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Reviewed by:
  • Ethics of Life: Contemporary Iberian Debates ed. by Katarzyna Beilin, and William Viestenz
  • Jennifer Duprey
Beilin, Katarzyna, and William Viestenz, eds. Ethics of Life: Contemporary Iberian Debates. Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 2016. xxxiv + 339 pp.

Over the last two decades, literary scholars have been increasingly concerned with ethics, from the ethics of reading or writing to how literary works offer figurations of ethical dilemmas and predicament as well as the ways in which literary or visual representations reflect on the ethical dimension of different subject positions or figures. For instance, that of the defeated as in Ana María Amar Sánchez’s 2010 book Instrucciones para la derrota. Criticism in this vein has deepened our understanding of the ethical dimension of criticism, or redeployed our attention to the ethical valences of literary and visual representations, as well as reassigned the priority of ethics in thinking about collective dilemmas ranging from climate change to animal rights. Ethics of Life, edited by Katarzyna Beilin and William Viestenz, makes an outstanding contribution to these discussions. This carefully edited collection offers a series of refreshing discussions on a wide range of today’s contemporary ethical questions with particular focus on their particular formulation in the Iberian Peninsula.

Ethics of Life consists of thirteen essays, which are divided in four sections, an introduction and an afterword. The overall quality of the essays is outstanding and the volume exhibits a level of coherence that collections of essays rarely achieve. [End Page 191] The essays discuss the increasing role of bio-technology; neoliberalism and the capitalization of life; the ethics of food production and genetic engineering; organ harvesting; euthanasia; abortion; the preservation of eco-systems; environmental justice; the rights of non-human life in the essays by Junquera and Raquejo; Trevathan; Feingberg and Larson; Prádanos; Ares López; and Faber. The essays collected in this volume combine theoretical rigor with mastery over literary and visual texts and their contexts of emergence. But the overarching goal of the volume, as the editors’s introduction makes abundantly clear, is to bring these concerns to bear on the field of Iberian Studies and breathe new life by bringing new frameworks to bear on the study of Iberian societies.

The foregoing themes are pursued in the closest contact with Iberian realities. Thoughtful treatments of films like Biutiful and Mar Adentro, by Beilin and Begin for instance, are found alongside literary works and trenchant criticism of the imaginary of quality of life and modernization associated with the last years of Franco and their subsequent transmogrification within neoliberalism in the chapters by de Lora, Suryanarayanan, and Beilin that specifically deal with biotechnology and reproductive rights in Spain. Moreover, some of the essays engage in archival work, or reflect upon images and other visual artifacts to trace the ethical dilemmas involved in the gamut of issues the volume deals with, including the ethics of bullfighting and its entanglements with issues of cultural and national identities in the essays by Viestenz and Beusterien, for instance. All of these themes are pursued with scholarly rigor and theoretical soundness. All in all, these essays show, as López Vega and Martín Estudillo point out in the Afterword “that ecocriticism is not about looking for funny rabbits and pleasant fountains in poems,” but rather about “understanding our place in the world not as owners and rulers of nature but as responsible tenants of the commons” (328).

If there are limitations to Ethics of Life, these are largely symptomatic of a broader trend within the contemporary humanities: by opening up the field to the best traditions of cultural criticism, the study of literature has become increasingly relegated to a subordinate position, which the relative imbalance between the visual and the literary, not to speak of the archival and theoretical, in this volume shows. Similarly, ethical questions are never pristinely so. When it comes to ecological crisis, neoliberalism, or even bullfighting, the ethical dimension is inextricably en-twined with the political; indeed all of these issues are of a fundamentally political nature that is somewhat occluded by their recasting in terms of the “ethics of life.” Both the relative displacement of the literary and the overextension...


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pp. 191-193
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