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Goodman, Paul

GOODMAN, Paul

(b. 9 September 1911 in New York City; d. 3 August 1972 in North Stratford, New Hampshire), writer and activist whose essays in Growing Up Absurd (1960) helped to set the tone for the prevailing attitude of discontent among American youth in the 1960s.

Goodman was one of three children born to Barnett and Augusta Goodman. After experiencing a business failure, his father, a German-Jewish immigrant, deserted the family. Their sudden impoverishment forced a move from New York City's Greenwich Village to a cheap apartment on the Upper East Side, and Goodman's mother later took a job in sales that required her to travel. As a result, he was largely raised by maternal aunts and his older sister.

In addition to studying at a Hebrew school, Goodman attended Townsend Harris High School, a public institution for gifted students. He graduated at the top of his class in 1927. At the City College of New York, he studied under the liberal philosopher Morris Raphael Cohen and absorbed the writings of the nineteenth-century Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin. After graduating with honors with a degree in philosophy in 1931, Goodman attended classes at both Columbia University in New York City and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, without officially enrolling. Later, he entered the graduate program at the University of Chicago, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1940. However, due to lack of funds, a problem that would plague Goodman throughout the first five decades of his life, he could not afford to meet all the requirements for receiving his degree until 1954.

In 1938 Goodman entered into a common-law marriage with Virginia Miller. The two, who remained together until 1943, had a daughter in 1939. In 1945 Goodman married his occasional secretary, Sally Duchsten, with whom he had a son in 1946 and a daughter in 1963. They remained together for the rest of Goodman's life, but this, too, was a marriage under common law. Goodman refused on principle to obtain a marriage license: "I don't believe that people's sexual lives are any business of the state," he explained. "To license sex is absurd."

During the 1940s and 1950s Goodman published seven novels (one of these, The Empire City in 1959, was actually a tetralogy), four volumes of poetry, and seven works of nonfiction. Each of these, and particularly the nonfiction, constituted a building block in Goodman's emerging vision of society. For example, Communitas (1947, revised 1960), which he cowrote with his younger brother, an architect, presented a utopian vision of community and urban planning.

Goodman's radicalism, which had not been far from the intellectual mainstream in the 1930s, became decidedly un-fashionable with the coming of World War II and the subsequent cold war. This philosophy, along with Goodman's unconventional lifestyle (he was openly bisexual), condemned him to a series of dismissals from jobs and forced his family to live at or below the poverty line. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, he lost a job as an occasional film critic for the Partisan Review because of his bi-sexuality and his opposition to the draft. His outspokenness regarding his lifestyle also led to dismissals from teaching positions at the Manumit School of Progressive Education in New York City in 1942, and from the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1950. During those troubled years, he earned a part-time income as a lay therapist at the New York Institute of Gestalt Therapy; this work, combined with occasional teaching at New York University, helped to support his family. More often than not, however, his wife's secretarial income kept them fed and housed.

The characteristics that made Goodman an outcast in the 1940s and 1950s, ironically, placed him at the cultural forefront during the 1960s. The decade also brought him the fame and even commercial success that had eluded the forty-nine-year-old Goodman prior to 1960. Instrumental to this turnaround was Growing Up Absurd, a loose collection of essays that had been rejected by a dozen publishers (including the one that commissioned it) before Commentary agreed to serialize it. Random House picked it up, and Goodman suddenly found himself with a nationwide audience.

It is hard to imagine a book more suited to its time than Growing Up Absurd, a work that epitomizes the discontent with 1950s normality then on the rise among certain American youths. Goodman assailed what he called "the organized system": capitalism, bureaucracy, and especially educational institutions. Setting the tone for the distrust of "the system" that would become rampant in the decade that followed, Goodman argued such bastions of repression served to stifle the basically generous and creative impulses in the human spirit.

With the success of Growing Up Absurd, Goodman suddenly found himself bombarded with publishing offers, and his record of publications from the 1960s reflects the change. In 1960, before crossing the watershed of his career, Goodman's Day, and Other Poems was privately printed. By contrast, Macmillan and Random House respectively issued The Lordly Hudson: Collected Poems (1962), and Hawkweed (1967). The same pattern occurred with his fiction: Horizon Press released a story collection called Our Visit to Niagara in 1960, but Macmillan took on the novel Making Do in 1963, and Random House issued the story collection Adam and His Works in 1968.

