Paul Goodman

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Paul Goodman
File:Paul Goodman.jpg
Goodman in 1959
Born (1911-09-09)September 9, 1911
Greenwich Village, New York, U.S.
Died August 2, 1972(1972-08-02)
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 and career

Paul Goodman was born to Augusta and Barnette Goodman, Americans of German, Jewish, and middle-class heritage, on September 9, 1911 in New York City. His father left the family prior to his birth, making Paul their fourth and last child, after Alice (1902) and Percival (1904). Their mother worked to support the family as a women's clothes traveling saleswoman, which left Goodman to be raised mostly by his aunts and sister in New York City.[1]

Goodman attended New York City public schools, where he was a "good student" and came to associate himself with Manhattan.[1] He also went to Hebrew school. Goodman performed well in literature and languages during his time at Townsend Harris Hall High School, and graduated in 1927. He started at City College of New York the same year, where Goodman majored in philosophy, was influenced by philosopher Morris Raphael Cohen, and found an intellectual circle of what would be lifelong friends. He graduated with a bachelor's in 1931.[1]

Goodman wanted to make a career as a writer and so lived with his sister Alice while writing poems, plays, and stories. He did not keep a regular job, but taught drama at a Zionist youth camp during the summers 1934 through 1936, and audited Columbia University graduate philosophy classes. In 1936, Goodman became a literature and philosophy graduate student at the University of Chicago. He served as a research assistant and part-time instructor before taking his prelims in literature in 1940. Goodman was an active bisexual by this part of his life, though he entered a common law marriage with Virginia Miller between 1938 and 1943 and begat a daughter, Susan, in 1939. In 1940, he returned to writing in New York and was published in Partisan Review. His first novel, The Grand Piano (later designated as Book One of The Empire City) was published in 1942, and he and Virginia Miller split in 1943.[1] He taught at Manumit, a progressive boarding school, in 1943 and 1944 and was let go for "homosexual behavior".[2] Goodman was deferred and rejected from the World War II draft. In 1945, he published a book of stories as The Facts of Life and appeared in libertarian journals such as Politics, Why?, and Retort as he started to develop his thoughts on anarchism. The same year, Goodman started what would become a 27-year common law marriage with Sally Duchsten, a secretary, that would last until his death. Their son, Mathew Ready, was born in 1946.[2]

In 1946, Goodman began to participate in psychoanalytic therapy and was a popular yet "marginal" figure in New York bohemia.[2] He published the novel The State of Nature (later to become Book II of The Empire City) and the book of anarchist and aesthetic essays Art and Social Nature. The next year, he published Communitas, a book on urban planning written with his brother Percival, and the academic book Kafka's Prayer. He spent 1948 and 1949 writing in New York and published The Break-Up of Our Camp, stories from his experience working at summer camp. In the early 1950s, he continued with his psychoanalytic sessions and began his own occasional practice, which he continued through 1960. He published Gestalt Therapy with Fritz Perls and Ralph Hefferline in 1951. He also continued to write and published two novels: the 1950 The Dead of Spring (later to become Book III of The Empire City) and the 1951 Parent's Day. Goodman taught in Black Mountain College and was dismissed for reasons related to his bisexuality.[2] He returned to his writing and therapy practice in New York City in 1951 and finished his University of Chicago literature dissertation, The Structure of Literature, in 1954. Throughout the late 1950s, Goodman continued to publish in journals including Commentary, Dissent, Liberation, and The Kenyon Review. The Living Theatre staged his theatrical work. A comprehensive edition of Goodman's multi-volume novel The Empire City was published in 1959.[2]

Goodman became famous with his 1960 social criticism book Growing Up Absurd, which in turn brought him wealth and academic opportunities. He purchased a farm outside of North Stratford, New Hampshire, which he used as an occasional home.[2] In the next decade, he published multiple books of social criticism and literature while teaching in a variety of academic institutions. He first taught at Sarah Lawrence College and published Our Visit to Niagara, a collection of sketch stories. In 1962, he released his critique of academia (The Community of Scholars), and collections of both his poetry (The Lordly Hudson) and his previous articles (Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals). Goodman had a daughter, Daisy, in 1963 and became a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He published his "memoir-novel" Making Do that year, followed by Compulsory Mis-education in 1964 and People or Personnel, a treatise on decentralization, in 1965. Goodman participated in the 1960s counterculture war protests and draft resistance while continuing to lecture. Students invited him to teach at San Francisco State College in 1966.[3]

His son, Mathew, died in a mountaineering accident in 1967, which led to a prolonged depression. He taught in London and at the University of Hawaii, and produced a collection of critical broadcasts he had given in Canada as Like a Conquered Province, a set of stories as Adam and His Works, and another poetry book, Hawkweed. In the early 70s, he wrote New Reformation, Speaking and Language, and Little Prayers & Finite Experience. His health began to fail due to a heart condition, and he died of a heart attack in New Hampshire on August 2, 1972. Little Prayers and a collection of his poetry that he had been compiling were both published after his death.[3]

Early life

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.[4][5] His brother Percival Goodman, with whom Paul occasionally collaborated, was an architect especially noted for his many synagogue designs.[6]

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.[7]


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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10]


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

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'".[11]

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."[11]

Radical politics

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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.[12] The book further situated the drama of the tumultuous 1960s in the larger context of what Goodman called "the disease of modern times".[12] 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."[12]

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.'"[12]

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".[13] 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.[14]


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"[15]), 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

In October 2011, a biographical documentary film Paul Goodman Changed My Life by Jonathan Lee was released.[16]

Complete works

Secondary literature

  • 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

Notes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Widmer 1980, p. 13.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Widmer 1980, p. 14.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Widmer 1980, p. 15.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.)
  6. Michael Z. Wise, "America's Most Prolific Synagogue Architect," The Forward, March 9, 2001.
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  8. TIME April 4, 1994 Volume 143, No. 14 – "Biographical sketch of Dwight Macdonald" by John Elson (Accessed December 4, 2008)
  9. John B. Judis, "The Relevance of Paul Goodman" (retrieved November 28, 2009).
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  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
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  14. "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" January 30, 1968 New York Post
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  16. Paul Goodman Changed My Life (2011) New York Times Review October 18, 2011
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External links