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On Paul Goodman

- Abstract

I HAVE only once had the privilege of meeting Paul Goodman. I stress “privilege.” There is no one whose encounter flatters in a more exacting way. He has no small talk, only an immediacy of intense purpose. His chosen art is discourse-in the old sense of dialogue ferreting truth by bound and rebound, by unembarrassed exchange of intimate vehemence. To use that fine twist of phrase in Coriolanus: he does not “coy a man.” The hands are notable: they contour thought and the living, fluid shape of argument as if it were pottery. The forward hunch, the literal pressing home of an idea, suggest an artisan involved in the recoil or yielding of a tangible medium. We spoke till two in the morning, in the apartment of mutual acquaintances in the Village. The floor pulsed at regular intervals as the laundromat downstairs started up; the note of haste and cleansing was exactly right. I have known many such nights at the University of Chicago, in its former days, and in Eastern Europe, when the edge of a word or thought prickles the skin. They are not as frequent in America as they might be.

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