, its historical origins, and its ongoing role in the networked global capitalist systems we live with today, this chapter advances two main arguments: first, whereas Pirsig posits technê-Zen as a discursive rupture from the dissident “spirit of the sixties,” his book can be more correctly understood as both a continuation and an acceleration of a discourse of “cybernetic Zen” already well under way in the 1950s and 1960s; second, the forms of technê-Zen developed in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance have come to occupy an especially privileged space in the technologically saturated realms of network capitalism and particularly the corporate management theories that currently dominate international business practice

Keywords:   technology, cybernetics, Zen Buddhism, Pirsig, Alan Watts, counterculture, Orientalism, computer history, management studies, total quality management, Tron, Disney, Apple

The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha—which is to demean oneself.

—Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)

I believe robots have the Buddha-nature within them.

—Masahiro Mori, The Buddha in the Robot (1974)

The publication in 1974 of Robert Pirsig's philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance coincided with—and seemed to speak to—a number of transformative global crises. Amidst the ongoing U.S. military invasion of Vietnam, the collapse of the Bretton Woods gold standard, the 1973–1974 oil crisis, the stock market crash, and the ensuing 1973–1975 recession, Pirsig's novel was immediately hailed as a trenchant diagnosis of contemporary failures to realize the aesthetic and therapeutic potential of modern technological systems.1 W. T. Lhamon, Jr., for example, praised Pirsig's efforts to put “the garden back into the machine—art back into artifice, romantic back into classical,” pointing specifically to Pirsig's rebuke of Luddites like Henry David Thoreau for “talking to another situation, another time, just discovering the evils of technology rather than discovering the solution.”2 George Steiner penned a glowing review in the New Yorker, suggesting that Pirsig's novel be canonized as the Moby-Dick of our time: “a book about the diverse orders of relation—wasteful, obtuse, amateurish, peremptory, utilitarian, insightful—which connect modern man to his mechanical environment.”3 It would be difficult, in fact, to overstate just how much Pirsig's novel resonated with readers in the 1970s. It went quickly through six printings within the first year of its release, eventually selling more than five million copies. The London Telegraph was perhaps only slightly exaggerating when it described it as “the most widely read philosophy book, ever.”4

Much of the book's popularity when it first appeared was due to the perception that it was a self-consciously postcountercultural text, periodizing already (as were many other authors at the time) a version of countercultural dissent that Pirsig thought was misplaced, however well-intentioned. The agonistic “spirit of the sixties,” Morris Dickstein argued in his 1977 summary of the counterculture, “was surely Luddite. It saw machines everywhere, and was determined to break them or shut them down: the war was a machine, society was a machine, even the university was a machine producing cogs for society.” Pirsig's narrator, by contrast, offered the natural flux and holism of Zen Buddhism as a more technology-friendly “post-sixties perspective,” arguing for “systems-analysis rather than dropping out of the system.”5 Indeed, Pirsig's book is in (p.175) many ways as much about the supposedly technophobic counterculture as it is either Zen or motorcycle maintenance. As Pirsig's narrator argues near the beginning of the book, the countercultural dissidents of the sixties thought “technology has … a lot to do with the forces that are trying to turn them into mass people and they don't like it,” even though, he continues, “their flight from and hatred of technology is self-defeating” (ZMM, p. 17). The narrator later reminds his readers that

a root word of technology, technê, originally meant “art.” The ancient Greeks never separated art from manufacture in their minds, and so never developed separate words for them.... The real ugliness is not the result of any objects of technology.... The real ugliness lies in the relationship between the people who produce the technology and the things they produce. (ZMM, pp. 296–297)

For Pirsig, it was time for the failed Luddism of the sixties to give way to a new “Zen” effort to live with (rather than rage against) machines, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was a manifesto for this new, more cybernetic relationship with technological systems. The central argument of Pirsig's novel, in other words, relies on a notion of what I call technê-Zen: a discourse premised on the supposed commensurability and mutual determination of Zen Buddhism (including all of its related Taoist notions and techniques of spiritual and aestheticized practice—in short its technê) and the possibilities of an organic and holistic form of rationalist technocracy.

In analyzing the discourse of technê-Zen in Pirsig's novel, its historical origins, and its ongoing role in the networked, global capitalist systems we live with today, this chapter advances two main arguments, one a rather straightforward historical claim, the other a perhaps more controversial assertion. First, building on a number of recent studies on technology and the counterculture, I argue that whereas Pirsig posits technê-Zen as a discursive rupture from the dissident “spirit of the sixties,” Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance can be more correctly understood as both a continuation and acceleration of a discourse of “cybernetic Zen” already well underway in the 1950s and 1960s; second, the forms of technê-Zen developed in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance have come to occupy an especially privileged space in the technologically saturated realms of network capitalism and particularly the corporate management theories that currently dominate international business practice. As I intend to illustrate, the discourse of technê-Zen picked up on and accelerated by Pirsig continues to exercise enormous power in our current era, when technological innovation (computational, organizational, pharmacological, and so on) is offered by multinational corporations as yet another path toward enlightenment—provided, that is, that these innovations are mediated by the supposedly more organic thinking of Eastern philosophy.

Technê-Zen and the Counterculture

In a summary of the sixties published at the height of American anxieties about Vietnam and the military-industrial-university complex, Theodore Roszak argued that the “paramount struggle of our day” was against something he called the “technocracy.”6 Echoing Jacques Ellul's notion of an all-encompassing “technique”7 (as well as Herbert Marcuse's notion of “technological rationality”),8 Roszak argued that the technocracy was not simply the introduction of technology into society but a much more comprehensive regime of hyperrationality and organizational integration: “By the technocracy, I mean that social form in which an industrial society (p.176) reaches the peak of its organizational integration. It is the ideal men usually have in mind when they speak of modernizing, updating, rationalizing, planning” (MCC, p. 5). The real enemy, then, was not so much a specific political or economic structure (not, that is, something like capitalism or communism) but the entire “mad rationality” (MCC, p. 78) of what Lewis Mumford had called the “Mega-Machine,” a systematic tyranny of rationalism, grid-like regimentation, and ecocidal industrialism.9

Naturally, then, if one is overturning the “mad rationality” of the technocratic machine one has to have something to offer in its place, and so a number of counterculturalists promoted various forms of Eastern mysticism as an antidote to Western technocracy. It may be, Roszak argued, that some less mature youth have taken off “in the direction of strenuous frenzy and simulated mindlessness,” but there were nonetheless many who espoused, “a very different and much more mature conception of what it means to investigate the non-intellective consciousness. This emerges primarily from the strong influence upon the young of Eastern religion, with its heritage of gentle, tranquil, and thoroughly civilized contemplativeness.” In the mystical East one finds “a tradition that calls radically into question the validity of the scientific world view, the supremacy of cerebral cognition, the value of technological prowess; but does so in the most quiet and measured of tones, with humor, with tenderness, even with a deal of cunning argumentation” (MCC, p. 82). And in positing Eastern mysticism as an answer to the overmechanization of the West, Roszak was hardly alone. To point to only some of the most famous examples: D. T. Suzuki's Zen Buddhism (1956), Alan Watts's The Way of Zen (1958), Alan Ginsberg's “Sunflower Sutra” (1955), Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums (1958), Philip Whalen's “Vision of the Bodhisattvas” (1960), Gary Snyder's “Buddhist Anarchism” (1961), Aldous Huxley's Zen Buddhist Island (1962), John Cage's Yijing-inspired Music of Changes (1951) and Variations I–VII (1958–1966), and the widespread 1950s and 1960s circulation of Paul Reps's Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Richard Wilhelm's translation of the Yijing, P. D. Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous, and G. I. Gurdjieff's All and Everything.

It was, by all accounts, as Van Meter Ames put it, a “Zen ‘boom.’ “10 “The impact of science and technology upon traditional ways of living, thinking, and feeling has made people seek for some guiding wisdom,” and so, he explained, “the Zen ‘boom’ is on.”11 As Stephen Mahoney put it in a 1958 article on “The Prevalence of Zen” in the Nation, “Zen is a nature religion. It is booming at a time when Western man's celebrated victory over nature is less convincing than ever—but when his alienation from nature, including his own nature, seems to be an accomplished fact.”12 And it would keep on booming. In the 1970s, hundreds of Zen centers cropped up all over the United States, accompanied by antitechnocratic treatises from Buddhists like Philip Kapleau Roshi, Chögyam Trungpa, and Thich Nhat Hanh—all of whom advocated the virtues of Zen Buddhism as an antidote to the dehumanizing effects of Western technology.13 As Charles Prebish's 1979 historical summary of American Buddhism noted, “In the 1970s the problems resulting from the monumental advances in all aspects of technology have become strategic concerns for American Buddhists.”14

However, by the mid-1980s, and particularly amid the mounting excitement of the impending “PC revolution,” the periodizing notion of the counterculture as uniformly antitechnocratic had begun to seem problematic. Take, for example, Roszak's startling revision to his earlier thesis offered at a San Francisco State University lecture in 1985. Whereas Roszak had in 1969 seen a coherent and unified “sensibility” of “mystic tendencies and principled funkiness” in the counterculture, he was now noticing a “deep ambiguity” in the movement. It would not be doing justice to our (p.177) understanding of the counterculture, he now asserted, to overlook, “the allegiance it maintained—for all its vigorous dissent—to a certain irrepressible Yankee ingenuity, a certain world-beating American fascination with making and doing. For along one important line of descent, it is within this same population of rebels and dropouts that we can find the inventors and entrepreneurs who helped lay the foundations of the California computer industry.” What had seemed in the late 1960s like a consistently antimodernist group of neo-Luddites now seemed much more complicated: “The truth is, if one probes just beneath the surface of the bucolic hippy image, one finds this puzzling infatuation with certain forms of outré technology reaching well back into the early sixties.”15 Indeed, a great deal of recent scholarship on the role of technology in the counterculture (especially those areas focusing on Stewart Brand's countercultural Whole Earth Catalog) has shown persuasively that the path from counterculturalism to the digital networks of “California capitalism” was marked by a deep structural continuity.16

For many counterculturalists, in other words, not all forms of Western technoculture were equally “technocratic,” and, indeed, most Zen advocates (in fact, all of those listed on the previous page) were convinced that Eastern mysticism shared certain affinities with what Watts, in The Way of Zen (1958), called the “growing edge” of Western scientific thought. As Watts explains,

The egocentric attempt to dominate the world, to bring as much of the world as possible under the control of the ego, has only to proceed for a little while before it raises the difficulty of the ego's controlling itself.

This is really a simple problem of what we now call cybernetics …[which] exemplifies the whole problem of action in vicious circles and its resolution, and in this respect Buddhist philosophy should have a special interest for students of communication theory, cybernetics, logical philosophy, and similar matters.17

For Watts, however, the reason Zen Buddhism had a “special interest” for students of cybernetics was not only that the two philosophies shared interests in questions of nonduality, natural flux, and the virtual spaces of networked consciousness. More importantly, Zen Buddhism offered a way for cybernetics to transcend its own tendencies toward technocratic computationalism.18 In his regular KQED television series, Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, for example, Watts would often extol the therapeutic value of Zen in discussions of cybernetics and technological regimentation. In the second episode, for instance, Watts continues with a theme he had begun in the first presentation regarding “the extraordinary conflict between man and nature that exists among almost all highly civilized peoples, and especially here in the Western world where we talk so much about our conquest of nature, our mastery of space, our subjection of the physical world.” Walking over to a large canvas to his left, Watts pulls out a paintbrush and begins to explain the Sanskrit term māyā, which he says comes from the root , a word that is

at the basis of all kinds of words that we use in our own tongue: at the basis of “matter” … of “matrix,” or “metric,” because the fundamental meaning of the root is to “measure,” and so it works in this sort of way. I was talking about our world being wiggly. You know, something like this [Watts draws a wiggly line; Fig. 7.1]. That is the typical sort of shape we are having to deal with all the time.19


Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Fig. 7.1. Alan Watts draws a “wiggly line” (left) and illustrates the grids of “māyā” (right). Screenshots from TV series, Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life (1959–1960).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Fig. 7.2. Alan Watts draws a “wiggly line” (left) and illustrates the grids of “māyā” (right). Screenshots from TV series, Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life (1959–1960).

The problem with such shapes, Watts explains, is that they are extraordinarily difficult to talk about. To describe such a line over the phone or on the radio so that the person on the other end could reproduce it would require enormous effort. “But here,” he says, “you can see it, and you can understand it at once.” But the problem is, Watts continues, “We want to be able to describe [the wiggles] exactly so that we can control them and deal with them. I mean, supposing this were the outline of a piece of territory on a map. Then you might want to tell someone an exact spot to which he should go, and then you would have to be far more precise about it than you can be when you just get the general idea by looking at it.” Thus, Watts explains, we turn to the concept of māyā by introducing a “matrix.” Holding up a wooden frame with a transparent glass on which a pattern of graph lines has been printed (Fig. 7.2), Watts continues, “the moment we do this, it becomes very easy to talk about this wiggly line, because we could, for example, number all these squares across and downwards … and then we can indicate the exact points on this grid which cross the wiggly line. And by numbering those points one after another, we can give an accurate description of the way that line moves.” The powers of māyā, in other words, allow for an amazingly efficient means of communicating complicated patterns and movements. But that is not all, Watts continues,

supposing it was wiggling, in motion, supposing it was a flea or something dipped in ink, and was crawling across the paper, and we wanted to know where he was going to go? All we would have to do would be to plot out the positions which he has covered, and then we could calculate statistically a trend, which would indicate where he would be likely to go next. And if he went there next, we should say, “By Jove! Isn't that incredible. This little flea crawling across the paper is obeying the laws of statistics.” Well, as a matter of fact he isn't…. what we are doing is we are making a very abstract model of the way in which that line is shaped, or in which that flea is crawling. We are breaking it up into little bits, whereas in fact it is not a lot of little bits. It is a continuous sweep, but by treating it in this way as if it were broken up into bits, we are measuring it, we are making a māyā … a way of projecting. You see, this thing [Watts picks up the frame with the graph lines] comes out of our minds, and we project it upon nature, like this, and break nature into bits, so that it can be easily talked about and handled.

