The Shameful Peace: How French Artists and Intellectuals Survived the Nazi Occupation/Art of the Defeat, France 1940-1944






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Publication: Art Journal
Author: Banai, Nuit
Date published: April 1, 2010

Nuit Banai

Frederic Spotts. The Shameful Peace: How French Artists and Intellectuals Survived the Nazi Occupation. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008. 288 pp.. 20 b/w ills. $55. $22 paper.

Laurence Bertrand Dorléac. Art of the Defeat, France 1940-1944, trans. Jane Marie Todd. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute. 2008. 448 pp.. 32 color ills., 15 b/w. $39.95.

Still Coming to Terms with the Past?

If sixty-six years after the liberation of Paris, the process of coming to terms with the past still remains largely unfinished, the narrativization of Franco-German collaboration seems to have entered a new phase. This, at least, is what one gathers from two recentlypublished books dedicated to clarifying the roles ariists and intellectuals played during the Nazi Occupation of France during World War II. Though the scholarship on this period in French history is vast, only a handful of English-language studies specifically address the relations between the cultural and sociopolitical spheres - and even fewer attempt to construct rigorous methodological frameworks for this analysis. By and large, these accounts have provided autobiographical (or "experiential") insider testimony about the French artistic scene during the war years,' presented monographic excavations of the singular experiences of prominent figures such as iean Fautrier, Alberto Giacomelli, and Pablo Picasso,' subsumed divergent art practices within an all -encompassing philosophical Zeitgeist,5 polarized the aesthetic landscape between villains ("ihe avengers of decadence") and heroes ("the scapegoats of decadence")/ undertaken systematic research 10 recover artworks looted by the Nazis,1 or formulated structural frameworks to situate the emergence of postwar practices in relation to a universal experience of the Occupation.' In contrast, the British independent scholar Frederic Spotts and the French historian Laurence Bertrand Dorléac turn their attention to the artistic particularities of a collective history generated within the extraordinarily vexed conditions of military; political, and cultural occupation. Though their books differ greatly in lone, scope, and ambition, both authors set out to reconstruct the mechanisms of subjugation that emerged during the Vichy regime's alliance with the occupying German forces, in doing so. they suggest that a critical shift occurred in the historical field between 1940 and 1944, one that needs to be understood as a "slate of exception" that gave rise to specific aesthetic and cultural possibilities and prohibitions. In the context of profound economic and social crisis, die Nazi and Vichy regimes espoused traditional values, symbols, anil artistic genres, while denigrating modernism for its "degenerate" tendencies and drivmg its practitioners into artistic, geographic, and psychological exile. It is important to consider whether and how modernist visual paradigms, newly under siege in this "minoritarian" position, at once constituted and disputed the reactionary (and highly enforced) sociopolitica] order, and what transformations these paradigms underwent in this process.

Despite this welcome expansion of the scholarship, certain issues inevitably trouble any writing of the history of the Occupation. Most notably, the period is clouded by all the moral and political ambiguities that haunt the question of collaboration. As is well-rehearsed, after a six-week battle that devastated the French forces, German troops marched into Paris on June 14. 1940. Francesigned an armistice with Germany on June 22, 1940, a capitulation that definitively ended the Third Republic and ushered in a government, located in Vichy, led by Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain. Thanks to the intensive research of Robert Paxton. Robert Gildea, /tilian Jackson. Ian Ousby, and Henry Rousso. to name just a few prominent scholars, we now know that the Vichy government effectively annihilated France's democratic institutions and directly collaborated with Germany to persecute Freemasons. Jews, and Communists. Though the statistics vary, one account suggests that six-hundred-fifty thousand civilian French workers were forcibly drafted to work in German factories; seventy-five thousand French Jews were murdered in Auschwitz; thirty thousand French civilians were shot as hostages or for their affiliation with the Resistance; and an additional sixty thousand were deported to German concentration camps. Moreover, it is estimated that approximately ten thousand Vichy apologists, or callabas, were expunged during the period of the épuration (purge of collaborators) - die eerie term given to the administration of national judgment that occurred both shortly before and after D -Day, and that was carried out by summary executions, a people's court, aitd direnigli a military tribunal.8

