Book Review, Life, Philosophy

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

“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”

Holocaust, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is the “destruction or slaughter on a mass scale”.

When an individual is reduced to merely a number among a hated minority, it is so easy to attribute to him/her sub-human qualities that justify him/her being ostracised from the “human”society, and being left at the mercy of the sadistic tendencies of the privileged in power. All of a sudden, normal human living no longer applies, and you find yourself to have suddenly become the reason behind all problems ailing the society.

Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist found himself  pushed into such a catastrophic rubicon during the Nazi occupation of Austria. Having been separated from his wife and parents, his is a story of finding meaning in life when there is nothing left to live for, and death is an immediate reality, triggered at the whims of the Nazi prison guards.

By 1992, Man’s Search for Meaning  sold over 100 printings in English. Today, this work is cited not only as one of the masterpieces of Holocaust Literature, but also as guide for young men and women to find meaning in their lives. The book is divided into three parts. In the first part, Frankl recalls his experience as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, and describes the events that became the foundation of what he went on to call Logotherapy. He recounts a time at the camp when the inmates were suffering from Typhus infection. He makes an observation that only those who still held on to their hopes of deliverance did survive the plague. He describes how those prisoners, as their hopes of freedom withered away, chose to use their resources to buy the momentary pleasure of smoking a cigarette over food that could sustain them another day. He advises his readers not to look at the meaning of life, rather think of oneself as as someone being questioned by life. Life truly belongs with those who hold on to their hope, no matter how discouraging their experiences might be.

In the second part, he explains Logotherapy in a nutshell, just as the section’s title offers the reader.  He argues how Logotherapy differs from the standard clinical psychiatry of the time. His experiences shed light on how the human psyche can be reoriented towards a more positive and fulfilling living experience by means of identifying the purpose of one’s life, one’s existence.  Logotherapy helps you see what your life is all about, and what what you want to do right now. To someone who has lost hope in living, Logotherapy reveals how courage at the brink of death or suffering, can turn life profoundly meaningful.

In the the third section Frankl breaks it down to us how we can apply Logotherapy to our selves and find meaning in the universal tragic triad – guilt, suffering and death. The author wills the reader to pursue one’s meaning and purpose of life, more earnestly when one encounters any of the tragic triad, especially when it seems all hope is lost, for he believed suffering stays suffering only until one finds meaning in it.

Frankl has broken down to the readers what wills humanity to survive, and revealed the spirit that fuels perseverance to endure any pain and wills a man to make peace with his existence in vast and indifferent universe – the pursuit of meaning.

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