Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl: A Book Review

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I was imagining if I were one of those people imprisoned in Auschwitz, what would have I done? Would have I been able to survive the suffering I could have endured, especially the nerve-racking  fear of the gas chamber? I think I wouldn’t have because I would have been chosen to be ushered into the right path;they would have found me  physically and politically useless, inferior , or undesirable (unless they would have taken into consideration my passion for epistemology) : I am a wee bit skinny-boned and hard-hearing. The SS, a unit of Nazis in charge of the mass extermination, would have given me a distaste look and hit in my flat abdomen. Ugh, what a miserable life species I would have been! But lo and behold, Victor Frankl said that the meaning of life is found in every moment of living; life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death. So, my death would not have been nothing; it would   have been meaningful. Not that I know of.

Victor Frankl , a Viennese psychiatrist and neurologist, recounted the heart-twitching memories he had experienced in Auschwitz. Therein lied the indelibly abject miseries he went through with other inmates under the SS, of how he suffered a lot in the camp   with a meager of food and water, of how he brought himself to sleep with other inmates in one bed that was inhabited by mites aplenty, soaked with pee and dung, in a shirt that was almost tattered and rugged. And the throat-slashing one was the uncertainty, having no idea of when an inmate could be locked up and immolated in the gas chamber… Indeed, a person like me living in this generation   does not have the atom of   imagination of how Frankl’ s  life was a total hell.

From the beginning to the end of his historical accounts, the leitmotif that bore down on me is the gas chamber.( As a matter of fact, I dreamed about it before  after reading Anne Frank’s Diary , of how she ended up in that place.) Whenever Frankl described the story and explained the idiosyncratic behavioral patterns of his inmates, I could not  take off my mind the  chamber which  every inmate at that time  feared most. I didn’t mind the imaginary descriptions  and illustrations  of how those inmates were starved to death, malnourished and thirsty for clean water, pica for nonnutritious food, living with gangrenes as long as the chamber would not be mentioned. Like Frankl’s fellow inmates, I also tended to be paranoid about it imagining how  people found inferior died inside that big room. What a hair-raising and heartbreaking   scene it could have been!

Aside from  his experiences in a concentration camp , Frankl also included in this book  his discussion about   logotherapy in a nutshell and the case for a tragic optimism.

When Frankl was in the different concentration camps, he observed not only himself but also his inmates how they would react to such a hellhole. Most of them became hopeless, apathetic, bitter, disillusioned. Some were suicidal.  Eventually, using his background in medicine, he came up with   logotherapy to help some of them survive. In this therapy, a patient is helped to find the meaning of his/ her life as the primary motivational force. It focuses on the future, on the meanings a patient wants to fulfill in the future.

Before I just had the idea that life is a question of existentialism, but logotherapy  dawned upon me that  we can discover this meaning in life   in three different ways: (1)by creating a work or doing a deed; (2)by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward un avoidable suffering.( p.133)

What caught my interest was the real meaning of existentialism which I took to when I studied psychology. I was enlightened  when  Frankl  clearly discussed that the term “ existential” may be used in three ways to refer to : (1) existence itself; (2) the meaning of existence;  and (3)the striving to find the concrete meaning in personal existence, that is to say, the will to meaning. ( p.123)

The last part discusses the real meaning of a “ tragic optimism”. In brief it means  that one is, and remains, optimistic in spite of the “ tragic triad,”  such as pain , guilt, and death.

The  most important thing that I have learned , proved in effect, is that LOVE indeed  is the most powerful emotional element in the universe. This is the last resort a man in dire can turn to , aside from God he/she believes in ( but I don’t ) , in order to survive.

Since it is a memoir focusing on the concept of logotherapy, the book is not as ambitious as other famous ones. I wonder if it could be a hit should it have been written  like a novel.

For the third time, I have failed to catch my dream: to study in graduate school. I missed it due to some personal reasons. I have been so depressed that I  might never be interested in it anymore.To protect my ego from this soul-devastating frustration, I thought that I might just spend my life reading the books I have been storing for a  long time or writing  short stories I have  always wanted to  do . However, I still can’t get over this ambitious fiasco. Sometimes, I blame myself for not being a risk taker. Nevertheless, this book has reminded me of my favorite philosophy that life is a matter of choice; I am responsible for the life I want to choose.

” He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche-

Rating: 3/ 5 ( I liked it.)

 

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2 thoughts on “Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl: A Book Review

  1. I hear you. I have actually been thinking a lot about concentration camps lately, believe it or not. Because I, too, wonder how I would fare in such conditions. And sometimes I feel like the challenges I face in my actual life are just so small compared to those that so MANY other people experienced in second-world-war Europe–how could they matter? But I am starting to realize that the “size” of the challenge or suffering is really not what’s important. It is, as you say, how we choose to deal with it. Each challenge we face on the road of life is the opportunity for us to choose LOVE (as you also mention). And love matters whenever and wherever we choose to participate in it.

    Very thought-provoking post. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad that the book also had a significant impact upon you. Now, I know more how to deal with my life in that after all it is not just that only we could be the miserable ones.
      Thanks for reading my thoughts of it. ^__^

      Like

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