Since the liberation of Paris in August 1944. the examination of this fraught period of collaboration - both the French government's promotion of German policies on an administrative level and the French population's psychological collusion in the sphere of everyday life - has gone through countless historiographical iterations, privileging diverse narrativizations and generating dissenting myths about the wartime era. If, in some accounts, key modernist figures like Louis Aragon. André Gide, and Jean-Paul Sartre heroically resisted Nazi culture and. under duress, carried the flag for individual liberty, artistic sell -expression, and selfdetermination, in others. Parisian culture of the 1940s is forever infected by its appeasement of Fascist powers. Yet between these polarized positions, we are faced with many far less categorical cases that warrant scrutiny. Or rather, if. more than half a century after the end of World War II, the reputations of the most indubitable supporters of the Third Reich (writers and publishers likeRobert Brasillach, Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Bernard Grasset, and Pierre Drieu Ia Rochelle) have not yet been rehabilitated, how do we assess the many more ambiguous gestures, actions, and attitudes that occurred across the cultural sphere? How, for example, do we judge the painters and sculptors who participated in the official tour of Germany in October 1941, including André Derain, Kees van Dongen, and Maurice de Vlaminck, all newly minted members of the Académie des Beaux-Arts? Can their cooperation be justified by their apparent belief that they were on a mission to help release French prisoners, or does the acceptance of any German hospitality constitute treason? And what of those who attended the numerous receptions in honor of Arno Breker's May 1942 exhibition at the Orangerie in Paris? If the colossal statues by Breker. Hitler's official artist, glorified the Führers Nielzschean aspirations to spawn an Aryan Übermensch, how can we evaluate the presence of lransgenerational luminaries such as Jean Cocteau and Aristide Maillol? Indeed, both Spotts's and Bertrand Dorléac's studies suggest that cultural collaboration remains one of the most sensitive and undecided issues to emerge from the "Dark Years."

Taking its title from Cocteau's privale characterization of France's defeat in his wartime diaries. The Shameful Peace attempts to compensate for existing scholarly omissions by providing a comprehensive history of artistic life under the German and Vichy authorities. A British independent scholar living in France, and the author of Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival ( 1996) and Hill« und ihr Power of Aesthetics (2002). Spotts is no stranger to describing the complicity between totalitarian regimes and aesthetic practices. In this latest book, he argues that, in the wake ol the French surrender to Hitler in 1940. the arts were deployed by both France and Germany in àn ideological campaign for national primacy. For the French, cultural initiatives became a vital weapon through which to salvage national dignity and survive the Occupation's quotidian hardships, while for the Germans, they provided a formidable instrument through which to wage total war and repress the local populace. Spotts comniendably gives immense force and urgency to the stakes of cultural production, posing these insepara bly as the French people's "only weapon to continue die war" and a "narcotic to be used to pacify the French and make them amenable to collaboration" (3).

Perhaps to impress this point on his reader, the opening chapter ("The Judgment of Paris") begins with a categorically stated "cardinal truth," namely that the "French nation's greatest psychological need in the wake of die ignominious debacle was to regain a sense of self-respect . . . and that the French cultural heritage was all there was Io provide it" (1). Regrettably, this hastily articulated statement constitutes Spotts 's only guiding interpretive matrix and sheds little light on how he will analyze the transformation of France's cultural patrimony into a principal site for the construction and contestation of national identity. Though we learn that "an entire population [was] in a state of shock" during the "extraordinary situation" of World War 11 (ç), another pseudo-psychological assessment that Spotts asks us to accept at face value as die basic condition for his history, he fails to offer a theoretical framework through which to make sense of artistic production during such an exceptional historical moment. However, if all art practice during the Occupation years was produced in a state of severe psychic shock, shouldn't it be considered through a particular and well-developed methodological optic? Models for the (tentative) application of psychoanalysis to instances ol collective shock (and ensuing repression) have been offered by writers and historians in various national contexts, most notably Sartre and Rousso in France. Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich and T.W.Adorno in Germany, and. most recently, Dominic Lacapra. Eric Rosenberg, and Lisa Sal/man in the United States. Without a discernible methodology, it is difficult to gauge not only how Spotts connects collective psychic trauma and artistic practice, but also how he assesses the nature of collaboration. Although there may be no way to resolve definitively this morally and legally ambiguous issue. Spotts does little more than restate the basic (and all-too-familiar) conundrum: "To what extent should artists and intellectuals be held politically responsible for their actions?" (4).

