23 April, 2009
Paul Goodman was an American sociologist, poet, writer, anarchist, and public intellectual. Goodman is now mainly remembered as the author of Growing Up Absurd and an activist on the pacifist Left in the 1960s and an inspiration to that era's student movement. He is less remembered as a co-founder of Gestalt Therapy in the 1940s and '50s.
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 the dissertation which was later published by the University of Chicago as The Structure of Literature.)
Goodman was a prolific writer of essays, fiction and poetry. Although he had been writing short stories since 1932, his first novel, The Grand Piano, was published in 1942.
In the mid-1940s, together with C. Wright Mills, he contributed to Politics, the journal edited during the 1940s by Dwight Macdonald. In 1947, he published two books, Kafka's Prayer and Communitas, a classic study of urban design coauthored with his brother Percival Goodman. Fame came only with the 1960 publication of his Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized System.
Goodman also knew and worked with other leading New York intellectuals, including Daniel Bell, Norman Mailer, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, Norman Podhoretz, Mary McCarthy, Lionel Trilling, and Philip Rahv. As well as collaborating with 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 - 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 just before his 61st birthday