Frankl And Beckett A Comparison Of Existentialism

Frankl And Beckett: A Comparison Of Existentialism Essay, Research Paper

Frankl and Beckett: An Comparison of Existetialism

Parallel tracks are not better or worse, merely different. Luke Skywalker

A man is running through a tunnel; it is long and dark. He does not remember entering, he does not know when or where the next turn is, yet he proceeds. He proceeds, but to where? He has the freedom to choose where to go: the entrance, the end, to backtrack a few paces, or to stay put. Viktor Frankl, author of Man s Search for Meaning and existentialist thinker, would say it is necessary to move forward. The man must know his drive, his desire to reach the end, or he will never see the light. He will die, unfulfilled and in the dark. Samuel Beckett, author of Waiting for Godot and fellow existentialist, would say that the journey through the tunnel has no meaning. Any meaning the man ascribes to his trip would be absurd. The only meaning that could come to the man would be for someone to break the tunnel down and show him true existence. Frankl and Beckett: two thinkers branded existentialists but each with a very different approach to finding meaning.

Existentialism is a way of looking at life. It is pessimistic, dank, dark, and angst-ridden at best. It promotes things like isolation and nothingness as key factors in human life. That is not to say that there is no happiness in life, but that both sides of the coin have no meaning. Whether one is happy or sad is meaningless, and it absurd to think otherwise. Another trait of existentialism is the concept of freedom/responsibility of choice. Whereas some philosophies regard man as a separate entity from the world or as an observer, existentialism says man is an active participants. People are in the world not of the world . People make choices; those choices affect the way things are and where our lives go. However, the meaning, drive, and outcome of these choices are what come into question when reading Frankl and Beckett. While both support the similar themes of existentialism, they find meaning in different places.

Victor Frankl was a victim of the Nazi concentration/extermination camps of World War II. He experienced first hand isolation, nothingness, and the absurdity of his existence. Yet he established a form of psychiatry based on the concept of knowing one s meaning. Not only was Frankl isolated by race/faith/gender when sent to the camps, he was isolated from the world because of hatred. Frankl was stripped of all possessions and connections to his life before the camps; he was left with nothing but his mere existence. He was in a place that put no value on human existence. He became a tool, an animal, an instrument for completing a task and was to be discarded when no longer efficient . Where is the hope, where is the meaning? What freedom of choice exists to a prisoner? The choice is to live. Frankl says it is the first part of surviving, and the second part is the intervention of Fate, another existential theme. One must have the will to survive, the will to find meaning, if one is to have a hope of survival.

From his experiences, Frankl developed logotherapy, a unique brand of psychiatry that Frankl describes as introspective rather than retrospective (Frankl 120). Logotherapy takes patients and has them focus on giving their lives a meaning. One is to find what is most important to them, and in doing so the person finds a meaning for his life. It is desire that separates humans from the fixed observers of the world like rocks and trees; it is drive that allows people to put purpose in the things they do. Instead of saying life is meaningless, Frankl proposes the idea that a person must ascribe his own meaning to life, and each person s life, each person s meaning will be different. As Bruce Lee said: There is no fixed teaching. All I can provide is an appropriate medicine for a particular ailment. Frankl may have agreed that life begins meaningless, but it is through knowing one s purpose that one can give life meaning.

Samuel Beckett, however, gives a much different answer to the question What is the meaning of life? Beckett calls human existence absurd and meaningless. Whereas Frankl says man must ascribe the meaning to the journey, Beckett states any meaning man gives to life is artificial and as meaningless and the one who ascribes it. Beckett implies with his play, Waiting for Godot, that an unknown force puts us here or there or somewhere or nowhere. Some have come to call this force God , and real meaning must come from him. God is outside the meaninglessness of the life imposed upon man, and as the detached observer, only he can provide a true meaning to life. The four characters in Waiting for Godot represent four types of people: Vladimir is the questioner, focused on finding his purpose in life. Estrogon, his companion through dependence and fate, is a man who shrugs off reality by filling life with meaningless, menial chores. Pozzo, the self-absorbed slave driver, is content as long as he is above everyone else and everyone else knows it. Lucky is the broken man, a slave who, like Estrogon, has no grasp or care for what is going on, or where he is going next. But none of them seeks out their meaning, as Frankl would have them do. All four seem to think their meaning will come to them if they wait long enough. Chance and Fate will surely intervene.

This is where both authors have come to agree. The will to survive is only half the battle. If Fate does not intervene on one s behalf, then the game is over. Beckett says Fate must intervene. Chance determines existence. Beckett states it best on page 8 where Vladimir is discussing the parable of the two thieves crucified with Jesus. He says, One of the thieves was saved. It’s a reasonable percentage From there, Vladimir goes on about how only one of the four Evangelists mentions the thief being saved at all. From a 100% chance of being saved, the percentage is reduced to 50% and then to 25%. Beckett, a Christian existentialist, believed that meaning came from an external force, God. By citing the Bible and showing how even it reduces the route of life to chance, he illustrates how important the role of Fate is in existing and in knowing one s meaning in life.

Both Frankl and Beckett have different conclusions as to where meaning must come from. They agree, however, on the free choice man has in the search for meaning. Whether the person going through the tunnel chooses to run, walk, stand, or sit, the choice and its repercussions are the sole responsibility of that man. They also agree in that waiting for meaning to come does one no good. Waiting for liberation, for God to bestow a meaning, for the suffering to end, will give not bring even a meaningless existence; it will bring the end of one s existence. Lastly, they both agree that the tunnel does end. A chance-driven existence of struggle and transcendence or of isolation and meaninglessness must end one day. The differences lie in the journey and how the void between entrance and exit is filled.


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