Dec/Jan 2011

Arrested Development

The incredible shrinking legacy of a 1960s culture hero

Kerry Howley

The Paul Goodman Reader

by Paul Goodman

$28.95 List Price

For more info visit:
Amazon • IndieBound • Barnes & Noble

The Paul Goodman Reader

by Paul Goodman

$28.95 List Price

For more info visit:
Amazon • IndieBound • Barnes & Noble

Almost everything written about Paul Goodman refers to him as a "man of letters," a designation interesting only in that it indicates a terrific triumph of self-branding. Goodman very much enjoyed calling himself a man of letters, or sometimes an "old-fashioned man of letters," so stated with an air of declinist resignation, and could be counted on to complain if described as anything less. He produced essays with titles like "The Present Plight of a Man of Letters," the gist of which was that the plight was rather taxing, and that they don't make 'em like Paul Goodman anymore.

Perhaps they don't. Few today would call themselves playwright, poet, novelist, urban planner, media critic, classicist, activist, and primary-education expert, though it is Goodman's insistent sexuality that places him so singularly in the 1960s. Too disruptive to be long attached to any university or institution, Goodman is principally remembered as the author of Growing Up Absurd (1960) and as a cantankerous Jewish intellectual of the New Left. There was a time when he was everywhere, often as one among many in some literary salon, occasionally playing the role of leading man. On a 1966 episode of Firing Line, a deadpan Bill Buckley introduced Goodman as an "a bisexualist, a poverty cultist, an anarchist." Shrouded in ribbons of pipe smoke, ruffled like a runaway child, he objected—mildly—to "poverty cultist" before proceeding to argue for the abolition of public schools.

Click to enlarge

Illustration by Demetrios Psillos.

I saw that Firing Line bit in a trailer for a 2010 documentary called Paul Goodman Changed My Life, produced by Jonathan Lee and populated with reverent souls who feel he has been unjustly forgotten. The man did, after all, hang around plenty of people—Norman Mailer, Mary McCarthy, Grace Paley—better served by historical memory. Susan Sontag called Goodman "our Sartre," though he was unfailingly rude to her, civility never having been his strong point. The anarchist Dwight Macdonald reports that at parties Goodman would scout the crowd for "young fans" and "bathe in their na´ve adulation," while spurning the company of everyone his own age.

Gracious guest or otherwise, Goodman was someone you invited to your party, just as you sought his presence at your protest and asked him to speechify at your sit-in. To consort with the author of Growing Up Absurd was to suggest that you, too, were your own person, beholden to no convention, tied to no tired establishment consensus. Said to be the only book regularly quoted by UC Berkeley protesters during the free-speech movement, Growing Up Absurd inspired fierce gratitude in university students of the '60s, who took the attack on the "organized system" to be an intellectual defense of their rebellion. To the charge that disaffected youth simply needed better socialization, a fifty-year-old Goodman asked, "Socialization to what?" To ten hours a day with a sloganeering team of corporate puppets? To participation in the "world-wide demented enterprise" known as the American military? Having failed to justify their ways to young men, Goodman argued, grown-ups had cultivated the very anomie they so loudly lamented.

Students eventually turned on Goodman, perhaps because they made the mistake of actually reading, rather than simply quoting, Growing Up Absurd and found its normative view of a meaningful life unduly constrained. But what they initially saw, and quite rightly admired, was a man who refused to accept life's choices as they were given. Asked to choose between a war-addicted democratic establishment and Soviet Communism, Goodman chose anarchism. Asked to choose between men and women, he elected to marry twice—while continuing to proposition attractive young men. Asked to give a talk to the National Security Industrial Association in the State Department auditorium, a forum in which even most antiwar types might begin with some pretense of courtesy, Goodman chose to address his crowd as "you people":

You people are unfitted by your commitments, your experience, your customary methods, your recruitment, and your moral disposition. You are the military industrial of the United States, the most dangerous body of men at the present in the world, for you not only implement our disastrous policies but are an overwhelming lobby for them, and you expand and rigidify the wrong use of brains, resources, and labor so that change becomes difficult. Most likely the trends you represent will be interrupted by a shambles of riots, alienation, ecological catastrophes, wars, and revolutions, so that current long-range planning, including this conference, is irrelevant.

