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Framework, Archetypes, and Philosophy in Lila


The framework of Lila is very similar to that of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It consists of a narrator and another character playing the role of listener or pupil. Within this frame, Pirsig can create two levels: one which tells a story and the other which expounds his philosophy. In ZMM the journey is with his son, Chris, whom he is trying to reach by sharing the freedom and immediacy of motorcycle riding. At the same time, the narrator is trying to reach within himself and recapture lost memories of his descent into madness associated with someone named Phaedrus. In Lila, the narrator is Phaedrus. The two have been joined once more. Chris' place is assumed by Lila, a lost soul who seems to symbolize freedom without direction. She is much like a boat herself, set adrift in the ocean of life and seemingly propelled onwards by the same static latches which permeate the philosophic levels which Pirsig expounds.

There are two incidents in Lila which point to a deeper analysis and more than just an anecdotal story in Pirsig's life or even to a great synthesis of his former Romantic vs. Classical categories into a transformation-of-consciousness philosophy which shifts our own reality. The first incident has to do with the sudden appearance of Rigel at the moment when Jamie confronts Lila while Phaedrus stands aside doing nothing. Where did Rigel come from? What does this unexpected appearance signify? The second incident is Lila's contention that Phaedrus is trying to kill her. Those two incidents point toward an archetypal interpretation of the book. It is well known that water symbolizes the unconscious mind. This trip takes place in a river...running water...which indicates the active unconscious at work. Lila is the Anima figure which has become dissociated and needs taking care of. Jamie symbolizes the Shadow side, the primitive impulses which force a violent confrontation. Rigel, who appears out of nowhere, stands for the Ego...the conscious side of the psyche...the rational voice who tried to warn Phaedrus about Lila. Phaedrus is the Self. In this river journey away from the outer-world demands, he is facing all three parts of his psyche and attempting integration.

Lila's assertion that Phaedrus is trying to kill her can best be understood in this archetypal mode. For by stopping her disassociation, she will be killed or absorbed into a greater whole: Phaedrus' integrated psyche. Believing he has failed, Phaedrus is at first despondent, but in the releasal of his inner child, symbolized by the doll, into the subterranean chambers and placed strategically to be reincorporated into the sea...his unconscious mind...he has, instead, succeeded. And at the end the giddy whirling is the biologically acknowledging of the quality of the situation. He is swept away by success:

What a fantastic day this was...Free!
No idols, no Lila, no Rigel...just free!

For an instant, he had become One.

Additionally, his Metaphysics of Quality mirrors this integration. The boat in which they are carried is the vehicle which advances lock by lock into the final freedom of the ocean. Could the ocean...from which all life a symbol of Dynamic Quality? Could these archetypal images mirror MOQ? The doll could represent inorganic patterns. Lila acting from her guts, so to speak, may be the biological ones. Rigel who operates as a voice from society may represent the social patterns, and finally Phaedrus with all his analyzing and his endless slips of paper could represent the intellectual ones. The flowing river then would act as the active Personal unconscious and the ocean would represent the Collective unconscious which all life joins after death or a transformation of consciousness which is what Lila portends.

In approaching MOQ in this manner, we avoid using our direct intellect to "analize" and make "sense" of the book. Instead, we come to it by indirect means...symbols which arise from our unconscious as they do in dreams and myths...we turn the corner and Dynamic Quality is there unexpectedly. This may be the source of our disorientation and feeling on the edge when we finish reading Lila. We have shifted our perspective so dramatically that we have unwittingly undertaken a transformation of consciousness...our reality has been changed!

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