To his credit, Spotts compensates for this lack of a clear methodological apparatus with a masterful synthesis of many valuable and richly textured secondary sources. Indeed, he allows "villains, heroes, and uttennstes [opportunistic "wail -and -seers"] . . . [to j speak for themselves" by weaving together public statements and private recoiled ions of first-hand observers in the fields of literature, music, theater, cinema, and the visual arts; scholarly biographies devoted to the central German and French protagonists; contemporaneous newspaper articles; and most of the principal studies dedicated to cultural practice during World War II. Spotts's point of departure is the international dispersal and internal exile of the avant-garde in the summer of 1940. which sets the stage for a different modality of life under the Occupation. He then quickly introduces the dominant figures (the German cultural administrators Otto Abet/. Karl Epting. and Rudolf Rahn), bureaucratic mechanisms (e.g., the German Institute, the most prominent cultural propaganda agency in Paris), and cultural strategies (from the seduction of state-financed art exhibitions, translations, and organized trips to Germany for artists and authors, to overt censorship and prohibition) through which Germany tried to "inspire" France's ideological evolution. Subsequent chapters are dedicated to distinct spheres of cultural production in occupied Paris and the Vichy -governed free zone, bringing into relief the situation of prominent individuals (e.g., Céline, Gide. Picasso. Alfred Cortot, Cocteau, and Jean Cahier- Bossièrc) and concretizing the moral tensions that coursed through die production and diffusion of literature, fine arts, music, theater, film, and mass print media. What drives and connects the separate chapters are two central assertions, namely, (1) that once the decision to stay in Paris was made, freedom was irrevocably exchanged for collaboration, and (2) that the Germans deliberately encouraged the continuation ol a thriving cultural lite as part of their strategic program of repression. Based on these constitutive parameters of "normalcy." the logical conclusion is that any kind of cultural production was always already compromised.

Though one would very much like 10 praise Spotts for bringing the question of "cultural collaboration" into relief as a specific instantiation of complicity with wartime structures of power, his book evidences a number of regrettable limitations. On a stylistic level, Spotts repeatedly assails his reader with descriprive passages and interpretive statements that weave together lhe cat-and-mouse maneuvers oí a whodunit, sensationalism of pulp fiction, and "feelgood" tenor of home-spun platitudes. For example, referring to the refusal ol Sylvia Beach, the founder of the bookshop Shakespeare and Company, CO hand over a copy of FinncgansWake to a Wehrmacht officer. Spotts observes that "no descendent of nine Caivinisi divines could be bullied by a cretinous Kraul" (14). Elsewhere, he likens Gide's deliberate provocation of divergent political and literary antagonists to that of "a village lamppost for the neighbourhood dogs. From all direct ions I hey came and lei loose" (98). On a more structural level, it is unfortunate that Spotts equates heavy-handed descriptive pronouncements with moral gravitas and conceptual analysis. Relating the opera singer Germaine Lubin's gradual induction into the Nazi Party, for instance, Spotts observes that "Wagner can corrupt and Wagner ai Bayreuth can corrupt absolutely" ( 199). His concluding chapter opens with the grandiloquent assertion that "a history of the Occupation is the story of how forty million French along with a million or so Germans lived together as prisoners in a nightmare world created by one man - an evil genius headquartered in Berlin" (254). Nevertheless, if one is able to forge through the mire of such infelicitous (though often colorful) turns of phrase, one can learn a great deal of factual material from A Shameful Prate.

