[sixties-l] Paul Goodman

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Tue Aug 01 2000 - 17:47:26 CUT

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    Paul Goodman

    The term "libertarian" in recent times has come to signify a kind
    of "damn the torpedoes, full speed astern" form of
             laissez-faireism that abjures some of the more malign
             mini-dogmas of the Republican Right while celebrating its
    abiding premise. The premise, of course, is that all good men
    and true are at liberty to stuff whatever swag they can into their
    seabags without concern or responsibility for their mates and
    fellow passengers. As preeminent individualists in an era when
    most people with good sense realize that chesty individualism vestigial
    or incipient is our nation's worst affliction, libertarians hoist the
    ensign of
    piratical, free market capitalism to swashbuckling heights heretofore
    by both corporate and populist conservatives.
             Libertarianism didn't always connote such odious purpose. For
             leftists of an earlier generation libertarian meant Social
    Anarchism and Mutual Aid in the tradition of Peter Kropotkin. Its
    most reflective advocate was an essayist, poet, novelist, dramatist, and
    activist, named Paul Goodman.
             Goodman's most acclaimed book was Growing Up Absurd, and
             it continues to occupy a prominent place on lists of the most
             influential books of the century. Literate baby-boomers earnestly
    explain that Growing Up Absurd was the story of their life. In fact,
             it was not a story of anybody's life, but an unsmiling examination
    of the myriad cultural, social, and economic derangements that
             invalidate human community and enfeeble America's young
    people. Goodman demonstrated how American institutions
    collude to subvert their own purported objectives, nullify genuine
    democracy and educate children to be callow and stupid. They
    accomplish this by denying us authentic work. Employment is not
    Manly, meaningful, work was a recurrent motif in all Goodman's
             writings, and how authentic community is best served. About
    these, and the celebration of joyous, uninhibited sex, he wrote
             Like his university teaching days, his literary career was troubled
    and paradoxical. After twenty-five years of struggling to bring to
    print hundreds of poems, plays, stories and novels rejected by
             major publishing houses, but much admired by an increasing
    coterie of artists and intellectuals, Goodman abruptly found
    himself one of the several most lionized philosophers of the
             1960's. (C.Wright Mills, Norman O. Brown, and Herbert Marcuse,
    though intellectual mediocrities compared to Goodman, were the
    other Left superstars of the era) Anointed by the New Left student
    revolution and heralded by the liberal press, his books suddenly
    tapped a wide audience. The student revolutionaries, Goodman
    eventually recognized, understood him no better than the
    mainstream publishers who had earlier rejected him, or than they understood
    their other ideological leaders, and in the end he disavowed the lot of
    them as
    a mob of witless narcissists. What especially offended him was the
    "ahistoricity" of the young. "They no longer remember their own history,"
    he said.
    "Each incoming class is more entangled in the specious
    presentI am often hectored to my face with formulations that I
    myself put in their mouths, which have become part of the oral tradition two
    years old, (the)author prehistoric."
             Largely a product of his own experience and self-education, Paul
             Goodman was abandoned by his father as an infant to be raised
             with minimum supervision by his bohemian mother in the intense
    Jewish intellectual atmosphere of early twentieth century New
             York. As a child he roamed the streets, parks, museums and
    libraries of
             Manhattan, absorbing the atmosphere and noting its lessons.
             Goodman came of age in the 1940's. A CCNY graduate, though
    never a part of the City College Marxist cabal that now forms the
    core of New Conservatism, he spent much of his time for the next
    decade sneaking into classes at Columbia and Harvard,
    eventually landing a job at University of Chicago where he took a
    Ph.D. in Literature. Soon fired for insisting he had a right to "fall in
             love" with his students, male and occasionally female, he was
    thereafter fired from every college that hired him "out" from the
    outset, in the literal as well as contemporary meanings of the
    With a wife and three children to support Goodman settled into a
             life of bohemian poverty, became a familiar face in 8th street and
    Fourth Avenue bookstores and saved postage money by riding
