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By Philip Roth

Portnoy's grievance n. [after Alexander Portnoy (1933-)] A sickness during which strongly-felt moral and altruistic impulses are ceaselessly warring with severe sexual longings, frequently of a perverse nature. Spielvogel says: 'Acts of exhibitionism, voyeurism, fetishism, auto-eroticism and oral coitus are considerable; due to the patient's "morality," even though, neither myth nor act matters in actual sexual gratification, yet quite in overriding emotions of disgrace and the dread of retribution, rather within the type of castration.' (Spielvogel, O. 'The questioned Penis', Internationale Zeitschrift fur Psychoanalyse, Vol. XXIV, p. 909.) it's believed by means of Spielvogel that a number of the signs could be traced to the bonds acquiring within the mother-child courting.

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That is, in fact, “layman” can be read not only as the person to whom Religio Laici is addressed but also as the position of the 38 020 ch2 (27-46) 8/21/05 4:57 PM Page 39 t h e r e n a i s s a n c e b a s i s o f t h e e s s ay poet: he thus distinguishes between the cleric or professional and persons like himself: The few, by Nature form’d, with Learning fraught, Born to instruct, as others to be taught, Must Study well the Sacred Page; and see Which Doctrine, this, or that, does best agree With the whole Tenour of the Work Divine: And plainlyest points to Heaven’s reveal’d Design: Which Exposition flows from genuine Sense; And which is forc’d by Wit and Eloquence.

What the Reformation wrought reveals much about the Renaissance and the epochal shifts that soon followed. I know of no clearer or sharper account of the issues that were at stake in the Reformation as it relates to the essay than John Dryden’s Religio Laici or A Laymans Faith, in which you can feel the lingering effects of the English civil war and of the Puritan experiment, offspring of the Reformation. Dryden paints an unflattering picture of the Catholic absolutism and corruption that led to Luther’s reform efforts.

The reserve of these last words finds its mark, chilling the reader. Belloc then turns positive: “But the good mower who does things just as they should be done and have been for a hundred thousand years, falls into none of these fooleries. ”19 Such thematically resonant and rhetorically magnificent passages sneak up on you in Belloc’s essay; you expect neither such elegance nor such grandeur of thought. And in fact, the manner here—this sneakiness—better describes the essay’s procedure generally than does irony.

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