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 1939. (He was not officially awarded his Ph.D. until 1953, for a dissertation which was later published by the University of Chicago Press as The Structure of Literature.)
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. 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 System.
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.
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.
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.
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."
Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized Society (New York Review Books Classics) by Paul Goodman
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: NYRB Classics (September 11, 2012)
Amazon: Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized Society
Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd was a runaway bestseller when it was first published in 1960 and it became one of the defining texts of the nascent New Left. Goodman, at the time well into middle age, was a maverick anarchist who broke every mold, and did it brilliantly—he was a novelist, poet, and a social theorist, among a host of other things—and the book’s success established him as one of America’s most unusual and trenchant critics, combining vast learning, an astute mind, utopian sympathies, and a wonderfully hands-on way with words.
Growing Up Absurd takes the crisis of disaffected youth as indicative of the crisis within the culture at large, which Goodman describes as being run by corporations that provide employment (when they do) but not work in any meaningful sense, work that engages body and soul. Disaffected youth was in this sense at the forefront of a disruption of a social order that was, if not directly politically repressive, humanly repressive, stifling the real human potential which, surely, a good society would serve to unleash, encourage, and pass on.
The Empire City: A Novel of New York City by Paul Goodman
Paperback: 600 pages
Publisher: Black Sparrow Pr (January 2002)
Amazon: The Empire City: A Novel of New York City
In a comic-picaresque epic that is one part Cervantes and two parts Brecht, Paul Goodman gives us the coming-of-age of Horatio, a sane man in an absurd world. Our endearingly optimistic hero resists his compulsory mis-education, does battle with the System, and scours post World War II Manhattan for an elective family of fellow-thinkers and, more important, fellow-feelers. It's a big book, but Horatio's is a big world, and his question the biggest a man can ask: "How does one live the right life?"
As Goodman once told Studs Terkel, "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."
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