The recenti) translated Ar! of the Defeat: France 1940-1944 (originally published in French by Editions du Seuil in 1993) is the result of intensive archival research by the Sciences-Po-afhliaied historian Laurence Bertrand Dorléac. and a welcome extension and complication oí her earlier studydevoted to Vichy's ideological infiltration of the cultural sphere. 'The foreword by Serge Guilbaut. who is credited as an editorial consultant, makes substantial claims for the book's importance and. one might add. imposes seemingly unattainable expectations. Touting Ari oí the Defeat as "the first time an art historian seriously examines (difficult political and moral situations) without bias." Guilbaut declares that it "represents a new type of French art history, developed out of interest in sociology, knowledge of the 'new history.' and a flair for original research" (x). Indeed, assessed m ih..- context * >( its I ? m h publication in 1993. Bertrand Dorléac 's painstaking treatment of aesthetic production during the Occupation is unparalleled (and her meticulous enumeration of subsequent publications reveals how much the field has grown). It is also true that, though similar)) engaged with the power dynamics at the crux of the Na/i- Vichy rapprochement, her study stands as an excellent counterpoint to Spotts's "generalist" history in its attention to close analysis. The book's main contention is that the authoritarian Vichy regime constructed itself on the basis of "false continuities" with the French past - especially by assuming the prewar values espoused by the Front populaire (Popular Front) and the traditional tropes of French national identity stemming from the love of land, leader, and nation. Bertrand Dorléac argues üiat Vichy's exploitation of the old order was a strategy to mask the sociopolitical divisions that splintered French society under a mystifying shroud of "national unity." Three points are of central concern to the author, namely ( 1 ) the way in which "false continuities" were manufactured in the realm of artistic practice by a generation of artists who had lived through the populist movements of the 1930s. (2) the deliberateprocess through which Vichy advanced its program by relying on certain reactionary segments of the French population to anticipate its official decisions, and (3) the appearance of rifts within and in resistance to Vichy's project of constructing itself as the epitome of Frenchness.

While it is Bertrand Dorléac 's original research on Vichy that is most illuminating, she very usefully devotes the first three ol eight chapters to discussing the specific networks and configurations of power that created the conditions of possibility for cultural life in the occupied zone. Indeed, it is these opening chapters that eventually make visible the extent to which Vichy adapted both the Third Reich's appropriation of the cultural sphere and its exploitation of repressive bureaucratic measures to simultaneously advance its own objectives and support German goals. Apart from her extremely detailed account of how such policies were put into practice. Bertrand Dorléac should be commended for making explicit the con neclions among Germany's possession of France's cultural patrimony, the anti-Semitic implications embedded in many of its ostensibly banal administrative transactions, and the problematic moral implications of the French response. In no uncertain terms. Bertrand Dorléac condemns the docility of French institutions for complying with the calculated seizure of artworks by top Nazi officials (including Joachim von Ribbentrop, Abetz. and Joseph Goebbels) and die destruction and dispersal of vast portions of France's modernist collections (most notably, that of the Jeu de Paume). Since so many Jewish collectors had entrusted their collections to national museums, the accommodation of German looting by French officials (most notably Pierre Laval, the head of the Vichy government starring in 1942) signified a deeper and clearly more disturbing ideological pact with the vanquisher (one that, in Bertrand Dorléac 's analysis, would be translated into France's proactive elimination oí its Jewish population). Complicity with the manifestations of Nazi power, she makes clear, implicated the cultural and sociopolitical registers equally and simultaneously - suggesting thai France's cooperative trafficking of its Jewish citizens' possessions and its voluntary passing of exclusionary laws from October 1940 onward are not only morally comparable but that they both objectively expedited the Final Solution.