(p.179) Watts's point, in the end, is that the projected grids of māyā are useful and compelling, but one needs the holistic awareness of Zen in order to carefully balance those grids against the organic wiggles of our ecological experience.20

However, to see just how close Watts's māyā is here to the questions of cybernetics one need only suppose that the wiggling object in question were not a flea but an airplane. During World War II, for example, this was precisely the task laid out for Norbert Wiener and his associates at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Wiener later described the situation in his 1948 volume Cybernetics: “At the beginning of the war, the German prestige in aviation and the defensive position of England turned the attention of many scientists to the improvement of antiaircraft artillery.” As Wiener understood his task, the mechanized speed of the airplane or weapon had to be matched by the mechanized speed of an even more powerful, computational counterweapon. If calculations of the “curvilinear” path of the airplane could be built into an automated, antiaircraft “control apparatus,”21 all the mystery and danger of the object's curvilinear movements—its “wiggles”—could be made sense of, bit by bit.22

In the end, the U.S. Army never actually made Wiener's apparatus (the war ended before his insights could be built into any actual antiaircraft weaponry), but the role of these projected feedback mechanisms between the pilot and his machine, or antiaircraft operator and his intended target, became an integral part of Wiener and his colleagues' postwar efforts to employ theories of statistical mechanics and information transmission in developing new machines and understandings of the human nervous system. In 1946, along with a number of other scientists, Wiener made arrangements with the Josiah Macy Foundation in New York to host the first of a series of meetings “devoted to the problems of feed back.”23 The idea was to bring together twenty or so leading scientists, psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists to establish a common vocabulary with which scholars could develop a greater understanding of thinking machines—including, most centrally, the human nervous system, which was understood and characterized in explicitly informational and mechanical terms.24

The idea that Zen not only shared certain interests with this new cybernetic thinking but—more importantly—also offered a therapeutic means of developing and integrating it became a central underlying assumption for the entire countercultural fascination with Eastern mysticism. Consider, for example, Zen devotee Richard Brautigan's famous 1967 poem, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace,” reprinted in several issues of Stewart Brand's countercultural Whole Earth Catalog:

  • I like to think (and
  • the sooner the better!)
  • of a cybernetic meadow
  • where mammals and computers
  • live together in mutually
  • programming harmony
  • like pure water
  • touching clear sky.
  • I like to think
  • (right now, please!)
  • of a cybernetic forest
  • filled with pines and electronics
  • where deer stroll peacefully
  • (p.180) past computers
  • as if they were flowers
  • with spinning blossoms.
  • I like to think
  • (it has to be!)
  • of a cybernetic ecology
  • where we are free of our labors
  • and joined back to nature,
  • returned to our mammal
  • brothers and sisters,
  • and all watched over
  • by machines of loving grace.25

For Brautigan, this vivid interweaving of the organic (“meadows,” “pure water,” “flowers,” and so on) and the cybernetic (“computers,” “machines,” “electronics,” and so on) reflected an explicitly Zen philosophy, and as such it mirrored the technophilic visions of many counterculturalists fascinated with both Eastern mysticism and the burgeoning field of cybernetic computationalism. Consider, for example, Gary Snyder's ecological treatise Earth House Hold (1969), which reports (in consistent, logkeeping detail) on the mountain-to-mountain radio transmissions over his SX areal antennae between him and fellow Zen-devotees Jack Kerouac and Philip Whalen during two summers of fire lookout on Crater Mountain—including thoughts on adjusting his “mechanism of perception” by way of seeing the world as “a vast interrelated network.”26 Or notice Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, who were not only fascinated by far-out pharmacological technologies, but also utilized as part of their “Acid Test” celebrations all kinds of high-tech equipment: synthesizers, soundboards, electric guitars, reel-to-reel tape players, film projectors, amplifiers, and spectacles of electronic, neon light. Or consider the sophisticated “cybernetic” experimentation of Cage's Zen-inspired Variations VII (performed in collaboration with the Bell Telephone Labs in 1966), with his use of radios, electric juicers, fans, blenders, telephones, magnetic pickups, audio mixers, and contact microphones—all connected and activated in a massive control room by a series of wires and electric photocells (Figs. 7.37.4). Cage's close colleague, Nam June Paik, was no less interested in blurring the line between technological innovation and Eastern mysticism, as seen, for example, in Zen for Film (1964) and TV-Buddha (1974) (Plate 101). There was also the highly influential technê-Zen promoted at Esalen, California, in the late 1960s, where figures like Fritjof Capra offered seminars on the commensurability of quantum mechanics and Eastern mysticism (Capra eventually published The Tao of Physics in 1975), and where former Macy Conference participant Gregory Bateson gave seminars on the dynamic convergence of technological experimentation, cybernetic theory, and Zen Buddhism.27 Countercultural Zen, in other words, was an already highly technophilic endeavor, but, as I hope to show in the next section, it was Robert Pirsig's vivid articulation of technê-Zen that refined and amplified the discourse, providing it with the mainstream authority it exercises today.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The opening lines of Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance are immediately cybernetic, weaving together feedback loops of man, machine, and ecological environment: “I can see by my watch, without taking my hand from the left grip of (p.181) the cycle, that it is eight- thirty in the morning. The wind, even at sixty miles an hour, is warm and humid” (ZMM, p. 3). For the narrator (a mostly autobiographical version of Pirsig himself 28), the cybernetic experience of riding his motorcycle on small, out- of- the- way rural roads is highly therapeutic: “Tensions disappear along old roads like this” (ZMM, p. 3). But it isn't just the natural scenery afforded by avoiding the traffic of the “four- laner.” The motorcycle itself, we learn on the next page, is critical to this experience:

You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. (ZMM, p. 4)

(p.182) The vision offered here is explicitly therapeutic; the motorcycle enables one to get outside the (māyā-projected?) “frame” and back into an overwhelming sense of “contact” and “presence.” Indeed, Pirsig seems to be taking a page right out of Watts's doctrine of the wiggly. “Twisting hilly roads,” he writes, are “much more enjoyable on a cycle where you bank into turns and don't get swung from side to side in any compartment…. We have learned how to spot the good ones on a map, for example. If the line wiggles, that's good” (ZMM, pp. 5–6; emphasis added).

The motorcycle is also important because even when traveling with others it demands a certain noncommunicative meditation of its operators: “Unless you're fond of hollering you don't make great conversations on a running cycle. Instead you spend your time being aware of things and meditating on them” (ZMM, p. 7). The motorcycle, in other words, makes for some great zazen (the Zen practice of extended meditation), and this inner contemplativeness plays into the narrative in important ways as well. The plot of the novel basically involves a man (the narrator) who takes his son (Chris) on a motorcycle vacation from Minnesota to San Francisco and along the way records his philosophical musings in the form of what he calls (after the late nineteenth-century traveling lecture and entertainment assemblies) “Chautauquas” (ZMM, p. 7). The major difference, however, is that the narrator's chautauquas are all interior, reflective musings and not at all the public experience of those earlier traveling assemblies.29 It is central to my argument, in fact, that this intense interiority is important to the discourse of technê-Zen in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance both because it provides a vehicle for Pirsig's own fantasies of self-justification and philosophical eminence and because it lays the groundwork for the ideological agenda of the novel—which will, in turn, make it enormously useful to the corporate culturalism and postindustrial capitalism of the 1980s and 1990s.

A number of biographical and historical events provided the motivation for Pirsig to write this deeply autobiographical narrative, most of which are described in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in roughly chronological order: the author's precocious intelligence during his early days as a student in Minnesota; his stint in Korea during his time in the army; his study at Banaras Hindu University in India; his frustrated efforts to teach composition at Montana State University in Bozeman; and his similarly aborted progress toward a degree in philosophy at the University of Chicago. The most important event in the narrative, however, is Pirsig's nervous breakdown during these later events and his subsequent time in psychiatric hospitals during the early 1960s. Having been diagnosed with clinical depression and paranoid schizophrenia, Pirsig was subjected to multiple doses of electroshock therapy. As his narrator in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance explains, “Approximately 800 mills of amperage at durations of 0.5 to 1.5 seconds had been applied on twenty-eight consecutive occasions” (ZMM, p. 88)—a highly transformative event, to be sure, and one that plays a central role in both the novel and Pirsig's own life. All of these experiences are processed philosophically in the story by way of the narrator's inner chautauquas, but like any good psychoanalytic session (or novel) they do not all come out at once.

The first of several conflicts to emerge in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance happens between Pirsig's narrator and two friends, a husband and wife by the name of John and Sylvia Sutherland, who have joined him on the first leg of their motorcycle journey. The point of contention between Pirsig's narrator and the Sutherlands has to do, at least initially, with the question of how much one should engage in one's own motorcycle maintenance. Pirsig's narrator argues, “it seems natural (p.183) and normal to me to make use of the small tool kits and instruction booklets supplied with each machine, and keep it tuned and adjusted myself.” John and Sylvia, on the other hand, prefer to “let a competent mechanic take care of these things” (ZMM, p. 10). Neither view, of course, is necessarily extreme or unusual, but as the narrator contemplates this difference he begins to see it as symptomatic of a much deeper conflict:

It's all of technology they can't take. And then all sorts of things started tumbling into place and I knew that was it. Sylvia's irritation at a friend who thought computer programming was “creative.” All their drawings and paintings without a technological thing in them…. Of course John signs off every time the subject of cycle repair comes up, even when it is obvious he is suffering for it. That's technology. (ZMM, p. 23)

The Sutherlands, in other words, are neo-Luddites, and, as such, they come to serve as important cultural types for Pirsig's more pointedly ideological arguments. Consider, for example, the most famous passage in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which offers technê-Zen as an aesthetic and deeply natural way of living with technology rather than fighting against it:

Their flight from and hatred of technology is self-defeating. The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha—which is to demean oneself. (ZMM, p. 26)

For Pirsig, to say that the Buddha “resides” in a mechanical object is not to say that some spiritual, otherworldly essence is haunting these gears and circuits. To demean technology is to demean the Buddha and oneself because technology is merely a material manifestation of an “underlying form” of analytic thought. And, for Pirsig, there are ways of understanding and employing analytic thought (and technology) that are consistent with the aestheticized practices of Zen. Even heavy industrial systems are only extensions of human thought and, as such, not the real source of evil. The root of the problem has to do with our all-too-rational patterns of thought: “to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself” (ZMM, p. 98). The problem arises, he explains, when people portray “romantic” (that is, wiggly, hip, aesthetic, experiential, Eastern) and “classic” (that is, māyā-projected, square, scientific, theoretical, Western) forms of thinking as necessarily antagonistic: “in recent times we have seen a huge split develop between a classic culture and a romantic counterculture—two worlds growing alienated and hateful toward each other with everyone wondering if it will always be this way” (ZMM, p. 71).30 This is why motorcycles are so useful to Pirsig as an ongoing point of discussion. They may be mass-produced, technological products, created by means of “classic” thinking, but they are also wonderfully “romantic” vehicles that allow for free and wiggly traveling across the grids of America (a notion already firmly established by the “rebellious motorbiker” film genre of the 1960s). As Pirsig's narrator puts it, “although motorcycle riding is romantic, motorcycle maintenance is purely classic” (ZMM, p. 70). The motorcycle as a conceptual, philosophical object, then, reveals Pirsig's more synthetic (p.184) purpose: “What has become an urgent necessity is a way of looking at the world that does violence to neither of these two kinds of understanding and unites them into one” (ZMM, p. 80). Thus, even heavy industries and the digital circuits of a computer could become the products of a much lighter, more aesthetic process, given the proper philosophical outlook; and, as we shall see, Pirsig will claim to have discovered, by way of technê-Zen, the philosophical answer to such a challenge.

But before we can see how this answer plays out in the novel and its reception, it will be necessary to note that the manner in which Pirsig arrives at these insights is a very important part of his narrative. What makes Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance such an intriguing novel and, indeed, what makes it literary rather than strictly biographical or philosophical is that the narrative develops by way of a complex mystery—a ghost story of sorts. One night, after traveling through a storm, Pirsig confesses to his son that he has seen a ghost, and he knows who it is. The ghost's name, he tells Chris, is Phaedrus, but who exactly this Phaedrus is will remain a mystery until the sixth chapter, when the narrator decides that it is time, finally, to “reopen his case” (ZMM, p. 69). Here Pirsig's narrator confesses he has actually been getting all of his ideas about technology, Zen, and the romantic/classic split from Phaedrus, and he wants to explain how Phaedrus developed these ideas and where they eventually took him: “what Phaedrus thought and said is significant. But no one was listening at that time and they only thought him eccentric at first, then undesirable, then slightly mad, and then genuinely insane. There seems little doubt that he was insane, but much of his writing at the time indicates that what was driving him insane was this hostile opinion of him” (ZMM, p. 72).31 Phaedrus, the narrator explains, was a “knower of logic” (ZMM, p. 84). He was so intelligent that “his Stanford-Binet IQ, which is essentially a record of skill at analytic manipulation, was recorded at 170, a figure that occurs in only one person in fifty thousand” (ZMM, p. 84)—a real child prodigy. But his intelligence also produced isolation: “In proportion to his intelligence he was extremely isolated…. He traveled alone. Always. Even in the presence of others he was completely alone…. His wife and family seem to have suffered the most” (ZMM, pp. 84–85). Eventually, we learn that Phaedrus is in fact the pre-electroshock-therapy narrator himself. That previous lone-wolf self, which he has come to call Phaedrus (because Pirsig thought, mistakenly, that the ancient Greek name meant “wolf”32), was “destroyed by order of the court, enforced by the transmission of high-voltage alternating current through the lobes of his brain” (ZMM, p. 91). Thus, in what remains of the narrative, Pirsig tells of Phaedrus's grand discovery, his persecution by the academy, his insanity, and his reunion with the narrator in the final scenes of the book.

Phaedrus's initial move toward his grand discovery comes as he is stationed in Korea while serving in the army. While there, Phaedrus encounters a particular wall, “seen from a prow of a ship, shining radiantly, like a gate of heaven, across a misty harbor.” The memory of that wall must be valuable to Phaedrus, the narrator explains, because it sticks in his mind as “symboliz[ing] something very important, a turning point” (ZMM, p. 122). What exactly that wall symbolizes is detailed more fully later in the narrative:

That wall in Korea that Phaedrus saw was an act of technology. It was beautiful, but not because of any masterful intellectual planning or any scientific supervision of the job, or any added expenditures to “stylize” it. It was beautiful because the people who worked on it had a way of looking at (p.185) things that made them do it right unselfconsciously. They didn't separate themselves from the work in such a way as to do it wrong. There is the center of the whole situation.

