I’m happy to report that New York Review Books has just reprinted Growing Up Absurd (1960), Paul Goodman’s classic plea for the human scale against the postwar corporate and military-industrial behemoth.  Especially noteworthy is a terrific foreword by Casey Nelson Blake assaying Goodman’s “unique synthesis of anarchist utopianism with unabashed cultural conservatism.” Blake identifies Front Porch Republic and New Inquiry as among those “reclaiming” the “sturdy tradition of American social and cultural criticism” exemplified with such vigor and intelligence (and occasional flamboyance) by Goodman.

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Bill Kauffman
Bill Kauffman was born on November 15 (also the birthday of Bobby Dandridge) in the otherwise forgettable year of 1959. He was an all-star Little League shortstop for the Lions Club Cubs but soon thereafter his talents eroded. After an idyllic childhood in his ancestral home of Batavia, New York, birthplace of Anti-Masonry, he was graduated from Batavia High School in 1977. He earned, more or less, a B.A. from the University of Rochester in 1981 and went therefrom to the staff of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the only dairy farmer in the U.S. Senate. Two and a half years later he left Moynihan’s staff a bohemian Main Street anarchist who loved the Beats, the New England transcendentalists, early 20th century local colorists (Sarah Orne Jewett his Maine gal), cowpunk music, and the crazy old America. Neil Diamond and Karen Carpenter, too, but don’t tell anyone. He bummed around out west for a while, sleeping in bus stations and writing derivative poetry in Salt Lake City flophouses (nah, he’s not a Mormon, just a BYU fan) before an ill-starred year in graduate school at the UR. He took a seminar with Christopher Lasch and thought on it. In the spring of 1985 he flew west to become an assistant editor with Reason magazine. He had great fun in Santa Barbara with that crew of congenial editors drinking far into the night at Eddie Van Cleeve’s Sportsman’s Lounge, but in ’86 he flew east to become the magazine’s Washington editor. Always homesick, Kauffman persuaded his lovely and talented wife Lucine, a Los Angelena, to move back to Batavia in 1988 in what he called a “one-year experiment”—the year to be measured, apparently, in Old Testament terms. They’re still there—or, more accurately, five miles north in Elba (apt name for an exile!), where Lucine is Town Supervisor. She may well be the highest-ranking Armenian-American elected official in the country, at least until the voters of California send Cher to the U.S. Senate. Take that, Turks! Lucine and Bill have a daughter, Gretel, 17, who writes and acts and plays piano and French horn. Their lab mutt, Victoria, whose tail graces the accompanying photo, is now departed, to their sorrow, but a cat, Duffy, darts in and out of the house when the mood strikes. Bill is the author of nine books: Every Man a King (Soho Press/1989), a novel, which was recently rescued from the remainder bin by a New York Sun article proclaiming it the best political satire of the last century (the Sun thereupon set); Country Towns of New York (McGraw-Hill/1994), a travel book about God’s country; America First! Its History, Culture and Politics (Prometheus/1995), a cultural history of isolationism which Benjamin Schwarz in the Atlantic called the best introduction to the American anti-imperialist tradition; With Good Intentions? Reflections on the Myth of Progress in America (Praeger/1998), his worst-seller, a sympathetic account of critics of highways, school consolidation, a standing army, and the Siren Progress; Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town’s Fight to Survive (Henry Holt/2003; Picador ppb. 2004), a memoirish book about his hometown which won the 2003 national “Sense of Place” award from Writers & Books; Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists (ISI/2006), which the American Library Association named one of the best books of 2006 and which won the Andrew Eiseman Writers Award; Ain’t My America: The Long Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle American Anti-Imperialism (Henry Holt/ Metropolitan/2008), which Barnes & Noble named one of the best books of 2008; Forgotten Founder: Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin (ISI/2008), a biography of a brilliant dipsomaniacal Anti-Federalist who warned us this was gonna happen; and Bye Bye, Miss American Empire (Chelsea Green/2010), a cheerful account of dissolution. Bill is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and a columnist for The American Conservative. He has written for numerous publications, including The American Scholar, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Nation, Chronicles, the Independent and The Spectator of London, Counterpunch, Orion, University Bookman, and Utne Reader. He is vice president of the Genesee County Baseball Club, which owns the Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn Baseball League. Come summertime, he can be found in the 3rd base bleachers at Dwyer Stadium. He is also active in the officerless (of course) John Gardner Society. Bill is more handsome than the photo on this site would suggest. See books written by Bill Kauffman.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks, Bill, for noting this signal republication. My friend Taylor Stoehr, who is one of Goodman’s literary executors, has been steadily reprinting much of Goodman’s work. Most recently, in honor of Goodman’s centenary in 2011, The Paul Goodman Reader, which samples his fiction and poetry as well as his writing on education, technology and planning, literature, media and culture, psychology, theology, and politics. None of this work is dated. Everything I read and prized of his remains pertinent and striking. It was Paul Goodman who said that technology, rightly understood, is a branch of ethics and who warned early on of the ominousness of the precipitous rise in the prices of essential commodities–rice, in particular–after the second world war. It was from Goodman’s critique that I developed my lasting loathing for the most damaging high-growth industry of the post-WWII period–“higher” education aka the university racket. I could go on but will conclude with another big thanks.

  2. Good news, tks for letting us know about it. If you haven’t run across it already: There’s a doc on Netflix Instant you might enjoy called “Paul Goodman Changed My Life.”

  3. Dear Paleo,

    Yes, it is a fine documentary. I wish that it hadn’t spent so much time on sexuality, however, at the expense of Goodman’s ideas about literature, economics, community, and morality. One of the many things Goodman said that I recall frequently for guidance, solace, and fortitude is his reply to being asked if he though man could be improved morally. He said, yes, but not much. I presume he meant that an individual person could improve, but that the species was much, much more refractory, perhaps hopelessly so.

  4. Thank you for bringing it up. I’ve read 3 books that changed my life At ate 13, I think, that was #2.

  5. Thanks for this, Bill. So many books, so little time! If the stack next to my bed topples in my direction it may cause grievous bodily injury. Yet I keep adding to it…

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