Despite such egregious disruptions to the French liberal democratic tradition, signaling an irrevocable discontinuity with the Third Republic. Bertrand Dorléac maintains that the fabrication of "false continuities" in the cultural sector served the interests of both conqueror and conquered. If the Germans regarded the revival of French cultural life as an expethent means to disguise their own military and political hegemony, this same continuation of artistic activity, when appraised from the French posilion, might be understood either as a refusal to accept the Occupation (i.e., as Resistance) or as a propagandistic collusion with the enemy (i.e., Vichy). Working against the rampant myth of collective resistance by French artists and writers, the originality of Art of the Ddcut is its sustained analysis of Vichy's instrumentalization of the artistic sphere.1" Bertrand Dorléac notes that, unlike Germany. France did not have a fully developed propaganda policy and that, as a result, there were no clear distinctions between an artist or author's production under French or German administration. Despite these ambiguities, the Vichy regime was a creative and prolific player in the battle to shape public opinion, and it exploited every distribution network, material, and medium to achieve its aims. If its principal goal was to create an image of itself in line with an older model of heroic and humanistic France, then its main strategy was the representation of Marshal Petain - as savior, father, soldier - through photographic realism. symbolism, and the naive-popular style.

Though similar types ol populist images were deployed by the totalitarian governments of Germany and Italy, Vichy problematically absorbed a militant left wing discourse on artisti·, reconciliation with the public to reinlorce ils coercive etlon ol consensus building. This, perhaps, is Bertrand Dorléac's most Important claim about Vichy, and it is worth quoting n in full: "Thanks to the atmosphere of the nine, one had to be very sharp to distinguish among the different positions - often laid out in the same media - which ultimately converged on the essential points: the reconciliation of art and the public, and the instrumentalization of an in the service of a revolution of society and humanity. The demand for an 'art for all' - traditionally formulated and tried out by the left, under the Front populaire in particular - thus finally moved Into the right-wing camp in power . . ." (196).

While intent on enhancing its own powers through the assimilation ol progressive discourse, the Vichy regime not only revealed long-standing rifts in the French body politic (chiefly over the definition and appropriate expression of nationalism) and brought to the fore unresolved debates about the social function of art, but also initiated extensive "reforms" within the artistic milieu. As Bertrand Dorléac specifies, these cultural reforms included the establishment of corporatism, a revaluation of the French edu cational system, the strengthening ol the Institut de France (the principal cultural insuline of the French stau-, comprising fivedifferent academies), the prohibition of "decadent" symbols, and the promotion of representations of "Frenchness," as well as a vast catalogue of Pétain objects. If there is a conspicuous inadequacy to the latter portion of Bertrand Dorléac's book and its discussion of specific lornis ol visual culture under Vichy, ii is that ii remains too hermetically sealed from the very tangible human stakes couched within such ideological manifestations of power. Unlike her earlier treatment of Nazi-occupied Pans. Art of the Defeat perhaps tails io make the explicit and necessary connections between these intertwined political and cultural projects of appeasement and their material contribution to the indescribable Carnage and catastrophe ol VVOrId War II.

