Friday, July 9, 2010
Man's Search For
"Man's search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a 'secondary rationalization' of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning."
- Viktor Frankl, Man's Search For Meaning
* * *
If you are fucked you have no will to meaning: there is no search. Your fuckedness precludes any other possible meaning. It is a closed circle of logic: I am fucked, therefore I am (fucked).
When I first encountered Viktor Frankl's work it was liberating. By the time I'd become familiar with it on multiple readings it had become harrowing; the challenge, the demand that only I could determine the meaning of my life and then live by it scared the shit out of me. Better to re-read the book tucked safely away behind a locked door and murmur assent to the prescription for unfucking my life than actually, you know, putting the book down and unfucking it.
The only way to unfuck your life is to pull you metaphoric dick out of whatever metaphoric hole it is in. You did it. You undo it. Frankl's argument is that in order to have the courage, the will to unfuck yourself you have to have a reason to, the meaning behind it all and only you know what that is or what that can be. It is a choice only you can make. It is not a boon from heaven. It is an active, conscious choice on your part. Without it you are fucked but good.
* * *
A hundred years ago I was falling through a divorce at the ripe age of 26. I was tending bar at the time and one of the customers knew some of my story and offered to take me out to lunch. I've forgotten his name, but he was about ten years older, successful and completely at ease with his life. At lunch he asked me this question, "What is it that you do to make yourself happy? Just for you. Just your own happiness and sense of pleasure and accomplishment?"
I had never been asked such a question. I didn't know it could be asked. I had no answer, for I did nothing to make myself happy. In that moment, and to my shame, I suddenly knew why my young marriage ended, why my wife said goodbye. I recall the heat of embarrassment filling my face. I said, "There's nothing." And he said, "Well, that's the problem isn't it? You have to choose. Something. Anything, and get started. If it doesn't pan out you can always choose again."
I then told him cooking made me happy and from that moment to this I have made it so. Up to that moment I liked to cook, but derived no special pleasure from it. It was only after I chose it to make me happy that it did. It isn't the final product that makes me happy (though you want it to taste good), but the process and acquired knowledge and experience that grounds me, fills me with satisfaction and happiness. When I cook I am as unfucked as I can be and it was a choice, not a blessing.
* * *
Unfucking your life is not a passive thing. You must be active. You must constantly choose, constantly prioritize what you will engage and how you will engage your life. Sitting back, letting others decide, hiding in intellectual nooks and crannies, bemoaning your fate without ever taking up arms against that dolorous fate is just plain fucked.
Don't do it.
You are better than that. Each of us is. You have to choose it. You have to choose life over death while you can, because, eventually, we're all gonna be just dirt in the ground.