As a libertarian in unlibertarian times, Goodman feared war, bureaucracy, and what he called "acquiescence to the social machine." Process is a verb one comes across frequently in Goodman's writing. Governments process full-bodied humans into soldiers; corporations process them into personnel. Public schools process children into obedient cogs. Individual initiative, he believed, was nearly always wasted, and technocracy threatened to waste it ever more expeditiously in the service of the state. The town meeting championed by Thomas Jefferson and the kind of mutual exchange championed by Adam Smith were, in his view, beautiful instances of human flourishing, but both the market and the government had become so complex that individuals were lost, squandered, processed. Everything, Goodman was fond of saying, had sprawled beyond "human scale."

Goodman had a lot of ideas, dozens and dozens of books full of ideas, about how to reclaim human life from the haze of bureaucratic abstraction. Many of these verged on the crackpot—though when Goodman gave up prescribing and stuck merely to describing, he could articulate a clear-eyed vision of a life well lived. Somewhere he describes a decent community as one in which a crazy old lady can wander the neighborhood without fear of being put away, which is as good a description as I have read. He longed to replace process with emotion: more fistfights, more orgasms, more draft cards lit afire in a show of public rage. Most everyone, he thought, could benefit from more casual sex, especially adolescents, who suffered from "excessive stimulation and inadequate discharge."

In service of this point, he regularly seduced his male students and proudly admitted as much. He would, as the composer Ned Rorem tells it in the film, make "passes at literally everybody. I mean everybody—men and women and people's mothers and the president of the university." The essay "Being Queer" is, if anything, more subversive today than it was in 1969 when Goodman wrote it, declaring that the teacher-student relationship is inherently erotic in character and that anonymous sex is a healthy pursuit. "Although I wish I could have had my parties with less apprehension and more unhurriedly," he writes, "yet it has been an advantage to learn that the ends of docks, the backs of trucks, back alleys, behind the stairs, abandoned bunkers on the beach, and the washrooms of trains are all adequate samples of all the space there is. For both bad and good, homosexual life retains some of the alarm and excitement of childish sexuality. It is damaging for societies to check any spontaneous vitality. Sometimes it is necessary, but rarely; and certainly not homosexual acts which, so far as I have heard, have never done any harm to anybody."

The anarchist-friendly publisher PM Press has reissued a number of books authored by Goodman—an indiscretion that his fans have long feared. "Certainly," wrote critic Kingsley Widmer in his 1980 book on Goodman, "a complete collected works could only be an embarrassing exposure before entombing." Either more or less kindly, Mailer compared "the literary experience of encountering Goodman's style" to "the journeys one undertook in the company of a laundry bag." Judging by New Reformation: Notes of a Neolithic Conservative (1970), Drawing the Line Once Again: Paul Goodman's Anarchist Writings, and The Paul Goodman Reader, plodding through Goodman is considerably less fun than that. When he comes across an interestingly subversive thought, he takes it prisoner, interrogates it endlessly, and tortures the joy out of its expression, leaving it so disfigured as to be unrecognizable to all but the most patient reader. Out of concern less for Goodman's reputation than for the future of American letters—bad prose is catching—I cannot recommend cracking a single spine from among these works, which include plodding, bafflingly structured essays, tin-eared poetry, and didactic plays. Better to read others on Goodman—rarely in history has such a long list of luminaries come together to apologize for a single body of work. "Though he was not often graceful as a writer," Sontag observed in tribute, "his writing and his mind were touched with grace."

The opening essay in New Reformation takes as its subject the perversion of scientific discovery by government, for example in the Manhattan Project. By turns maddeningly vague and pointlessly specific, the piece begins with a dry description of some then-recent university protests, proceeds to the surprising observation that "for three hundred years, science and scientific technology had an unblemished and justified reputation as a wonderful adventure," identifies technology as a "branch of moral philosophy, not of science," and goes on to demand that technologists get into the business of telling people when to renounce their infatuation with technology, as with the overabundance of cars. Space exploration is encouraged ("It must be pursued"). "A complicated system," we learn, "works most efficiently if its parts readjust themselves decentrally"—though then again, "usually there is an advantage in a central clearinghouse of information about the gross total situation." All told, "the most efficient use of Big Science technology for the general health would be to have compulsory biennial check-ups"—though more tonsillitis cases, it is suggested, should be treated in the home. Also: "A question of immense importance for the immediate future is: Which functions should be automated or organized to use business machines, and which should not?" The remaining third of the essay draws a painful analogy to the Protestant Reformation, with tangential references to the "dissident young" and their inability to focus on "the underlying issues of modern times."

