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.)

 

The Man Who Could Not Kill Enough by Anne E. Schwartz: A Book Review

1919345_10206221091788031_3040929295635042686_nYou are on the balcony, taking some rest   after studying for an exam when you notice out the window that there is a man standing beside the light post in front of the building. You will get terrified when you witness him killing a girl. You will get in a panic more when you see him deeply staring and snickering at you. It occurs to you that the man could be a serial killer just the like of the characters you watch in movies. Then, your hair will stand on end when you notice that he points his finger at the ground floor of the apartment building where you stay in. What do you think the man is doing with his finger?

Actually, this is a psychopath test, quite   popular among my Korean students, to determine if you have what it takes to be like Jeffrey Dahmer. (laughs) Read your answer later.

In the past, to determine if one had the tendency to be a criminal was through the shapes of the skull. Cesare Lombroso, the founder of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology and considered as the father of scientific criminology, argued that criminality was inherited and that the “born criminal” could be identified by physical defects, which confirmed as criminal as“ savage,” or “ atavistic”. According to him, you were cut out to be one if you have the following traits: large jaws, forward projection of jaw, low sloping forehead, high cheekbones, flattened or upturned nose, handle-shaped ears, hawk-like noses or fleshy lips, hard shifty eyes, scanty beard or baldness, insensitivity to pain, and long arms relative to lower limbs. (http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Cesare_Lombroso)However,Lombroso’s theory is considered as a pseudo-science. In short, it has no scientific basis.

When   American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer made an earth-shattering headline across the globe in 1992, the people were flummoxed how they could know if someone they met on daily basis had the tendency to be like him. They could not get around the fact that someone quiet, reserved like him would be able to bestially kill more than 17 people, mostly Blacks, and preserve them in his own house in that no one in the neighborhood had had the idea of his heinous crime. So, many self-proclaimed experts from different   scientific fields bombastically expressed   their   views ad nauseam until the   people got cross-eyed to whose expertise they had to defer. Eventually, there is one thing they were in common- no one can guess whether a person is a psychopath or not because there are many   behavioral patterns. However, Dahmer’s behavioral patterns were unfairly used as the bases, particularly by parents, to preclude a child’s psychopathic tendency. So, you have the tendency to be Jeffrey Dahmer  if you did or do all of  the following :

  1. You  made fun of animals by torturing them when you were still as young as in elementary because you were amazed at the internal organs of a living species. Besides, you wanted to collect their bones and skeletons.
  2. You barely got along with anybody.
  3. You started  drinking   scotch at early age.
  4. You started to read porn magazines as well as porn videos at early age, so you jerked off many times in a day.
  5. You always had financial problem.
  6. You cannot express your sexual preference because of your conventionally filial atmosphere, so you are in the habit of frequenting at gay bars.
  7. You fantasize people whom you want to sleep with.
  8. You were a drop-out student.
  9. You come from a broken family.

Although I was teeming with prejudice, I understood, with the help of my background in clinical psychology, that Jeffrey Dahmer was both a victim and suspect. He was a victim of what is so-called ‘naked existence’ as how Victor Frankl put it in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, when  his parents did not cater to him the  atmospheric LOVE he wanted to feel and  be exposed to. The divorce and conjugal misunderstanding between his parents also added to the fuel of his emptiness. In other words, Dahmer grew up in a world that he was ALONE, where no one guided and admonished him for his delinquent behaviors. Therefore, whatever the   bad foundation built at his early age was the trunk of his life later on in that he became a serial killer. So, who should have been responsible for Dahmer’s life? Himself  or his significant others, particularly his parents?

I am not a true-crime votary, but I had interest in Dahmer’s life story when my best friend kept on telling me about him. His name became immortal when I found out that American novelist Joyce Carol Oates wrote Zombie   based on him. Fortunately, I found this biography

All I would say is that this book is perfect. First, the author is a known and trusted journalist who happened to be the first one to be   tipped off when Dahmer’s skeleton in the closet was found. Second, it is full of  clear but blood-curdling accounts of  how and why Dahmer became a serial killer- from the time he showed latent  behavioral patterns to the time when he was killed. Finally, in all fairness, it knocked my socks off; I could not sleep at that night while reading it. I made sure that I heretically locked my door and windows as what I usually did when I was young whenever I watched crime stories.

The only thing that I cringed at is the author’s nettlesome partiality for the policemen who were said to be incompetent in their job because they missed the fact that the man they were supposed to take over to the authority turned out to be Dahmer’s victim. She argued that policemen were not perfect   and had no any idea of what a serial killer’s behavioral patterns are. Also, she reasoned that it was not easy to be in that line of duty since they stay up late to monitor around the city  at nights.

