Man’s Search for Meaning: a Book Review
“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”__Dr. Viktor E. Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning)
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In Man’s Search For Meaning Dr. Viktor E. Frankl introduces his psychotherapeutic idea ‘Logotherapy’ and the events and revelations that led him into the practical realization of his hypotheses. The book has three parts: Part One: Experiences in a concentration camp; Part Two: Logotheraphy in a nutshell; and Postscript: The case for a tragic optimism. The book is graced by a wonderful preface by Harold S. Kushner, in which he contextualizes the book for general readers.
As Dr. Frankl himself asserts repeatedly, this book is limited in its space and possibility to include the complete scholarship of Logotherapy. Instead, one should look at Man’s Search for Meaning as an attempt to elucidate what is concisely expressed in the subheading: “The classic tribute to hope from the holocaust”. Part One of the book is dedicated completely to this purpose. Part One also analyses three mental stages the prisoners undergo, from the time of their incarceration to release. This analysis gets poignant and disturbing, because it is taken from the first hand experiences of Dr. Frankle himself from Auschwitz, Dachau and the Bavarian camps during the Nazi reign. Although the book does not follow a chronological order of events, the narrative is a gripping tale of how uniquely unveiled is the “human potential…to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.” (116)
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Man’s Search For Meaning helps its readers ask two significant questions: One-is there a meaning to my life? Two-do I believe in the existence of such a purpose or meaning in life in the first place? The second question should be asked first, but most of us randomly settle for the first one in negation and take the second one in affirmation, as a consolation. This in turn ruins the very roots of life and imprisons the person within vacuum. Every reader is sure to find something unique and personal in Dr. Viktor E. Frankl’s small but affective book.
There are people who even survived the “provisional existence” of death chambers during the Nazi era. The element that separated most of them with the rest, the ones, who, in the middle of their suffering gave up the hope for existence, is the responsibleness to attach meaning to their lives. Viktor E. Frankl also suggests that the cause of the present day deterioration in mental health is due to an “existential vacuum”-the absence of any meaning to one’s existence. He sidelines many philosophies and ideologies, including Freud’s and Sartre’s and suggests “Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather determines himself whether he gives in to conditions or stands up to them. In other words, man is ultimately self-detemining.” (133)
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The “tragic triads” of life, namely pain, guilt, and death cause definite suffering, but in Dr. Frankl’s point of view, this suffering can be overcome if one deems it as part of finding or achieving the ultimate meaning of life. Viktor Frankl puts meaning at the altar of highest human achievement. He uses meaning as a cure to many of our problems due to suffering. Only an individual, who found some purpose or meaning in his or her life, can accept the inevitable suffering and make the right choices. “The emphasis on responsibleness is reflected in the categorical imperative of logotherapy, which is:“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.” (114)