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The truth about yourself will make you feel more alive. That's what Spinoza thought. The 17th-century philosopher thought happiness came from realizing one's nature. This may sound like Oprah and the Quest for the Real Me, but it's not quite the same. This is about essence, the fundamental stuff of existence, not psychotherapy. And anyway, Spinoza believed truth played a large role in realizing that essence. Oprah is more often about feeling better about yourself. Spinoza liked to watch spiders fighting to the death. It's doubtful he was looking to feel better. It might be doubtful that he felt much of anything.
Spinoza's theory of essence came to mind while reviewing a charming and also brutal new volume of poetry by Adam Zagajewski for the Pittsburgh City Paper. It's called Eternal Enemies (FSG) and the opponents in question are those dueling forces that couldn't exist without each other. Like men and women. In the wedding ode, "Epithalamium," Zagajewski equates the battle of the sexes with the battle of time and love. They fight, exerting "hours of anxiety, anger, even hatred / but also compassion, deep feeling." Perhaps in marriage the truth might be revealed so we can "see other beings / in their enigmatic, complex essence."
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