The incredible shrinking legacy of a 1960s culture hero
The Paul Goodman Reader
by Paul Goodman
$28.95 List Price
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.
I saw that Firing Line bit in a trailer for a 2010 documentary called Paul Goodman Changed My Life, produced by Jonathan Lee