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Preface

Dr. Frankl, author-psychiatrist, sometimes asks his pa tients who suffer from a multitude of torments great and small, “Why do you not commit suicide?” From their an swers he can often find the guide-line for his psycho therapy: 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 mean ing and responsibility is the object and challenge of logo therapy, which is Dr. Frankl’s own version of modern exis tential analysis.

In this book, Dr. Frankl explains the experience which led to his discovery of logotherapy. As a longtime prisoner in bestial concentration camps he found himself stripped to naked existence. His father, mother, brother, and his wife died in camps or were sent to the gas ovens, so that, except ing for his sister, his entire family perished in these camps.

How could he—every possession lost, every value destroyed, suffering from hunger, cold and brutality, hourly expecting extermination—how could he find life worth preserving? A psychiatrist who personally has faced such extremity is a psychiatrist worth listening to. He, if anyone, should be able to view our human condition wisely and with compassion. Dr. Frankl’s words have a profoundly honest ring, for they rest on experiences too deep for deception. What he has to say gains in prestige because of his present position on the Medical Faculty of the University of Vienna and because of the renown of the logotherapy clinics that today are springing up in many lands, patterned on his own famous Neurological Policlinic in Vienna.

One cannot help but compare Viktor Frankl’s approach to theory and therapy with the work of his predecessor, Sigmund Freud. Both physicians concern themselves primarily with the nature and cure of neuroses.

Freud finds the root of these distressing disorders in the anxiety caused by conflicting and unconscious motives. Frankl distinguishes several forms of neurosis, and traces some of them (the noogenic neuroses) to the failure of the sufferer to find meaning and a sense of responsibility in his existence.

Freud stresses frustration in the sexual life; Frankl, frustration in the “will-to-meaning.” In Europe today there is a marked turning away from Freud and a widespread embracing of existential analysis, which takes several related forms—the school of logotherapy being one. It is characteristic of Frankl’s tolerant outlook that he does not repudiate Freud, but builds gladly on his contributions; nor does he quarrel with other forms of existential therapy, but welcomes kinship with them.

The present narrative, brief though it is, is artfully constructed and gripping. On two occasions I have read it through at a single sitting, unable to break away from its spell. Somewhere beyond the midpoint of the story Dr. Frankl introduces his own philosophy of logo therapy. He introduces it so gently into the continuing narrative that only after finishing the book does the reader realize that here is an essay of profound depth, and not just one more brutal tale of concentration camps.

From this autobiographical fragment the reader learns much.

He learns what a human being does when he suddenly realizes he has “nothing to lose except his so ridiculously naked life.”

Frankl’s description of the mixed flow of emotion and apathy is arresting. First to the rescue comes a cold detached curiosity concerning one’s fate. Swiftly, too, come strategies to preserve the remnants of one’s life, though the chances of surviving are slight. Hunger, humiliation, fear and deep anger at injustice are rendered tolerable by closely guarded images of beloved persons, by religion, by a grim sense of humor, and even by glimpses of the healing beauties of nature—a tree or a sunset.

But these moments of comfort do not establish the will to live unless they help the prisoner make larger sense out of his apparently senseless suffering. It is here that we encounter the central theme of existentialism: to live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering. If there is a purpose in life at all, there must be a purpose in suffer ing and in dying. But no man can tell another what this purpose is.

Each must find out for himself, and must accept the responsibility that his answer prescribes. If he succeeds he will continue to grow in spite of all indignities. Frankl is fond of quoting Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”

In the concentration camp every circumstance conspires to make the prisoner lose his hold.

All the familiar goals in life are snatched away. What alone remains is “the last of human freedoms”—the ability to “choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.” This ultimate freedom, recognized by the ancient Stoics as well as by modern existentialists, takes on vivid significance in Frankl’s story. The prisoners were only average men, but some, at least, by choosing to be “worthy of their suffering” proved man’s capacity to rise above his outward fate.

As a psychotherapist, the author, of course, wants to know how men can be helped to achieve this distinctively human capacity. How can one awaken in a patient the feeling that he is responsible to life for something, however grim his circumstances may be? Frankl gives us a moving account of one collective therapeutic session he held with his fellow prisoners.

