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Biography 24.4 (2001) 938-941

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Ángel G. Loureiro. The Ethics of Autobiography: Replacing the Subject in Modern Spain.Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 2000. 277 pp. ISBN 0-8265-1349-2, $45.00 cloth; ISBN 0-8265-1350-6, $24.95 paper.

In a sense,The Ethics of Autobiography is geared toward two sets of narratees: those interested in the theory of autobiography, and those interested in the practice of autobiography (and specifically the autography of the exile) in modern Spain. The dual directions are interrelated, of course, but much of the potential audience for the second part will depend on the case made in the first. Fortunately, the theoretical premises of Loureiro's study are so solidly presented, so engaging, and, to my mind, so rational that readers will be inspired to pursue the application of the proposed model to writers with [End Page 938] whom they may not be familiar. Those writers include José Blanco White (1775-1841), María Teresa León (1904-1988), Juan Goytisolo (b. 1931), and Jorge Semprún (b. 1923), Spanish literary figures bound together by their status as political exiles.

A starting point for Loureiro is Paul de Man's deconstruction of autobiography in Allegories of Reading. De Man underscores a dialectical conflict between the professed aim of autobiographical writing (representation of the past) and the inevitable rhetoric that supersedes this aim (modification and politicization of the past). Recognizing the supplementary features of autobiography, as articulated by scholars such as Philippe Lejeune, Paul John Eakin, and Sidonie Smith, among others, Loureiro was left uncomfortable by questions of irreconcilability, by the perception of autobiography as a site of displacement. A crucial encounter in this context was the work of Emmanuel Levinas in the field of ethics. Loureiro stresses that ethics here refers to rhetoric rather than to morality, and prosopopeia and apostrophe are the key figures within the scheme that he establishes. At the same time, the emphasis on ethics prompts a consideration of, and a correlation between, alterity and subjectivity. The subject responds to the call of the other; the subjectofautobiography is ultimately the subject in autobiography. The construction of the subject through political interpellation grounds itself on ethics, but also represents a re-placement, a complex set of connections. The linkage allows Loureiro to insert Levinas into a framework that encompasses much of contemporary thought on the topics of subjectivity and self-expression. The subsections of the opening chapter are entitled "From Epistemology to Ethics," "From Ethics to Politics," and "The Rhetoric of Autobiography." Levinas is the protagonist of the chapter, and Quintilian, St. Augustine,Rousseau, Foucault, Lacan, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari, Laclau and Mouffe, et al., figure among the strong supporting players.

The movement of The Ethics of Autobiography could be described as a shift from displacement to replacement, informed by ethics. Loureiro has selected his exemplars brilliantly. The four Spaniards in exile are gifted, remarkably eccentric writers who lived fascinating lives and who reinvented themselves through personal histories. José Blanco White, born in Seville, was a Catholic priest who left the Church, went to England, discovered that he had fathered a son during a stay in Madrid, became an Anglican, left the Church of England to embrace Unitarianism, and devoted himself to combating religious dogmatism. Blanco White wrote several autobiographical works, whose central theme is instructive and self-protective: how Catholicism drove him to what he called the "madness" of atheism. An intriguing aspect of this chapter is the elaboration of the thesis that Blanco White's [End Page 939] conversion of his life story into a type of "intellectual counterhistory makes his acts of apostasy appear as inevitable" (41). Accordingly, Loureiro's central theme is that the explanation of atheism leads to the reconstruction of the life, or to self-discovery. The story is surprisingly intricate, alternating between theology, hermeneutics, the body, and intertextuality; in the last case, Blanco White defines himself in part, and, of course, retrospectively, as a product of the books that he has read.

As a child, María Teresa León...