To Get People Moving

To Get People Moving

UTOPIAN ESSAYS AND PRACTICAL PROPOSALS, by Paul Goodman. Random House. 289 pp. 1962.

Some of the “practical proposals” in Paul Goodman’s collection of essays are: Solve the traffic problem by banning private cars from Manhattan; rebuild a few of America’s ugly small towns to show what might be done by non-bureaucratic planning on a manageable scale; create work camps for youth modelled broadly on the CCC to give young people a sense of useful work, a needed refuge from the family and to carry out Goodman’s suggested projects for reshaping the physical environment; legalize pornography, since the present policy of censorship under various “obscenity” statutes “not only must continue to fail, but in itself keeps on creating the evil it combats.” Several of the longer essays on Utopian thinking, applied science and the new spirit of contemporary youth convey adequately Goodman’s larger assumptions and central insights as a social critic. Yet I think that a reader unfamiliar with Communitas and Growing Up Absurd would be baffled as well as enlightened by this book. Goodman’s gnomic and dogmatic style of expression often irritates and I don’t believe that this is solely because, as he himself would probably contend, he succeeds in penetrating people’s “character armor” and nudging buried repressions. Big truths about human nature and broad moral judgments are asserted along with obviously sensible smaller truths as if our certainty about the latter extended to the former as well. The result is that we often feel deprived somehow of a chance to answer back, to call stop, if only in order to clarify the argument.

But this collection, following his much-discussed earlier books, is clearly aimed at an audience already familiar with and responsive to Goodman. It is a potpourri, including in addition to the social criticism a scattering of essays on avant-garde writing, painting, theology and the psychology of intellectuals and artists. Several of these are exciting and profound—I liked especially the discussion of “speech as action” and “On the Intellectual Inhibition of Grief and Anger.” They have little to do, however, with the Utopian criticism promised by the title.