At the publisher’s request Dr. Frankl has added a state ment of the basic tenets of logotherapy as well as a bibliog raphy. Up to now most of the publications of this “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy” (the predecessors being the Freudian and Adlerian Schools) have been chiefly in German. The reader will therefore welcome Dr. Frankl’s supplement to his personal narrative.

Unlike many European existentialists, Frankl is neither pessimistic nor antireligious. On the contrary, for a writer who faces fully the ubiquity of suffering and the forces of evil, he takes a surprisingly hopeful view of man’s capacity to transcend his predicament and discover an adequate guiding truth.

I recommend this little book heartily, for it is a gem of dramatic narrative, focused upon the deepest of human problems. It has literary and philosophical merit and pro vides a compelling introduction to the most significant psychological movement of our day.

GORDON W. ALLPORT

Gordon W. Allport, formerly a professor of psychology at Harvard University, was one of the foremost writers and teachers in the field in this hemisphere. He was author of a large number of original works on psychology and was the editor of the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. It is chiefly through the pioneering work of Professor All port that Dr. Frankl’s momentous theory was introduced to this country; moreover, it is to his credit that the interest shown here in logotherapy is growing by leaps and bounds.

Preface to the 1992 Edition

This book has now lived to see nearly one hundred print ings in English—in addition to having been published in twenty-one other languages. And the English editions alone have sold more than three million copies.

These are the dry facts, and they may well be the reason why reporters of American newspapers and particularly of American TV stations more often than not start their in terviews, after listing these facts, by exclaiming: “Dr. Frankl, your book has become a true bestseller—how do you feel about such a success?” Whereupon I react by reporting that in the first place I do not at all see in the bestseller status of my book an achievement and accomplishment on my part but rather an expression of the misery of our time: if hun dreds of thousands of people reach out for a book whose very title promises to deal with the question of a meaning to life, it must be a question that burns under their fingernails.

To be sure, something else may have contributed to the impact of the book: its second, theoretical part (“Logother apy in a Nutshell”) boils down, as it were, to the lesson one may distill from the first part, the autobiographical account (“Experiences in a Concentration Camp”), whereas Part One serves as the existential validation of my theories. Thus, both parts mutually support their credibility.

I had none of this in mind when I wrote the book in 1945. And I did so within nine successive days and with the firm determination that the book should be published anonymously. In fact, the first printing of the original German version does not show my name on the cover, though at the last moment, just before the book’s initial publication, I did finally give in to my friends who had urged me to let it be published with my name at least on the title page. At first, however, it had been written with the absolute conviction that, as an anonymous opus, it could never earn its author literary fame. I had wanted simply to convey to the reader by way of a concrete example that life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones. And I thought that if the point were demonstrated in a situation as extreme as that in a concentration camp, my book might gain a hearing. I therefore felt responsible for writing down what I had gone through, for I thought it might be helpful to people who are prone to despair.

And so it is both strange and remarkable to me that— among some dozens of books I have authored—precisely this one, which I had intended to be published anonymously so that it could never build up any reputation on the part of the author, did become a success. Again and again I therefore admonish my students both in Europe and in America: “Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.

I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run—in the long run, I say!

—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

The reader may ask me why I did not try to escape what was in store for me after Hitler had occupied Austria. Let me answer by recalling the following story. Shortly before the United States entered World War II, I received an invitation to come to the

American Consulate in Vienna to pick up my immigration visa. My old parents were overjoyed because they expected that I would soon be allowed to leave Austria. I suddenly hesitated, however. 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? Should I foster my brain child, logotherapy, by emigrating to fertile soil where I could write my books? Or should I concentrate on my duties as a real child, the child of my parents who had to do whatever he could to protect them? I pondered the problem this way and that but could not arrive at a solution; 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 a part of the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. One gilded Hebrew letter was engraved on the piece; my father explained that this letter stood for one of the Commandments. Eagerly 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.

VIKTOR E. FRANKL Vienna, 1992

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