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[personal profile] lennan
I've been meaning to post this for a few days now.

Last week I read Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, which is a combination autobiography, theory, and analysis of workings his concept of logotherapy using primarily his experiences in the concentration camps. It was an odyssey to find this book, seeing as the recommendation for this book came from my mother (a person who has a lot of interest in the Holocaust history), who first read this book in Japanese where is was titled Night and Fog. It turns out that the books was originally published in English translation as From Death-Camp to Existentialism in 1959 and in 1984 as Man's Search for Meaning, with from what the Preface says, this newer version is expanded to include more on Logotherapy. It may be a newer translation as well.

While I'm not up on my theories in psychology, and haven't read philosophy in a while (and certainly not Existential Philosophy), I found this book to be surprisingly clear (as in the writing) even at it's most technical. Basically the book is in two parts, the first is autobiographical and chronicles his life during his time in concentration camps and the second is specifically devoted to theorising on what exactly is logotherapy. His concepts of this theory, which is essentially focussing on the meaning of one's life as the driving force in human beings, rather then the Freudian pleasure or power. To drive home his point he uses his experiences in the camps, whether they are observations on other people or himself to show the difference at heart between those who are more likely to survive and those who die quickly. He notes that the ones least expected to survive were the ones most likely to survive, ie intellectual types, based primarily on their "rich inner life". He stresses that it is these thoughts and feelings and appreciation for small beauties and goals for the future that gave certain people an edge in survival. He is careful to note that fate plays a part in survival, as well, and talks about how his tendency to let fate take its course also helped him to survive.

Surprisingly, although his subject matter is about one of the most horrific event in human history, the actual narrative itself is not particularly depressing or horrifying. It doesn't shock or move in the same way as something like Night. The narrative is rather clinical in its observations of both the condition and human nature and quite often Frankl will use certain events that he has witnessed to illuminate how that mode of thinking affects the survival of a person. The one that sticks most to mind is an incident where he describes a fellow prisoner who had a "prophetic" dream about being free on March 31st. As the day came and went, he died the very next day, fulfilling his own prophecy. Frankl used this example to show how negatively one's thought processes could influence one's survival. He notes how a lot of people in the camps did not think about the future, but dwelt in how much better their past was. It was important that a person think about the future and have a goal to accomplish whether it was something as simple as seeing one's wife again or publishing a paper. Most importantly, it didn't matter if the goal was realistic or that it could be fulfilled, just that it was there and positively fed the person/prisoner towards overcoming obstacles.

Frankl, himself, believed ultimately in the the changeability of man towards becoming better if he should so chose and did not believe in societal guilt and in, particularly the second part, he points out some examples of former SS officers that became "better people". Granted these "changes" seemed more along the lines of he "became a great comrade", which to me felt vague. It didn't tell me if these people actually did change for the better, although it certainly did tell me more about Frankl's attitudes towards people.

I can see why it's a book that continues to be read and do highly recommend everyone to read to read the book.
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