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September 08, 1974 - Image 4

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1974-09-08

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Page Four

'''f'HE MICHIGAN DAILY

Sunday, September 8, 1974

BOOt

(S

FATHER-AND-SON
A modern motorcycle odyssey:
In pursuit of truth and self

POP WIENER
An American artist
from the melting pot

By TOM THACKER struggle earlier in his life, and
E MOVES FORWARD eas- the reactions others had to it,
H ily, winding, halting and which eventually drove him in-
lurching occasionally, retracing sane. He was institutionalized
steps, driving always with a re- and underwent massive shock
lentless intensity. This is Rob- therapy. When he finally return-
ert Pirsig on his motorcycle, but ed to society, it was as a new
it is also the parallel route of and in, some ways far less driv-
his thoughts during the cross- en mn. His desire to recon-
country trip he describes. Pir- struct the past is rekindled
sig weaves action and descrip- largely in an effort to protect his
tion along the route, but more brilliant 11-year-old son, Chris,

which to pass on the insights
Phaedrus' intense quest pro-
vided. In that latter attempt,
Pirsig delivers a series of
"Chautauquas" - "an old-time
series of popular talks intended
to edify and entertain, improv-
ed the mind and bring culture
and enlightenment to the ears
and mind of the hearer." The
lectures cover wide ground be-
tween art and motorcycle main-
tenance and philosophy, and

,than anything, this is a recapi-
tulative autobiography of the
mind. He is a loner of few!
deeds and much thought, whose
previous travels were spent dis-
covering a peaceful environ-
ment for deep thinking. Now
Pirsig takes this journey to pur-
sue his 'former self.
The plotline itself is sparse,I
a backdron to Pirsig's memo-
ries and ideas. The author was
born and raised in Minneapolis,
Minn., so astonishingly brilliant
(his I. Q. measured over 170),
he couldn't get along with most
"normals." Schooled first inr
the classic scientific mode (col-
lege at 15), he moved from
chemistry to philosophy and Zen
Buddhism, on to teaching rhe-
toric, and much later to tech-
nical writing and to this auto-
biography. More fascinating
than the eclectic range of his
interest and talents, though, it
covering trutM (he calls it
is Pirsig's obsession with dis-'
'quality') which gives the book
its power. He seeks an environ-
ment in which art and technol-
ogy can harmoniously co-exist."
Pirsig believes that destruction
will inevitably result if the
alienation between people in the
two camps persists. It is this

from a similar fate.

Pirsig delivers a series of "Chautauquas"
-lectures that cover wide ground be-
tween art and motorcycle maintenance ,
and philosophy, and they are delivered=
while traveling, ostensibly because mot-
orcycle noise makes conversation impos-
sible.

POP WIENER: N A I V E
PAINTER, by Joanne Bock,;
Amherst: University of Massa-
chusetts Press, 1974, 157 pp. $20.
By PHIL BALLA
TpHE StUDENT who begins to
study in earnest the fields'
of history, sociology, or Amer-
ican Culture will soon learn of
a great list of books, academic
and otherwise, that deal with
the phenomenon of the immi-!
grant experience in America.
Joanne Bock put the cart before
the horse. She heard of Pop
Wiener, a naive painter on theI
East Coast, liked his paintings,
wrote a book, and then came to
the University of Michigan to
study all the background of the
ethnic experience in. America.
Pop Wiener was a curious
amalgam of Russian-Rumanian-
Jewish culture (he was born in
old Bessarabia in 1886) and
American culture (where he im-
migrated in 1903). Between Wat-
erbury, Connecticut, and the
Bronx, New York, Pop had a
number of jobs over the years,
married, raised a family, and
began painting at the sugges-
tion of one of his grown chil-
dren in 1950, after he'd retired

art renowned for richness of
color and other qualities that
came out so many years later
in Pop's work. Ms. Bock ac-
counts for the patterns of flow-
ers and trees in Wiener's art
with an analogy to the. peasant
custom of carpets on the walls
and floors of Bessarabian cot-
tages - carpets with rich, re-
petitive, and colorful patterns of
leaves, boughs, and other im-
ages from nature and folk heri-
tage there. This folk heritage,
called Miorita, from the Ru-
manian ballad of that name,
was shared by Jewish and
Christian peoples alike in that
region, and stressed the affin-
ity between people and nature.
Wiener retained this sense.
His mirth andavitality ran
through his life and work, and
in this work his images took on
the same idealized- shapes of
folk art, floating or placed in
the. geometric patterns of the or-
chards, flowers, and gardens
that fill his landscapes along
with the people with almond
eyes and Jewish faces. Even
the animals have these same
expressive, human faces, for all
nature has this same vitality.

lv limit the depth and breadth
of experience. Nonetheless, it is
easy to identify with the couple;
-feeling as they did that you
have an audience with an ob-
viously brilliant and fascinating
man, one never quite under-
standable, but who is always
searching after truth.
PIRSIG HAS a natural clarity,

tion; at still others, abstruse
and boring. The original manu-
script was more than three
times its published lengthand
the novel is still over-long. The
wading, however, is worth it,
for the power of the overall ex-
perience is unmistakeable.

