Growing Up Absurd–Again

Growing Up Absurd–Again

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd. Those old enough to have been students in 1960 remember the shock waves it caused. As one writer “under thirty” put it, at last someone from the older generation had told the truth about American society—”what the sharpest young people know today, and speak of among themselves.” Yet Growing Up Absurd was no underground classic of campus cafeterias. It appealed to a wide audience of thoughtful people, desperate for a breath of fresh air in the Eisenhower era. Chapters from it were printed not only in radical magazines like Dissent and Liberation but also in Commentary, Evergreen Review, and even Mademoiselle, and the young who did not discover him through their own grapevine were likely to find Goodman on the reading list for Freshman English.

Among political thinkers of the New Left, Goodman was unusual in the range of subjects he felt confident in addressing. During the next decade he was invited to hundreds of colleges, where he might speak on education one night, give a seminar on urban and rural values the next day, followed by a speech on psychoanalysis and religion or the morality of scientific technology. Goodman had written on all these topics, including major theoretical works on city planning and psychotherapy. His plays had been produced by the Living Theatre, and his novels, stories, and poems had won him an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


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