The way to solve the conflict between human values and technological needs is not to run away from technology. That's impossible. The way to resolve the conflict is to break down the barriers of dualistic thought that prevent a real understanding of what technology is—not an exploitation of nature, but a fusion of nature and the human spirit into a new kind of creation that transcends both. (ZMM, p. 298)

But, for Phaedrus, the East is not the final destination in his new metaphysics. Indeed, after traveling to India to study “Oriental Philosophy” at Benaras Hindu University, Phaedrus grows dissatisfied with the “Oriental” teachers' refusal to engage in analytic rigor. In the end, he decides that an exclusively Eastern approach remains “hopelessly inadequate,” and so he leaves India and gives up studying for a while, eventually taking a job teaching composition at Montana State University in Bozeman (ZMM, p. 142). There, however, he becomes equally unimpressed by the all-too-Western thinking he encounters (the Western academy comes to be referred to at this point in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, rather disdainfully, as the “Church of Reason” [ZMM, p. 145]). Unsatisfied as he is with teaching composition something happens to Phaedrus one day on campus that will eventually change his entire philosophical outlook. One of his colleagues, an elderly woman,

came trotting by with her watering pot … going from the corridor to her office, and she said, “I hope you are teaching Quality to your students.” This in a la-de-da singsong voice of a lady in her final year before retirement about to water her plants. That was the moment it all started. That was the seed crystal…. That one sentence … and within a matter of a few months, growing so fast you could almost see it grow, came an enormous, intricate, highly structured mass of thought, formed as if by magic. (ZMM, pp. 180–181)

What follows in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is Phaedrus's rather obsessive pursuit of this elusive concept. He becomes listless and despondent, sensing that he knows what Quality is, and yet he can't quite grasp the best way to teach it to his students: “Most people would have forgotten about Quality at this point, or just left it hanging suspended because they were getting nowhere and had other things to do” (ZMM, p. 183). But Phaedrus is relentless: “when he woke up the next morning there was Quality staring him in the face. Three hours of sleep and he was so tired he knew he wouldn't be up to giving a lecture that day … so he wrote on the blackboard: ‘Write a 350-word essay answering the question, What is quality in thought and statement?’ Then he sat by the radiator while they wrote and thought about quality himself” (ZMM, p. 184). What seems to be missing in both the East and the West, according to Phaedrus, is a unified field vision of “Quality.” And so ends the fifteenth chapter of ZMM, with Phaedrus wondering “What the hell is Quality? What is it?” (ZMM, p. 184). Does it inhere in an object? Or is it merely a subjective act of judgment? Could Quality serve as a “point of common understanding between the classic and romantic worlds”? (ZMM, p. 224). That Quality seems to exist in both the romantic and classic worlds—that it is both “within” and “beyond” both forms of thinking (ZMM, p. 237)—leads Phaedrus to the notion that it “wasn't subjective or (p.186) objective either, it was beyond both of those categories” (ZMM, p. 237). Quality, then, becomes a kind of cosmic, third entity prior to any subjectivity or objectivity. This is the grand epiphanic insight: “And finally: Phaedrus, following a path that to his knowledge had never been taken before in the history of Western thought, went straight between the horns of the subjectivity-objectivity dilemma and said Quality is neither a part of mind, nor is it a part of matter. It is a third entity which is independent of the two” (ZMM, p. 238). Quality becomes not a “thing” but an “event” (ZMM, p. 242), something that, according to Phaedrus, “is the cause of the subjects and objects, which are then mistakenly presumed to be the cause of the Quality!” (ZMM, p. 242). Quality is revealed as embodying a kind of absolute priority. At last, “he had broken the code” (ZMM, p. 258).

The remainder of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is devoted to testing out the consequences and implications of Pirsig's great discovery. At one point, for example, Phaedrus picks up a copy of the Tao Te Ching and notices that if one substitutes the word Tao with the word Quality, something like the same metaphysical doctrine emerges: “The Quality that can be defined is not the Absolute Quality…. Quality is all-pervading. And its use is inexhaustible!” (ZMM, pp. 256–257). It becomes “the answer to the whole problem of technological hopelessness” (ZMM, p. 276). The most devastating consequence of this new insight, however, involves his attempt to bring it with him to the University of Chicago. Phaedrus, it turned out, had the apparent misfortune of pursuing his PhD under the direction of Richard McKeon, known in the novel only and rather derisively as “The Chairman.” The real life McKeon already had a reputation in academia for, as one of his former students put it, “a surpassing sharpness for his dialectical assaults and defenses”—a man “remorseless in the drive of his logic.”33 He prided himself on teaching the classic texts with what he termed a “sympathetic literalness” that defended, somewhat fanatically, the original as if the author were present in the classroom. For someone as convinced as Phaedrus was that he had discovered the final nondualism to end all dyads and that “it was time Aristotle got his” (ZMM, p. 354), the coming clash with a sympathetic literalist like McKeon was perhaps inevitable. The more detached narrator of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, looking over Phaedrus's hubris, admits that he lacked the “ability to understand the effect of what he was saying on others,” and that he had become “caught up in his own world” (ZMM, p. 354). But these are portrayed as understandable offenses for one on his way to “a major breakthrough between Eastern and Western philosophy, between religious mysticism and scientific positivism” (ZMM, p. 354). In the final showdown, the narrator depicts Phaedrus humiliating “The Chairman” in the classroom for failing to see just how radically Socrates had mischaracterized the Sophists.34 It is probably not a very fair characterization of McKeon (who comes across as petty, arrogant, and insecure), but Phaedrus's rereading of the pre-Socratics as espousing a form of arête closer to the dynamic notions of “Quality” and “excellence” rather than to fixed, Truth-bound notions of “virtue” is actually quite remarkable. It is a philosophical holism with echoes in the phenomenological and postmodern philosophies of Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jacques Derrida, Stanley Fish, and even—in a final, painful twist of irony—in two of Richard McKeon's less wounded students, Richard Rorty and Wayne Booth.35 Indeed, if Phaedrus had pursued his insights with a bit more patience and less megalomaniacal fervor, he might have gone on to a fine career in academia. (That he would go on to write one of the best-selling novels of the twentieth century is its own consolation, no doubt.)

(p.187) In any case, the possibility of such a career is treated only with disdain in Pirsig's novel. Phaedrus recoils from his interaction with “The Chairman,” feeling only “disgusted” (ZMM, p. 400). Suffering under the weight of this insight and its rejection by the academy, Phaedrus eventually goes insane, staring at his bedroom wall for days on end, urinating in bed, his cigarettes burning down into his fingers. Phaedrus isn't far, at this point, from undergoing the “liquidation” of his personality by electroshock therapy; he isn't far, that is, from becoming the narrator. But the search for a nondualistic philosophy in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is also the search for a nondualistic self in Pirsig.36 Indeed, what is often quoted from the novel as a kind of banal self-help cliché is actually a rather sophisticated metanarrative moment: “The real cycle you're working on is a cycle called yourself. The machine that appears to be ‘out there’ and the person that appears to be ‘in here’ are not two separate things. They grow toward Quality or fall away from Quality together” (ZMM, p. 332). Cycle-as-self here means both the metaphorical engine or vehicle and the cyclical returning to a former self, as the narrator of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance experiences with Phaedrus. For Pirsig, Quality—like the letter “Q”—is a metaphysical circle with a kickstand.

It seems clear, in other words, that Pirsig wants both to redeem Phaedrus and re-unite him with the narrator, but one casualty of that originary rupture has also been haunting the book like a ghost: Pirsig's son, Chris. The narrator constantly struggles with the tension created between his recognition that he failed in some crucial (which is to say qualitative) way as a father and his conviction that the philosophical insights he developed demanded precisely this sacrifice. The various moments when Chris enters the narrative he appears generally unhappy, perhaps even unstable, and it is not hard to see why. Chris seems more like a hostage to his father's unrelenting inwardness than he does a young kid on a vacation. The narrator routinely insults Chris (at one point calling him a “complete bastard”), refuses to console him, and on at least a few occasions seems to physically intimidate him (see ZMM, pp. 59, 64, 67). For Pirsig's narrator to be fully redeemed, then, he not only has to revisit and confirm the philosophical insights developed by his former self but also reveal that in the process of discovering these ideas he committed a number of what seem to be rather low-Quality acts. He cannot, however, allow that lack of Quality to cancel out the truth-value of his “Metaphysics of Quality.” To put the matter in what are the obviously intended symbolic terms, God must be all good at the same time that he tortures his Son. Thus, for Chris to become a metaphorical stand-in for Christ, he has to have at least a glimpse of the divine plan, which occurs in the final scenes of the novel:

Now the fog suddenly lifts and I see the sun on his face makes his expression open in a way I've never seen it before. He puts on his helmet, tightens his strap, then looks up.

“Were you really insane?”

Why should he ask that?


Astonishment hits. But Chris's eyes sparkle.

“I knew it,” he says.

Then he climbs on the cycle and we are off. (ZMM, p. 419)

With Chris now “sparkling” over this revelation, the last chapter finds Father and Son emotionally reunited, driving together along the “wiggly” path: “The road continues (p.188) to twist and wind through the trees. It upswings around hairpins and glides into new scenes one after another around and through brush and then out into open spaces where we can see canyons stretch away below” (ZMM, p. 421). And then, as the pair take off their helmets (with hints toward casting off their mortal selves), we see, finally, Chris(t)'s ascension:

More trees and shrubs and groves. It's getting warmer. Chris hangs onto my shoulders now and I turn a little and see that he stands up on the foot pegs…. After a while when we cut sharp into a hairpin under some overhanging trees he says, “Oh,” and then later on, “Ah,” and then, “Wow.” …

“What's the matter?” I ask.

“It's so different.”


“Everything. I never could see over your shoulders before.”

The sunlight makes strange and beautiful designs through the tree branches on the road. It flits light and dark into my eyes. We swing into a curve and then up into the open sunlight. (ZMM, p. 410)

Suddenly convinced of his Father's sanity, standing up on the foot pegs (thus suspended by the nail-like bars installed on the sides of the sacred machine), Chris transcends his Father's torture and ascends—in curvilinear, wiggly fashion—”up into the open sunlight.”

Whether or not one finds the implied sacrifice and ascension of Chris persuasive goes a long way to determining how one feels, finally, about the novel.37 Some critics see this abrupt, cathartic transformation as evidence that the narrator has “come home to a Quality that was never really lost by reaching a vastly fuller union with his son, within himself, and with the whole world.”38 Others argue that after hundreds of pages of noncommunicative rudeness bordering on abuse, this sudden reconciliation feels a bit empty without any apology or promise of renewed sensitivity.39 But for every critic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has a whole group of devotees, with a growing number of readers debating online the book's philosophical assertions.40 It is my contention, however, that the most powerful and influential legacy of the novel can be found not in the academy (where Pirsig has received very little attention), and not in the archives of cultish web discussions (where Pirsig is fervently admired by a small and fairly inconsequential group of fans), but rather in the hallowed halls of today's corporate “campus.” Breaking down Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance into its most salient themes, we see why this might have been the case. First, despite whatever ills modern technological and industrial systems have been accused of, to simply abandon them is escapist; to transform these systems, one must find a way of synthesizing “classic” and “romantic” forms of thinking. Next, the result of that synthesis, which Pirsig calls the Metaphysics of Quality, must come prior to any objective or subjective understanding of manufactured products. Furthermore, academia is morally bankrupt; one cannot hope to find the answers to these questions in the “Church of Reason,” and so we must look to the East (but not exclusively) in our efforts at reshaping our modes of technological experience in the West. And, finally, there may be some unfortunate, but necessary personnel casualties (call them externalities) in the journey toward a greater manifestation of Quality; however, these can be remedied with a discourse of techno-transcendentalist at-one-ment.41 As a number of scholars of global capitalism have noticed, this particular (p.189) combination of themes will eventually come to serve as a broad discursive foundation for what we know today as the corporate culture of information work.42 Pirsig's novel would become an active participant (whether unwittingly or not) in the effort to delineate a new technê-Zen for the postindustrial landscape. How then did Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance get cast into this role?

