Book of the Week #35: [Guest Post]

Yashas:

So, as they say, all good things must come to an end…

What kind of a rule is that, anyway? I hate it. Stupid rule…

As one can possibly discern from my sour demeanour, I am here to announce that the conclusion of our collaboration with this wonderful young lady is now upon us.

Of course, we wouldn’t just let her leave, at least not without a final, particularly amazing post. And with that in mind, we chose to save the best for the last.

So, here we have the post that Shruti herself prefaced by saying, “Spent a reallllllllllly long time on this post and still feel like I can’t talk enough about it.”


Shruti:

Man’s Search for Meaning,

by Dr. Viktor E. Frankl

“If you read but one book this year, Dr Frankl’s book should be that one.”

—Los Angeles Times, on Man’s Search for Meaning

This is my sixth post on this blog. Considering how much Yashas has been requesting me to guest author more BoTW posts, it might seem like I have read scores of books.

Shall I let you in on a secret? I haven’t. Ssshhh…

Well, at least not as many as I would have loved to, by this time. And definitely not even close to what bibliomaniacs read by the time they are 23!

Nevertheless, here I am, on a reading spree this year, devouring everything from philosophy to science. I discovered my love for reading during high school and being the clichéd worried-about-academics-and-working-hard student that I was, I picked up a non-academic book only when I was not stressed about my studies, AKA holidays. So it was only natural that when I got the chance to study a minor course from any of the departments—other than physics, of course—for three semesters during my undergrad, I chose to study English Studies. The condescending crowd from IIT that loves to look down upon Humanities of course thought I was either a lunatic or someone to be pitied. But hello! I am having the last laugh.

The course opened up to me a plethora of literature I didn’t even know existed. Quite a few books I have read this year and more that I plan to read are known to me, thanks to this course. In this post, I talk about one such book, Man’s Search for Meaning.  I read an excerpt from MSFM in my English Studies course and had been wanting to read the book ever since. Two years hence, as I was frantically searching for a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in a Waterstones store in Brighton, serendipity struck me. Without a moment’s thought, I picked the copy of MSFM and straightaway headed to the cashier.

“There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: ‘He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.’”

The above quote is exactly what sums up Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. An Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, Dr Frankl was a Nazi concentration camp inmate for three years during the Second World War. An enduring work of survival literature, as observed by New York Times, the book is an account of Dr Frankl’s Holocaust experiences.

 The book was first published in German in 1946, a year after the author’s release from the concentration camp. Originally titled ‘From Death-Camp to Existentialism’ in English, the book has two parts. While part one is an autobiographical account of the author’s experiences, part two, added only in 1962 is an introduction to Logotherapy, the ‘Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy’, founded by Dr Frankl.

“In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

The basic tenet of the book, and Logotherapy in general, is that there is meaning to life, at every point, even at moments of suffering. How often do you find yourself or others blame their circumstances for their sufferings?

Dr Frankl asserts that man is not just a prisoner of his circumstances; if he finds a meaning to his existence, his mental freedom gives him the strength to endure even the cruelest conditions that life throws at him.

“The more one forgets himself — by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love — the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.”

The first part of the book chronicles the author’s experiences, from the time he was taken to the concentration camp through the three years till he was freed, and a brief account after that as well. This compelling account is a powerful reminder of the intriguing human behaviour: the variety of human emotions and the response of man to myriad situations.

Based on his analysis of the other prisoners’ as well as his own behavior in the concentration camp, Dr Frankl describes three phases of a prisoner’s state of mind: shock, apathy and depersonalization. What struck me the most was the third phase, depersonalization, in which the prisoner gets so accustomed to the atrocities of camp that he does not even feel happiness after he is liberated.

“We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”

Even though this masterpiece is an account of Holocaust, something nobody from my generation has, fortunately, witnessed, it remains one of the most inspiring and powerful pieces of literature whose tenets are applicable even today. Translations to 24 languages, over 9 million sold copies, listed among the ten most influential books in the United States; these figures speak volumes about the influence that this book has had over the last 71 years since its publication.

Dr. Frankl, author-psychiatrist, sometimes asks his patients who suffer from a multitude of torments great and small, “Why do you not commit suicide?” From their answers he can often find the guide-line for his psychotherapy: in one life there is love for one’s children to tie to; in another life, a talent to be used; in a third, perhaps only lingering memories worth preserving. To weave these slender threads of a broken life into a firm pattern of meaning and responsibility is the object and challenge of logotherapy, which is Dr. Frankl’s own version of modern existential analysis.

—Gordon W. Allport, from the Preface of Man’s Search for Meaning

The book is a short read, little over 150 pages long, and I highly recommend reading this in one go. If you give me a marker and ask me to highlight every important quote I come across in this book, I will probably end up colouring 90% of it!

I cannot stress enough how important this book is to me and millions across the globe. So I will end this already long post with the very last and my favourite quote from the book.

“The crowning experience of all, for the homecoming man, is the wonderful feeling that, after all he has suffered, there is nothing he need fear any more—except his God.”


Yashas:

You know, it is interesting how so many post-World War masterpieces are still extremely relevant to this day.

Yes, one can argue that a true masterpiece is inherently and necessarily eternal.

On the other hand, it is also notable how their survival through what was definitely one of the darkest episodes of recent human history forged the said masterpieces, thereby illuminating the path for every generation since.

Today, as we stand on the cusp of another humanitarian crisis that has been brewing for the better part of this decade, it is evident that the world should not dare to forget…

You can start reading Man’s Search for Meaning right here:

 

Do let us know what you think. Also, do recommend it to every man, woman and child you may encounter.

That is all for tonight.

I’ll be back when the wind and fates and chance bring me back.

—Pablo Neruda

Thank you.

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Published by

Shruti Badole

PhD student at the University of Manchester. Masters from Uni of Sussex, B.Tech from IIT Madras. Astronomer. Music passionate. Physics enthusiast. Part time Philosopher and big time Dreamer!

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