“What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua…”
Robert M. Persig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has been a fixture in the lives of many of us raised in the sixties — and later — who have maintained an interest in traditional boats. It might not be much of a surprise to find Persig quoted here at the start of this new Journal…. What may be surprising is that I had never read it before this summer (2014).
Coming to it with fresh eyes, I’m amazed at its relevance today. Nothing like the gist I’ve carried with me for all these years; derived from passing references and the general cultural noise that grew up around it. The clichés of “Hippie Zen” just don’t stick. Instead, I’m struck by the depth and breadth of parallels with all of the bleeding edges of thought I’ve knocked around with over the last decade or more.
Central to its relevance here is the introduction of Quality as a way to bridge the dualities of what was at that time referred to as Romanticism and Classicism. These days, the brutality of what passes for public discourse would use much ruder names to describe whatever side someone happened to disagree with. These divides have, if anything deepened and hardened. We have the habit of resorting to thought-stoppers. A reliance on trigger-rallying cries that shut down any attempt to recognize, let alone value, an opinion outside our customary comfort zone.
The beauty of boats, something that is especially important in a time like this, is in how they keep us reality-based. The hot-house of adrenaline pounding rhetoric that controls so much of life these days does not stand up to the shortest time spent afloat. Boats don’t let us forget what’s real And on boats we find joy in this now rare contact with an unconditioned reality.
Persig felt that way about motorcycles. I’ll hold my own views on that in abeyance…. Everything that he found inspiring in them does carry over, if anything they only become stronger, more deeply rooted if we consider the way boats demand that we relate with questions of quality and find our peace, and our joy, in this relation, this medium that carries us out into a world less-trammeled (Hard to say untrammeled these days about anywhere…).
I was struck too by his call for a Chautauqua. A funny phrase, one that many today might not recognize, but one that refers to the flag-ship venue for a mania for public-education, what might be called adult education today, that had a series of waves of national interest throughout Nineteenth Century America. I’ve also long had a nostalgia and a hunger for this very kind of thing.
I’ve always called it a Symposium. Although for me, it’s not the heavy drinking of the ancient Greek original that drew me in. It’s been an interest in being part of broad and deep discussion and dialogue on matters that spread beyond the narrow limitations of our current hyper-specialization. There are subjects I should think any adult would find of interest and import. There are topics and modes of inquiry that go beyond “Likes” and opinions. And, I’ve always wanted to find a venue — or many venues — in which it might be possible to carry these out. Persig, again, has been there and points the way.
He combines — in an anecdotal fashion (anecdotal has had a bad press, I hold it to be an honorable form! — practical talk about how things are done — let’s call it a down-to-earth engineering — with the audacity and courage to present the most esoteric and philosophical and even mystical and spiritual connections that tie these elements together into a greater view of life.
I’m in awe of his success. I’m also drawn to find my own courage in his example. To attempt something broadly similar here. To convene a Chautauqua around boats and how they can be Vessels of Transformation.
I’d like to welcome you! And, ask you to join in this Chautauqua!