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 66. Two variants of the cover design, possibly by Charles Livingston Bull, for Charles G. D. Roberts's Earth's Enigmas: A Book of Animal and Nature Life (Boston: Lamson, Wolffe & Co., 1903) (images courtesy of John Lehner and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 67. Ando Hiroshige (1797–1858), Eagle Flying over Fukagama District (1857) (Library of Congress, pictures, item 2008660617).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 68. Cover art by Jay Chambers (working for Decorative Designers) for Julia Darrow Cowles, Jim Crow's Language Lessons and Other Stories of Birds and Animals (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co.,1903).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 69. Shibata Zeshin, Crows in Flight at Sunrise (1888) (image courtesy of Dieter Wanczura, Artelino).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 70. Copies of this London-published edition of Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, The Ebb-Tide: A Trio and Quartette (London: W. Heinemann, 1894), also circulated in the United States during the 1890s (image courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 71. “Kaijo no Fuji” (The Great Wave) from the second volume of Hokusai's Hundred Views of Fuji (1834), as reprinted in Friedrich Perzenski, Hokusai (Germany: Velhagen & Klasing, 1904), p. 83.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 72. Three prints by Hiroshige: Fuji on the Left Side of the Tokaido (1858), Yatsumi Bridge (1856), and Kinryuzan Temple (1856) (Library of Congress, pictures, items 2008660394, 2009631868, and 2008660649).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 73. Notice the top of Mt. Fuji extending beyond the pictorial border in Hiroshige's Hara (ca. 1836) and the large wave as a framing device in Katsushika Hokusai's most famous image, The Great Wave (ca. 1830).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plates 74–85. A collection of covers published between 1890 and 1917 that engage in the new Oriental aesthetic, mimicking various techniques of Japanese prints: frequent vertical emphasis, strategic use of negative space, geometrized and abstracted forms from nature, the use of foreground objects as framing devices, paneled continuity, and the occasional extension beyond the pictorial frame. Plate 74: Alice Brown, Country Neighbors (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1910), cover artist unknown.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 75. Detail of Brown, Country Neighbors.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 76. Amelia E. Barr, Prisoners of Conscience (New York: Century Co., 1897), cover art by William Snelling Hadaway.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 77. Detail of Barr, Prisoners of Conscience.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 78. George Cabot Lodge, The Song of the Wave (New York: Scribner's, 1898), cover art likely by Lee Thayer of Decorative Designers (image courtesy of John Lehner).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 79. Grant Showerman, A Country Child (New York: Century Co., 1917), cover art by Decorative Designers (image courtesy of John Lehner).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 80. Robert W. Service, The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses (New York: Barse & Hopkins, 1915), cover art by Decorative Designers (image courtesy of John Lehner).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 81. Josiah Flynt, The Little Brother (New York: Century Co., 1902), cover art by Evelyn W. Clark (compare to Fig. 2.10).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 82. Hamlin Garland, Hesper (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1903), cover artist unknown.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 83. Norman Duncan, The Cruise of the Shining Light (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1907), cover art possibly by Thomas W. Ball.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 84. Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, The Ebb-Tide: A Trio and Quartette (Chicago: Stone & Kimball, 1894), cover art by Thomas Buford Meteyard (image courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 85. Stewart Edward White, The Magic Forest (New York: Macmillan & Co., 1903), cover artist unknown.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 86. Cover design by Lee Thayer for Onoto Watanna's The Heart of Hyacinth (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1903) (image courtesy of John Lehner).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 87. Cover design by Genjiro Yeto for Onoto Watanna, Tama (New York: Harper & Brothers,1910).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 88. Kakasu Okakura [Okakura Kakuzo], The Ideals of the East with Special Reference to the Art of Japan (London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1903); cover artist unknown.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 89. Okakura Kakuzo, The Book of Tea, as published in 1906 (New York: Duffield & Co.), cover lettering by Decorative Designers.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 90. Mandala, from C. G. Jung, The Red Book: A Reader's Edition (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2009), p. 159 (image © 2009 The Foundation of the Works of C. G. Jung. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Co., Inc.).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 91. Sarah Wyman Whitman's design (undocumented) for Ernest Fenollosa's East and West: The Discovery of America and Other Poems (Boston: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1893). Notice the characteristic “Torii gate” lettering on the “A,” and the very similar flower pattern Whitman used in her design for Alice Bacon's A Japanese Interior (Plate 92).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 92. Alice Mabel Bacon, A Japanese Interior (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1894), cover design by Whitman (image courtesy of the Trustees of the Boston Public Library).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 93. Sonsho Mandala (Japanese, Kamakura period, first half of the thirteenth century), part of Ernest Fenollosa's personal collection (image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Fenollosa-Weld Collection, 11.4033; photograph © 2014).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 94. The dharmachakra shows up with startling frequency in Fenollosa's art collection, here in the hand of a goddess, in “Benzaiten, the Goddess of Music and Good Fortune, and Fifteen Attendants” (Japanese, Muromachi period, fourteenth century; image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Fenollosa-Weld Collection, 11.4077; photograph © 2014).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 95. A dharmachakra around the neck of the Buddha, in “Ichi Kinrin, the Cosmic Buddha of the Golden Wheel” (Japanese, Kamakura period, beginning of the thirteenth century; image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Fenollosa-Weld Collection, 1.4039; photograph © 2014).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 96. Details of Plates 93–95 showing the dharmachakra or “wheel of the law,” a ritual object associated with Esoteric Buddhism and used in conjunction with mandalas of the Kamakura period in Japan, and a standardized illustration of the dharmachakra from Ernst Lehner, Symbols, Signs & Signets (New York: Dover Publications, 1969), p. 22.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 97. Jacob Epstein, The Rock Drill (1913–1914), as reconstructed from its original form (image © Tate, London 2013).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 98. Cover art for The Story of the Typewriter, 1873–1923 (New York: Herkimer County Historical Society, 1923), cover artist unknown.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 99. Gustave Courbet, Woman with a Parrot (1866), oil on canvas. H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 100. Édouard Manet, Young Lady in 1866 (1866), oil on canvas. Gift of rwin Davis, 1889. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. mage source: Art Resource, NY).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 101. Nam June Paik, TV-Buddha (1974), closed circuit video installation with bronze statue of Buddha (image courtesy Nam June Paik Estate).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 102. Dave Shea and Milly E. Holzschlag, The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web (Berkeley: Peachpit Press, 2005), p. 112. Notice that here the “Zen” method of CSS design is portrayed as allowing designers to transcend the “grid” of HTML (image courtesy of Dave Shea at CSS Zen Garden).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 103. Designs from www.csszengarden.com using the same HTML code but different layers of CSS design (images courtesy of Dave Shea at CSS Zen Garden).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 104. Designs from www.csszengarden.com using the same HTML code but different layers of CSS design (images courtesy of Dave Shea at CSS Zen Garden).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 105. Designs from www.csszengarden.com using the same HTML code but different layers of CSS design (images courtesy of Dave Shea at CSS Zen Garden).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 106. Designs from www.csszengarden.com using the same HTML code but different layers of CSS design (images courtesy of Dave Shea at CSS Zen Garden).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 107. Screenshots from Tron (Walt Disney Productions, 1982) showing Jeff Bridges's character Kevin Flynn hacking into ENCOM's Master Control Program (MCP) wearing a karate-style Japanese robe.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 108. Screenshots from Tron (Walt Disney Productions, 1982) showing Jeff Bridges's character Kevin Flynn hacking into ENCOM's Master Control Program (MCP) wearing a karate-style Japanese robe.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 109. Screenshot from Tron showing the austere Oriental décor at ENCOM headquarters.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 110. Screenshot from Tron showing the chairman at ENCOM telling the defeated “Walt” that “ENCOM isn't the business you started in your garage anymore.”

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 111. Screenshot from Tron showing a large Mickey Mouse head in the “Sea of Simulation.”

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 112. Screenshot from Tron showing “light cycle” battles on the game grid.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 113. Screenshot from Tron Legacy (Walt Disney Pictures, 2010) showing Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) in one of his several moments of zazen meditation.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 114. Screenshot from Tron Legacy showing the now curvilinear paths of the light cycles on the game grid (compare with Plate 112).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 115. Screenshot from the final scene of Tron Legacy showing Kevin's son and his program-become-human motorcycling into the sunlight.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 116. Frank Lloyd Wright, Weeds and Wildflowers, insert in William C. Gannett, The House Beautiful (River Forrest, IL: Auvergne Press, 1896), photogravure prints on Japanese (mitsumata) paper (image courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation [1028.021]).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 117. Cover design by Wright for his The Japanese Print: An Interpretation (Chicago: Ralph Fletcher Seymour, 1912) (image courtesy of William Reese Co., Rare Books and Manuscripts, New Haven, Connecticut).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 118. Two Japanese mon Wright drew inspiration from for his cover design for The Japanese Print (thereby participating in a very popular trend in American book design).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 119. Georgia O'Keefe, Abstraction No. 11, 1916, inserted as frontispiece to F.S.C., Northrop, The Meeting of East and West: An Inquiry concerning World Understanding (New York: Macmillan & Co., 1946) (image courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery, Katharine Ordway Fund).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 120. Georgia O'Keefe, From the Lake No. 3, oil on canvas (1924) (image © Philadelphia Museum of Art: Bequest of Georgia O'Keefe for the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1987).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Plate 121. Wang Zi Won, Buddha_Z in the Steel Lotus (2011) (image courtesy of Wang Zi Won).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Fig. 7.3. Screenshots from John Cage's Variation VII (1966).

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Fig. 7.4. Screenshots from John Cage's Variation VII (1966).

Technê-Zen and the Art of Late Capitalism

If there was one overarching concern of corporate managers in the West during the 1980s, it was this: “Japanese manufacturers trounced American ones in the 1980s because they embraced ‘quality.’ “43 It was an anxiety that seemed to show up everywhere: in films like Ron Howard's Gung Ho (1986), TV documentaries like NBC's If Japan Can, Why Can't We? (1980) and PBS's Japan: The Electronic Tribe (1987), in alarmist proclamations of The Japanese Threat” in Fortune and Business Week, as well as in terrorist acts of violence against Asian-America (detailed vividly in Renee Tajima's 1987 documentary Who Killed Vincent Chin?).44 The proposed solution to the apparent Japanese monopoly on quality involved two main manufacturing and corporate reconfigurations: (1) a reconsideration of quality as a product of statistical, systems-theory analysis, revealed most obviously in the sudden popularity of W. Edwards Deming and in calls for wide-scale adaptations of Japanese just-in-time production methods (sometimes known as Lean Production or Toyotism); and (2) a new approach in management studies geared toward counterintuitive “Zen” forms of leadership that embraced more flexible models of team culture and technological innovation.

By the late 1980s, most likely every CEO in America had heard of W. Edwards Deming. He was, as one book hailed him, The American Who Taught the Japanese about Quality.45 Deming's expertise was in the area of statistical process control, and he had been invited to Japan at General Douglas MacArthur's request to work on the first Japanese postwar census in 1947. While there he also began to consult Japanese managers on how best to rebuild their war-torn industries, and within just a few years he had helped to completely transform the Japanese economy. Toyota, to this day, hangs a large portrait of Deming in the main lobby of their headquarters in Tokyo, and the annual Deming Prize remains the most prestigious manufacturing award in Japanese industry.46 Deming's theories of statistical control had quite a lot in common (both in terms of terminology and philosophical premise) with cybernetics. In the 1920s Deming had interned at the Bell Laboratories and had come in contact with many of the same individuals and theories of information that would go on to influence Wiener's cybernetics and other systems theories years later.47 As a result, his frequent use of the quality-control flowchart, among other innovations, relied explicitly on the statistical analysis of feedback mechanisms (Figs. 7.57.6). Indeed, Total Quality Management, as the movement adopting Deming's methods eventually came to be known, was a highly cybernetic process. It involved managing, by way of statistically monitored feedback loops, a constant flow of information and parts toward an assembly-line worker, designed to arrive “just in time” rather than to accumulate in large quantities of static storage inside the factory—all of which allowed for much greater flexibility and last-minute variation in product lines. In addition, rather than following the Fordist model of keeping the assembly line moving at all costs (and then repairing botched products later on during quality-control inspection), Deming's system allowed any worker to bring the entire line to a halt at any time upon noticing any defect in the moving product.48 Deming's basic philosophical


Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Fig. 7.5. Illustrations of W. Edwards Deming's Quality Control Flowchart as modeled in Dr. Deming: The American Who Taught the Japanese about Quality (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), p. 161.

Technê-Zen and the Spiritual Quality of Global Capitalism

Fig. 7.6. Illustrations of W. Edwards Deming's Quality Control Flowchart as modeled in Dr. Deming: The American Who Taught the Japanese about Quality (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), p. 161.

premise was that considerations of quality must come prior to both the (objective) manufacturing of a product and (subjective) considerations of profit. That these Total Quality processes, perfected by the Japanese using quasi-cybernetic theories of statistical control, overlap in uncanny ways with Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality has not been lost on the authors of the Total Quality Management movement.49 References to Pirsig and his Metaphysics of Quality appear with striking regularly in titles like Quality and Power in the Supply Chain; Fundamentals of Total Quality Management; and Qualitative Methods in Management Research (see Appendix D for a broader sampling of Total Quality Management studies that directly cite Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality). Pirsig has become Deming's spiritual cousin.

A second transformation in U.S. corporations in the late 1970s and early 1980s involved a massive reconsideration of corporate management theory. According to early twentieth-century Taylorist/Fordist models of scientific management, the task of the manager was to break down a worker's job into specific procedures so that even the least intelligent could understand it and to provide incentives so that even the least motivated would be willing to perform it energetically.50 Even relatively “decentralized” theories of management during the first half of the twentieth century (for example, the Sloanism at General Motors) generally adhered to notions of command and control that might be simply described as distributed Taylorism.51 By the early 1960s, however, a number of “countercultural” critiques of the Taylorist model began to enter management discourse. Douglas McGregor, for example, contrasted the strictures of Taylorism, which he called “Theory X,” with the more humane tenets of what he called “Theory Y,” which, according to McGregor, offered integration, teamwork, and better worker–management communication as a means of allowing (p.191) a corporation to “realize the potential represented by its human resources.”52 Scattered experiments in Theory Y (or “soft”) management during the 1960s made their way into a number of corporations—for example, Procter & Gamble, Shell Oil, and General Foods—by way of the National Training Laboratories (which, as Art Kleiner has argued, served as a basic template for the modern corporate training program).53 But it was not until the “Japan Crisis” of the late 1970s that corporate managers in the United States began to question more radically the Taylorist objectives of management discourse.

In his recent study Zen at War, Brian Victoria has shown that what the dozens of management scholars visiting Japanese corporations in the 1970s would have encountered was not only the quality-control methods introduced by Deming in the 1950s but also an entire reconfiguration of Zen Buddhism for the Japanese corporation. Such an argument comes by way of a rather startling revelation for some American Buddhists: what had been understood in the United States as a largely peace-loving religion had actually, at least until the end of World War II, contributed rather enthusiastically to some of the most egregious moments of Japanese militarism, such that even famous Buddhists like D. T. Suzuki offered a number of hawkish speculations on the commensurability of Zen and the Bushido warrior ethic of “obedience” and “conformity.”54 After the war, when, as Brian Victoria explains, Japanese “companies realized that schools were no longer emphasizing the old virtues of obedience and conformity,” a series of Zen training programs were developed for a number of Japanese corporations (Z, p. 182). Zen masters became frequent visitors of Japanese companies (and vice versa), where they gave sermons, arguing things like, “by carrying out our [assigned] tasks, we become part of the life of the entire universe; we realize our original True Self” (Z, p. 185). As Victoria argues, what Japan's defeat during World War II meant was, “not the demise of imperial-way Zen and soldier Zen but only their metamorphosis and rebirth as corporate Zen” (Z, p. 186).