Goodman's most passionately held positions—his distrust of the "hidden government" composed of the CIA and FBI, his refusal to trust any party when it came to waging war or safeguarding civil liberties—have, in the abstract, held up very well. But in their execution, his arguments are strangely mimetic of his greatest anxiety—the dissolution of good will under conditions of unmanageable complexity, the ever-growing distance between good intentions and their consequences. The aforementioned essay wants to make a point about the simple romance of human discovery and the way sclerotic institutions pervert that romance. Instead of gently bringing life to the idea, Goodman lurches forward and processes the thought out of existence. He comes across a sun-burnished clementine, disappears into his office, and emerges with a lukewarm glass of SunnyD.

New Reformation records Goodman's break with the student movement—he found college kids increasingly ignorant and ideologically brittle, and they found him excessively bourgeois. But the views he expresses in the book are little different from those he belabored a decade before in Growing Up Absurd. He was never so much supporting university students as psychologizing them, attempting to diagnose what he took to be their monstrous alienation from modern life. In various works, he describes Beat poetry as incompetent, On the Road as artless, and hipsters as the detritus of a civilization bereft of meaning. (If today's student population can learn anything from reading Goodman, it's that hipster-hating precedes them by many years.) In New Reformation, he refers to the students' music as "terribly loud."

Is this the Goodman who mattered? That he was never the genius some took him to be is obvious from a look at any one of these works. He was a guy who wore a lot of tweed, smoked a corncob pipe, and played the part of a serious man. His rumpled outline and earnest demeanor met with some notion of how a public intellectual ought to look, how he ought to behave, what dark soulful depths he ought to plumb while staring meaningfully into the distance. And for a number of people, several of them interviewed for the documentary, Goodman's thoughts converged with their own vague misgivings and validated their refusal to accept the world as it was given them. "I was living in a small Texas town," says a Goodman admirer named Jerl Surratt as he recalls his first encounter with the man's work. "And if I stayed in Texas it just wasn't going to work for me, I had to break away. Paul Goodman was someone who helped strengthen that resolve in me, that ambition." By the time Goodman died, Surratt was already in New York: "I'd read that there was going to be a memorial service. And to be sitting there with his family and people who had also known him intimately, who were men, was a very moving experience, and reinforced for me that I'd made the right decision. I was in a city where these things were possible. Where a life like this could be led."

The sentiment is not Surratt's alone. The most rewarding bit of Drawing the Line Once Again turns out to be editor Taylor Stoehr's introductory reminiscence. Stoehr relates how he found in Goodman a man who had found "another way to live," a man whose refusal to conform could shock a young mind back into its best instincts. Here was "an attitude toward life and the world" that got "into your own bones" and left you transformed. "As if in dialogue with Socrates," he writes, "you felt you were in touch with your own wisdom, like a kind of memory, for the very first time."

Socrates, you will recall, never wrote anything down, while Goodman, in lieu of electing a Plato from among his admirers, spent a lifetime anxiously asserting himself as a writer first and an eccentric second. It is no small thing to have been so consistently contrary to the social and intellectual sweep of one's time. But if it is simply as a man of letters that we must remember Goodman, we won't remember him at all.

Kerry Howley is a senior editor of the literary magazine Defunct and an MFA candidate at the University of Iowa.


December 6, 2010
1:32 am

There are, I think, many ex-culture-heroes from the '60s that deserve this treatment much more than Paul Goodman (hell, Tim Leary or McLuhan alone is worth at least two of him).