    his bike to publishing houses, only to be dismissed as too avant
    garde, or not avant garde enough. In fact he was both, and was
    so considered by his colleagues at Black Mountain College,
    where many of the great or famous in unconventional American art
    and letters taught in the late forties and early fifties.
             Not until midlife did Goodman, by then discouraged and
             marginalized in a burgeoning literary world of lesser talents, get a
    significant break. It arrived in curiously artless guise. Goodman
    became acquainted with the Jewish refugee psychiatrist, Fritz
    Perls, like himself, an entirely original thinker. Perls had for some
    time been adapting principles of gestalt psychology to the needs
    of psychotherapy. Happily, Perls was as graceless a writer as
    Goodman was skillful. They collaborated on a book that remains a
    classic, Gestalt Therapy.
             Rapidly now, his focus shifted from poet and novelist to social
    critic. Although his breakthrough book, Growing Up Absurd, was
    rejected by a dozen publishers, in 1960 it became a huge
    success even among conventional academics. Goodman was
    soon playing an avuncular role in the youth rebellion, traveling
    from campus to campus while writing a book a year. Remarks
    one biographer: "As the movement became The Movement and
    shifted to a struggle between the Old Left and the New Left,
    Goodman remained unapologetically free. Many of his former followers
    abandoned him as he refused to offer a blueprint for building ideological
    structures for the future, preferring the formulation of here, now, next."
             It is not unfair to say that Paul Goodman wrote about, and to, men
             at a time when men were having overwhelming difficulty
               re-defining themselves. If his entire philosophy were reduced to
             one word, it would be "making-do," the title of a Goodman novel
    from the 1960's.
             For Goodman that meant doing self-sufficient, purposeful work at a
    human scale.
             Goodman would much rather see a student become an ace carpenter
    and write
             some poetry after hours than become an Ivy League English
    professor or,
             God forbid, a lawyer. Human language, when authentic, is always
             he argued, and when it is not, as is so often the case with
    educated and
             institutionalized "high achievers", it is shit.
             Like Thoreau and Whitman and Dewey, he would hold in
    contempt today's "hands-on kinda guy", whose hands are mostly
    employed summoning numbers on a laptop computer. His
    philosophy of education, spelled out in all his books, but pointedly
             in Community of Scholars, like Dewey's, condensed to the
             maxim that for a small child everything in the environment is
    educative if he attends to it with sympathetic guidance.
    He argued passionately for schooling based on field trips and apprenticeships
    in the world as it is.
             Goodman anticipated both urban and rural ecology by decades.
             His masterwork, Communitas, which argued for removing all
    cars from Manhattan before there was actually such a thing as gridlock,
    remains an essential text for any serious student of architecture.
    As an ecologist speaking of "sustainable development", he held
    that "Both socialists and capitalists make a disastrous ethical
             mistake, mortgaging the present to the future. . . Sometimes I
    state my program in the form, 'How to take on Culture without
             losing Nature,' but that is already too abstract."
             The starting point for his social analysis, correctly observed an
    biographer, was the assumption that for the most part "Society" is a
    fictitious and
    superstitious abstraction. People, said Goodman, 'mostly live their lives
    in a loose
    matrix of face to face communities, private fantasies, and shifting
    He found Marx's obsession with Society (and dissidents' absorption with
    THE SYSTEM) "pathetic."
    If he was no vociferous champion of women, neither was he a
    friend to Left-wing ideologues. Showing his Renaissance man's
    colors he cautioned the unheeding hippies of the sixties, that it is
    better to freely take on a minor tradition which can be
    appropriated as experience than be forced to take on a major
    tradition which cannot. "Real people," he said, "mean what they
    do. Vocation is taking on the business of the community so it is
    not a dragIf I find that what I am good at and good for, that my
    community can use and will support, securely doing this, I can find
             myself further."
             Dissidents continuing the search for themselves and other
    aspects of their universe may find it profitable to explore Paul
             Goodman's parallax view.

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