Much regret will be felt by the gay community at the passing of this writer, teacher and social critic, who died on 3rd August, 1972, aged 60, of a coronary, at his farm in North Stratford, New Hampshire.
Born in New York’s famous/infamous Greenwich Village, Goodman was brought up in poverty (his father having deserted the family soon after Paul’s birth). He surmounted the struggle to educate himself with the same zeal that was to characterise his lifelong attitudes.
After graduating from New York City College in 1931, he could not afford to enroll at Columbia University, so he cycled there day after day and by devious means contrived to attend the philosophy lectures of Richard McKeon. Later, he hitchhiked to attend free classes at Harvard.
Some while after, McKeon, his former teacher, and by now Dean of the University of Chicago, invited Goodman to lecture on English literature. In 1940, however, Goodman was fired from this post because of his freely-admitted homosexuality; later this also cost him a teaching job at Black Mountain.
“I don’t think that people’s sexual lives are any business of the State,” he said. “To licence sex is absurd.”
In spite of being gay, Paul and Sally, his wife, lived together for some 30 years, producing two children in the process. They were however, never formally married.
Propounder of the most extreme solutions to mundane problems, Goodman has been described variously as poet, psychologist, anarchist, iconoclast, novelist. His most famous book, Growing Up Absurd, made him a sort of youth-cult figure in the years following its publication in 1960. Of this book, Colin McInnes has written:
‘His readers were of all generations, and he had an undercover readership both of students who dogmatically rejected literacy and of educationalists alarmed by change. Despite the mockery of its analyses, Growing up Absurd remains a cheerful book – optimistic, and its satire positive and revealing.’
One of the most elusive and yet most daunting talents of his generation, Goodman combined prophetic vision with rebellious despair.
In connection with his gay tendencies, amongst other things, Goodman underwent psychotherapy both in the late ’40’s and early 50s; this experience led him to become a lay psychotherapist.
In spite of this, his later years were filled with despair. Despite having published more than a dozen books and countless articles, he wrote:
‘I am continually tormented by not being published… I guess I’m the least-known author of my ability in America. This has made me bitter enough at times, yet I also take it as a good sign, that what I stand for is important and resisted.’
Condemning society and the educational system, he said, in Growing up Absurd:
‘It corrupts the fine arts. It shackles science. It dampens animal ardour. It dims the sense that there is a Creation.’
It is typical of his indomitable courage that, until his death he insisted on following – despite two heart attacks – a daily routine of gardening on his North Stratford farm. He also visited friends and was in the process of writing both a book on religion and a collection of poems.
“He wasn’t a man to follow prescriptions.” his doctor said, “He had too much to do.”