In Search of the Spiritual: Gabriel Marcel, Psychoanalysis and the Sacred
Marcus, a psychoanalyst and author of several complex works on the nexus of philosophy, theology, spirituality, and psychoanalysis, introduces us to the works and thinking of Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973). A Catholic existentialist philosopher, who was also an accomplished playwright, drama critic, and musician, Marcel was born a Jew but raised by an agnostic father and a Protestant maternal aunt after the death of his mother when he was a child – in a non-religious environment, yet he converted to Roman Catholicism at the age of 40. A friend of other leading intellectuals of early twentieth century France, Marcel hosted Friday evening discussion groups at which one could find Sartre, Levinas, Ricoeur, Wahl and others.
Chapters deal with Marcel’s views on the sacred and the spiritual in analyzing: creative experiences; the concept of “grace”; the virtue we call humility; acts of courage; maintenance of personal dignity in the face of mass society, technology and depersonalization, including the inhumanity of the Holocaust; fidelity and betrothal in the love relationship, and the expression of sexuality and its inherent spiritual aspects as exemplified by the kiss. Marcus has a moving chapter on his own experiences with cancer and chemotherapy that is both insightful and, as always, brutally honest, and many times throughout the book draws upon his thirty-plus year career as a psychoanalyst and forensic psychologist. While references to Buber, Bettelheim, and Levinas (about whom Marcus has written extensively) and references to much more classical Jewish rabbinic sources are also present, the book does not feel dominated by a constant “Jewish voice,” a plus in this reviewer’s mind vis–à–vis the cross-over appeal of the book. The footnotes are also of interest, for it is within them that Marcus at times shares insights or a “gem” from equally obscure sources that one might never read but are well worth reflecting upon.