Jay Hoffmann

Books, movies, and code

Classical and Romantic Understandings

From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974).

A classical understanding sees the world primarily as underlying form itself.

A romantic understanding sees it primarily in terms 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. It 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 or 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.

I think that for much of my life, I thought that I had a classical understanding of the world. I am able to see through systems fairly well for instance. But I think that more belongs to my wife, and in truth I have a romantic understanding. And it blinds me to some things.