Two ways of looking at the world: Classic vs Romantic understanding

Two ways of looking at the world: Classic vs Romantic understanding

A while ago I started reading the classic philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. Currently I am half way but the part on the division of ‘human understanding’ at the beginning is still intriguing me. Since I think it is very much related to what I’m writing about in this blog and my thoughts in general I have included below Pirsig’s explanation of ‘Classic’ vs. ‘Romantic’ understanding.

“A classical understanding sees the world primarily as underlying form itself. A romantic understandig sees it primarily in term of immediate appearance. If you were to show an engine or a mechanical drawing or electronic schematic to a romantic it is unlikely he would see much of interest in it. Is has no appeal because the reality he sees is its surface. Dull, complex lists of names, lines and numbers. Nothing interesting. But if you were to show the same blueprint of schematic or give the same description to a classical person he might look at it and then become fascinated by it because he sees that within the lines and shapes and symbols is a tremendous richness of underlying form.

The romantic mode is primarily inspirational, imaginative, creative, intuïtive. Feelings rather than facts predominate. “Art” when it is opposed to “Science” is often romantic. It does not proceed by reason or by laws. It proceeds by feeling, intuition and esthetic conscience. […]

The classic mode, by contrast, proceeds by reason and by laws – which are themselves underlying forms of thought and behaviour. […]

Although surface ugliness is often found in the classic mode of understanding it is not inherent in it. There is a classic esthetic which romantics often miss because of its subtlety. The classic style is straightforward, unadorned, unemotional, economical and carefully proportioned. Its purpose is not to inspire emotionally, but to bring order out of chaos and make the unknown known. It is not an esthetically free and natural style. It is esthetically restrained. Everything is under control. Its value is measured in terms of the skill with which this control is maintained.

To a romantic this classic mode often appears dull, awkward and ugly, like mechanical maintenance itself. Everything is in terms of pieces and parts and components and relationships. Nothing is figured out until it’s run through the computer a dozen times. Everything’s got to be measured and proved. Oppressive. Heavy. Endlessly grey. the death force.

Within the classic mode, however, the romantic has some appearances of his own. Frivolous, irrational, erratic, untrustworthy, interested primarily in pleasureseeking. Shallow. Of no substance. Often a parasite who cannot of will not carry his own weight. A real drag on society. By now these battle lines should sound a little familiar.

This is the source of the trouble. Persons tend to think and feel exclusively in one mode or the other and in doing so tend to misunderstand and underestimate what the other mode is all about. But no one is willing to give up the truth as he sees it, and as far as I know, no one now living has any real reconciliation of these truths  or modes. There is no paint at which these visions of reality are unified.

And so in recent times we have seen a huge split develop between a classic culture and a romantic counterculture – two world growingly alienated and hateful toward each other with everyone wondering if it will always be this way, a house divided against itself. No one wants it really – despite what his antagonists in the other dimension might think.”   motorcycle photo