That this reconfiguration of Zen Buddhism bolstered new forms of Japanese industrial automation and organizational control during the 1970s is shown most strikingly in a volume published in Japan the same year Pirsig's novel appeared in the West: Masahiro Mori's Bukkyō Nyūmon (1974), translated into English a few years later as The Buddha in the Robot.55 As one of Japan's leading experts in automated control and robotics, Mori exercised enormous influence on a number of Japanese industries throughout the 1970s and 1980s, never hesitating to put a religious spin on his (avowedly cybernetic) notions of what he called the “man-machine system.”56 The final argument of The Buddha in the Robot could have come straight from Pirsig (and vice versa): “If we are to coexist with machines,” Mori argues, “we must develop the spiritual strength needed to control the vast power that a man-machine system possesses…. My robot's call is loud and clear: ‘The more mechanized our civilization becomes, the more important the Buddha's teaching will be to us all.’”57 Mori even has a chapter titled “Seek Happiness in Quality, Not Quantity,” and the “Quality” he means here is not the quaint goal of some self-help optimism, but an intrinsically Buddhist doctrine that all material and organizational entities (human bodies, robots, corporations, automated systems, and so on) are manifestations of cosmic flux, and so must be understood and administered in these terms.58 It is in this sense that Mori will argue, “I believe robots have the Buddha-nature within them.”59 Accordingly, in 1970 Mori founded the Jizai Kenkyujo (typically translated in English as “Mukta Institute,” with Mukta being the Sanskrit term for “spiritual liberation”), (p.192) an organization devoted to training corporate technologists and management theorists in areas of automation, roboticization, and product development.60 One of the institute's “graduates,” for instance, was Soichiro Honda, the founder of the Honda Motor company (which, interestingly enough, had manufactured Pirsig's 1964 motorcycle, the Honda Superhawk, CB77).61 Held up as a shining example of successful management and industrial automation, Honda Motors adopted Mori's philosophy during the 1970s and reorganized their factory floor by incorporating employees into feedback systems and smaller-scale assembly operations, encouraging workers to design their own automation devices.62

Thus, in early studies published in the United States like Japan business expert William Ouchi's Theory Z: How American Business Can Meet the Japanese Challenge (1982), Japanese business culture is described, in a nod to McGregor's terms, as neither hard (Theory X) nor soft (Theory Y), but rather as a new Theory Z (clearly playing with “Zen”). Japanese Type Z organizations can be “most aptly described as clans in that they are intimate associations of people engaged in economic activity but tied together through a variety of bonds.” Obedience and loyalty to the corporation becomes more intuitive and cultural, part of the “wholistic relation between employees” rather than something strictly enforced by a given hierarchical structure.63 In The Art of Japanese Management (1981), two of Ouchi's collaborators, Richard Pascale and Anthony Athos, argue (in a chapter titled “Zen and the Art of Management”) that the Japanese are “more means oriented, or process oriented, whereas Americans tend to focus more on the bottom line, on the ends. Americans are more Aristotelian. We feel if it is not white, by deduction it has to be black. The Japanese live comfortably with gray.”64 The Japanese are “generally suspicious of too much logic.” Whereas American managers might exhibit a “drive for closure,” Japanese managers, by contrast, “tend to be more savvy…. The Japanese are regularly encouraged to reflect on their experience. Some executives even do Zen meditation with the purpose of clearing their minds so they may reflect on their experience more deeply.”65

Ouchi, Pascale, and Athos were highly influential in management discourse during the 1980s. With distinguished professorships at University of California, Los Angeles, Stanford University, and Harvard University, respectively, all three scholars also benefited from funding by what was then (and still is) the leading management and consulting firm in the United States, McKinsey & Company. Indeed, the meetings conducted at McKinsey headquarters in June 1978 with Pascale, Athos, Tom Peters, and Bob Waterman on the topic of “excellent companies” formed the basis for what would eventually become the best-selling management book of all time, Peters and Waterman's In Search of Excellence (1982). That the approach advocated by Peters draws on countercultural assumptions about Zen Buddhism has been noted by a number of scholars.66 It is perhaps sufficient here to point out that in In Search of Excellence the authors cite one of their “favorite stories”; a certain Honda worker

on his way home each evening, straightens up windshield wiper blades on all the Hondas he passes. He just can't stand to see a flaw in a Honda!

Now, why is all of this important? Because so much of excellence in performance has to do with people's being motivated by compelling, simple—even beautiful—values. As Robert Pirsig laments in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “While at work I was thinking about this lack of care in the digital computer manuals I was editing…. They were full of errors, ambiguities, omissions and information so completely screwed up you had (p.193) to read them six times to make any sense of them. But what struck me for the first time was the agreement of these manuals with the spectator attitude I had seen in the shop. These were spectator manuals. It was built into the format of them. Implicit in every line is the idea that, ‘Here is the machine, isolated in time and space from everything else in the universe. It has no relationship to you, you have no relationship to it.’ “67

A more detached observer might note that what Peters and Waterman are praising here seems more like evidence of an obsessive-compulsive disorder than it does a healthy practice for the average worker (the wiper blades on all the Hondas he passes?). But the point is that this Honda Motors worker is described as evidencing a devotional, cybernetic relationship with machine systems, a kind of enlightened awareness of Quality (Peters's word is “excellence”)—and, of course, Pirsig's doctrine of technê-Zen is ushered in as the scriptural point of reference. In a followup volume, A Passion for Excellence, Peters would again cite Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, calling it the “most constructive book on the topic [of Quality].”68 Peters's message in subsequent decades has become increasingly antirationalist, his prose more outrageous and zany. With titles such as Thriving on Chaos (1987), Crazy Times Call for Crazy Organizations (1993), and The Pursuit of WOW! (1994), it is no wonder that Peters was recently dubbed the “original Zen businessman.”69

But Peters is only one of several management “gurus” (a name that is itself rather suggestive of the discourse I am identifying) promoting technê-Zen as the animating principle of information-age management theory. Peter F. Drucker, the “undisputed alpha male” in management studies and author of more than twenty-six books and thousands of articles on management, also held a distinguished chair in Oriental art at the Claremont Graduate School (publishing a volume in 1982 titled The Zen Expressionists: Painting of the Japanese Counterculture, 1600–1800).70 Peter Senge, author of what is perhaps the most widely cited volume on the corporate centrality of knowledge work, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (1990), is an active Zen Buddhist and reportedly meditates regularly.71 It is not difficult to see why these apostles of informatics and networking would gravitate toward technê-Zen. The embracing of alternative rationalities in the ascetic reengineering of corporations in the 1990s; the dematerialization of cubicle work (as Alan Liu has argued, where once upon a time matter mattered, “postindustrial corporations must deessentialize themselves until they are nothing but information processing” [LC, p. 43; emphasis in original]); the celebration of flexibility, flow, chaos, virtuality, and creative destruction; the aggressive antihistoricism of the eternal corporate present—it's all so very Zen. As the authors of The Corporate Mystic explain,

Corporations are full of mystics. Over the past 25 years we have been in many boardrooms and many cathedrals, and we have discovered that the very best kind of mystics—those who practice what they preach—can be found in the business world. We are now convinced that the qualities of these remarkable people, and the principles they live by, will be the guiding force for 21st-century enterprise.72

It would be difficult to overestimate just how dramatically these corporate “mystics” have gravitated toward technê-Zen. There are literally hundreds of books currently in print arguing for the ultimate commensurability of Zen and the healthy corporate life (see Appendix E for a representative sampling).

(p.194) Silicon Grids and Technê-Zen

Certainly no realm of postindustrial information work has had a better relationship with Zen than the “mystical” corporate world of Silicon Valley. Take, for example, Steve Jobs, who while still employed at Atari in the mid-1970s (and already a deeply committed fruitarian, having traveled on a kind of mystical quest throughout India in the early 1970s), began frequenting the Los Altos Zen Center, meditating and studying under Zen master Kobin Chino Otogawa. Jobs studied for several years with Otogowa during his first years at Apple, employed him as the official roshi of his subsequent company NeXT, and even asked Otogawa to officiate at his marriage in 1991.73 It is not irrelevant, I would argue, that the iPod, iMac, and iPad hearken back, in both aesthetic and homonymic approximation, to the iChing, or that the iPod stole its layout from Creative Worldwide, Inc.'s “Zen” mp3 player.74 Following Steve Jobs's death, for instance, Forbes magazine hired the creative data visualization firm Jess3 to develop a graphic novel titled The Zen of Steve Jobs (2012), drawing very specific connections between the doctrine of Buddhist “circles” taught to Jobs by Otogawa and the designs for Apple's most innovative products (especially the iPod).75 Indeed, marketing the Mac has, from the beginning, involved characterizations of the machine's ability to both harness and transcend the “obsessive perfection of the analytical grid”—this from the author of (what else?) Zen and the Art of the Macintosh (1986).76

Even on the PC side of the digital revolution the ubiquity of technê-Zen is remarkable. The IBM PC's first killer app, for example, was Mitch Kapor's provocatively named Lotus 1-2-3, a name Kapor decided on after teaching transcendental meditation at Cambridge. Oracle founder and noted Japanophile Larry Ellison has also commented that in starting Oracle he tried very hard to “replicate” Japanese Zen culture.77 His palatial home in northern California was built as a kind of Zen-inspired compound. Or, to point to yet another example, take Novell's Desktop Managing Interface program ZENworks. Conceived in 1994 by one of Novell's senior software engineers, the point of ZENworks was (and still is) to allow for “policy-driven automation” and remote control of Windows or Linux-based workstations by way of centralized IT management. As Novell's product description explains, the “ZEN” in ZENworks is an acronym for “Zero Effort Networking,” which is then associated with the “enlightened” network possibilities allowed for by “configuration management.”78 (One wonders if Novell was aware that whereas typing www.zenworks.com into a web browser takes one to Novell's home site, typing www.zenworks.org takes one to a Zen Buddhist site offering “high quality meditation supplies and Jizo images.”) Such references are everywhere in Silicon Valley: Facebook has a “meditation room” for employees; Google offers “Search Inside Yourself” classes; Twitter sponsors an annual “Wisdom 2.0” seminar—all promoting some form of technê-Zen as “not just about inner peace,” but also about “getting ahead.”79

Perhaps no example seems as appropriate as the curious popularity of Drue Kataoka, “Master Zen Sumi-e Artist” and self-proclaimed Silicon Valley Artist in Residence. Coauthor of ValleyZen.com, “a blog at the intersection of Zen, Modern Life, and Technology,” Kataoka details her interactions with Silicon Valley's digerati, asking things like, “how is the simplicity of Zen central to your company?” to which the digerati invariably and enthusiastically explain to Kataoka just how Zen they all are. In one of her several video blogs, for example, we find Jim Barnet, founder of the online advertising company Turn, Inc., telling Kataoka that he gets up every morning to practice Zen meditation, that Zen is all about “breaking through the clutter,” (p.195) and that Zen has inspired him to “think outside the box” with greater “spontaneity.”80 In another, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Bill Draper (who, with his son provided the initial capital for companies like Skype, Baidu, and Hotmail) comments that Zen simplicity is the “key to a breakthrough concept” and (only half-jokingly) that “my Lexus is my samurai sword.”81 Kataoka brings in a sizeable income, apparently, by offering seminars to various corporations on the value of Zen in “Corporate Branding through Art.”82

As Kataoka's art implies, if there is an aesthetic inherent to network capitalism it relies rather openly on the principles of technê-Zen. Ask anyone in the design world today where the most innovative transcending of HTML grids can be found, and the answer will invariably be www.csszengarden.com and its accompanying volume The Zen of CSS Design (2005). Equal parts “manifesto and gallery,” the authors of CSS Zen Garden built the site to “demonstrate what can be accomplished through CSS-based design.”83 HTML code, they argue, may offer a nice grid-like structure for web designers, but it fails to allow for the more wiggly artistic freedom that designers need. CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are lines of code that can be superimposed over HTML code to enable a separation between document content (HTML or some other markup language) and its presentation (the various fonts, colors, and layout of the digital page). Armed with CSS, a designer has greater freedom and economy to curve certain lines, move between the margins of HTML grids, and employ more aesthetically pleasing fonts and colors (Plates 102106). Thus, designers contributing to the site “are called upon to submit their own original visions in the form of style sheets and images. The catch is that all designs must use the same base HTML file. There are no exceptions; the HTML is absolutely identical in every single design” (CSS, p. 2; emphasis in original). The default CSS Zen Garden site (the structural content of which is then reproduced in dozens of iterations by the web's top designers) invites designers to “relax and meditate on the important lessons of the masters. Begin to see with clarity. Learn to use the (yet to be) time-honored techniques in new and invigorating fashion. Become one with the web.”84 The original site designers even include some Japanese characters in the top-left corner, which roughly translate to “a new holistic technê.” As the authors of the accompanying volume explain, “If you've ever felt constrained by the grid that a table-based layout imposes, you might be delighted to learn that CSS positioning allows you to smash out of it and place elements wherever you like on a page” (CSS, p. 36; emphasis added). It is a point the authors make several times throughout the book: “Through clever design and placement of imagery, a designer can find him-or herself transcending the grid and thinking in more fluid, open ways…. Rigidly enforced grids that impede the design process are a thing of the past” (CSS, p. 137; emphasis added). What this new holistic technê allows for, in other words, is a more organic relationship with one's machine interface. Both the gridness of māyā and the “wiggly” are once again brought together by way of technê-Zen.85

Consider, as a final example, the fundamental role of technê-Zen in Disney's two Tron films. The first Tron (1982) was already a self-reflexive corporate rescue fantasy. Since Walt Disney's death in 1966, the studio's film production unit had been floundering under the weight of corporate bureaucracy and a failure to keep up, as it had so many times in the past, with new developments in media technologies.86 Tron (1982) therefore signaled not only Disney's recommitment to branching out into new technologies of simulation, but also a recognition that it needed the assistance of outside production teams in order to do so. In this case, the unit charged with producing (p.196) Tron (1982) included a group of non-Disney computer animators and designers (headed by Steven Lisberger and Don Kushner) deeply invested in California's technê-Zen-inspired “hacker” culture.87 In Tron (1982) the production team directly allegorizes their own role as saviors of Disney through Jeff Bridges's character, Kevin Flynn, who, not incidentally, appears in his first computer hacking scene wearing a Karate-style Japanese robe (Plates 107108). When Flynn gets transported “into the grid” of the fictional corporation ENCOM's rogue Master Control Program (MCP), his rescue of the MCP has important consequences for ENCOM, whose original founder, a gentle, elderly man named “Walt” (a clear stand-in for Walt Disney), has been usurped by corporate cutthroats whose offices are decorated with ancient oriental statues (Plates 109110). “ENCOM isn't the business you started in your garage anymore,” the evil corporate chairman tells him. Only the Zen, cybercowboy Kevin Flynn can rescue ENCOM from the crypto-feudal computationalism dictated by the MCP's corporate logic (at one point, perhaps for any skeptics who might doubt that the digital landscape of ENCOM's MCP is a simple allegory for Disney, Inc., a massive Mickey Mouse head passes under Flynn as he floats over the “Sea of Simulation”; see Plate 111), and he is rewarded in the end by rising to the head of the corporation himself.