THE NARRATIVE then repre-
sents a cross - country mo-
torcycle trip Pirsig takes, one
summer with Chris - and for
about half the distance - with
a young couple. On one level,
Pirsig seeks an understanding
of his former self, whom he am-
biguously refers to as "Phae-
drus," an ancient Greek myth-
ical figure given to deception.
On a second level he recreates
his past in an attempt to allay
the deep fears and confusions
Chris has about his enigmatic
father. And on a third level,
this trip is a medium through

a1---- ---- ,-2------ " ._-..1. -- . . . _l

they are delivered while travel- an easiness of style and 1 iI nUUxhaoes have a
ing, ostensibly because motor- pace and a lucid mind. None- certain resolution. We are told
cycle noise makes conversationj
impossible. Long Chautauquas
are interrupted by sparse de- scription of the countryside,
scription of the countryside,
some filling in of the past, and More fascinating than the eclectic range
fragments of conversations. But. of his interest and talentsthough, it is
these details are secondary, an
almost necessary relief from the Pirsig's obsession with discovering truth
complexity of the monologues.hslie
The couple who accompany (he alls it 'uality') which gives the book
Pirsig and Chris on the first leg its power.
of the trip - friends from
home-are crucial. They repre-...........s.*.*.*.*.*....*......,..,...................
sent precisely the people Pirsig
Sfears have become ominously
alienated from technology. They theless, Zen is erratic in the early on that Chris has been
refuse to accept it as anything way many first novels are, diagnosed as showing the first
other than a dirty fact of life, sometimes no more than a phil- signs of mental illness. But in
and Pirsig uses their example osophy instructor's transition the end, it seems clear that
to show how that view can vast- between monologue and descrip- this is only a reaction to his

Daily Photo by STEVE KAGAN
last few pages, when Phaedrus
seems to have , crept back
frighteningly and both father
and son are in a shaky state.
A quiet discussion ensues, and
Chris finally asks his father,
"Were you ever insane?" The
answer is emphatic, and yet
seems a surprise even to its
giver-"No!" As they ride
slowly off, Chris repeats quiet-
ly to himself, "I knew it. I
knew it." And then there is a
final note, one of uncharacteris-
tic optimism: "Trials never end
of course. Unhappiness and
misfortune are bound to occur
as long as people live, but there
is the feeling now, that was not
herebefore, and is not just on
the surface of things, but pene-
trates all the way through:
'We've won it. It's going to get
better now. You can sort of tell
these things."'
BUTTHAT'S gettingahead,
way ahead. The power of
this book lies in its heart. It is
extraordinary.
Ton Thacker is an Ann Ar-
bor based freelance writer.

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from his grocery store. His Ms. Bock does not elaborate
wife of forty-six years, Dora, on this acculturation process;
had died and he was already Pop was a simple man and
sixty-five. Joanne Bock met Pop neither did he. Pop Wiener:
in 1969 when she was studying Naive Painter is not an inquiry
art and preparing herself for into cultural values, but an in-
museum jobs she was to have troduction to a man who ab-
thereafter. Her life changed, sorbed those values and in his
however; Pop Wiener died the old age, his retirement, simply
next year, her bookrcommem- recorded them. The quality of
orating him and his art was his vision is refreshingly clear
published four years later, and in the eight color and eighty-
Joanne was studying and grow- nine black-and-white illustra-
ing into the whole field of the tions Ms. Bock has included.
k ethnic experience that Pop had Whether or not Ms. Bock's Ph.
opened for her, D. studies here at the Univer-
Pop Wiener: Naive Painter is sity in the Program of Ameri-
then not so much a cultural his- can Culture will lead to fur-
tory as it is an introduction to th" r speculation regarding the
a man who hereafter should be ,-+";, experience is a question
mentioned in the same breath s largely answered in this,
as Grandma Moses. And his art first book: a person's re-
is as delightfully refreshing. spouses to life may come from
Humor, color, "hi; vitality and a deep religiosity and love of
love for all that is alive," as texture and detail; and without
Ms. Bock says, are his vision. regard for deeper messages and
N THE BOOK she has refer- rules of perspective, this may
ences and pictures of folk be all one knows and needs to
and religious art from the Ru- know. And this was Pop Wie-
mania Wiener knew as a boy, ner.
Phil Balla is a graduate stu-
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