Robert M. Pirsig
Dear Paul Douglas Renselle,
Thank you for your long and thoughtful letter. It's not often I receive such good questions, so I have taken a little extra time to look into them. To understand "context" a little better I checked out Christopher Alexander's book, Notes on the Synthesis of Form. Its huge difference from the Metaphysics of Quality became immediately apparent.
He says on page 6 that "There is a good deal of superstition among designers as to the deathly effect of analysis on their intuitions." The MOQ says these "intuitions" are an equivalent of Dynamic Quality. Analysis is deadly to them. It is a static form of evolution, intellect, seeking to devour the primary force of evolution itself. That, according to the MOQ, is as immoral as a society that tries to stifle freedom of thought.
Alexander opens chapter 2 saying, "The ultimate object of design is form." The MOQ flatly contradicts this. It says the ultimate object of design is Quality. A good design escapes old forms and provides freedom from them the way a car provides freedom from having to drive a horse and buggy. Sometimes, as in the case of a car, the freedom is provided by a more subtle and complex form. But that subtle and complex form is not the main purpose of the design.
At the top of page 15 Alexander says, "the rightness of the form depends on the way it fits the rest of the ensemble." The MOQ reveals this to be the most ultraconservative concept of design possible. Under this principle cars would never have been designed at all since they clearly did not fit the ensemble of the horse-drawn world. In the early 1800's laws were passed slowing steam drawn vehicles to walking speed so that they would not scare the horses. Were cars that would not exceed 4 m.p.h. therefore correctly designed? The MOQ would say that only the purpose of static design is to fit the ensemble. The purpose of Dynamic design is to overthrow the ensemble.
Once you have thrown Dynamic Quality out the door then of course you are going to have trouble with contexts. Everything gets hard to figure out the way motorcycles get hard to steer when you try on each curve of the road to analytically plan which way you are going to turn the handlebars.
The Metaphysics of Quality does not beg the question of, "Can one achieve freedom and truth by rejecting context?" It follows the Buddhist doctrine that one can achieve freedom and truth only by rejecting context. To illustrate this and as an antidote to Alexander's intellectualization of art let me recommend Eugen Herrigel's book, Zen in the Art of Archery from which the title Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was derived. Here the archer "designs" a shot in the Zen manner, not by a maze of calculations in which he worries about all the things he doesn't know, but by becoming more and more in contact with the formless Dynamic Quality which will direct the shot without any intellectual interference whatsoever.
Robert M. Pirsig