Saturday, October 13, 2012

Le Monde 100: Diary of a Young Girl

When Diary of a Young Girl came out, there was a whole lot of nay-saying as to the credibility of the claim that this book was written by a girl from the age of thirteen to fifteen years old. This was primarily done by Holocaust deniers and ex-Hitler Youth types, persons of their own limited credibility. However, when reading Anne Frank's diary, one may find one's self legitimately asking if that it could be possible that someone so young could be so incredibly self-aware and so powerfully articulate. For instance, this passage:

"I was suffering then (and still do) from moods that kept my head under water (figuratively speaking) and allowed me to see things only from my own perspective, without calmly considering what the others- those whom I, with my mercurial temperament, had hurt or offended- had said, and then acting as they would have done."

This sounds like something a beta version cyborg programmed to write from the perspective of a young girl would come up with. If you read that passage in Brent Spiner's voice, it may sound quite at home.

But, there seems to be a recurring theme that appears throughout Le Monde 100. Like a tiny sapling pushing through the thickest concrete, the humanity of the individual will assert itself, even in the smallest ways, when society attempts to erase it. In his book Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl, a psychologist who survived the concentration camps, noted that the deprivation of certain basic needs push men towards a state of animal instinct. Every waking thought gradually becomes overwhelmed with the procuring of those needs, depriving the brain of the focus to self reflect, which is the hallmark of what separates men from beasts. Victor and his fellow prisoners would be allowed cigarettes, which they would purposefully not smoke as they would be used in barter and social interaction. It would be a disturbing sight for the prisoners to see one of them smoking his own cigarettes because it would mean that the smoker had now given up on his humanity and would always die not long afterward.

Anne Frank was put in a similar position. Along with food, clothing, and shelter, man needs to be social. Locked in an attic with a handful of people, Anne's social needs were severely constricted. Her humanity asserted itself by turning inward and exploring in great detail herself and the few interactions she had had in her life as well as the minutia of the social relationships in the attic.

This inward exploration was confirmed when the unabridged version of her diary was released in the early Nineties. Here we find Anne going into great graphic detail about her vagina, nuanced aspects of her sexuality including her early exploration of lesbianism, and menstruation, which all was a bit of a shock as I had originally read the abridged version in the Eighties, which included none of that.

One could see why her father Otto, who compiled the notes would not choose to include those parts for general release. However, they reveal a lot about the human condition under duress as well as solidify their authenticity.

This human imperative was allowed to bloom in the soil of her leisure. This is important. Aristotle refused to allow farmers, skilled tradesmen, and women from entering the Academy as he felt they did not have the necessary leisure time required for true self reflection as they would be involved in fulfilling basic needs, such as growing food, building homes, and rearing children.  For Aristotle, to teach them the disciplines of self-reflection would be a disservice to them as they would not properly be able to give them mental room necessary to be useful. That's why you always see a lot of lounging in old paintings of philosophers. Anne Frank basically developed her own Academy spreading her mental wings in the open space of time even though she was constricted in her physical place.

That is how we can explain the credibility of her eloquence.


  1. This is one of my favorite "reviews" you have done Micah. I appreciated it so much because I recently have come to realize that time is the ultimate commodity. At the very least, for myself. The last section with Aristotle's; worker time vs philosopher time almost needs a whole reflection of its own. What is time spent being productive really entail?

  2. It's all about power distribution. If you think about food intake to output, do we burn energy looking for more energy or do we burn energy fueling ideas?

    Check out Bertrand Russell's essay "In Praise of Idleness."