But if Tron (1982) is a corporate rescue fantasy, Tron Legacy (2010) is an even more direct paean to Disney's corporate vision of a technê-Zen-inspired global capitalism. In this second film we discover that Kevin Flynn (again played by Jeff Bridges) has returned to the grid, where his involvement in Zen Buddhism has intensified, and from which he can no longer return without risking the life of his creation, and so it is up to his son, Sam, to rescue his father and the program he has built. When Sam Flynn makes his own way into the grid, he finds his father deep in zazen meditation (Plate 113), his dwelling a kind of iMac palace of clean, white lines and glowing LEDs (on his bookshelf—a touch of the skeuomorphic for the nostalgic Kevin—we are not surprised to find the Yijing and Journey without Goal: The Tantric Wisdom of the Buddha). Indeed, Zen Buddhism was so important to Jeff Bridges's character in Tron Legacy that Bernie Glassman (American Buddhist roshi and founder of Zen Peacemakers) was hired on as a consultant during production, sitting in on story meetings and making himself available on set for Bridges to consult during shooting. Bridges has even suggested in interviews about the film that Glassman should get a “story credit” for the film.88

At one point in the film Sam tells his father that he has restored his old motorcycle, a Ducati, and they reminisce for a moment about its technological brilliance. “Not a day goes by when I don't think about that bike,” Kevin wistfully tells his son. But of course, during the three decades Kevin has been trapped inside the grid he was not entirely without something like a motorcycle. Indeed, the most iconic scenes of Tron (1982)—those most memorialized in video games and cultural memory—are the “light cycle” games wherein opponents on motorcycle-like vehicles race each over the lines of a grid, trailing uncrossable walls of colored light (Plate 112). The same light cycle games occur in Tron Legacy (2010) as well, but with one important difference: now the light cycles wiggle over the lines of the grid (Plate 114). The deeper Kevin Flynn's technologically mediated attachment to Zen, in other words, the more the light cycles' movements over the grid have become motorcycle-like—no longer bound by the strict lines of māyā. The message is clear: whereas in 1982 Disney was in need of help in understanding the grids of māyā, in Tron Legacy they can simply flex their technê-Zen muscles.

(p.197) But inasmuch as the arrival of his son Sam has unsettled the universe of Kevin's program (“You're messing with my Zen thing, man!” he tells his son), he soon comes to the difficult realization that the only way that both his son and his computer program can survive is for Kevin to die in a battle against the program's viral element. And the program must survive, we learn, because Kevin has discovered in it the key to a Kurzweilian dream of biotechnological immortality—eternal life in other words. Thus, if it has been tempting to read the film as a veiled analogue of Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, it becomes even more compelling once we realize that in Tron Legacy the father must give his life for the son—a new story of redemption for the father after his having abandoned the son to the Pirsigian Quality of his creation. The final scene even has Sam and a woman from his father's program (now materialized in the real world), driving his father's Ducati into the bright sunlight (Plate 115).

One of the most bizarre things about the film, however, is how insignificant we are supposed to think the last three decades in the “real world” have actually been. In one scene, for instance, Kevin asks his son for a brief history lesson of what has happened on the outside while he has been trapped in his machine. Sam looks out over the Sea of Simulation and slowly muses,

SAM: Ice caps are melting, war in the Middle East, Lakers-Celtics back at it; Oh, I don't know, rich getting richer, poor getting poorer, cell phones, online dating, WiFi.

KEVIN: What's WiFi?

SAM: Wireless interlinking.

KEVIN: Of digital devices?

SAM: Yeah.

KEVIN: Hah. I thought of that in ‘85.

It is difficult to imagine a more absurd flattening of the last thirty years in human history. Nothing has changed, Sam tells him, except that corporations have finally caught up with the technological dreams Kevin had back in 1985. Nothing else even remotely matters for Sam or his technê-Zen father Kevin. Theirs is a world of “groovy” code, “biodigital jazz,” “creative destruction,” and “digital frontiers,” but hardly one of historical awareness.

Zen and the Art of Historiography

Slavoj Žižek has come under fire recently for his claim that “if Max Weber were to live today, he would definitely have written a second, supplementary, volume to his Protestant Ethic, titled The Taoist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism.”89 Žižek's argument that “Western Buddhism” has become simply “the most efficient way for us to participate fully in the capitalist dynamic,” reflecting an “attitude of total immersion in the selfless ‘now’ of instant Enlightenment,”90 has been described as both “incorrect” and “incoherent.”91 Setting aside attacks on Žižek's coherence, there can be little doubt, I would argue, that the assertion that a form of Eastern mysticism has become the new ethos of global capitalism is correct. As I have been arguing, the discourse of technê-Zen was not just some late sixties fad that lent the more technophilic counterculturalists an air of cool until they could grow up and start healthy secular corporations. It has served, rather, as a continuous ideological framework for the transition to what we have now come to identify as the informatic networks of late capitalism. As a final evidence of this continuity, it is surely one of the most lasting (p.198) legacies of Pirsig's famous novel that the phrase “Zen and the Art of” has become the quintessential signal for the informational quality of a given product or process.92 When, for instance, Joseph A. Grundfest, former commissioner at the Securities and Exchange Commission (and former director of the Oracle Corporation), wanted to discuss the informatic effects of globalizing technologies on capital markets, he did so by explicitly referring to Pirsig in an article titled “Zen and the Art of Securities Regulation” (1993), noting “technology has already made possible computerized markets that instantaneously link traders without regard to their physical location or institutional affiliation,” and so, he argues, the Securities Exchange Commission must take a more Zen approach to regulation.93 “Zen and the Art of” has become, in other words, the sloganeering ethos for postindustrial capitalism, reflecting simply the ideological and historical emptiness of informational excellence or quality. One can publish on Zen and the Art of War just as easily as Zen and the Art of Peace and find an audience either way. Zen and the Art of Knitting sits comfortably alongside Zen and the Art of Harley Riding. The subject never matters, only that informational quality is being conveyed (see Appendix F for a sampling of “Zen and the Art of” in contemporary discourse).

For those of us in the academy and, in particular, the humanities, the fact that “Zen and the Art of” became part of our Global English vocabulary just as the university was forced to give up its special role as the primary “learning organization” of society (having adopted, as Bill Readings has shown, a “techno-bureaucratic notion of excellence”),94 should not go unnoticed. As Alan Liu has argued, we must ask, “ ‘What then is the difference?’ What is the postindustrial, and not nineteenth-century, difference between the academy and the ‘learning organization?’ “ (LC, p. 21; emphasis in original). I would argue that we might find some inspiration in the fact that Liu's answer—that is, history—has remained so far outside the pale of “Zen and the Art of.” As we saw in Tron Legacy, the quality of attitudinal presentism (the “instant now”) implicit in the phrase has, to my knowledge, so far precluded the possibility of “Zen and the Art of History.” Thus, any effective response to the late capitalist culture of technê-Zen will involve a commitment to not only aesthetics and political egalitarianism (equality, we must remember, is not the same thing as equality) but also historiography. Even the most faithful Buddhist critiques of global capitalism today—and there are several—concede the necessity of an acute awareness of history.95 However, we must also understand in doing so that our new global technologies of information processing are not necessarily antipathetic to the values of historical analysis (certainly they made possible, to a remarkable degree, this analysis). Consider, as a final example, the archival brilliance of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. As a fake-news critic of contemporary culture, Stewart has been more adept and has had more influence than any other “legitimate” news organization at returning to the historical televised archive in detailing the hypocrisies and corruptions of our corporate and political landscape.96 Indeed, I would argue that academics might learn something from Stewart's technologically and aesthetically brilliant historiography—in a word, his technê. When he signs off each night, he does so by bringing out from the recent cultural archive some ironic, contradictory snippet—something one can only “get” if one can also see that history is cool: “Now, here it is, your moment of Zen.”


(1) . Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (New York, 2005); hereafter cited as ZMM (in the quotations that follow in this chapter, all italicized words in ZMM are in the original unless otherwise indicated). A number of scholars have identified 1973–1974 as a pivotal moment in a worldwide transition to more network-saturated and informational modes of capitalism. See, for example, Manuel Castells, The Rise of Network Society, Second Edition (Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2010), p. 18; Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991), p. xx; David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 1990), p. 189; Edward W. Soja, Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (New York: Verso, 1989), p. 160; and Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Gregory Elliott (New York: Verso, 2005), pp. 184–185.

(2) . W. T. Lhamon, Jr., “A Fine Fiction,” review of ZMM in New Republic (June 29, 1974), p. 25.

(3) . “The book is inspired…. A detailed technical treatise on the tools, on the routines, on the metaphysics of a specialized skill; the legend of a great hunt after identity, after the salvation of mind and soul out of obsession, the hunter being hunted; a fiction repeatedly (p.294) interrupted by, enmeshed with, a lengthy meditation on the ironic and tragic singularities of American man—the analogies with Moby-Dick are patent. Robert Pirsig invites the prodigious comparison” (George Steiner, “Uneasy Rider,” review of ZMM in New Yorker [April 15, 1974], p. 150).

(4) . Quoted in Pirsig, “Introduction to the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition,” ZMM, p. xi.

(5) . Morris Dickstein, Gates of Eden: American Culture in the Sixties (New York: Basic Books, 1977), pp. 274–275. Ed Zuckerman similarly noted, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a calculated rebuttal of the anti-technological bias … that … peaked during the 1960s, when antitechnologism became a tenet of the counter-culture” (Ed Zuckerman, “Zen and the Art of Sailboat Maintenance: At Sea with Robert Pirsig,” Mother Jones Magazine 2 [May 1977], p. 58).

(6) . Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), p. 4; hereafter cited as MCC.

(7) . See Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society (New York: Vintage Books, 1964), pp. 3–11.

(8) . Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), p. 22.

(9) . Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine (New York: Harcourt, 1967), p. 194.

(10) . Van Meter Ames, “Current Western Interest in Zen,” Philosophy East and West 10 (April–July 1960), p. 25. For contemporary 1960s accounts of the “Zen boom,” see Aishin Imeada, Japanese Zen: Volume 14 of Bulletin of the International Society for Educational Information (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1965), pp. 6–9; Philip Kapleau, “Report from a Zen Monastery, ‘All Is One, One Is None, None Is All,’” New York Times (March 6, 1966), p. SM114; Paul Wienpahl, The Matter of Zen: A Brief Account of Zazen (New York: NYU Press, 1964), p. 100; International Institute for the Study of Religions, “Reminiscences of Religion in Postwar Japan,” Contemporary Religions in Japan 7.3 (September 1966), p. 265; Horace Neill McFarland, The Rush Hour of the Gods: A Study of New Religious Movements in Japan (New York: Macmillan & Co., 1967), p. 29; and Heinrich Dumoulin, A History of Zen Buddhism (New York: Beacon Press, 1969), p. v. For more recent accounts, see Kenneth Kraft, Zen, Tradition and Transition (New York: Grove Press, 1994), p. 199; Peter N. Gregory, “Describing the Elephant,” Religion and American Culture 11.2 (Summer 2001), p. 236; Charles S. Prebish, Westward Dharma: Buddhism beyond Asia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), p. 110; Richard Hughes Seager, Buddhism in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), p. 40.

(11) . Ames, “Current Western Interest,” p. 25.

(12) . Stephen Mahoney, “The Prevalence of Zen,” Nation (November 1, 1958), pp. 311–315.

(13) . The contributions of these and many other Buddhists during the 1970s are mapped out by Seager, Buddhism in America, pp. 249–265. See also Philip Kapleau, Zen: Dawn in the West (Norwell, MA: Anchor Press, 1979), p. 109; Chögyam Trungpa, The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa, 8 vols. (Boston: Shambhala, 2004), 8:224–226; and Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Keys (New York: Harmony, 1974), especially the chapter “Spirituality versus Technology,” pp. 160–163. It may also be worth pointing out that Charles Reich's antitechnocratic volume The Greening of America (New York: Bantam Books, 1970) never even mentions Eastern mysticism and yet was frequently characterized as advocating a Zen approach. See reviews of The Greening of America by Reich, Life Magazine (December 4, 1970), p. 10, and Philip Nobile, The Con III Controversy: The Critics Look at “The Greening of America” (New York: Pocket Books, 1971), pp. 55, 63, 81.

(14) . Charles S. Prebish, American Buddhism (North Scituate, MA: Duxbury Press, 1979), p. 47.

(15) . Theodore Roszak, From Satori to Silicon Valley: San Francisco and the American Counterculture (San Francisco: Don't Call It Frisco Press, 1986), pp. 15, 16.

(16) . The most impressive articulation of this continuity is Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital (p.295) Utopianism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), which extends and amplifies a number of arguments begun by the later Roszak, Mark Taylor, Andrew Kirk, Mark Dery, Erik Davis, Thomas Streeter, and others. As Turner argues, it was not just that the counterculture was heterogeneous enough to encompass a certain technophilic segment. What the “New Communalists” of the 1960s were appropriating from the architects of cold war technocracy (systems thinking, cybernetics, and various other forms of military-industrial computationalism) was an already-institutionalized-yet-fundamentally-new form of networking and collaborative technology. The counterculture, in other words, was less of a break with cold war research (at least those forms developed at the Rad Labs at MIT and the Macy Conferences on cybernetics) than it was an adaptation of some of its most central and transformative ideologies. Alan Liu, for example, in his volume The Laws of Cool, argues, the “counterculture—precisely because it was from the first an uncanny incorporation of both technological rationality and its discontents—took root within corporate culture to prepare the ground for the next, ‘revolutionary’ industrial paradigm.” Alan Liu, The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), p. 137. See also Mark Taylor, The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001); Andrew Kirk, “Machines of Loving Grace: Alternative Technology, Environment, and the Counterculture,” Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, ed. Peter Braunstein and Michael William Doyle (New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 373; Mark Dery,Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century (New York: Grove Press, 1997), p. 29; Erik Davis, TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004), pp. 179–181; Thomas Streeter, The Net Effect: Romanticism, Capitalism, and the Internet (New York: NYU Press, 2011); Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (New York: O'Reilly Media, 1994); Julie Stephen, Anti-Disciplinary Protest: Sixties Radicalism and Postmodernism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 73–95; and Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, “The Californian Ideology,” Alamut: Bastion of Peace and Information, http://www.alamut.com/subj/ideologies/pessimism/califIdeo_I.html.