These are the answers to the   psychopath test above. You are normal if your answer is that he memorizes your face. You are a psychopath if you think that he counts what floor you live in.

Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I  was terrified by  it.)

The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe: A Book Review

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“All the beautiful things in this world are lies. They count for nothing in the end.”

Patrick McCabe, The Butcher Boy-

You might cringe and boggle at it if you give it a try. The novel is written with very little punctuation without separating the dialogs and thoughts. I could not even follow the exact settings. That is why I put it aside for almost one month. Perhaps I am not used to this kind of writing style. In the end, I have gotten around to it. I have teased its essence out. The writing style is the mental state of the protagonist. Also, the content of the book has satirical meanings.

Amidst the intricate narration, it occurred to me that Patrick McCabe wants to illustrate how a child, unloved, a victim of a broken family for his mother is verbally and physically abused by his sardonic alcoholic father and has suicidal tendency and committed for a mental institute, molested by a priest, ratted on by his only best friend, Joe Purcell, perceives his little world. In the end Francie becomes a psychopath killing Mrs. Nugget.

In the context of satire, the psychological instability of Francie Brady has something to do with the socio-political state of Ireland during the sixties. At that time, there was rapid change as well as ethnic and political violence within Ireland, which is the responsible for molding a dysfunctional family. In addition, the novel alludes to the TOLL TAX, the moral status of the church, IRA, and what not. Only an Irish or World History scholar could best analyze it literally.

Although the book was intentionally written for Ireland, so I could not completely relate to its real socio-political history, the novel is still engrossing. Poor Francie. He bled my heart. If I were Irish, I would give it 5 stars.

If I had long vacation, or reached my retirement age, it would be one of the books I would give a try again. Why not? I liked the creative idea of Patrick McCabe. ^^

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it. )

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Oz #1) by L. Frank Baum: A Book Review

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It is fun to read such a children novel; it is amusing and hilarious. If I were young, I would be very keen on it. I would be fascinated by the magical fantasy; I would be in awe with the out-of-this-world scenes and entities- things far from the reality since I were such a babe in the woods, for my brains were not big enough to understand or be cynical about them. I would just believe whatever I read and imagine. Also, I would talk, for sure, about it with my friends. Alas! I did not get a chance to read such novels when I was young, for the grinding poverty averted my avid interest. At that time, I just read Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

If I were young, I would be fond of the characters. Dorothy is cool. She is cute and jovial, typical of a countryside girl. She seems to be fun to be with, especially with her naughty dog, Toto. If I were her friend, I would go along with her adventures, along with her friends Scarecrow, Tin woodman, and the Cowardly Lion.

Since I am not young anymore, my brains are now fully developed to absorb information, enough to be squeezed to draw logical reasons. So what should I say? Well, I find it illogical and inconsistent. I feel that its climax grows to be humdrum. The story is obviously intended to entertain and make-believe children and to insult someone’s intelligence as well. Everything in the story is beyond belief- not only from the magic, but also to the Winged monkeys, the China blah blah blah …all of those things could be rebutted by scientific reasoning. For examples , (a) If Scarecrow had no brains; he would not talk, see, smell, nor hear. Moreover, he should not be able to reason out or figure out the difficulties they deal with; rather, he should be such a simpleton or rube . (b) In chemistry, oxidation takes time before Tin woodman’s tinned arms and legs rust. Changing any parts of a body is, of course, probable in the aid of robotics. So Tin Woodman is bionic. L. Frank Baum might have had “intricate scientific estimation.” He was just predicting the future. Oh, there are some more. Anyway, since the entertainment value may be the intention, making a fuss with those things is neither here nor there. Rather, I should stick to its moral contents; the messages of the story despite the fact that L. F Baum insisted that there were no latent meanings for each character. Obviously, the story deals with philosophical questions, particularly in questions with Religion-its big role in a person’s life. And yet, there are some parts dwelt upon me:

(a) Do people need to depend on the heart, rather than on the brains? Like Scarecrow , he insists that he shall ask for brains instead of a heart, for a fool; would not know what to do with a heart if he had one, which is somehow rebuffed by Tin Woodman:

“ I shall take the heart, for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.”

(b) Is the heart our superego?

(c) If we were heartless, could we not be passionate and compassionate?

In the context of psychology, each character shows low-self esteem. Scarecrow has intellectual mediocrity. Tin Woodman is broken hearted. Cowardly Lion wants to be brave. In other words, they are all attached to illusion. Through the psychotherapeutic help of the Wizard of Oz, they awoke to the reality.

Tut! Tut! Tut! That’ll do. I should not give a fiddle’s fart about the hidden meanings. I am glad to have felt like a child again. I still have a juvenile mental age. No doubt I enjoyed it. I would love to share it with my younger sister. ^^

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.)