It's hard not to see that Goodman's sexuality (for all its progressive queerness) had a noticeably obnoxious quality that constantly corroded the things he cared about, his ill-fated Black Mountain gig being the most obvious example. At the same time, he wasn't the hack pseudo-intellectual this article portrays him as. At his best he was a crisp, lucid, and savage essayist. (Admittedly this does not come through very well in the format of an "X's writings on Y" volume, which rarely fails to make its subjects look like tedious bores.) His notion that anarchism is a kind of tactical attitude with regard to excessively centralized and organized systems, and thus includes Adam Smith as well as flower children, is probably the most redeeming idea produced by anyone in this movement in the last half-century. He even wrote a few genuinely good poems, like this one:

"Bad prose is catching" is the kind of tasteless thing people overly enamored with their own "craft" like to say. Goodman was much better at writing thoughtful, convincing prose than any number of his more respected contemporaries, from Sartre to McLuhan to Debord—and unfortunately their influence on the stylistic repertoire of 2010 has been much greater. Wendell Berry is probably the closest living writer to Goodman in this and many other respects, and I think it would be a fine thing if more people tried to imitate him.

It's difficult for me to evaluate this objectively because of how influenced I was by Goodman's ideas (and, inevitably, how adept I became at ignoring his defects and infelicities). I can only suggest that Goodman is best treated as what he was: a marginal figure who, though in love with the idea of being contrary to his historical moment, in many ways embodied it. His peculiar virtue was his ability to take a good contemporary idea and turn it into something palatable to people in 1910 as well as 2010, both stripping it of its trendy paraphernalia and imbuing it with the kind of lofty spirit that's now being advertised in Levi's commercials. At the same time, someone attempting to live life as a consistent Goodmanite would probably find it hard going, and much of his work does not take the limelight very well at all.


December 6, 2010
3:29 pm

The premise of this review is that Paul Goodman was a fake intellectual: “He was a guy who wore a lot of tweed, smoked a corncob pipe, and played the part of a serious man. His rumpled outline and earnest demeanor met with some notion of how a public intellectual ought to look,” but really, Howley writes, Goodman’s public persona was all artifice. “He was never the genius some took him to be,” and for this reason his influence has been justly forgotten.

It may be that Howley based this conclusion on some cursory reading of the three books supposedly considered in her review. But anyone who has read Goodman with more than simple animus in mind will notice certain defects in her reasoning from the get-go. Yes Goodman was notoriously difficult to deal with. He was sexually promiscuous and intellectually strong-willed. But since when are these indications of literary shallowness, much less evidence that Goodman the artist and writer was terribly unique?

Alongside her ad hominem attack, Howley’s more tangled assertions arise from what is at first a less noticeable sleight of hand. She seems to know nothing of Goodman’s life or thought before the Sixties, nothing of the series of personal and intellectual turning points that infused books like Growing Up Absurd with such moral and political potency—and yet she quotes several people who have clearly done their homework and arrived at a different view of Goodman’s lasting significance. Is there some disconnect here? Are these people simply deluded, simply unable to see through the thin layer of pipe smoke Howley herself is able to penetrate so effortlessly?

In particular, Susan Sontag and Taylor Stoehr are cited to sum up the fact that Goodman was important to a few people if only for a brief period around the 1960s. As Howley blithely puts it, “Goodman’s thoughts converged with their own vague misgivings and validated their refusal to accept the world as it was given them.”

Perhaps she considers this a fair assessment. Perhaps she considers her own experience reading Goodman the only one possible for those not deluded by his artifice. In any case, Howley’s consistent condescension shows that she has completely misunderstood the nature of Goodman’s influence, past and present.

Roughly estimating a very complicated series of events between 1960 to 1969, she presumes she knows precisely why Goodman’s ideas fell out of favor in certain radical quarters and why he remains virtually unknown today: “Students eventually turned on Goodman, perhaps because they made the mistake of reading, rather than simply quoting, Growing Up Absurd and found its normative view of a meaningful life unduly constrained.”

“What?” a serious contemporary reader of Goodman’s work is likely to ask at this point. “Unduly constrained?”

Whether one has spent real time reading Growing Up Absurd or not, it should be evident to all but the most casual student of the 1960s that there is an explicit connection between Goodman’s “normative view” and an event like the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in 1964. The reason Goodman was the only author regularly quoted by the Berkeley protestors—and the reason he was read by many, many others after 1964—is that they were attracted to his normative view of a meaningful life, not repelled by it.

To say that these young people were repelled by Goodman and simply didn’t know it yet is bad, bordering on fraudulent, history. Even those who hadn’t finished reading Growing Up Absurd in 1964 seem to have noticed something Howley misses in 2010. And this is what continues to attract readers to Goodman today.

