Beyond Maintenance

ROBERT PIRSIG's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance could lay claim to being the best-selling serious book of the last 20 years. And unlike such recent bestsellers as Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time or Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, there was never any dispute about whether the more than 5 million buyers of Pirsig's philosophical autobiography were also reading it.

In an interview with The Washington Post in 1974, shortly after publication of Zen, Pirsig talked about his upcoming projects: Them Pesky Redskins, a "look at the places where Indians and white cultures butt up against each other"; Heresy and Insanity, "a comparison of activity among the people who pressed the Inquisition and psychiatrists"; The Dialectics of Quality, "working out on a scholarly basis things posed in Zen." He was then 45, and he promised much: "At my point in life," he said, "it's all giving."

It didn't happen. In 16 years, there have been only two new works: a brief article in Esquire magazine on sailing, and a new afterword to a 10th anniversary edition of Zen, explaining the circumstances surrounding the 1980 murder of one of the book's pivotal characters, Pirsig's son Chris.

Meanwhile, the author himself seemed to drift into seclusion. The only thing that didn't change was the appeal of the book, which describes the events leading up to the narrator's breakdown set against a cross-country motorcycle trip. Somewhere between a novel, a personal account and a textbook, Zen was compared by such highbrow admirers as George Steiner to Moby Dick.

Now there's an update of sorts. Morrow, the original publisher of Zen, is issuing in the fall a Guidebook to "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." Thomas Steele and Ronald DiSanto include some of the original reviews, excerpts from scholarly criticism, and a series of outtakes from the original manuscript, but most of their space is devoted to a close examination of the book's metaphysical underpinnings.

Some of this material is dense enough to bring to mind an anecdote retold midway through. "A disciple asked a Zen master how long it would take to gain enlightenment. The master responded, 'Seven years.' The disciple asked, 'How long will it take if I try very, very hard?' The master responded, 'Fourteen years.' "

In the same vein, much of the Guidebook material is more difficult than the original, which has the energy and speed of a thriller. Of more immediate interest is a long 1981 letter from Pirsig to Robert Redford, who was interested in making a movie from this most unfilmable book.

In the letter, Pirsig discusses how the poet and critic Allen Tate used Henry James' The Turn of the Screw to teach him the intricacies of point of view, and refuses to compromise too much on the book's integrity: "If part of the audience is so dull they can't stand any kind of straight information whatsoever, the film will just have to lose that fraction of the audience."

As for props, he says, "The Honda Superhawk that made the trip is available, but it's a 1964 machine and might give an unintended obsolescence to the film. Also, I'm ashamed to say, it needs some maintenance. That's what success does for you."The Southern Big 10 WILLIAM FAULKNER wrote one of his greatest works, As I Lay Dying, in less than seven weeks in 1929 while working the night shift at the University of Mississippi power plant. "I am going to write a book by which, at a pinch, I can stand or fall if I never touch ink again," he said. According to an informal poll of several dozen Southern novelists, poets, journalists, critics and scholars in the May issue of Southern Living magazine, Faulkner managed that not only with As I Lay Dying but several other books as well.

What, asked the magazine, are your 10 favorite works of Southern literature? One hundred and seventy-five works were nominated, from the relatively obscure (Andrew Lytle's The Velvet Horn) to titles everyone is familiar with (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, although there's some debate about how Southern this is).

Faulkner got the top slot for Absalom, Absalom! (1936), as well as the seventh (The Hamlet, 1940), eighth (As I Lay Dying, 1930), and ninth (Light in August, 1932) spots. Playwright Horton Foote's comments about Absalom, Absalom! were typical. "I can't say I admire it so much as I am in awe of it," he said. "In awe of the furious, almost demonic energy behind the writing."

Coincidentally, the new volume in the Library of America contains both that book and The Hamlet. William Faulkner: Novels 1936-1940 also includes If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem (a.k.a. The Wild Palms) and The Unvanquished. In all instances these are definitive, corrected texts. Absalom, Absalom!, for example, was "revised" by its editors upon original publication, to the tune of shortening sentences, changing grammar and even dropping material.

The only other author with more than one place on the Southern Living list was Eudora Welty, who came in third with The Golden Apples (1949) and fifth for her Collected Stories (1980). Filling out the top 10 were All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, the Library of America volume of Flannery O'Connor's work, Walker Percy's The Last Gentleman and Shelby Foote's three-volume Civil War history.A Grandfather's Tale AFTER MORE than 25 books, the best-known a biography of suspense writer James M. Cain, Roy Hoopes finally got around to taking care of his own. The Making of a Mormon Apostle: The Story of Rudger Clawson, written by Hoopes and his brother David, was published this spring by the Lanham firm of Madison Books. It's a project that was handed down through the generations: For years their mother, Lydia Clawson Hoopes, had been planning to tackle her father's life in either nonfiction or novel form.