Yet Goodman's greatest strength, and his most prolific output, lay in his nonfiction. In addition to his breakthrough essay collection and the revised Communitas, Goodman published ten other nonfiction works during the decade. With a great deal of unpublished material to draw from, and with his writing suddenly in great demand, he availed himself of the opportunities the moment afforded, and in 1962 alone published three nonfiction books: The Community of Scholars, Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals, and Drawing the Line.

The tone of Compulsory Mis-Education (1964) is typical of Goodman's confrontational style in assessing the woes of Western society in general, and education in particular. "[I]n the tender grades," he wrote, "the schools are a babysitting service.… In the junior and senior grades, they are an arm of the police, providing cops and concentration camps." He went on to argue that the purpose of schools is actually "to provide apprentice training for corporations, government, and the teaching profession itself, and to train the young to adjust to authority."

The year 1964 also saw the rise of the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley. Heavily influenced by Goodman, leaders of the movement regularly quoted his writings. For his part, Goodman praised the Berkeley environment as a laboratory for radicalism and anarchism. He lectured there occasionally, and in 1966 he taught at the Experimental College of San Francisco State College. In 1963 he served as the first visiting fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, a radical think tank founded that year.

Goodman edited the pacifist journal Liberation from 1962 to 1969, and, with the writer Grace Paley and the photojournalist Karl Bissinger, helped to form a New York City branch of the anti–Vietnam War organization Resist. His involvement in the antiwar movement became deeply personal in 1967 when his son turned twenty-one, the age at which federal law required that he register for the draft. Instead of complying, Goodman's son participated in the first mass burning of draft cards in New York. His case was under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation when he was killed during a mountain-climbing accident on 8 August 1967. Understandably devastated by the loss of his son, Goodman became much more deeply involved in the antiwar movement, often participating in demonstrations and being arrested.

His successes as a writer in the 1960s provided Goodman with an unaccustomed measure of economic freedom that made it possible for him to purchase a farm in North Stratford, where, aside from a stint at the University of Hawaii (1971 to 1972), he spent much of his remaining life. During that time, he continued to write, publish, and lecture widely. His other nonfiction works from the 1960s include The Society I Live in Is Mine (1963); People or Personnel: Decentralizing and the Mixed System (1965); Five Years: Thoughts During a Useless Time (1967), a partial autobiography; Like a Conquered Province: The Moral Ambiguity of America (1967); The Individual and Culture (1969); and The Open Look (1969). Goodman suffered a heart attack and died at his home. He is buried in Stratford Center Cemetery in Stratford, New Hampshire.

Although he is remembered as a radical, Goodman is not easily classified politically. He once said that in his libertarianism, his views sometimes veered close to those held by the radical right. He also refused to let his antipathy toward aspects of U.S. society and government sour him on what he once praised as "our beautiful, pluralist, and populist experiment" in democracy. During the latter part of his career, Goodman became increasingly disillusioned at some of the excesses taking place partly in the name of ideas he had helped to pioneer. His The New Reformation: Notes of a Neolithic Conservative (1970), a critique of the anti-intellectualism growing within the student movement, serves to illustrate his political independence. By the mid-1960s some student radicals had reacted by dismissing him as a "bourgeois individualist," yet many years later Todd Gitlin, the former president of the radical Students for a Democratic Society, remembered him warmly: "We loved him for his bad manners," Gitlin wrote. "He was the insider's outsider, enormously learned yet economically and socially a man of the margins."

For a full-length biography of Goodman, see Kingsley Widmer, Paul Goodman (1980). Biographical insights may be found in Richard Kostelanetz, Master Minds (1969), and Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (1987). Artist of the Actual: Essays on Paul Goodman (1986), Peter Parisi, ed., deals with Good-man's ideas as a whole, and his psychology is addressed in Taylor Stoehr, Here Now Next: Paul Goodman and the Origins of Gestalt Therapy (1994). See also Tom Nicely, Adam and His Work: A Bibliography of Sources by and About Paul Goodman (1979). An obituary is in the New York Times (4 Aug. 1972).

Judson Knight

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