The Call of the Wild by Jack London: A Book Review

jackWhile reading this, there were four things bubbling in the chambers of my mind:

(1) Charles Darwin’s idea of “survival of the fittest”
(2) Nature vs. Nurture in psychology
(3) The vampire movie I have seen.
(4) Timbuktu, the dog in the novel of Paul Auster

Buck is accustomed to living in an uncivilized place where he has no idea of how horrible life is, for his masters are indifferent to him. Unfortunately, exposed to the law of club and fang, he needs intestinal fortitude, ignoring his ‘pure conscience “; rather, he will learn to follow his “primordial instinct” to fight off the biological motives. Apparently, Jack London anthropomorphized the dogs to illustrate how a man’s moral is developed. In fact, I learned that Jack London was primarily influenced by Charles Darwin‘s The Origin of the Species; and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. By virtue of these books, he may have had an idea of how to put his experiences in Alaska into such an unforgettable classic.

Since I have background in psychology, the ad infinitum debate about whether a man is developed by Nature or Nurture appears to be one of the themes of this novel. In the story, Jack London may have wanted to expound that a man, in the image of Buck, is built; that a man could be a blank sheet; that a man could be barbarian in origin. Buck in the story is dictated by his primordial instinct. In fact, London seemed to have used symbols to represent two kinds of dogs: uncivilized hard dogs in the North and civilized soft dogs in the South.

Absurdly speaking , the book reminded me of vampires, especially the Filipino movie” VAMPIRA” . In the movie, when the moon is full, the protagonist played by a famous actress transforms into a vampire whether she likes it or not. Her vampire instinct to eat flesh of animals including human is unruly. In the novel, the moon could be the symbol of his primordial instinct. Since Buck has been civilized by the virtue of his new master’s genuine love, there are times, however, that the “call of the wild” still specters him. Once to be tempted, he will overcome it for the good memories of his new master. Unfortunately, at the end, Buck backslides to his past when his “civilized community “is “annihilated’ by a group of Yaheets. Does it mean that under dystopic or disintegrated circumstances, a man could forget his feelings in the name of survival? Gee, this classic could be an interesting term paper in the context of other fields of studies. I believe that Jack London missed something.Nevertheless, I appreciated it a lot. ^^

Literally, the novel must deal with what a world of dogs is like, for us to come to the realization that dogs are not far different from us. They should be treated like a human being. (Uh-oh! I believe some readers have had ideas of dog life, so I recommend TIMBUKTU by Paul Auster. )In the Philippines, we have the laws on animal rights- which particularly put a great deal of stress on domesticated animals- strictly prohibit any body to make bad use of them. On the other hand, I guess in Alaska at that time may not have been aware of this reality, for dogs were used for sledding. But what struck me at the end is that LOVE is such a powerful element to make a big difference to our lives. ^___________^

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde : A Book Review

dorianA young, naive, shy man at 17 ,with finely-curved scarlet lips, frank blue eyes,crisp gold hair – this is how Dorian is hardly depicted in the novel.I may not be able to completely imagine how strikingly handsome he is, but based on how the painter, Basil Hallward, who appears to be a closet gay, is fond of and devoted to him is,well, I may fall in love with him too.Everyone could be a cradle-robber.(laughs) But despite his oomph, I were bound to stay away from him; he gives me the creeps. He is unpredictable. He reminds me of the psychopath in American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. Gee! For the life of me!

What makes the novel more interesting is that the characters’ dialogs are replete with polemic ideas. I have almost dogeared the book by highlighting the negative and positive points of Lord Henry particularly his ala Socrates feministic view. Shit on him! If he were such a real persona, I would rebutt him a lot. (laughs)
(But I think Lord Henry may be the smbolic archetype of the narrow-minded society at that time.)

The story for me is typical of a real novel.The beginning tells the emptiness of the protagonist ,its climax and ending narrates the cause and effect of his vainglory. In comparison with the famous writers in this modern century, they have different styles of how to circulate the plots. Besides, the good thing is Oscar Wilde peppered the story with witty words. However, since I am not much cognizant of the ancient literature, I could not relate to the figures and symbols namedropped in illustrating Dorian Gray’s obsession about beauty. I had to adverse myself to looking the archaic words up in a thick dictionary or in the Internet. ( Anyway,this is the essence of reading classics.)So reading the climax was like trudging through the mud, towards the flat , dry land of exciting denouement.