What becomes apparent in these two very different accounts of Nazi-era cultural collaboration is the extent to which its w riling remains a critical component of both its traumatic attermath and its process of moral reckoning. It may be sale to say that no other period in modi rn Fn n h history is reevaluated so scrupulously and obsessively as the Vichy years. In this regard, there is a justified fear thai revisionist history will obfuscate the seemingly clear lines distinguishing collaborators and resisters in favor of a sliding scale thai judges complicity, and commitment according to relativist criteria or transforms human tragedy into a disembodied, discursive register. Such apprehension is the result not only of the recent upsurge of reactionary tendencies in France, but also of die broader impact of postsiruciuralism on historiography In methodological terms, there is a lingering trepidation that the analysis 1 >f the German machinery of subjugation as die determinant architect of wartime power relations will obliterate both the oiuological privilege of individuals (to make independent choices) and the capacity of aesthetic immanence (to intervene as autonomous statements in the public sphere). If both Spotts and, to a much greater degree. Bertrand Dorléac have provided a historical framework through which to understand the power dynamics of cultural collaboration, we are still left with the task of examining the spicule ways in winch modernist visual paradigms participated in the construction and contention of Frame's "siale of exception" at the same time as they were irrevocably transformed. Such investigation would help clarif) the particularity of the aesthetic practices that emerged in France in the after math of the war and that contributed to the reconstruction in the 1950s and 1960s. Despite their adoption of modernist strategies and forms, the seeming disengagement ol so many artistic practitioners from the political arena has been the subject of longrunning debates, whose primary fixation has been to establish the "retrograde" or "critical" stains *>( artistic practices within this matrix. While these discussions have legitimated the study oí postwar French art and helped to delineate its critical stakes, it is time to expand the analysis of mid -century French art beyond certain well-worn arguments (encapsulated by a shorthand thai pits the historical avant-garde versus the neo avant-garde) as a type of dutiful apologia. Indeed, rigorous analysis of the techniques through which modernist visual language iontrilniied 10 (and was transformed by) the production and contention of the war's "state of exception" may yet generate differ cut and more nuanced theoretical perspei - lives. If in the postwar years the political horizon was not negated or neglected by aesthetic practice, but subsumed into radically divergent realms and channels ol experience, a deeper understanding of such processes may well have critical relevance beyond this historical period.

1. See Jean Hélion. They Shall Not Have Me: The Capture. Forced Labor, and Escape of a French Prisoner of War (New York: Dutton, 1943): Ger trude Stem, Wars I Have Seen (New York: Random House, 1945): Roland Penrose. Picasso: His Ufe and Work (London: Gonzalez, f 958); and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler with Francis Crémieux. My Galleries and Painters (New York: Viking Press. 1971).

2. See M. M. Goggin. "Picasso and His Art during the German Occupation, 1940-1944" (PhD diss.. Stanford University. 1985): Karen K. Butler and Curtis L. Carter, Jean Fautrier (New Haven: Yale University Press. 2003); and Laurie Wilson. Alberto Giacometti: Myth. Magic, and the Man (New Haven: Yale University Press. 2003).

3. See Frances Morns, ed.. Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism, 1945-55 (London: Tate Gallery, 1993).

4. See Michèle C. Cone. Artists Under Vichy: A Case of Prejudice and Persecution (Princeton: Princeton University Press. (992).

5. See Hector Feliciano. The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World's Greatest Works of Art (1995; New York: Basic Books. 1997).

6. See Benjamin H. D. Buchloh. "Plenty or Nothing: From Yves Klein's Le Vide to Arman "s Le Plein," in Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry: Essays on European and American Art from 1955 to 1975 (Cambridge. MA: MIT Press. 2000).

7. Julian Jackson, France: The Dark Years, 1 940 1944 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 2001), I.

8. Ian Ousby. Occupation: The Ordeal of France 1940-1944 (London: John Murray, 1997). 304.

9. Laurence Bertrand Dorléac. Histoire de Tart: Paris 1940-1944; Ordre national, traditions, et modernités (Paris: Sorbonne. 1986).

10. An exhibition dedicated to the subject was coorganized by Denis Peschanski and Laurent Gervereau, who also edited the accompanying catalogue, La Propagande sous Vichy, 1940-1944 (Nanterre: Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine. 1990).

Author affiliation:

Nuit Banai received a PhD in art history from Columbia University in 2007 and is currently a lecturer in modern and contemporary art at Tufts University/School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, specializing in the aesthetic reconstitution of the postwar European public sphere. Her writing has appeared in RES: Journal of Anthropology and Aesthetics, PA): A Journal of Performance and An. Artforum. Frieze. Modern Painters, and Art Papers and in catalogues for the Schirn Kunsthalle, Barbican Art Gallery, Centre Georges Pompidou. Artists Space, and the Americas Society. Her first book. "Public Disorder: Aesthetics and Politics in France. 1 945 1 968," explores the reconfiguration of the field of the sensible as the site for emergence of a postwar French public. She is also completing a manuscript on Yves Klein for the Critical Lives series published by Reaktion Books (forthcoming in 2010).

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