As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m re-reading Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

The following excerpt from page 77 (1976 Corgi edition) says

When analytic thought, [which Pirsig refers to as] the knife, is applied to experience, something is always killed in the process. That is fairly well understood, at least in the arts. Mark Twain’s experience comes to mind, in which, after he had mastered the analytic knowledge needed to pilot the Mississippi River, he discovered the river had lost its beauty. Something is always killed. But what is less noticed in the arts—something is always created too. And instead of just dwelling on what is killed it’s important also to see what’s created and to see the process as a kind of death-birth continuity that is neither good nor bad, but just is.

This is a mystery I have thought of for a few years, and I was surprised to see it mentioned in this book (first published 1974). Though this is not a new concept per sé, it is often overlooked and filed away as ‘weird’ or ‘too-crazy-to-be-Biblical’. However, not just in light of creativity but also in light of Christian Canon, this concept is inherently Biblical. In fact, Jesus himself had to die in order that we might live; not too loose an example if you ask me. Though I don’t think we want to dwell on Jesus’ death, He actually took it a step further by resurrecting back into life 3 days after his death… which furthers the cycle from Life-to-Death-to-Life; three total (and complete, you might say) parts to the cycle instead of just two. Let’s compare the two different cycles:

  1. Life-to-Death yielding Creation

    This two-step process can be broken down into 2 distinct parts:

    • Life
      The life component may be considered the payment, as in a transaction – you bring money to the shop in order to trade it for a loaf of bread. After the trade is completed, you no longer have the money, but the loaf of bread.
    • Death yielding Creation
      The death component is what is left behind, in this case it’s the money. The creation, in our example, is the sandwich or toast made from the bread for which money was given up. There would have been no possibility of the sandwich were it not for the money.
  2. Life-to-Death yielding Creation, to Life yielding Creation

    This full three-step process can also be broken down into each component:

    • Life
      The same as above– Christ lives.
    • Death yielding Creation
      Also the same as above– Christ dies and thereby pays our price of sin, setting us free.
    • Life yielding Creation
      In this third component of the cycle, Christ resurrects and thereby yields a second Creation out of the same death. And worth mentioning is that it creates an interesting dynamic that Christ’s step-three actually negates, or undoes, his own step-two: dying in the first place!

What does this mean?

I don’t know what this mystery holds for us as artists, thinkers and spiritualists, but I think there is much more to be understood here. This cycle can be seen in hundreds (if not thousands) of forms from everyday city-life to nature to art– you name it! If you can think of any examples, comment them below.

I will probably post a follow-up to this in the future as more thoughts come to mind.