(17) . Alan W. Watts, The Way of Zen (New York: Pantheon, 1957), pp. ix, 49. Watts never actually cites Norbert Wiener in The Way of Zen, but there are a number of passages in it that were lifted, sometimes word for word, from Wiener's Cybernetics. Compare, for example, Watt's description of the “feedback” process of a home thermostat (Watts, Way of Zen, p. 136) to the description of the same process in Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, [1948] 1965), p. 115.

(18) . For definitions of computationalism, see David Golumbia, The Cultural Logic of Computation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), p. 7, and Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (New York: Knopf, 2010), p. 153.

(19) . Clips and other media from this chapter can be viewed on my personal website at rjohnwilliams.wordpress.com/.

(20) . Beginning in the 1950s, many writers were already denouncing the burgeoning influence of computationalist “grids” in American culture (in everything from housing plans to military-industrial research, from corporate organization to advertising). Take, for example, the illustrations of the new “grids” of depth psychology techniques in advertising, designed to induce “new patterns of mass buying.” See Life Magazine (July 21, 1957), p. 84; and Vance Packard, The Hidden Persuaders (New York: David Mckay Co., 1957). Similar critiques emerged in William Whyte's 1956 study of the grid-like bureaucratization of American culture in The Organization Man (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956); C. Wright Mills's lament in The Power Elite (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956), that, in America, “a vast rural continent has been turned into a great industrial grid,” p. 99; and in Malvina Reynolds's 1962 song “Little Boxes,” which satirized the banal, grid-like patterns of postwar suburban housing tracts and life plans. Indeed, by the time Watts arrived on the scene with his critique of māyā in the early 1960s, many Americans were (p.296) already suspicious that the military-industrial complex had begun to rely too heavily on what Phillip F. Schewe has called the “gridness of the grid” (Phillip F. Schewe, The Grid: A Journey Through the Heart of Our Electrified World [Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press, 2007], p. 5).

(21) . Wiener, Cybernetics, p. 5.

(22) . Freeman Dyson has explained the development of cybernetics in precisely these terms: “To maximize the chance of destroying the airplane, the control system must take into account the multitude of wiggly paths that the airplane might follow” (Freeman Dyson, The Scientist as Rebel [New York: New York Review of Books, 2006], p. 257; emphasis added).

(23) . Wiener, Cybernetics, p. 26.

(24) . These meetings have been described by a number of scholars, persuasively I think, as the origins of what has come to be known as the computationalist theory of the mind (S. G. Shanker, David Golumbia), the advent of the posthuman (N. Katherine Hayles), and the generative origins of the Internet (David Mindell and others). Shanker actually sees Wiener's cybernetics as initially resistant to such full-scale computationalism, but notes that it was rather quickly “co-opted by cognitive psychologists and neurophysiologists” (S. G. Shanker, “AI at the Crossroads,” in The Question of Artificial Intelligence, ed. Brian P. Bloomfield [New York: Methuen, 1987], p. 32). Golumbia similarly credits Wiener with resisting full-blown computationalism, even as he set the stage for its eventual hegemony; see Golumbia, Cultural Logic of Computation, pp. 89–92. See also N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 50–112; David A. Mindell, Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing before Cybernetics (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), p. 4; and Streeter, Net Effect, pp. 30–34.

(25) . Richard Brautigan, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” (1967), The Last Whole Earth Catalog, ed. Stewart Brand (Menlo Park, CA: Portola Institute, 1971), p. 240. See Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, pp. 38–39; and Levy, Hackers, pp. 176–177. Along with Gary Snyder, Brautigan shared an apartment in the mid-1950s with Zen poet Philip Whalen and was deeply involved in “Beat Zen.” Edward Foster has argued that Brautigan's entire career was marked by a conscious effort to embody a “Zen vision,” citing Brautigan's participation in a special event of the ninety-fourth annual Modern Language Association convention in 1979 on the topic of “Zen and Contemporary Poetry,” with fellow panelists Snyder, Lucien Stark, and Whalen (Edward Halsey Foster, Richard Brautigan [Boston: Twayne, 1983], p. 24). Later works such as Sombrero Fallout: A Japanese Novel (1976) and The Tokyo Montana Express (1980) are perhaps the most direct articulations of Brautigan's Zen philosophy, but it would not be unreasonable to claim that all of his novels are consciously crafted celebrations of episodic, koan-like Zen discourse.

(26) . Gary Snyder, Earth House Hold: Technical Notes and Queries to Fellow Dharma Revolutionaries (New York: New Directions, 1969), pp. 4, 92.

(27) . On Fritjof Capra at Esalen, see Jeffrey J. Kripal, Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), pp. 302–307. David Kaiser's How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011) offers a compelling account of the role of Eastern mysticism in the revival of quantum physics during the 1960s and 1970s, and particularly the role of the Fundamental Fysiks Group in San Francisco (of which Capra's book was an important offshoot); see the chapter titled (of course) “Zen and the Art of Textbook Publishing,” pp. 149–165. On Gregory Bateson, see Walter Truett Anderson, The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the American Awakening (Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1983), pp. 319–320. Eric Davis, who in an excellent study on the commensurate discourses of technology and Gnostic mysticism, offers a brief summary of Bateson's ideas, and then comments, “if all this strikes you rather like cybernetic Zen, you have definitely been keeping your eye on the ball” (Davis, TechGnosis, p. 152); see also Joanna Macy, Mutual (p.297) Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory: The Dharma of Natural Systems (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1991), which posits specific connections between Zen and cybernetics. On Brand's Eastern mysticism, see John Brockman, Digerati: Encounters with the Cyber Elite (San Francisco: Hardwired, 1996), pp. 19–28.

(28) . As the Author's Note to ZMM states, “What follows is based on actual occurrences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact” (p. viii). The next sentence of the Author's Note acts as a sort of disclaimer: “However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles either” (p. viii). The key word here is “orthodox.” Pirsig has quite a bit to say on Zen Buddhist practice, if not of the “orthodox” type. The final sentence, I think, is offered entirely tongue-in-cheek. As many a motorcycle and ZMM enthusiast will explain, the book is very factual on motorcycles.

(29) . This is yet another measure of how much ZMM is a self-consciously post-counterculturalist text; the motorcycle is not a bus. Pirsig had no patience for the Merry Pranksters.

(30) . Several scholars have identified the similarity of Pirsig's classic–romantic divide with C. P. Snow's characterization of The Two Cultures (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1959). However, as we shall see in the conclusion, F. S. C. Northrop's “epistemic correlate” in The Meeting of East and West (1946) was a more direct influence (Northrop was also a member of the Macy Conferences); see ZMM, p. 122.

(31) . The notion that schizophrenia was simply an anguished (but ultimately sane and therapeutic) response to a “mad” world gained psychiatric credibility in R. D. Laing's The Divided Self (1969), a notion dramatized vividly a few years earlier in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962).

(32) . The Greek name “Phaedrus” actually means “bright,” “beaming,” or “joyous.” See James H. Nichols, Jr., translator, Plato's Phaedrus (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press), p. 35.

(33) . George Kimball Plochmann, Richard McKeon: A Study (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), p. 1. As Wayne Booth, one of McKeon's other famous students would recall, “for some of his students, the punches were destructive, and for some, like the angry Robert Pirsig who attacked McKeon as ‘The Professor’ in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the destruction was felt as deliberate. My own view is that McKeon never intended to destroy the arguer, only the fallacious argument or reading. His profound probing did, however, produce some personal tragedies” (Wayne C. Booth, The Essential Wayne Booth, ed. Walter Jost [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006], p. 342 n. 3).

(34) . The text in question is appropriately Plato's Phaedrus, which deals with questions of rhetoric, love, and the origins of written language.

(35) . John Poulakos, for instance, argues that Heidegger's notion of the “possible” is consistent with “Sophistical rhetoric.” See “Rhetoric, the Sophists, and the Possible,” Communication Monographs 51 (1984), pp. 215–226. Other scholars have argued, more persuasively I think, that Heidegger identified less with the Sophists than with other pre-Socratics. Victor J. Vitanza, for example, observes, “Heidegger in his deconstruction of Plato and Aristotle does not, in his own thinking, replace them with the Sophists. He could not because he associates the Sophists with the withdrawal of Being. If Heidegger identifies with anyone, it is a few so-called pre-Socratics but especially Socrates himself, who he says stood in the storm of the withdrawing of Being” (Victor J. Vitanza, Negation, Subjectivity, and the History of Rhetoric [Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1997), p. 24. See also Jacques Derrida, “Jacques Derrida on Rhetoric and Composition: A Conversation,” interview by Gary A. Olson, Journal of Advanced Composition 10 (Winter 1990), pp. 1–21; Stanley Fish, Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1989), pp. 479–481; (p.298) Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979), pp. 155–164; Wayne C. Booth, Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004), pp. 55–84; and Susan Jarratt, Rereading the Sophists: Classical Rhetoric Reconfigured (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991). See Fish on Pirsig's phenomenological holism in “Fathers, Sons, and Motor-cycles,” New York Times Online (June 14, 2009), opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/fathers-sons-and-motorcycles/.

(36) . For an interesting reading of Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality as a synthetic “field model,” see Hayles, The Cosmic Web: Scientific Field Models and Literary Strategies in the Twentieth Century (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984), pp. 63–84.

(37) .Richard H. Rodino, “Irony and Earnestness in Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 22 (1980), pp. 21–31; and “The Matrix of Journeys in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” Journal of Narrative Technique 11 (1981), pp. 53–63.

(38) . Ronald L. DiSanto and Thomas J. Steele, Guidebook to “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1990), p. 28.

(39) . Tony Wagner notes the narrator's lack of modesty and compassion, as well as his unapologetic commitment to isolation. See Tony Wagner, “A Second Look at Motorcycle Maintenance and Zen,” review of ZMM in Humanist 36 (September–October 1976), pp.45–46.

(40) . Motorcycle enthusiasts generally love the book, and hundreds of Pirsig fans retrace his motorcycle route on their own motorcycles every year, aided now by downloadable GPS coordinates of Pirsig's major stopping points. Journalist Mark Richardson has recorded one such pilgrimage in Zen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (New York: Random House, 2008). Pirsig's follow-up book, Lila, has not been nearly as successful and is generally appreciated by only the most devoted fans. Discussions of both ZMM and Lila can be found at www.moq.org (MOQ is an abbreviation for Metaphysics of Quality). See also Lila's Child: An Inquiry into Quality, compiled by Dan Glover (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse Publishing, 2003). Another fan site, www.robertpirsig.org, is run by Anthony McWatt, who has actually earned an entire PhD in Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality from the University of Liverpool.

(41) . There is a long tradition in English-language biblical discourse of writing (and pronouncing) the word “atonement” as a hyphenated three-word compound, so as to emphasize the unificatory qualities of Christ's expiation (wherein we become “at-one” with god); see Bill Bryson, Mother Tongue (New York: Perennial), p. 97. The god in this case is different, but the fantasy of spiritualized unity at its core is similar.

(42) . See also Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), pp. 280–303; Boltanski and Chiapello, New Spirit of Capitalism; and Alan Liu, The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), hereafter cited as LC.

(43) . John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, The Witch Doctors: Making Sense of the Management Gurus (New York: Times Books, 1996), p. 18.

(44) . See The Information Technology Revolution, ed. Tom Forester (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986), where the United States versus Japan is a dominant theme of the essays.

(45) . Rafael Aguayo, Dr. Deming: The American Who Taught the Japanese about Quality (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990). He is widely known as the “founding father of the quality movement” (John Beckford, Quality: A Critical Introduction [New York: Routledge, 1998], p. 65).

(46) . See Aguayo, Dr. Deming, p. 6.

(47) . The influence of the Bell Telephone Laboratories on the development of cybernetics and other systems theories has been well documented. See Wiener, Cybernetics, pp. 4, 10, 60, 67; Mindell, Between Human and Machine, pp. 105–137; and Daniel Bell, The Social Sciences since the Second World War (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1981), p. 31. (p.299) Deming also corresponded frequently with John von Neumann; see John von Neumann, John Von Neumann: Selected Letters, ed. Miklós Rédei (Providence, RI: American Mathematical Society, 2005), pp. 95–96. Deming's theories were similarly influential in the development of Stafford Beer's “organizational cybernetics” (Beckford, Quality, p. 171); see Art Kleiner, The Age of Heretics: A History of the Radical Thinkers Who Reinvented Corporate Management (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2008), p. 288.

(48) . See W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis (Cambridge, MA: MIT Center for Advanced Engineering Study, 1982), pp. 167–247, and The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education (Cambridge, MA: MIT Center for Advanced Engineering Study, 1994), p. 139; Michael E. Milakovich, Improving Service Quality in the Global Economy: Achieving High Performance in Public and Private Sectors (Boca Raton, FL: Auerbach Publications, 2006), p. 53; Aguayo, Dr. Deming, pp. 19–50; and Micklethwait and Wooldridge, Witch Doctors, pp. 237–257. See also the report issued by members of the MIT International Motor Vehicle Program: The Machine That Changed the World: The Story of Lean Production, ed. James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, and Daniel Roos (New York: HarperPerennial, 1990), and Kleiner, The Age of Heretics, pp. 288–297.

(49) . Nor has it been lost on Pirsig's fans; see Glover, Lila's Child, p. 419. See also John Douglas, review of ZMM in Academy of Management Review 1 (July 1976), pp. 134–135.

(50) . See Micklethwait and Wooldridge, Witch Doctors, p. 16.

(51) . See Peter F. Drucker, “Management's New Paradigms,” Alfred P. Sloan: Critical Evaluations in Business and Management, ed. John C. Wood and Michael C. Wood, 2 vols. (New York: Routledge, 2003), 2:275.

(52) . Douglas McGregor, The Human Side of Enterprise (New York: McGraw Hill, 1960), p. 48.

(53) . See Kleiner, The Age of Heretics, pp. 19–84. Perhaps not surprisingly, McGregor's insights were almost immediately incorporated into a grid structure; see Robert R. Blake and Jane Mouton, Corporate Excellence through Grid Organization Development: A Systems Approach (Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing, 1968), pp. 14–16.

(54) . Brian A. Victoria, Zen at War (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), p. 182; hereafter cited as Z.

(55) . Masahiro Mori's study was actually published in two volumes: Bukkyō nyūmon (Tokyo: Kosei Shuppansha, 1974) and Shingan (Tokyo: Kosei Shuppansha, 1976); the English translation combined the two volumes as Masahiro Mori, The Buddha in the Robot, translated by Charles S. Terry (Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Co., 1981).

