THE DISCOVERY OF BEING: Writings in Existential Psychology by Rollo May

THE DISCOVERY OF BEING: Writings in Existential Psychology

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KIRKUS REVIEW

After a hesitant start, May gets untracked and gives a brisk, clear popular introduction to existential psychology/psychotherapy. In the briefest terms, EP subordinates all human psychodynamics and therapeutic techniques to the ""ontological context,"" the openended encounter between existing persons. At the center of EP lies the Heideggerian notion of Dasein (being-there), a free but death-bound agent dwelling simultaneously in three nested spheres, the Eigenwelt (inner world of the self), the Mitwelt (interpersonal relations), and Umwelt (total environment). May's complaint against Freud, and others whom he considers reductive thinkers, is that they imprison the individual within the objectified, deterministic structures of the Umwelt and so never do justice to the properly human--though admittedly elusive--realm of subjectivity. Thus the ego as psychoanalysis sees it is ""weak, passive, and derived,"" at times a mere epiphenomenon of the id. EP, by contrast, looks to the experience of being, to the primeval, transcendent, irreducible utterance of ""I am"" as the ground of everything that happens in the mind. Materialistic psychologies equate the person with his or her past, which must then be understood and exorcised before the patient can proceed with normal, healthy living. EP argues that the present and the future (one's existential commitments) shape the past by deciding what features of that past a person can recall and use, consciously or unconsciously, as motivating forces. May puts EP in historical perspective with surveys of the thought of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and thumbnail sketches of Heidegger, Husserl, Binswanger, etc. He acknowledges that EP's metaphysical bias runs against America's Anglo-Saxon empirical grain, but he makes a good case for it as a pragmatically broad and flexible method. Despite some careless writing here and there, a solid, stimulating presentation.

Pub Date: Aug. 22nd, 1983
Publisher: Norton