The Empire City
Goodman began work on his epic, The Empire City, upon returning to New York City in 1939 from his graduate work at the University of Chicago. Throughout his studies and prior to graduate school, Goodman had written poems, plays, and stories, but with a grant in hand to write his dissertation and some monthly money from his mother-in-law, Goodman once again afforded himself a few years to pursue his art before his scholarship. Having been homesick for his native town, the task of his novel was a kind of homecoming. The Grand Piano, which would become the first volume of The Empire City, was published by Colt Press in 1942.
The second volume, The State of Nature, was published by Vanguard Press in 1946. The press had published a book of Goodman's stories the year prior and would publish Goodman's book on Kafka in 1947, but they each sold progressively worse. Withered by World War II and his self-confidence shaken, Goodman began a self-analysis in the style of Freud that culminated in a separate, self-analytic novel. As Goodman felt most comfortable as an artist, he would use self-reflexive fiction as a vehicle for self-analysis throughout his life. After finishing the self-analytic novel, Goodman completed the next book of his epic, The Dead of Spring, but publishers (including Vanguard) were uninterested in both, even as Goodman considered The Dead of Spring his best work. Goodman self-published the third volume on David Dellinger's New Jersey pacifist commune press in 1950 after soliciting subscriptions from 200 friends via postcards. He was distraught by the lack of wider interest in his work and bereft of purpose in how his writing could serve either his desire for external validation or his desire to impact change in his fellow man. The Dead of Spring articulated Goodman's great personal dilemma: "If we conformed to the mad society, we became mad; but if we did not conform to the only society that there is, we became mad."
This theme of questioning how to integrate one's self into society recurs throughout Goodman's fourth volume, The Holy Terror, which he wrote in 1952 and 1953. By this time, Goodman was embedded in the nascent world of Gestalt therapy, having co-written its seminal text for publication in 1951. Goodman's characters and their desires reflect the type of relationships the author was exploring as a new therapist. Unlike the prior books, in which Horatio detached himself from the absurd society, in The Holy Terror, Horatio attempts to integrate by supporting the Eisenhower presidency, seeing a therapist, joining the Parent Teacher Association.
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