Paul Goodman (writer)
|Born||September 9, 1911
New York City, U.S.
|Died||August 2, 1972 (aged 60)
North Stratford, New Hampshire, U.S.
Paul Goodman (September 9, 1911 – August 2, 1972) was an American sociologist, poet, writer, anarchist, and public intellectual. Goodman is now mainly remembered as the author of Growing Up Absurd (1960) and an activist on the pacifist Left in the 1960s and an inspiration to that era's student movement. He is less remembered as a co-founder of Gestalt Therapy in the 1940s and '50s.
Goodman was born in New York City to Barnett and Augusta Goodman, both immigrants. He had a Hebrew school education, and graduated first in his class at Townsend Harris High School.  His brother Percival Goodman, with whom Paul frequently worked, was an architect especially noted for his many synagogue designs.
As a child, Goodman freely roamed the streets and public libraries of his native New York City, experiences which later inspired his radical concept of "the educative city". He graduated from The City College of New York in 1932 and completed his Ph.D. work at the University of Chicago in 193[9?]. (He was not officially awarded his Ph.D. until 1953, for the dissertation which was later published by the University of Chicago as The Structure of Literature.)
Goodman was a prolific writer of essays, fiction and poetry. Although he had been writing short stories since 1932, his first novel, The Grand Piano, was published in 1942.
In the mid-1940s, together with C. Wright Mills, he contributed to Politics, the journal edited during the 1940s by Dwight Macdonald. In 1947, he published two books, Kafka's Prayer and Communitas, a classic study of urban design coauthored with his brother Percival Goodman. Fame came only with the 1960 publication of his Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized System.
Goodman also knew and worked with other leading New York intellectuals, including Daniel Bell, Norman Mailer, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, Norman Podhoretz, Mary McCarthy, Lionel Trilling, and Philip Rahv. In addition to Politics, his writings appeared in Partisan Review, The New Republic, Commentary, The New Leader, Dissent and The New York Review of Books.
Goodman was strongly influenced by Otto Rank's "here-and-now" approach to psychotherapy, fundamental to Gestalt therapy, as well as Rank's post-Freudian book Art and Artist (1932). In the late 1940s, Fritz Perls asked Goodman to write up the notes which were to become the seminal work for the new therapy, Part II of Perls, Goodman, and Hefferline (1951) Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality. A year later, Goodman would become one of the Group of Seven - Fritz and Laura Perls, Isadore From, Goodman, Elliot Shapiro, Paul Weiss, Richard Kitzler - the founding members of the New York Institute for Gestalt Therapy.
Goodman wrote on a wide variety of subjects; including education, Gestalt Therapy, city life and urban design, children's rights, politics, literary criticism, and many more. In an interview with Studs Terkel, Goodman said "I might seem to have a number of divergent interests – community planning, psychotherapy, education, politics – but they are all one concern: how to make it possible to grow up as a human being into a culture without losing nature. I simply refuse to acknowledge that a sensible and honorable community does not exist."
He was equally at home with the avant-garde and with classical texts, and his fiction often mixes formal and experimental styles. The style and subject matter of Goodman's short stories influenced those of Guy Davenport.
In 1967, Goodman's son Matthew died in a mountain climbing accident. Paul's friends claimed that he never recovered from the resulting grief, and his health began to deteriorate. He died of a heart attack at his farm in New Hampshire just before his 61st birthday.
While Goodman himself described his politics as anarchist, his love as bisexual, and his profession as that of "man of letters", Hayden Carruth wrote "Any page of Paul Goodman will give you not only originality and brilliance but wisdom – that is, something to think about. He is our peculiar, urban, twentieth-century Thoreau, the quintessential American mind of our time."
The freedom with which he revealed, in print and in public, his homosexual life and loves (notably in a late essay, "Being Queer"), proved to be one of the many important cultural springboards for the emerging gay liberation movement of the early 1970s. However, his own views ran counter to the modern construction of homosexuality; it was his view that sexual relationships between males were natural, normal, and healthy. In discussing his own sexual relationships, he acknowledged that public opinion would condemn him, but countered that "what is really obscene is the way our society makes us feel shameful and like criminals for doing human things that we really need."
After having been a strong advocate of the student movement during most of the 1960s, Goodman eventually became a staunch critic of the ideological harshness the New Left embraced toward the end of the decade. In New Reformation (1970), his tenth book of social criticism, he argued that the "alienation" and existential rage of 1960s youth had usurped all their worthwhile political goals (e.g., the Port Huron Statement), and that therefore their tactics had become destructive. The book further situated the drama of the tumultuous 1960s in the larger context of what Goodman called "the disease of modern times". In drawing this parallel between young people's socio-historical consciousness and their political activism, Goodman made an early contribution to the argument that the philosophical underpinnings of the New Left were largely informed by postwar disenchantment with Enlightenment conceptions of science, technology, truth, knowledge, and power relations.
For instance, after a hostile exchange with student radicals who had heckled him "heatedly and rudely" at a campus appearance in 1967, Goodman wrote, "suddenly I realized that they did not believe there was a nature of things. [To them] there was no knowledge but only the sociology of knowledge. They had learned so well that physical and sociological research is subsidized and conducted for the benefit of the ruling class that they were doubtful that there was such a thing as simple truth, for instance that the table was made of wood--maybe it was plastic imitation...I had imagined that the worldwide student protest had to do with changing political and moral institutions, and I was sympathetic to this. But I now saw that we had to do with a religious crisis. Not only all institutions but all learning had been corrupted by the Whore of Babylon, and there was no longer any salvation to be got from Works."
After a life of revolutionary revelry and social criticism, Goodman's likening of the youth revolt in the 1960s to the Protestant Reformation of 1517 made up the crux of his belief about American modernity in the late 1960s: "It is evident that, at present, we are not going to give up the mass faith in scientific technology that is the religion of modern times; and yet we cannot continue with it, as it has been perverted. So I look for a 'New Reformation.'"
Goodman participated at the 1967 Congress on the Dialectics of Liberation, held in London and coordinated by South African psychiatrist David Cooper. The Congress aimed at "creating a genuine revolutionary consciousness by fusing ideology and action on the levels of the individual and of mass society". Goodman's views on politics, social psychology, and society could be usefully compared and contrasted with those of fellow attendees Herbert Marcuse and R. D. Laing, and with those of Norman O. Brown.
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