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64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Weaving Meaning, May 24, 2001
This review is from: Man's Search For Meaning (Mass Market Paperback)
"Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done, and of love loved but of sufferings bravely suffered." (p. 123)
My connection to Viktor Frankl dates back to a Hannukah party in which I found myself conversing with a baker who used to deliver his bread. It took me a few more years to discover this absolute gem of a book, itself both bread for the soul and leaven for the mind.
The first half of this book consists of Frankl's reflection on his time in a Nazi concentration camp. "An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior," (p. 18) he notices, "Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent." (p. 43) Distilling the essence of his experience at the hands of the Nazis and the resilience of his soul, he states, "If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering." (p. 67) Finally, he notes that "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." (p. 65)
He segues into the second part of the book, a description of "logotherapy," based on the challenge learned behind barbed wire, downwind from the ovens "Whenever there was an opportunity for it, one had to give them a why--an aim--for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible _how_ of their existence." (p. 76)
Frankl states that "Man's search for meaning is a primary force in his life and not a 'secondary rationalization' of instinctual drives." (p. 99) He finds this meaning specific & unique to each individual. Logotherapy focuses on the future, the assignments and meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in _his_ future, breaking up the self-centeredness of the neurotic instead of fostering and reinforcing it.
He believes that "the meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves, but rather detected," (p. 101) that "_logos_, or 'meaning', is not only an emerging from existence itself but rather something confronting existence." (p. 100) This _logos_ frustrates by not being available to finite minds, but nevertheless continues to confront man. In wrestling with this confrontation, each individual enacts their "will to meaning," defining a "meaning of life [that] differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment." (p. 110) Logotherapy sees responsibility as the very essence of human existence: "each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by _answering_ _for_ his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible." (p. 111) Thus, the "categorical imperative" of logotherapy 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!" (p. 111)
Beyond the philosophy of logotherapy, Frankl discusses technique briefly, addressing anticipatory anxiety, "it characteristic of this fear that it produces precisely that of which the patient is afraid." (p. 123) The mechanism for this is "hyper-intention," which, by focusing on the problem, magnifies the problem. He confronts this with "paradoxical intention," suggesting that the insomniac try to stay awake and that the phobic patient "intend, if only for a moment, precisely that which he fears." (p. 125)
He concludes the book with "Our generation is realistic for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who has invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who has entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips." (p. 136)
I find this short book incredibly full of life and meaning; it's one of the most powerful I've ever read. The act of creating a philosophy and psychology of life out of the horrors of Auschwitz confronts my own whinings about the discomforts I find in life. I find courage here, not just Dr. Frankl's courage, but an inspiration to my own courage, and a challenge to live more fully, to create more meaning, instead of simply accepting the meanings thrust upon me by TV sitcoms, billboards, and internet banality.
The epitome of a five star book. Worthy of more if Amazon would allow it.
(If you'd like to dialogue about this book, please click on the "about me" link & drop me an email. Thanks!)
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