Paul Goodman (writer)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Paul Goodman
Paul Goodman.jpg
Goodman in 1959
Born (1911-09-09)September 9, 1911
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died August 2, 1972(1972-08-02) (aged 60)
North Stratford, New Hampshire, U.S.
Occupation Writer

Paul Goodman (/ˈɡʊdmən/; September 9, 1911 – August 2, 1972) was an American novelist, playwright, poet and psychotherapist, although now best known as a social critic, anarchist philosopher, and public intellectual. Though often thought of as a sociologist, he vehemently denied being one in a presentation in the Experimental College at San Francisco State in 1964, and in fact said he could not read sociology because it was too often lifeless. The author of dozens of books including Growing Up Absurd and The Community of Scholars, Goodman was an activist on the pacifist Left in the 1960s and a frequently cited inspiration to the student movement of that decade. A lay therapist for a number of years, he was a co-founder of Gestalt Therapy in the 1940s and 1950s.

Early life[edit]

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.[1][2] His brother Percival Goodman, with whom Paul occasionally collaborated, was an architect especially noted for his many synagogue designs.[3]

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 PhD work at the University of Chicago in 193[9?]. (He was not officially awarded his PhD until 1953, for a dissertation which was later published by the University of Chicago Press as The Structure of Literature.)

In 1940, Goodman was removed from his University of Chicago faculty position for issues pertaining to his open bisexuality and affairs with students.[4]


Goodman was a prolific writer of essays, fiction, plays, and poetry. Although he began writing short stories by 1932, his first novel, The Grand Piano, was not published until 1942. It was later subsumed as Book One of his longest novel, The Empire City, which he continued to publish in sections until it was finally issued in one volume by Bobbs-Merrill in 1959.

In the mid-1940s, together with C. Wright Mills and others, he contributed to Politics, the journal edited during the 1940s by Dwight Macdonald.[5] In 1947, he published two books, Kafka's Prayer, a study of Franz Kafka, and Communitas, a classic study of urban design co-authored with his brother Percival Goodman. Though he continued to write and publish regularly throughout the next two decades, a wider audience, and a degree of public recognition, came only with the 1960 publication of his Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized Society.

Goodman knew and worked with many of the so-called 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.[6]

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 – who were 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[citation needed].

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. He was survived by his second wife, Sally, as well as two daughters.[7]


While Goodman himself described his politics as anarchist, his sexuality as bisexual, and his profession as that of "man of letters"[citation needed], 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."

On education[edit]

Paul Goodman was an outspoken critic of contemporary educational systems as can be seen in his books Growing Up Absurd and Compulsory Mis-education. Goodman believed that in contemporary societies "It is in the schools and from the mass media, rather than at home or from their friends, that the mass of our citizens in all classes learn that life is inevitably routine, depersonalized, venally graded; that it is best to toe the mark and shut up; that there is no place for spontaneity, open sexuality and free spirit. Trained in the schools they go on to the same quality of jobs, culture and politics. This is education, miseducation socializing to the national norms and regimenting to the nation's 'needs'".[8]

Goodman thought that a person's most valuable educational experiences occur outside the school. Participation in the activities of society should be the chief means of learning. Instead of requiring students to succumb to the theoretical drudgery of textbook learning, Goodman recommends that education be transferred into factories, museums, parks, department stores, etc., where the students can actively participate in their education... The ideal schools would take the form of small discussion groups of no more than twenty individuals. As has been indicated, these groups would utilize any effective environment that would be relevant to the interest of the group. Such education would be necessarily non-compulsory, for any compulsion to attend places authority in an external body disassociated from the needs and aspirations of the students. Moreover, compulsion retards and impedes the students' ability to learn."[8]

Radical politics[edit]

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.[9] The book further situated the drama of the tumultuous 1960s in the larger context of what Goodman called "the disease of modern times".[9] 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."[9]

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.'"[9]

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".[10] 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.

In 1968, Goodman signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[11]


The freedom with which he revealed, in print and in public, his romantic and sexual relations with men (notably in a late essay, "Being Queer"[12]), proved to be one of the many important cultural springboards for the emerging gay liberation movement of the early 1970s. He viewed sexual relationships between males as 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."

Paul Goodman Changed My Life[edit]

In October 2011, a biographical documentary film Paul Goodman Changed My Life by Jonathan Lee was released.[13]

Complete works[edit]

Secondary literature[edit]

  • Stoehr, Taylor, Here, Now, Next: Paul Goodman and the Origins of Gestalt Therapy.
  • Widmer, Kingsely, 1980. Paul Goodman. Twayne.
  • Nicely, Tom, 1979. Adam & His Work: a bibliography of sources by and about Paul Goodman (1911–1972). Scarecrow Press.
  • "On Paul Goodman", in "Under the Sign of Saturn: Essays" by Susan Sontag (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1980)
  • "Artist of the Actual: Essays on Paul Goodman," edited by Peter Parisi (Metuchen, NJ, Scarecrow Press, 1986).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Leonard Rogoff, "Paul Goodman" in Joel Shatzky & Michael Taub, eds., Contemporary Jewish-American Novelists (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997), ISBN 978-0-313-29462-4, p.128, excerpt available at Google Books.
  2. ^ Biography of Paul Goodman in Jules Chametzky, John Felstiner, Hilene Flanzbaum eds.,Jewish American Literature: a Norton Anthology (W. W. Norton & Company, 2000), ISBN 978-0-393-04809-4, p.522 (excerpt available at Google Books.)
  3. ^ Michael Z. Wise, "America's Most Prolific Synagogue Architect," The Forward, March 9, 2001.
  4. ^ Turner, C. (2011). "7". Adventures in the Orgasmatron: How the Sexual Revolution Came to America. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9781429967488. Retrieved September 9, 2013. 
  5. ^ TIME April 4, 1994 Volume 143, No. 14 – "Biographical sketch of Dwight Macdonald" by John Elson (Accessed December 4, 2008)
  6. ^ John B. Judis, "The Relevance of Paul Goodman" (retrieved November 28, 2009).
  7. ^ Henthoff, Nat; et al. (Winter 1972–1973), The Legacy of Paul Goodman, Change (Heldref Publications) 4 (10), JSTOR 40161622. 
  8. ^ a b "ROBERT H. CHAPPELL. ANARCHY REVISITED: AN INQUIRY INTO THE PUBLIC EDUCATION DILEMMA. Journal of Libertarian Studies Vol. 2, No.4, pp 357–372 Pergamon Press. 1978." (PDF). Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  9. ^ a b c d Goodman, Paul (1970), New Reformation: Notes of a Neolithic Conservative, Random House 
  10. ^ Cooper, David, ed. (1968), The Dialectics of Liberation (– Scholar search), Penguin [dead link].
  11. ^ "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" January 30, 1968 New York Post
  12. ^ Goodman, Paul (1994), "Being Queer", in Stoehr, Taylor, Crazy Hope and Finite Experience: Final Essays of Paul Goodman, Routledge, p. 103, ISBN 0-88163-266-X 
  13. ^ Paul Goodman Changed My Life (2011) New York Times Review October 18, 2011

External links[edit]