ABOUT THIS BOOK
Man’s Search for Meaning (hereafter MSFM) is an autobiographical account of Viktor E. Frankl’s application of his trademark theory, which he calls, “Logotherapy.” He began formulating this theory, which posits that finding meaning and purpose in life is the key to personal happiness and well-being, in Vienna, Austria, before the dawn of Nazi aggression. Later, while imprisoned for three years in first a Nazi ghetto and then in Nazi concentration camps, Frankl applied his theory to his own immediate situation, to console himself and his fellow prisoners.
Because he was Jewish, Frankl was arrested by Nazi German authorities in September 1942, along with his pregnant wife, his parents, and his brother. They were deported from their beloved Vienna and transported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto in Czechoslovakia, where Frankl’s father died. Frankl and his remaining family members were next transported to Auschwitz in Poland, where all of them, except Frankl, died.
At the time of his arrest, Frankl was a well-regarded psychologist. He had already begun developing his theory of Logotherapy (literally, “meaning therapy”). Frankl carried his manuscript outlining his theory, titled The Doctor and the Soul, with him to Auschwitz. (It was slipped into a pocket sewed between the lining and the outer fabric of his overcoat.) At Auschwitz, in short order, Frankl was separated from his family and stripped of his clothing (including his overcoat, which contained his manuscript). The Nazis even shaved all of his body hair off. Of this experience, Frankl wrote, “most of us were overcome by a grim sense of humor. We knew that we had nothing to lose except our ridiculously naked lives” (p. 15).
In the “Experiences in a Concentration Camp” section of MSFM, Frankl writes about consciously commanding his mind to detach from his immediate physical circumstances in order to apply the central tenet of Logotherapy—namely, that life holds meaning regardless of one’s circumstances—to his own situation. The depiction of this concentration camp experience is followed in MSFM by a poignant argument in favor of all aspects of Logotherapy.
In spite of the loss of his family, his professional manuscript, and his dignity, Frankl pressed on to “live” as fully as possible in the face of imprisonment by Nazi Germany. In essence, MSFM provides a living example of Logotherapy in practice, as Frankl writes about how he survived his experience in the Nazi concentration camp, before moving on to an in-depth account of the theory itself. Frankl organizes MSFM into the following sections: 1) “Experiences in a Concentration Camp”; 2) “Logotherapy in a Nutshell”; and 3) a postscript, “The Case for Tragic Optimism.”
MSFM was first translated into English in 1959. As a result, teachers should be aware that Frankl’s work contains words and phrases that may be anachronistic or confusing to modern readers. For example, Frankl uses the term “moslem” (p. 19). “Moslem” is an abbreviated version of the German word “musselman,” a term Nazis used for prisoners who have lost the will to live. (For more on Nazi Holocaust terminology, go to www89.homepage.villanova.edu/elana.starr/pages/holocaust%20Vocab.htm).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Viktor Frankl was born in 1905 in Vienna, and died in 1997. His life, therefore, spanned most of the twentieth century. As a young child, Frankl would meditate on the meaning of life—“Particularly about the meaning of the coming day and its meaning for me” (p. 156). As a teenager he was fascinated by philosophy, psychology, and psychoanalysis—the latter of which was theorized and popularized by Sigmund Freud. As a young adult, he supplemented his high school studies with adult education courses. He also began a correspondence with Freud. At eighteen, he wrote a psychoanalytic essay titled “On the Mimic Movements of the Affirmation and Negation,” and sent it to Freud, who eventually submitted Frankl’s work for publication in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. While in college, he worked for the psychotherapeutic department of the Psychiatric University Clinic. Frankl earned a Doctorate in Medicine from the University of Vienna in 1925. From 1940 to 1942, he was director of the Neurological Department of the Rothschild Hospital (a hospital for Jewish patients). During this time, Frankl began writing his manuscript The Doctor and the Soul, which was the forerunner of MSFM. After his release from the Türkheim concentration camp, Frankl returned to Vienna and became director of the Vienna Neurological Policlinic. In 1946, he published A Psychologist’s Experiences in the Concentration Camp, which was later republished as Say Yes to Life in Spite of Everything. The book was finally translated into English in 1959 as Man’s Search for Meaning. In 1948, Frankl received a Ph.D. in Philosophy, and he was eventually named professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School. Throughout his career, Frankl was in high demand on the lecture circuit. He also held guest professorships at several American colleges and universities, including Harvard University and Duquesne University.
Frankl wrote several more books, including The Will to Meaning, The Unheard Cry for Meaning, The Unconscious God, Psychotherapy and Existentialism, and Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning.
The Viktor Frankl Institute was founded in Vienna in 1992. For more information on the prolific life and works of Frankl, consult the Afterword in MSFM by William J. Winslade (p. 155), and the Viktor Frankl Institute (www.viktorfrankl.org/e/).
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