Man's Search for Meaning

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A most profound and powerful book, perhaps the most important book by a psychologist in the twentieth Century (yes, I'm including Fraud, uh Freud.)

I was reminded of my desire to take it up again and at the end of his Preface, Rabbi Kushner gives me cause:

from Man's Search for Meaning
Victor Frankl

We have come to know Man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.

And even though Frankl quotes Nietzsche approvingly, he earned the right, and by quoting, in some small part redeemed much of Nietzsche's awful thought--thus turning a cause of the Reich against the Reich.

This journey is harrowing, and it is even more harrowing because it could have been avoided and the author could have left and gone to America. But, to quote his own preface:

The question beset me: could I really afford to leave my parents alone to face their fate, to be sent, sooner or later, to a concentration camp, or even to a so-called extermination camp? Where did my responsibility lie?. . . this was the type of dilemma that made one wish for "a hint from Heaven," as the phrase goes.

It was then that I noticed a piece of marble lying on a table at home. When I asked my father about it, he explained that he had found it on the site where the National Socialists had burned down the largest Viennese synagogue. He had taken the piece home because it was part of the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. One gilded Hebrew letter was engraved on the piece; my father explained that the letter stood for one of the Commandments. I asked, "Which one is it?" He answered, "Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land. " At that moment I decided to stay with my father and my mother upon the land and to let the American Visa lapse.

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The ones who came through the ordeal strongly were the ones who strove for a higher goal in life than merely survival. Those without a sense of purpose deteriorated in body, mind, and spirit. I will put this book on my list. It reminds me of a quote from John Henry Newman: "Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about."

P.S.: I smiled when you mentioned "Fraud".

I read this book two times at least.It is small but contains a lot of food for mind and soul.Highly recommended indeed.

Thanks for this. I have wanted to read it for some time, so I just put an order in for it at my Library.

This book was required reading in my Grade 12 religion class back in 1978 (or '77?). All I remember is how much I hated it. We all did. It was a huge struggle.

I like what you write about it, though, Steven, so maybe I should give it another try. Perhaps it is better read by those who are old enough to have some idea of the reality of evil, or at least the reality of death.

I hope you continue to share your thoughts as you read it.

Dear Talmida,

I think you've hit the nail on the head. There are several reasons why I think this would probably not make great reading for the very young (and yes, High School is very young emotionally for most of us). To start with there is your point about the reality of evil. Secondly, even then, I doubt I had a serious sense of the enormity of this particular evil--it didn't come to me until many year later when I was somewhat less self involved and concerned about peer relations. Third, there is a certain callowness to the age which would not allow appreciation of the real beauty. Fourth, there is really remarkably little of what we have come to think about "Holocaust Narrative." In fact, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch is far more compelling int he detail of the drudgery and horror of life. Frankl's book presupposes a certain knowledge of the real horror of the camps, and if anything, much of his narrative seems to "reduce" it. (Of course it doesn't, but the overall effect is not to wring from the reader an emotional response--and so it doesn't meet our expectations.

In addition, half of the book is of matters of very little concern to a young person--how Frankl developed his psychology and what the chief points of difference are with other like psychologies.

Yes, I could see that reading this piece at the wrong time would work to the detriment of the piece. And given its stigma, you may not find it any better now; but, I think that maturity has made accessible to me a great many works that meant nothing or next to nothing when I was in High School. Similarly, it has reduced "highly meaningful" works, such as Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace to mere scribbles in the sand. I find it hard to work up a lot of sympathy with Holden Caufield any more--but then, I'm not of the age who would sympathize with his predicament.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on May 5, 2006 8:18 PM.

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