Bento de Espinosa

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    In the year mdclxiv, just over a century after the Caeté Indians had butchered and devoured Brazil’s first Portuguese bishop—that delicious feasting upon Bishop Sardinha that Oswald de Andrade would go on to celebrate as the founding act of modern Brazil—the Portuguese-Jewish philosopher Bento de Espinosa (whose family had been exiled to Amsterdam, the world capital of colonial trade, along with so many other Jewish families who would soon go on to populate the Brazilian Nordeste) wrote a letter to the most wise and prudent Peter Balling in which he told his friend of a peculiar visual hallucination he had suffered: the image of a ‘scabby black Brazilian’, which persisted upon awaking, and returned vividly whenever his attention wandered. He was also keen to point out that he had, good god, never seen this figure before. Bento was replying to a letter Peter had written to him to ask what could explain a premonitory hallucination he had had of his late son’s dying sobs, before the child had even fallen ill. Now, everything leads us to believe that if this Bento (who also called himself Benedictus, and has entered the bibliographers’ pantheon under the name ‘Benedictus de Spinoza’) was so concerned about this affair with the hallucination and took such pains to reply to Peter, it was largely with the intention of setting his own case clearly apart from that of his friend.…