To understand Dorian Gray in the context of psychology, he is spectered by his bad childhood. Orphaned and repulsed by his grandfather, he has low-self esteem. Instilled in by Lord Henry’s philosophy and Basil Halwaark’s portrait of himself, he becomes vain about his looks. He wishes that the painting get along in years,for he loathes to get wrinkles himself . Beauty becomes his moral.For instance, he falls in love with a beautiful actress. He is crazy not only about her physical beauty, but also about her stellar performance on stage. But eventually, he will break up with her as she performs poorly. Vainglorious he is, he will not consider what his heart dictates to him. Rather, he will do as what his moral standard is- aesthetics. Unknowing to the consequences of his evil deeds, the painting turns out to have a soul;it will alter whenever he makes something immortal. It is a matter of Karma. As he wishes, the painting will become hideously ugly. But deep-rooted, he will be indifferent. He will become involved in orgies and other worldly activities. But since life is a matter of choice, Dorian Gray will have a deep realization, he wants to change. In fact, I was moved and I became empathic with him when he says,” I want to escape, go away, and forget.” Oh, poor Dorian Gray. He’s lost. As the banal saying goes,”Old habits die hard.” Whatever he does,whereever he goes, he will still be recidivistic, life has a moral consequence. As the introduction takes claims, ” There is always a price to be paid for uniquitous and self-indulgent behavior. ” It is a lesson we must keep in mind.

While reading this book, an idea bubbled into the chamber of my mind: It is human indeed that one who sets what is good or bad. But for sure, more or less the believers would rant and rave against my insight . As Lord Henry himself puts it,” It is only the intellectually lost who ever argue .” kkk

Before I read it , I was moved by the quotes – which must come from Wilde’s – about the concept of the novel, which I liked a lot.

The artist is the creator of beautiful things .
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.
The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

Oh, nice one. I remembered the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza.

Rating: 3/ 5 stars

Boy: Tales of Childhood (Roald Dahl Autobiography #1) by Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake (Illustrator): A Book Review

dahlI am very fond of reading books about children’s bitter experiences. Perhaps I believe in American psychologist, Erik Fromm’s belief that “ to understand children, we, adults, try to think like a child again.”Unfortunately, not all adults are aware of this fact. That’s why the main purpose of literature is to educate people about life, basically about children life.

I have read some books about children. I can hardly ever forget Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt ( 5 stars ), The Butcher’s Boy by Patrick McCabe ( 3 stars ), Torey Hayden’s books such as The Innocent Child and its sequel The Tiger’s Child ( I was so generous to fault to give both 5 stars at that time when I was not yet critical on Good Reads. ) I also cried over the classical books such as Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. Even Beloved by Toni Morrison, one of my favorite fictional writers , punched my chest although the character is a young teen-ager gives eerie feelings. For local books, one is the Connecting the Dots by Gojo Cruz ( 5 stars ) which author swept me off my feet. ( laughs ) Such books are awash in the same theme: human cruelty in children, perhaps, out of ignorance.

This book of Road Dahl is one of the books above. This may be intended to make readers laugh. Of course, I did. However, the real highlight of this , even Dahl admitted it at the end of the story, is his miserable experiences as a student in the hands of his school head masters, teachers, and matrons. ( or you’d rather I put it bluntly , under the rotten educational system in Britain at that time ) Dahl narrated how he was such a poor innocent child . He was an archetype of educational upbringing. He had been beaten many times. So had his classmates. He had been humiliated and treated unfairly. So had his classmates. Admittedly, I abandoned myself to his said stories. If I had been his classmate at that time, I would have been so defiant that I could have been booted out. ( laughs ) So , the title of this book fits all the stories- Boys: Tales of Childhood.

I always want to be an active advocate for children’s rights, particularly for their education. Like Dahl, I was also a victim of wrong education from teachers who may have been ignorant of child psychology. As a teacher now , I believe in teaching students based on their individualism.

The good thing about this is that Road Dahl was still able to make us laugh despite those harboring ill-feelings. He was like a friend I have just made, sharing his ala Thomas-Sawyer stories. The atmosphere he built was so amiable that I felt sympathy for him. In addition, reading it was so easy unlike the other autobiographies or novels about children which require higher level of thinking. He narrated his stories age by age and every sentence is well-written. Since it is a children book, I hope young readers take precious lessons from it. And I do not think that it should be banned from the hands of young readers just like of what happened to his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which received negative criticism. Duty on their distorted realities! ^^

Road Dahl said in his preface that an autobiography for him is full of all sorts of boring details. If I take him for his words, what he meant to say I believe is like what the famous American writer, William Arthur Ward, said:

“The adventure of life is to learn. The purpose of life is to grow. The nature of life is to change. The challenge of life is to overcome. The essence of life is to care. The opportunity of like is to serve. The secret of life is to dare. The spice of life is to befriend. The beauty of life is to give.”

Yippee! ^^

Rating: 4/ 5 stars