(56) . Mori, The Buddha in the Robot, p. 51. Regarding his encounter with Norbert Wiener's Cybernetics as a young student, Mori writes, “My own encounter with [Wiener's book] determined the future course of my life's work. Owing to its influence, I shifted to [the study of] automated control. Presently I became a member of the Society of Automatic control” (p. 17). Mori also offers precisely the same house-and-thermostat illustration that Alan Watts borrowed from Wiener (see note 17 above) to describe what he sees as expressly Zen-like cybernetic systems (p. 168).

(57) . Ibid., p. 57. Mori has become famous in the United States more recently for an earlier article he wrote in 1970 on what he called the “uncanny valley” (that “place” or moment, in the spectrum of robot anthropomorphic appearance, when the robot suddenly becomes too closely human and the response is—instead of empathy—revulsion or fear). I would suggest, however, that this recent, nearly exclusive attention to Mori's “uncanny valley” notion—an academic argument that when it was published hardly entered the critical discourse at all in either Japan or the United States—radically skews the historical picture of Mori's influence in Japan, which, for most of his career was in the area of industrial automation rather than in the more specialized field of robotic anthropomorphism. For more on Mori's “uncanny valley” argument, see Lydia H. Liu, The Freudian Robot: Digital Media and the Future of the Unconscious (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), pp. 224–227; (p.300) and Minsoo Kang, Sublime Dreams of Living Machines: The Automaton in the European Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), pp. 47–49.

(58) . Mori's chapter on “Quality not Quantity,” pp. 78–88. For his description of the relative material forms of cosmic flux in the human body, see pp. 26–27; in the robot, see pp. 28–29. Rob Wilson nicely summarizes Mori's sense of Buddhist flux in the context of a “cyborgian future” for the “Asia/Pacific” region of transnational production; see Reimagining the American Pacific: From South Pacific to Bamboo Ridge and Beyond (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000), pp. 14–15.

(59) . Mori, The Buddha in the Robot, p. 13.

(60) . For more on the Mukta Institute, see Frederick L. Schodt, Inside the Robot Kingdom: Japan Mechatronics, and the Coming Robotopia (New York: Kodansha International/USA, 1988), pp. 206–211; and Tessa Morris-Suzuki, “Fuzzy Logic: Science, Technology and Postmodernity in Japan,” in Japanese Encounters with Postmodernity, ed. Yoshio Sugimoto and Johan P. Arnason (New York: Routledge, 2010), p. 122.

(61) . Schodt, Inside the Robot Kingdom, p. 209.

(62) . Ibid., p. 209; for more on Honda's transformation in the 1970s see James Brian Quinn, Intelligent Enterprise: A Knowledge and Service Based Paradigm for Industry (New York: Free Press, 1992), pp. 56–58.

(63) . William Ouchi, Theory Z: How American Business Can Meet the Japanese Challenge (New York: Addison Wesley, 1981), pp. 83, 82. See also Gregory A. Daneke, Systemic Choices: Nonlinear Dynamics and Practical Management (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2002), p. 135.

(64) . Richard Pascale and Anthony Athos, The Art of Japanese Management: Applications for American Executives (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981), pp. 98, 99. Hajime Karatsu, one of Japan's “quality control gurus,” would later echo these statements when invited by the Pentagon to speak to a group of officials in the United States on Japan's “secrets” for its new technological successes: “Engineers in the United States have a worldview colored by dualism, and they tend to see things in terms of ‘black’ or ‘white,’ ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ But industrial production is a battle with error; if a design differs from its specifications it won't work the way it should. On the [factory] floor, therefore, the ‘gray area’ is very important. There is no single truth, but many” (qtd in Schodt, Inside the Robot Kingdom, p. 206).

(65) . Pascale and Athos, The Art of Japanese Management, p. 112. See also Julian Gresser, Partners in Prosperity: Strategic Industries for the United States and Japan (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984).

(66) . See Micklethwait and Wooldridge, Witch Doctors, pp. 6, 80–86; Sandford Borins, “Corporate Prophets,” Globe and Mail (April 12, 1991), p. A16; Miles Maguire, “Fathoming Deming's Ideas on Quality,” Washington Times (March 14, 1991), p. C2; Michael McKinney “Employing New Thinking in Turbulent Times,” Leading Blog (October 8, 2008), www.leadershipnow.com/leadingblog/2008/10/employing_new_thinking_in_turb.html; and Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), p. 54.

(67) . Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies (New York: Harper and Row, 1982), pp. 37–38. For a trenchant analysis of this passage in Peters and Waterman's book, see Hugh Willmot, “Strength Is Ignorance; Slavery Is Freedom: Managing Culture in Modern Organizations,” Journal of Management Studies 30 (July 1993), p. 544.

(68) . Thomas Peters and Nancy Austin, A Passion for Excellence: The Leadership Difference (New York: Random House, 1985), p. 130.

(69) . Jenny Turner, “Far from the Last Tycoon,” Guardian (July 19, 1994), p. T14.

(70) . Micklethwait and Wooldridge, Witch Doctors, p. 63. Drucker has also been dubbed the “dean of U.S. management theory” (LC, p. 17).

(71) . See Magnus Ramage and Karen Shipp, Systems Thinkers (London: Springer, 2009), p. 120.

(72) . Quoted in Gay Hendricks and Kate Ludeman, “How to Be a Corporate Mystic,” Yoga Journal (December 1997), p. 76.

(73) . See Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon, iCon: Steve Jobs, the Greatest Second Act in the History of Business (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2005), pp. 31–33; Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), pp. 34–36, 48–50, 128, 262, 564, and 570.

(74) . I am retaining the traditional spelling of Yijing here both for homonymic effect and because it is how Jobs himself would have encountered the title of the text in the 1970s. Regarding the lawsuit, Apple paid $100 million to Creative in a settlement over allegations that it stole patents for its mp3 player design. See “Apple and Creative Announce Broad Settlement Ending Legal Disputes between the Companies,” www.apple.com/pr/library/2006/aug/23settlement.html. For more on Jobs's “Zen aesthetic,” see Carmine Gallo, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs (New York: McGraw Hill, 2010), pp. 87–104; Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen (Berkeley: New Riders, 2008), pp. 171–118, 217–219, 267–271; and Presentation Zen Design (Berkeley: New Riders, 2010), pp. 22–23, 64.

(75) . Caleb Melby, The Zen of Steve Jobs (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012).

(76) .Michael Green, Zen and the Art of the Macintosh: Discoveries on the Path to Computer Enlightenment (San Francisco: Running Press, 1986), p. 140.

(77) . See Karen Southwick, Everyone Else Must Fail: The Unvarnished Truth about Oracle and Larry Ellison (New York: Crown Business, 2003), and Davis, The Visionary State (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2006), pp. 172–173.

(78) . ZENworks, press release, 1998; it also touted “Desktop Enlightenment.” Novell's official statement on ZENworks compatibility with Microsoft speaks of “paravirtualization, or enlightenment” by way of “using full virtualization” (Microsoft and Novell Corporations, “Novell and Microsoft: Building Bridges” [October 2008], p. 3, www.moreinterop.com/download.aspx?filePath/upload/MediaFiles/Files/PDFs/Collaboration%20Roadmap%20White%20Paper%20English.pdf). See also Elizabeth Montalbano, “Novell, Microsoft Provide Virtualization Roadmap,” InfoWorld (February 12, 2007), www.infoworld.com/t/platforms/novell-microsoftprovide-virtualization-roadmap-488. For more on “ZE-Nworks Enlightenment,” see Mark Schouls, “ZENworks Enlightenment,” Everything Zenworks (March 11, 2005), drzenworks.blogspot.com.

(79) . For these and other examples see Noah Shachtman, “Enlightenment Engineers,” Wired 21.7 (July 2013), pp. 120–128; the entire special issue on “Buddhism and Technology” in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review 22.4 (Summer 2013), especially pp. 54–67; and Ajit V. Jaokar, Meditation in the Age of Facebook and Twitter: From Shamanism to Transhumanism (London: futuretext, 2012); see also the website http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/ which hosts annual seminars in major cities throughout the United States, celebrating the virtues of technê-Zen.

(80) . See “Valley Zen: Jim Barnett, Founder Chairman CEO of Turn, Inc., on Zen and Simplicity,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzSq_xhVWHw.

(81) . “Valley Zen: Bill Draper, Draper Richards,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpWFcWRvcHE.

(82) . www.drue.net/corporate-art-commissions.htm. Some of Kataoka's art was even launched into space as part of Richard Garriot's $30 million “space tourism.” See Valley Zen Blog, “Drue's Art in the First In-Space Art Exhibit on Richard Garriott's Space Mission,” www.valleyzen.com/2008/10/17/drues-art-in-the-first-in-space-art-exhibit-on-richard-garriotts-space-mission/.

(83) . Dave Shea and Molly E. Holzschlag, The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web (Berkeley: Peachpit Press, 2005), p. 2; hereafter cited as CSS.

(84) . “CSS Zen Garden,” www.csszengarden.com; emphasis in original. The irony is that behind the scenes at CSS Zen Garden, such CSS coding is not always as straightforward as it seems, as designers often have to develop difficult work-around code lines in order to (p.302) have their designs work in tandem with the prescribed HTML (I am indebted to Jeremy Douglass for this insight).

(85) . For more on the supposed commensurability of Internet technologies and Zen Buddhism, see Philip Toshio Sudo, Zen Computer (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001), and Charles S. Prebish, Luminous Passage: The Practice and Study of Buddhism in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), pp. 203–232.

(86) . See J. P. Telotte, The Mouse Machine (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008), p. 141; hereafter cited as MM.

(87) . See Peter Sorensen, “Tronic Imagery,” Cinefex 8 (1982), pp. 4–35; and MM, pp. 150–151. In an online interview, Bernie Macbird, cowriter of Tron (1982), remembers drawing inspiration for the film from Homebrew Computer Club figures like Ted Nelson (author of Computer Lib [1974], and director of the original hyperlink project, appropriately named Xanadu), Alan Kay, the Stanford AI project, and Xeroc PARC; see http://www.mediamikes.com/2011/09/interview-with-trons-bonnie-macbird/.

(88) . See http://zenpeacemakers.org/2010/12/video-je?-bridges-on-zen-influence-in-tron/. Dozens of reviews have drawn attention to the Zen element in Tron Legacy (2012). See, for example, http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/719654/the_james_clayton_column_tron_philosophy.html. Bernie Glassman and Jeff Bridges later co-wrote a book reflecting on some of these themes; see The Dude and the Zen Master (New York: Blue Rider Press, 2013).

(89) . Slavoj Žižek, “The Prospects of Radical Politics Today,” The Universal Exception, ed. Rex Butler and Scott Stephens (New York: Continuum, 2006), p. 253. Less controversially, David Weir's American Orient: Imagining the East from the Colonial Era through the Twentieth Century (Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2011) offers a fine summary of the overlapping tendencies in American Buddhism and postmodern consumerism, arguing that Zen has been streamlined for the “mantra of the market,” and that “not much is left” of Eastern philosophy in American culture “as a political, moral, or aesthetic alternative” (p. 256). However, as I have been arguing in this chapter, it was precisely that alterity that (from the very beginning) allowed Zen Buddhism to become so central to global capitalism.

(90) . Slavoj Žižek, “Forward to the Second Edition,” For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor (New York: Verso, 2008), p. xliii.

(91) . In the anti-Festschrift that is The Truth of Žižek, co-editor Paul Bowman cites Žižek's claim on the new “Taoist ethic” and then argues, we have “merely to ask is Žižek's argument correct? At times it seems persuasive, but on what model of causality is it premised, and is this model or paradigm sound? Does it think and analyze everything, or does it rely on any unthought or even obscurantist supplements?” (Paul Bowman, “The Tao of Žižek,” The Truth of Žižek, ed. Paul Bowman and Richard Stamp [New York: Continuum, 2007], p. 35; emphasis in original). The implication here that Žižek's inability to “think and analyze everything” (everything!) somehow already discounts the truth of his assertion seems a bit unfair. In fact, we have merely to notice that Bowman's subsequent argument attacks not the accuracy of Žižek's claim but rather the discursive coherence of Žižek's rhetorical strategy—a much easier target to be sure. In fact, Bowman seems to have recently backtracked from the question of whether or not Žižek is “correct.” In the republication of his essay Bowman's sentence reads, this time, we have “merely to ask: is Žižek's argument coherent?” (Paul Bowman, Deconstructing Popular Culture [New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008], p. 138; emphasis in original). In fairness to Bowman, however, one could point out that Žižek's critique of Zen is somewhat shallow, relying on the strength of only a few texts. Also, as Ananda Abeysekara has argued, part of Žižek's incoherence stems from his puzzling (perhaps even quasi-Orientalist) insistence that Christianity offers a viable alternative to the Daoist spirit of postmodern capitalism, as though Christianity has not been similarly adaptive. See Ananda Abeysekara, The Politics of Postsecular: Mourning Secular Futures (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), (p.303) p. 74; and William E. Connolly, Capitalism and Christianity, American Style (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008).

(92) . It is worth pointing out that Pirsig didn't invent the phrase but was borrowing it from Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery, trans. R. F. C. Hull (New York: Pantheon, 1953), and D. T. Suzuki, “Zen and the Art of Tea I,” Zen and Japanese Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970), pp. 269–290. It is doubtful, however, that the phrase would have made such an impact on the language without Pirsig's contribution.

(93) . Joseph A. Grundfest, “Zen and the Art of Securities Regulation,” Journal of Applied Corporate Finance 5 (Winter 1993), p. 5.

(94) . Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 14.

(95) . See, for example, Engaged Buddhism in the West, ed. Christopher S. Queen (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2000), pp. 17–25; Derek Wall, Babylon and Beyond: The Economics of Anti-Capitalist, Anti-Globalist, and Radical Green Movements (London: Pluto Press, 2005), p. 191; and Simon P. James, Zen Buddhism and Environmental Ethics (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2004), p. 125.

(96) . The historian behind Stewart's archival brilliance is Adam Chodikoff, The Daily Show's chief researcher. It's Chodikoff's impressive memory and ability to mine the media archive that allows the show, as it did recently on June 16, 2010, when President Barack Obama called for a long-term strategy in the search for alternative energies, to provide clips of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush calling for, in essence, the same plan (but with a decreasing ambition that is both startling and frightening).