The Goodman Reformation

Paul Goodman died on this day in 1972. Although he wrote in other genres—short stories, novels, a handful of poetry collections—Goodman is most widely remembered as a provocative thinker and essayist. Evidence that he was America's "urban, twentieth-century Thoreau" (Hayden Carruth) might be found in any of his books or quips (for example, the oft-quoted "Few great men could pass Personnel") and in this mission statement:

I move in a society so devoid of ordinary reality that I am continually stopping to teach good sense, to give support, to help out, as a young gangster might help an old lady across the street on his way to the stick-up.

Growing Up Absurd, Goodman's take on "the disgrace of the Organized System, of semimonopolies, government, advertisers, etc., and the disaffection of the growing generation," was an essential text in the sixties. The following passage is from New Reformation: Notes of a Neolithic Conservative, Goodman's last book of social criticism, arguing for "the breakdown of belief, and the emergence of new belief, in sciences and professions, education, and civil legitimacy." At this point, Goodman is advocating a controlled approach to technological innovations and applications:

These days, perhaps the chief moral criterion of a philosophic technology is modesty, having a sense of the whole and not obtruding more than a particular function warrants. Immodesty is always a danger of free enterprise, but when the same disposition to market is financed by big corporations, technologists rush into production with solutions that swamp the environment.… Since we are technologically overcommitted, a good general maxim in advanced countries at present is to innovate in order to simplify, but otherwise to innovate as sparingly as possible. Every advanced country is overtechnologized; past a certain point, the quality of life diminishes with new "improvements."… There are ingenious devices for unimportant functions, stressful mazes for essential functions, and drastic dislocation when anything goes wrong, which happens with increasing frequency. To add to the complexity, the mass of people tend to become incompetent, and dependent on repairmen. Indeed, unrepairability except by experts has become a desideratum of industrial design.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.