The essence of Goodman’s normative view, which runs across all his books, is what Taylor Stoehr calls “the anarchist attitude.” Since the 1940s, Goodman’s precise formulation of the age-old libertarian principle—a formulation centered on Aristotle’s tenet “soul is self-moving”—has moved readers to examine the larger social conditions that shape their lives. In many cases, it has helped them change their lives.

Why insult these readers? Why present a poor rendering of history and an obvious hack job in so reputable a forum as Bookforum?

The source of Kerry Howley’s animus toward Paul Goodman can only be speculated upon. What is clear is that this so-called book review is an unfortunate example of willful ignorance wedded to a mysteriously vengeful effort to misunderstand the past.

Michael C. Fisher
Author of the introduction to New Reformation (PM Press, 2010)


December 6, 2010
4:33 pm

I am surprised that Mr. Fisher is so dismissive of the conclusion that Paul Goodman spent his adult life engendering an ethos of courageous nonconformity. It seems to me high praise, but then I am perhaps more sympathetic to Goodman’s ideology than is Mr. Fisher.

The piece in question attempts to argue that Paul Goodman’s prodigious literary output cannot do justice to his legacy. It suggests a repositioning of Goodman in historical memory, from a man who wrote distant, ill-plotted essays to a man who could impart the kind of courage it takes to “break away,” to discover “another way to live.” Mr. Fisher’s conflation of “not intellectual” (whatever that might mean) with “justly forgotten” would seem indicative of the very problem the piece addresses.

Kerry Howley


December 6, 2010
5:31 pm

With friends like these...


December 6, 2010
8:42 pm

"A repositioning"? If only other obscure voices from the recent past might enjoy the fruits of such a generous intention!

What I am dismissive of is scant reading and poor research, which I tried to point out throughout Ms. Howley's piece. Whatever olive branch she wishes to extend to Goodman's legacy by calling herself sympathetic to his ideology (whatever that might mean) in this forum is clearly undermined by the specific arguments she makes in her published article. One need only read it to see what I mean.

I should also like to point out that I said she considers Goodman a fake intellectual, and I quoted her accurately to defend this impression. I did not use the phrase "not intellectual." I try to choose my words carefully when criticizing other writers.

Michael Fisher


December 8, 2010
10:00 pm

Ms. Howley: For this long-time Goodman fan, your review does miss a lot about his work — for example, your characterization of "New Reformation"'s core message is way off.

I was struck by your sympathetic reference to the (indeed terribly loud) headbanging nonsense you call "hipster" music and its literary companions. Somewhere Goodman said he can't be stupider than he is, whereas you apparently can. No doubt you are a big Lou Reed (gag me!) fan . . .

Still, thanks for helping keep his books out there and read.

Tom Rodd

Horatio Morpurgo

December 10, 2010
5:45 pm

Perhaps the title is not Kelly Howley’s own. It certainly establishes a tone which she then maintains through most of the piece, so it’s hard to see how she can now argue that she is ‘sympathetic’ to Goodman’s thought. She must be aware that Goodman taught literature, so why was it ‘self-branding’ when he referred to himself as a ‘man of letters’? He sought to engage with the full range of what he saw around him in his time and place, as the Coleridges and Arnolds had attempted before him. Then why not ‘man of letters’?

Bill Buckley once sneeringly introduced Goodman on a TV show as a ‘bisexualist’ and an anarchist. Goodman ignored it and Howley finds fault with him for this, too. Or, rather, she proceeds with sardonic account of his pipe-smoke and the views on education which he chose to express in response to his interviewer’s bullying.

Howley upbraids him for his ‘bafflingly structured essays’. It is in paragraph 2 of her own effort, be it noted, that she invites the reader to laugh at a figure about whom he or she may know nothing at all. Is this any way to introduce a writer or to start building any kind of serious case? His admirers are said to have been indulging in ‘na´ve adulation’, they were people who hadn’t ‘actually’ read him. Howley dixit. Apparently no evidence is required in support of this assertion. We might expect her – naively, as it turns out – to demonstrate that she, at least, has read him. She claims to have ‘plodded’ through three volumes. She would clearly much rather have been doing something else. One wonders why she didn’t pass this assignment on to someone who was genuinely interested.

