New Book on World War II Sessions at MHC

Posted: August 29, 2006

On Thursday, September 14, the Mount Holyoke community will celebrate the publication of a new collection of scholarly essays dealing with historic meetings of European and American artists and intellectuals at Mount Holyoke during the second World War.

The event will take place at 4:30 pm in the New York Room of Mary Woolley Hall. The event is free, open to the public, and accessible to all.

Artists, Intellectuals, and World War II: The Pontigny Encounters at Mount Holyoke College, 1942-1944brings together a series of essays tied to a three-day symposium held by the Harriet L. and Paul M. Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts at Mount Holyoke in November 2003 to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Pontigny-en-Amérique sessions. These gatherings were an extraordinary but little-known facet of Mount Holyoke history when the campus served as a haven to French Jewish intellectuals and other prominent European thinkers fleeing Hitler.

The collection is edited by Karen Remmler, professor of German studies, and Christopher Benfey, Mellon Professor of English and Five College Fortieth Anniversary Professor, who organized the 2003 conference and are former directors of the Weissman Center, a cosponsor of the September 14 book launch with the Odyssey Bookshop.

During the summers of 1942 through 1944, artists Marc Chagall and André Masson, philosopher Hannah Arendt, anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, and dozens of other eminent exiles sat in the shade of Mount Holyoke's huge maples to discuss the future of art and humanism in a war-ravished world. In this act of intellectual resistance to Nazism, they were joined by a number of equally illustrious Americans, including poets Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moore, artist Robert Motherwell, and composer Roger Sessions.

Now, according to the University of Massachusetts Press, the publisher of the new volume, "in this collection of original essays, Stanley Cavell and Jacques Derrida lead an international group of scholars--including Jed Perl, Mary Ann Caws, Jeffrey Mehlman, and Elisabeth Young-Bruehl--in assessing the lasting impact and contemporary significance of Pontigny-en-Amérique.… Anyone interested in the 'intellectual resistance' of Francophone intellectuals and artists, and the inspiring support from such American figures as Stevens and Moore, will want to read this pioneering work of scholarship and historical re-creation."

The World War II sessions in South Hadley were the brainchild of a resourceful Mount Holyoke French professor, Helen Patch, who was aware that the war had ended the famous annual gatherings of intellectuals at the Abbey of Pontigny in the Burgundy region of France.

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