Chapter 4 Paul Goodman: The City as Self

IT IS false that I write about many subjects," Paul Goodman contended. I have only one, the human beings I know in their man-made scene."1 His one literary theme, he wrote, was "Community."2 Many of his major works are community designs suggesting how human behavior can be radicalized, that is, how a true self can be expressed. He would transform ordinary behavior into civic conduct. He wanted to return the city to its inhabitants by making it libertarian, if not communally anarchistic. Hence, writing about the city was patriotic and Goodman took urban laurels for himself by proclaiming that he was a "regional poet of the Empire City" and by planning, with his brother, Percival, community arrangements for a new generation of Americans. Goodman remains our modern urban Hesiod.

While it would be tempting to make a great deal of his encomia about Nature, in his works it is usually nature. He presents the landscape of the "lordly Hudson" signified by trees and rivers that are inspiriting, sometimes incarnating a mythological deity, and certainly recreative, but these presentations are not as imaginatively suggestive as either his myths about the city or his interpretation of city life. For him, the city was wedded to the richness of human life.

Goodman's urban writing, for all practical purposes, is most of his work. The city was what he knew, and by "city," I mean the totality of its relations, which indicates what human nature authentically is. He insisted upon restoring the urban context to seemingly ignored yet momentous occasions. He asked How do we come to recognize ourselves within and as the makers of the city? How do we rediscover what human nature is and the fabricated cities that we have taken for granted?

He summarized his task by speaking about it as a consequence of his urban education: "Born in New York City in 1911, I know the schools of this place and time and the streets of the Empire City and the wild rocks

-159-

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Makers of the City
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter 1- Jacob A. Riis: The City As Christian Fraternity 10
  • Chapter 2- Lewis Mumford: The City as Man 64
  • Chapter 3- James T. Farrell: The City As Society 119
  • Chapter 4- Paul Goodman: The City as Self 159
  • Epilogue 207
  • Notes 211
  • Bibliographical Notes 231
  • Index 237
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