My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Many books are to be tasted or swallowed, whereas certain books are to be chewed and digested for the nourishment of our minds and souls, such as Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, the founder of Logotheraphy, the third Viennese School of Psychoanalysis, along with Freudian psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychology, that deserves of its recognition of being one of the books of our time for its content as well as its origin. This book is not of survival literature of the Holocaust but of a memoir of a courageous human soul that did not succumb to despondency. It is less about what he suffered and lost as a prisoner at four concentration camps during World War II than it is about the sources of his intention to live through it, attesting to the words of Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Man’s Search for Meaning is a fruit of Frankl’s resilient soul ever resisting the existential horrors of situations that life could afford; whenever the miserable conditions of the camp suppressed the spirit, Frankl diverted such negative energy to reconstructing the manuscript which he had lost in the disinfection chamber of Auschwitz and scribbling the key words in shorthand on tiny scraps of paper. In fact, it was a way of intensifying his inner life full of intellectual resources and spiritual freedom to which he could retreat from his terrible surroundings by forcing his thoughts to turn to another subject, which made him enable to rise above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment.
In addition to the willful act of deluding anxiety and negative feelings, Frankl ensures us that a sense of humor is another of the soul’s weapon in the fight for self-preservation and can afford an aloofness and an ability to transcend any situation, for developing a sense of humor and seeing things in humorous light is a kind of trick learned while mastering “the art of living.” That is, by laughing about any sordid or callous situation, we ease our mental distress and are able to take on a different stance on the situation in a less negative way that is essentially not overwhelmingly stressful or unbearable. After all, humans are the only biological organism that can laugh, and thus this sense of humor is our prerogative as human.
It is also interesting to learn that the prisoners who did their utmost best to look good even in the sordid surrounding survived the dreadful experience because they looked “fit” for survival. This act of grooming links to will to meaning – that is, a will to live- that has physiological bases of psychic energy which rejuvenates the body and the spirit to see a why to live. On the other hand, there was a young inmate in the camp whose sudden loss of hope and courage to live affected his already typhus-stricken body so adversely that such mental condition lowered the man’s temperature and resistance against typhus, which ultimately caused his premature death. This episode shows us that what we believe becomes our truth and thus can alter our reality with another one, a virtual reality as a product of psychosomatic effect, which also links to the three sources for meaning of life as follows:
• Creative Value – Doing something meaningful, such as Frankl’s scribbling the manuscript
• Experiential Value – Appreciating beauty of the Arts or love, such as his thinking of his wife in another camp whenever he was on the verge of falling into an emotional distress; and
• Attitudinal Value – Triumphing over biological, social, and cultural inhibitions during difficult times, such as Frankl’s endless efforts to divert his thought to another object of lofty value. It is this value that gives to our sufferings meaning by the way in which we respond to.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl testifies to Nietzsche’s dictum as aforesaid that suffering can grow out of existential frustration in the sense that there is a point to sufferings, that there is a hidden meaning in the guise of suffering, as there is only one right answer to the problem posed by the situation at hand. The essence of existence, which is search for meaning of life, underlies our awareness of a possibility against the background of reality – that is, what we can do about our given situations, not depending on the happenstances. Our emotions, which are interpreted as suffering, cease to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it by applying the three sources for meaning of life. Viewed in this light, this book is a veritable guide to how to overcome the struggles of our lives and achieve demands imposed upon our daily tasks however insurmountable they seem, which gains utmost credibility against the backgrounds of his own anguish in Auschwitz.