It’s May Day. Stop working and read.
The only pleasant thing that’s happened to me since you left is that I read Paul Goodman’s current manifesto in Kenyon Review and if you haven’t devoured its delicious message rush to your nearest newsstand! It is really lucid about what’s bothering us both besides sex, and it’s so heartwarming to know that someone understands these things, especially that it is him and not someone of the Other Camp, the International Farts for the Reestablishment of Woodcuts in Cairo…; he is really the only one we have to look to now that Gide is dead, and just knowing that he is in the same city may give me the power to hurt myself into poetry. Or it may give it to someone else! help. Anyhow, I wish you would do his portrait so that if he doesn’t like me personally we can at least some day hang in the same gallery.
—Letter from Frank O’Hara to the painter Jane Freilicher, (1951) on display at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, as part of the exhibit “Jane Freilicher: Painter Among Poets.” For more on Freilicher and her poet friends, see “Explicit As a Star” by Jenni Quilter at Poetry.
Man, people really love Paul Goodman.
Mother love is said to be sacred in America, but with all the reverence and lip service she is paid, mom is a pretty safe target, no matter how correctly or incorrectly her failures are interpreted. No one has ever been blacklisted or fired for an attack on ‘the American woman.’ Apart from the psychological pressures from mothers or wives, there have been plenty of nonsexual pressures in the America of the last decade—the compromising, never-ceasing, competition, the anonymous and often purposeless work in the big organization—that also kept a man from feeling like a man. Safer to take it out on his wife and his mother than to recognize a failure in himself or in the sacred American way of life. The men were not always kidding when they said their wives were lucky to be able to stay at home all day. It was also soothing to rationalize the rat race by telling themselves that they were in it ‘for the wife and kids.’ And so men re-created their own childhood in suburbia, and made mothers of their wives. Men fell for the mystique without a murmur of dissent. It promised them mothers for the rest of their lives, both as a reason for their being and as an excuse for their failures. Is it so strange that boys who grow up with too much love become men who can never get enough?
—From Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, currently celebrating its 50th anniversary of publication. After reading this section we realized that Friedan and Paul Goodman (Growing Up Absurd), despite having completely opposite subjects—housewives for the former, male juvenile delinquents for the latter—, actually have the same social goal in mind.
My guess is that the pride of country is engendered by one good decision, or even a good powerful dissenting opinion, of the least traditional Supreme Court, than by billions of repetitions of the pledge of allegiance.
—Paul Goodman in Growing Up Absurd (in a chapter called “Patriotism.”)
The plain truth is that at present many of us are useless, not needed, rationally unemployable. It is in this paradox atmosphere that young people grow up. It looks busy and expansive, but it is rationally at a stalemate.
—Paul Goodman, Growing Up Absurd, from the chapter suitably titled “Jobs.”
The one time when Goodman’s obsessions intersected perfectly with those of the age came in 1960, when he published Growing Up Absurd. This long essay or tract, just reissued by New York Review Books Classics, was one of the early tremors of what would become the 1960s earthquake. Like Herbert Marcuse and Norman O Brown, Goodman was taken up by the counterculture and the new left, who found in him a rare member of the older generation who really got it.
Goodman’s ghost would be appeased to see all the tributes to Growing Up Absurd that proliferate on the internet, more than 50 years later. Young readers still find it relevant, inspiring, intimate, true; they write of copying out long passages by hand and giving copies to everyone they know. The personal power they feel is registered in the title of a recent documentary about him, Paul Goodman Changed My Life. For, like The Catcher in the Rye, a book with which it bears a spiritual affinity, Growing Up Absurd brilliantly evokes the adolescent’s private sense of being misunderstood by a heartless and empty world. It is, as Holden Caulfield would say, the kind of book that makes you want to call up the author on the phone…
The phrase ‘the Organized System’ made people uncomfortable in 1960, and judging by my students’ more recent reaction, it still makes people uncomfortable now. Yet this discomfort was part of what interested Goodman. As a social critic and lay psychologist, he saw an underlying symmetry between the ideological assumption that there was no Organized System and the evidence that many people were reacting against it. It was obvious, for instance, that beatniks and juvenile delinquents were repelled by what the Organized System and its dominant values asked of them. But it was equally obvious that their alternative values represented little more than symbolic opposition, efforts to flee rather than adjust. Beneath the appearance of disparate responses, Goodman saw a common cultural condition. The Organized System stripped everyone of the same human goods — ‘force, grace, discrimination, intellect, feeling’; people merely reflected the costs they suffered differently. (‘This is the beautiful shaping power of our human nature,’ he wrote.) It was on this basis that Goodman staked his main ethical claim: ‘We do not need to be able to say what ‘human nature’ is in order to be able to say that some training is ‘against human nature’ and you persist in it at peril…. Contrariwise, if you don’t provide [people] with certain things, they’ll fill the gaps with eccentric substitutes.’
—an excellent essay on Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd by Michael Fisher in Full Stop, who also published an interview about the book with Casey Nelson Blake, the introducter to our edition. For anyone interested in Occupy Wall Street this book is a must.
In June of 2012 we will be publishing Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd. However, once we learnt that Zeitgeist Films was releasing a documentary by Jonathan Lee called Paul Goodman Changed My Life in the Fall of 2011, we decided to take advantage of this wonderful film and speed up the release of the e-book, which is now on sale. Growing Up Absurd was a bestseller when it was released in 1960, and became one of the defining texts of the nascent New Left. Goodman was a maverick anarchist who broke every mold—he was a novelist, poet, and a social theorist among 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. If this sounds like your kind of book, you can buy the e-book now.
Last night a handful of us went to see Paul Goodman Changed My Life at the Film Forum in NYC. The keynote on the film’s poster reads “The most influential man you’ve never heard of,” and while many remember him very well, still others are unaware of his impact. Goodman was a philosopher, activist who became very influential in the 60s student and anti-Vietman movements, founder of Gestalt theory, novelist, poet, utopian city-planner, queer rights activist, and anarchist. He was a prolific writer, but probably his most famous book is Growing Up Absurd, that we will publish in print next year, and are as an e-book before the end of this year. The film is playing at Film Forum till Thursday—so if you live in NYC do try to make it soon—and will have other screenings around the US and world (check the website).
We are excited to publish Growing Up Absurd, and feel that the time is right for Goodman’s legacy to be shared with our readers and fans.
The Most Influential Man You’ve Never Heard Of: Paul Goodman
Opening today: Paul Goodman Changed My Life
Forthcoming from NYRB Classics, Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd
So who was Paul Goodman? As the trailer says, he was a public intellectual, a social critic, a poet, a playright, a queer pioneer, a pacifist anarchist, an urban planner, a family man, a co-founder of gestalt therapy—and a whole lot of other things that scrolled by too quickly to catch.