OK. Goodman slept around. He was famous for a bit and maybe it went to his head. What I know of his sexual carry-on leaves me ambivalent, too. I haven’t seen the film yet - it might, I suppose, make me even more ambivalent on this score. But is this essay about a writer or about a personality cult? Surely some distinction between those two is possible. Personally I started reading him a few months ago: it’s the books that interest me.

Howley would cast him as a sixties celebrity - someone you asked to 'speechify at your sit-in'. This is glib. The closest she comes to any coherent criticism is in her objection to the ‘maddeningly vague’ ‘New Reformation’. As our governments set about sabotaging yet another climate conference, what is so ‘maddeningly vague’ about the suggestion that technology should be ‘a branch of moral philosophy’? Sounds spot-on to me. As university fees are trebled in England, is it ‘maddeningly vague’ to ask what effect this policy will have on the ability of the young to focus on ‘the underlying issues of modern times’? In whose interests is it that they should no longer be encouraged so to do?

Howley objects to Goodman’s style and I agree that it is sometimes prolix. His theory of language in ‘Gestalt Therapy’ is interesting even if it’s true he doesn’t always live up to it. But if she really believes that his ideas have ‘held up well’, that he ‘quite rightly… refused to accept life’s choices as they were given’, these more sympathetic lines of argument should have been introduced much earlier in the essay, allowing them to influence her main (and, in my view, ill-considered) thesis.

Horatio Morpurgo


December 10, 2010
7:22 pm

Thank you, Horatio.


December 13, 2010
1:59 am

"In various works, he describes Beat poetry as incompetent, On the Road as artless, and hipsters as the detritus of a civilization bereft of meaning."

I agree with him here, but I could never read his stuff. Especially that "New York" novel, that I forget the name of, very dull writing.


December 13, 2010
10:28 am

I agree that his prose is pretty unreadable these days, and, like many people who have written a lot of poetry, he wrote a lot of bad poetry - but no one wrote better political or occasional sonnets than Goodman: "Flags, 1967" is heart-breaking still, as are the sonnets on the Soviet Union and then the US resuming nuclear testing after a brief pause. "October 4, 1957," on the launching of the first Sputnik, is perhaps the best celebration of the opening of the space age (is it closed, now?).

BTW, Denise Levertov, no fan of formalism, called his sonnets "among the few readable" of the last century. I think her taste too narrow, but certainly agree there's not much better.


December 13, 2010
5:33 pm

Goodman's two books on literature, The Structure of Literature, and Speaking and Language, are readable and worth reading. The former is Aristotelian, and its rather sad that that sensible approach to literature lost out to new criticism and later interpretive pyrotechnics that ignore what makes poems good and replaces it with making poems mean and mean and mean.


December 13, 2010
9:32 pm

To have written about Paul Goodman at such length and not mention his book, Communitas, written with his brother, is, how shall I put it? Let's say, in the interest of not being insulting, weird. In the light of the divine ideas developed in this book, we should want to describe him, not as a "libertarian" but as a social anarchist. The difference is huge.


December 14, 2010
3:00 pm

What an appalling article. The tone is so snarky, cheap, and prejudicial that one can't begin to take any of the argument seriously — why give this author the time?

Norman Mailer, Mary McCarthy, Grace Paley are "better served by historical memory" than Paul Goodman? What does this mean?? Norman Mailer just died, for godsake.

He wore tweed!


December 15, 2010
2:16 am

haworth.larry is correct. Communitas was indeed a striking book on urban planning. While I haven't read it in decades i.e. The Sixties, I remember it as full of many thought-provoking ideas. Maybe I should go back and re-read it. Will Goodman seem blissfully naive? Maybe so. But then again so did John Lennon.

But what really puzzles me is why Ms. Howley is attacking a man who — unfair or not — hasn't been heard of in 30-40 years. Is she launching a pre-emptive attack on an impending revival?


December 16, 2010
8:28 pm

Somehow the exchanges all seem tepid. Without some ref to Goodman's notion of a "natural society" I don't know how one can get near him. Influences there of Wilhelm Reich, I assume, who, with Goodman, argued the human snarls that resulted in repressed sex. But we might equally approach G by thinking back from the present. How did we come to this empty, deathly madness? It's clear that the USA is going down. Might not G's analyses help illuminate that fact?

