Will, Hannibal, and the Method of Meaning
AKA Katie’s Ill-Advised Attempt at Hannibal Meta
I was reading Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” last night, and I came across this passage:
“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes those potentialities come true.“
…and I realized that Hannibal was paraphrasing Frankl in this moment in “Shiizakana”:
“No one can be fully aware of another human being unless we love them. By that love we see potential in our beloved. Through that love we allow our beloved to see their potential. Expressing that love, our beloved’s potential comes true.”
As a psychiatrist, Hannibal would have been very familiar with the practice and philosophy of logotherapy, Frankl’s school of thought. (Even if the image of Hannibal reading my little paperback of MSFM has me laughing to myself for some reason.) Logotherapy revolves around finding meaning in a patient’s life, and using the paradigm of meaning to address other problems, such as psychoses, neuroses, phobias, etc. So far, so good.
But then I remembered — this conversation took place in Will’s mind. Specifically, in a dream. He wasn’t speaking to Hannibal, at least not physically. So did Will read MSFM? Did he and Hannibal discuss logotherapy in a session at some point, and Will’s mind churned it up as he dreamed and imagined?
All these interesting questions aside, what really fascinated me about the idea of Will and/or Hannibal taking an interest in Frankl’s work is the idea of self-transcendence versus self-actualization, along with the paramount importance Frankl places on choice. My first thought was that Hannibal practices a kind of dark logotherapy with his patients because he encourages them to embrace a murderous meaning and potential — but then I thought better of it. Hannibal doesn’t place a terribly high value on his patients determining their own meaning or making their own choices. For example, his arbitrary decision to revive Bella after her attempted overdose. Her response to him, later, is to say, “You moved my meaning.”
Hannibal’s interest and investment in his patients’ empowerment is inconsistent at best. He does show interest in the progress of people like Margot (if murdering one’s tormentor can accurately be called “progress”), although he’s also perfectly willing to put her in harm’s way when it helps his ongoing Will Project. Hannibal drugs and manipulates patients on multiple occasions and for a variety of self-serving reasons. So he doesn’t believe in the transcendent power of choice in the way Frankl does. He also doesn’t share Frankl’s humanistic belief that all people have inherent value, regardless of their present choices and state of being. How could he, when he actually eats some of them? To Hannibal, men are beasts, some amusing, some only fit for eating. He’s much more interested in Will’s choices, but that’s because he looks at Will as an equal. To him, they are two men in a world of livestock.
Another point of divergence between Hannibal and the precepts of logotherapy is in the concept of time. Frankl is very invested in the past as being concrete and unchangeable, a grand sum of choices and experiences that can never be taken away. “Nothing can be undone, and nothing can be done away with,” he says. “I should say having been is the surest kind of being.” All of this is anathema to Hannibal, who is heavily invested in the idea of the universe one day contracting from its journey into entropy, and the broken pieces becoming whole again. As far as he is concerned, the past should not be immutable, and it’s not a grand collection of experiences and choices to be stored up and cherished, either for their beauty or for their power to strengthen and teach. For Hannibal, the past must and should be changed, because it’s full of mistakes — both his, and God’s.
As I considered all this, I began to wonder if Will is the one who lines up more neatly with the concepts of logotherapy. It was in his mind, after all, that Frankl’s words were presented, even though Hannibal was the mouthpiece. Will seems to be the very embodiment of logotherapy’s key tenets. Every time he’s presented with a difficult situation, he responds by making a choice and facing the consequences. He fights every horrible circumstance (encephalitis, false accusations, imprisonment, Abigail’s death, Dolarhyde’s attacks) by choosing his attitude in response to these events. Frankl contends that choosing one’s response to inevitable suffering is one of the key ways that human beings find meaning in life. Will chooses to fight for people he cares about again and again. And, for a long time, he refuses to accept Hannibal’s diagnosis of his soul. The entire show can be summed up as a long-term disagreement between Will and Hannibal over Will’s core nature. Hannibal insists that Will is a killer; Will shies away from this in every way he can.
In the end, Will chooses to die rather than to accept the cooperative self-actualization with which Hannibal tempts him. Frankl denounces self-actualization as being an ineffective path to meaning, and therefore an ineffective path to happiness. Happiness, he contends, is a by-product of self-transcendence — a by-product of finding a mission or a loved one or a noble suffering to commit to outside of the self. In the end, Will self-transcends and elects to change himself in the face of unchangeable circumstance, even if the only catalyst within reach is death. It’s a grim ending, but a triumphant one, from this perspective. It’s also an extreme example of Frankl’s central thesis about suffering: a man cannot always change his surroundings or his circumstances, but he can change himself and how he responds. Will can’t change the fact that he enjoyed killing Dolarhyde with Hannibal, but he can determine his response to that fact. (Just for the record, Frankl would not have advocated for murder-suicide as a viable response to suffering.)
Hannibal is right about Will, and he always has been — killing is something that Will enjoys. He is like Hannibal in that way. But they differ wildly in their response to this shared trait. Hannibal accepts it and pursues it and makes his life around what he is. Will refuses to indulge.
Hannibal delights; Will tolerates. The difference is one of attitude and choice.
Will, then, is much more in tune with the tenets of logotherapy than Hannibal, and the quoting of Frankl in his mind makes a great deal of sense. Hannibal doesn’t see any need to transcend that which is central to one’s being. He probably subscribes to the more Freudian school of thought, the “will to pleasure,” as Frankl terms it. Will, on the other hand, is a martyr.
One last note: I’d say that, according to Frankl’s paradigm, Hannibal derives meaning largely from his works. He kills, eats, creates art, tinkers with minds and sometimes succeeds in lighting other people’s murder fuses. When Hannibal crosses paths with Will, he’s still heavily invested in his murdery and artistic life’s work, but as time passes, we see him shift into choices and shades of meaning derived from his love for Will. Will, by contrast, seems to largely derive his meaning from suffering. He suffers when he uses his empathy to catch criminals, but he’s committed to saving lives. He’s willing to suffer for higher purposes. He’s even willing to die for them. As time goes on, his enmeshment with Hannibal becomes another lens through which he derives meaning. So maybe the adjacent and entwined character arcs of Hannibal and Will are really a long, slow shift into Frankl’s second way of finding meaning in life: “experiencing another human being in his very uniqueness — by loving him.”
I’ve only been part of the Hannibal fandom for the past year, so I’m not sure if anyone has written about this topic before…hopefully this isn’t painfully redundant. I would actually love to see any metas about Hannibal’s paraphrasing of Frankl, if anybody wants to link me?? Also, I’m less than an amateur when it comes to psychiatry and philosophy, so please forgive me for any blatant errors. I’m thinking aloud on Tumblr, in the way that’s
too much fun to do in fandom. I’m also really deep into Frankl’s ideas at the moment, since I’ve only just read his book. And I’m working on a post-fall ficlet in which Will shifts from suffering-oriented life into a love-oriented life, so my brain is full of these ideas. Hopefully this isn’t just a bunch of nonsense I wrote in the middle of the night. There’s a reason I don’t usually write meta. :p