In Search of the Spir­i­tu­al: Gabriel Mar­cel, Psy­cho­analy­sis and the Sacred

  • Review
By – February 19, 2013

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 (18891973). 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.

William Liss-Levin­son is vice pres­i­dent, chief strat­e­gy & oper­a­tions offi­cer of Cas­tle Con­nol­ly Med­ical Ltd., a con­sumer health research, infor­ma­tion, and pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny. He holds a Ph.D. in edu­ca­tion and is a mem­ber of the board of direc­tors of the Jew­ish Book Council.

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