Man’s Search for Meaning is a tale told in two halves: the first about the authors experience in concentration camps, and the second about the psychological framework he developed, logotherapy. Victor E. Frankl is a doctor, specifically a psychiatrist, before and after the ordeal of World War 2. As he put it, this mean’t he was in a unique position to recount his observations of his fellow man during concentration camps. The voice leading the reader through the horrors in the first half is intentionally observational and scientific. Logotherapy, which Frankl developed on the back of these observations, finished out the book in the second half. It offers a neat perspective with which to contextualise the horrifying stories that it follows. It is a simultaneously a memoir and a primer on logotherapy.
I found logotherapy endlessly fascinating. The similarities with stoicism are apparent, in that its focus on how we control our reaction to the events around us. The central thesis is of how life’s meaning is derived from our authentic and human responses to challenges. It offers a nice contrast to its adlerian, humanist, freudian, and evolutionary counterparts. Frankl thereby proposes that meaning and purpose is not a singular phenomenon bestowed on a lucky few. It is something that is derived through our response in the face of challenges. A challenge could be as trivial as trying to navigate through public transport, or it could be as horrific as the Holocaust. Although the genesis of this theory is the immense suffering he experiences and witnessed, he underlines that meaning can be find in spite of the worst of situations. This is evident in the anecdotes where his friends found meaning in holding on to the image of their families, even though all the evidence said they had probably passed. In that sense, I found it very hopeful.
As many before me will attest to, this is a sobering read – even in spite of the dispassionate framing of the events. Anecdotes aside, logotherapy, the psychological framework that he developed through his experiences struck a chord with me. It has been simmering in my head since I finished reading it.