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Goodman, Paul (1911-1972)  

The candor with which the bisexual Paul Goodman wrote about the homosexual libido in his poetry and fiction made him an important and highly visible advocate of gay liberation.

Novelist, poet, playwright, literary critic--Paul Goodman was, in his own preferred term, a "Man of Letters." He was also an intellectual polymath, the author of more than a dozen volumes on urban planning, psychological theory, and social commentary.

A variety of outspoken commitments--to experimentalism in his literary practice; to anarchism and pacifism in his political activity; and to the frank acknowledgment of his bisexuality in his public life--often placed in jeopardy Goodman's career as a teacher and a writer. "I have been fired three times because of my queer behavior or my claim to the right of it," Goodman wrote late in life, "and these are the only times I have been fired."

As an author, Goodman was both prolific (writing the equivalent of more than a book per year for over three decades) and highly eclectic. Few modern writers have worked in so many forms or ranged so widely in the subjects they treated.

Goodman's literary work is distinguished by a combination of classical learning and avant garde experimentation. His fiction, verse, and drama often incorporate stories and characters from Greek, Hebrew, and Roman literature and mythologies.

But Goodman was also drawn to a kind of aesthetic abstraction, which he sometimes called "literary cubism": such components of a work as prose rhythm, narrative voice, or dialogue would be handled as purely formal elements.

In his poems, traditional verse-forms (such as sonnets and haiku) and elevated diction are frequently mixed with colloquial dialect, street scenes, or descriptions of "cruising" and casual sexual encounters.

His short fiction includes naturalistic stories, fantasies, retellings of myths, and deeply introspective texts in a form Goodman called "the dialectical lyric," a term he borrowed from Kierkegaard.

Goodman's several novels may be divided into two broad categories: the realistic novels of community life, and the works of social and psychological allegory.

Parents' Day (1951) and Making Do (1963), two autobiographical fictions, are written in a realistic mode. In each, a first-person narrator describes incidents and characters from his life in a small community (a progressive school and a bohemian circle, respectively); he mentions his own homosexuality matter-of-factly.

Likewise, sexual issues and the problems of community are explicitly addressed in Goodman's more experimental narratives, including the four novels that make up The Empire City (1959), his magnum opus. But in this tetralogy--as in Don Juan; or, The Continuum of the Libido (written 1941-1942, published 1979)--Goodman abandons realism in favor of complex (and sometimes highly mannered) allegories of alienation, desire, and antiauthoritarian radicalism.

Intellectually, Goodman was a stubborn antispecialist. With his brother Percival Goodman, he wrote Communitas (1947), a now-classic volume on urban design. He also contributed the theoretical section of a collaborative work on Gestalt Therapy (1951).

Goodman's neo-Aristotelian book on critical theory, The Structure of Literature (1954), is quite different in method from Kafka's Prayer (1947), which interprets the author through both psychoanalytic and theological approaches. "A man of letters finds that the nature of things is not easily divided into disciplines," as Goodman explained in his last book, Little Prayers and Finite Experience (1972).

In the early 1960s, after decades of marginality, Goodman was discovered by a generation of young readers who found that his work expressed their own sense of alienation. A pacifist and an anarchist in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau, Goodman's radicalism bore little resemblance either to orthodox Marxism or to the anti-Communist liberalism of the day.

Growing Up Absurd (1960), his book on "problems of youth in the organized system," was particularly influential within the early New Left. In numerous books, lectures, and essays from the last dozen years of his life, Goodman addressed the problems of finding happiness, meaningful work, and a sense of community within bureaucratic society.

The candor with which he wrote about homosexual libido in his poetry and fiction--and in the notebook jottings published as Five Years (1966)--made Goodman an important and highly visible advocate of gay liberation. A particularly important document in this regard is "The Politics of Being Queer" (1969), an essay of personal as well as political reflection, published in Nature Heals: The Psychological Essays of Paul Goodman (1977).

Scott McLemee


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Horowitz, Stephen P. "An Investigation of Paul Goodman and Black Mountain." American Poetry 7.1 (1989): 2-30.

Morton, Donald. "The Cultural Politics of (Sexual) Knowledge: On the Margins with Goodman." Social Text 25-26 (1990): 227-241.

Nicely, Tom. Adam and His Work: A Bibliography of Sources By and About Paul Goodman (1911-1972). Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1979.

Parisi, Peter and Nicely, Tom. Artist of the Actual: Essays on Paul Goodman. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1986.

Stoehr, Taylor. "Paul Goodman and the New York Jews." Salmagundi 66 (1988): 50-103.

Widmer, Kingsley. Paul Goodman. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980.


    Citation Information
    Author: McLemee, Scott  
    Entry Title: Goodman, Paul  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 19, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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