Clawson was a Mormon missionary in 1879 Georgia when a companion of his was killed by an anti-Mormon gang that nearly got Clawson as well. "I was looking down the gun barrels of the murderous mob," he later recalled. "I folded my arms and said, 'Shoot,' and almost persuaded myself that I was shot, so intense were my feelings."

Another noteworthy episode in his life was being singled out as a test case in the 1882 anti-polygamy act, resulting in four years of jail. This didn't appear to affect Clawson's attitude, as he later secretly took a new plural wife. Not only was he in love, but he was a believer in the Mormon doctrine that one's place in heaven depended on family size while here on earth. Meanwhile, Clawson helped save the church from bankruptcy. All in all, a reasonably colorful life for anyone's grandfather.

"I was fascinated by his deep devotion and belief, and he was an absolute true believer," says Hoopes, who has been a Washingtonian since age 4 and an ex-Mormon almost as long. "Doing the book helped me understand my roots." But it didn't affect him from a religious point of view. "If anything, it just confirmed my own beliefs. I believe in facts rather than faiths."The Carrington Revival LEONORA CARRINGTON was born in 1917 to an upper-class English family that had no great sympathy for creative urges. Her father, she once said, believed painting was "horrible and idiotic" and that "you didn't do art -- if you did, you were either poor or homosexual, which were more or less the same sort of crime." At age 19 she met the surrealist painter Max Ernst, with whom she set up house in Paris -- a situation that didn't exactly please Mrs. Ernst.

These days, Carrington is recognized as a significant painter herself. Her literary work, much of it done years ago, also is having a revival. City Lights has reprinted her best known work, The Hearing Trumpet, and Dutton has just issued in paperback The House of Fear, a collection that includes her 1943 account of going mad: "Exactly three years ago, I was interned in Dr. Morales's sanatorium in Santander, Spain, Dr. Pardo, of Madrid, and the British Consul having pronounced me incurably insane."

There's rich material here for a biography, but getting it out of Carrington may be a different matter. If you ask her, for instance, how she managed to break away while her three brothers went complacently into the family textile business, she credits "something that I still don't have a name for."

Could she describe it? "Let me ask you a question. Can you always describe your feelings? Do you always know what they mean?" Oh, maybe not. "Well, there you are. I think we're in the same boat. One's life is a journey."

Now living in Chicago, Carrington is doing a good deal of painting these days -- a show last month in New York featured work that fetched up to $35,000 -- and some writing. "I write more or less to try and retain ideas. At my age, I get an idea and then I tend to forget it rather quickly. When you're over 70, it's not exactly that you lose them, but you cover them over with other things."Animals and Verse IF PEOPLE don't buy much poetry in general, can you expect them to buy poems that depend on their knowledge of other poems? David Shevin, an assistant professor of English at Tiffin State in Ohio, has found out the answer is yes. His seventh book, Growl and Other Poems: An Anthology by the Pets of the Great Poets, came out in January and is going back to press. It's not threatening to knock Tom Clancy off the charts, you understand, but in the world of poetry, second printings are a victory.

"A professor at Tufts," reports a pleased Shevin, "bought several copies for graduating students in veterinary medicine." Presumably they have some liberal arts background; you need at least a vague memory of the Norton Anthology of English Poetry to recognize the highly amusing echoes in Growl, whether it's "Lassie, Lassie, you bitch, I'm through" (the concluding line of Lassie, by Sylvia Plath's black labrador) or "Give me your open door./ Your huddled mastiff's yearning for a tree" (by Emma Lazarus's terrier). Not to mention the sonnet by William Shakespeare's horse that begins: "Shall I compare thee with a summer's dray?"

"I suspected when I was working on the manuscript that I had something that might be commercially viable," says Shevin, whose other poetry tends to be more directly political. "But I see Growl as a one-of-a-kind book. I don't think I'll be writing Speeches of the Pets of the Great Politicians, and having Checkers talk about how he doesn't wear a fur coat but a good Republican cloth coat." (Growl is available from Carpenter Press, P.O. Box 14387, Columbus, Ohio, 43214; $8.45 including handling).