It would be interesting also to think about what he considered to be free human existence. In the Empire City no one quite succeeds at that, but that's no reason to abandon the notion.

All I really know is that when I was reading him in the early sixties and after he pointed me to a kind of sanity I associated with the kind Blake pointed to. And even the failures of the Empire City people always preserve the necessity of keeping the idea of that sanity alive, even if, in Mynheer's term, such efforts force an encounter with the Horned Dilemma.

When people dismiss G maybe it's because they dismiss any thinking toward a social construction other than we have.



December 17, 2010
2:11 am

Paul Goodman wrote brilliantly about linguistics, Aristotelian formalism, William Carlos Williams, community planning, Kafka, Noh Theatre, the built environment, grading, autopoeisis, and numerous other topics, but I think his real topic is always the human scale, and on this topic Howley . . . 's got nothing. At Iowa they used to teach Paul Goodman, I got onto him because somebody there, Sherman Paul, thought of Goodman as a Thoreauvian man, an independent intellectual – there are too few of them in any period, but in an age of specialization through MFAs, it’s not terribly surprising that the legacy of such a writer/thinker would lag. Goodman has a lovely classical style in his essays, and he’s still a nettlesome voice – we can only feel bad that he didn’t get under Howley’s skin the way he did Susan Sontag, or Norman Mailer; she follows Mailer’s judgment of Goodman rather too closely for my comfort. Do we need to march out his champions? John Ashbery? Hayden Carruth? Or the poets who were so evidently marked by him, from John Berryman to Wendell Berry (as someone has already mentioned), to Robert Creeley, to Adrienne Rich to Frank O’Hara to Robert Hass? (Read around in American poetry and you begin to track a Goodman line.) But the other reason the legacy lags is that too few folks (Howley included, one supposes) have read Taylor Stoehr’s very fine biography of Goodman’s early period, or Kevin Mattson’s fine contextualization of him in Intellectuals in Action. Goodman was a bohemian, came into this world with little and left it the same but for his writing, to which serious people will always be attracted – REASON readers may not find what they’re looking for. For Howley to protest that she’s actually defending Goodman in her review is utterly absurd, and suggests she’s in way over her head. Literacy has taken another hit, but Goodman’s books remain a source for me.


February 2, 2011
3:43 pm

"What is uniquely excellent about Paul Goodman's fiction"?
— Gilbert Sorrentino, from "Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things"


Thank to all Book Forum readers for putting Kerry Howley in her wee small place. I'm baffled why someone so obviously un(der)qualified for the gig got this assignment but oh my— I see an MFA candidate! How impressive.


At the age of eleven going on twelve, Horatio knew the geography of military and economic warfare: the names of the frontier towns where rumors are born, and of capitals where smiling optimism prevails. He knew the sections of the United States as the headquarters of propaganda lobbies. He knew the local civics of the vice squad. He knew the universal history according to the rhetorical analogies of editorial writers, whereby all anitquity is contemporaneous and no events, including the present ones, are understood in context and according to their real influence. He knew the spelling and punctuation of the Herald Tribune style book. He knew how to read the graphs of the Daily Average of 100 Stocks, and the Rails. All of this he knew according to the best precepts of progressive pedagogy, in precise and inaccurate functional relationships.

He knew Routes and Courses; how to mix cement and lay macadam; and how to regulate traffic and distribute population in order to produce confusion.

He knew the harmony and counterpoint of a Minute before the Dawn, to which ambulance sirens, police sirens and fire sirens lend their voices.

The pictorial techniques of joining the idea of certain commodities to the fear of loneliness and sexual failures. In architecture, how to make time bombs; in interpersonal relations, how to make zip guns.

He knew the physics of the bounds and rebounds of the Spaulding High-Bouncer from a wooden wall and a cement floor. He knew the chemistry of substitute and preserved foods, which could be read directly on the labels by Federal law. He knew the biology of washrooms, the sociology of Miss Pitcher. In linguistics, he knew how to pretend that he came from Brooklyn or the Bronx.

In philosophy (for he made no distinction of lower and higher studies) he knew that the Future Lies Ahead of Us, yet— alas— One Thing Leads to Another.

He knew the poetry of desire as written on the walls of dim tunnels.

In general, he knew the basic jokes which can be found if you dig under the City.

— Paul Goodman, from "The Empire City"

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