A Zen Essay in Which Maybe Nothing Is Accomplished
by Matthew Savoca

None of the things this essay is about are going to be explained, described, or mentioned at all.

I have an idea.

I want to get as many online literature writers as possible to buy Powerball tickets together, in the same way that many business people who work at offices do. If one ticket wins, the money is split between the participants. Mostly I just like thinking about this idea. I think about what might happen if this bet actually produces a winning ticket. I imagine a news headline to be something like this:

“Online Literature Writers Win $290 Million Powerball Prize On Pooled Money Ticket; World Reacts In Sarcastic, Detached Way.”


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I don't think that a large sum of money would be good for a community of writers, but I tend to be a bit of a Franciscan in a loose, philosophical manner. You can see how rudimentary my essay writing skills are. I am going to use this paragraph to segway into something that I feel like talking about.

In my brain, there are clear images of the faces of three human beings I consider to be great contemporary philosophers: Masanobu Fukuoka, Robert Pirsig, and Werner Herzog. Fukuoka's face appears calm, gentle, empty. Pirsig's face appears contemplative. Herzog's face appears to be focused on something far off in the distance. He can’t see clearly; he is squinting. These three faces are not conscious metaphors for anything. I envision faces naturally, without effort. For the purposes of this essay, I will describe these three men's lives in the following ways:

Fukuoka was a well-respected microbiologist in Japan who, after a profound metaphysical experience at the base of a large tree, left his position with a prominent institution (his job was to research plant diseases) to live in the countryside and rediscover the concept of natural farming. Fukuoka wrote a book called The One-Straw Revolution, in which he describes his method of 'do-nothing farming,' along with his philosophy of 'Discriminating' versus 'Non-discriminating' knowledge.

Pirsig was a university professor who had a violent mental breakdown, after which he was institutionalized. In the mid-nineteen-seventies, he traveled by motorcycle across the Northern United States and wrote his famous book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In this book, Pirsig describes and divides his concept of 'Quality,' which can be defined as the fundamental force of change and evolution (the bettering of things) in the universe. Pirsig breaks ‘Quality’ down into two different manifestations: 'Static' and 'Dynamic.’ 'Static Quality' can be said to refer to patterns and habits, a sort of mathematical thing, while ‘Dynamic Quality’ can be said to refer to a more sensorial thing, something more instinctual in a way. Something non-discriminating. Something.

Herzog, a German-born filmmaker, is widely known among independent cinema aficionados for his unique fictitious (and sometimes factitious) documentary-style films that often investigate how people interact with truth. Herzog differentiates between fact and truth in the way that Pirsig differentiates between 'Static' and 'Dynamic' forces of the universe, and in the way that Fukuoka differentiates 'discriminating knowledge' from 'non-discriminating knowledge.' I don't know if Herzog ever had a mental breakdown or a grand realization, or if he just sat for a really long time while looking at a pond.

All three of these philosophers/writers/artists consistently talk about the same thing, although in different terms. These things they talk about—non-discriminating knowledge, Dynamic Quality, and Truth—are things that I have been trying to describe to myself for a long time. These things have a very high degree of resonance in the way that I interact with some things that I care about—literature, art, lifestyle sustainability, and conscious living. These things all feel like the same thing to me; which is to say if one of these four things exist, then all exist. If one ceases to exist, then the others do too.

In The One-Straw Revolution, Fukuoka discusses the difference between two main types of knowledge: discriminating and non-discriminating. As I understand it, discriminating knowledge is something that has been reached mathematically, through logic, reason, deduction, etc. Non-discriminating knowledge is something that has been reached in some other way, a more “spiritual” way maybe, like falling dizzy at the base of a large tree and waking up two days later with something in your head. More often, non-discriminating knowledge is acquired in a less extreme way, as if by looking out the window at a lit streetlight at four in the afternoon. Non-discriminating knowledge is something you know, though you can't explain how you know it, and you feel good about not wanting to try to articulate how you understand it. And whether or not you really do know it, it always feels like you know it. And maybe you do—if you are in the same room with someone else who knows it. You'll know that they know it, but neither of you will be able to explain how.

Pirsig sometimes describes 'Quality' as a sort of indefinable element of art, or anything really, that makes something ‘good.’ He often spent classroom time with his students trying to understand and recognize 'Quality' in certain pieces of writing. But a valuable recognition of 'Quality' is achieved via engagement with non-discriminating knowledge. This is the 'Dynamic Quality,’ something you sense and understand in any particular moment. When you begin to describe the thing is when it becomes static and/or 'Static.'

Herzog said it this way: “I've always sensed that there's something like a deeper truth. It is somehow the same thing like in poetry, when you read a great poem, you instantly would know in your heart, in your guts, that there's a deep inherent truth.”


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This essay is made up of three little sections separated by cute little asterisks. This is its physical form, not really what it is. It is a loose collection of things that all make sense to me in a non-discriminating manner. It is composed of things I sense and understand by means of dynamic quality. It is a deep inherent truth. It is a bunch of stuff I am not talking about. This essay is not only a critique of critical essays: it is a critique of conversations, words, and the alphabet. It is a critique of everything that is trying to be said and done. It is a declaration that the universe is going to be ripped apart by the force of its own expansion, by its own desire for more.

For the rest of this essay, I want you to imagine someone somewhere sitting alone in a room.

Matthew Savoca (born USA 1982) lives in Italy and is slowly becoming a farmer. He writes poems and stories and draws pictures of stuff he is thinking about. He really likes pancakes.


All Material © 2009 The New Yinzer and its respective authors