Ethical Literary Criticism, Brain Text, and Ian McEwan's Machines Like Me

Biwu Shang,
Fong Keng Seng

Published Date: Aug 31, 2021


From the perspective of the conceptual system of ethical literary criticism and specific key concepts such as brain text and electronic text, this paper attempts to examine the conflicts between the mechanical and the human in Ian McEwan’s novel Machines Like Me (2019) in order to explore issues such as natural selection, ethical selection, ethical consciousness, and artificial intelligence. Taking these thematic concerns as reference points, this paper argues that a human being is a product of natural selection and ethical selection, while a machine is a product of scientific selection. In the novel, the conflicts between the three main characters, Charlie Friend, Miranda, and Adam, largely correspond with the conflicts between ethical selection and scientific selection. On the other hand, the conflict revolving around Adam tackles ethical concerns from a non-human perspective. As a machine, Adam has no biological brain text but only an electronic text used for storing and processing information. He thus has no ethical consciousness to tell good from evil. Arguably, then, the paper contends that artificial intelligence is merely a type of electronic text and as such, cannot replace the text of the human brain, which accounts for Adam’s failure to deal with ethical issues in the human world.


Ian McEwan, Machines Like Me, ethical literary criticism, brain text, electronic text, artificial intelligence

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

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Jan Baetens
Faculty of Arts
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

Joel David
Professor of Cultural Studies
Inha University (South Korea)

Michael Denning
Professor of American Studies and English
Department of English
Yale University (US)

Faculty of Cultural Sciences
Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

Regenia Gagnier
Professor of English
University of Exeter (UK)

Leela Gandhi
John Hawkes Professor of the Humanities and English
Brown University (US)

Inderpal Grewal
Professor of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies
Professor of South Asian Studies, Ethnicity, Race and Migration Studies
Yale University (US)

Peter Horn
Professor Emeritus and Honorary Lifetime Fellow
University of Cape Town (South Africa)
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University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Anette Horn
Professor of German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

David Lloyd
Distinguished Professor of English
University of California, Riverside (US)

Bienvenido Lumbera
National Artist for Literature
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University of the Philippines

Rajeev S. Patke
Director of the Division of Humanities
Professor of Humanities
Yale NUS College (Singapore)

Vicente L. Rafael
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor of History
University of Washington (US)

Vaidehi Ramanathan
Department of Linguistics
University of California, Davis (US)

Temario Rivera
Professorial Lecturer
Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Studies Center (US)

Neferti X.M. Tadiar
Professor of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Barnard College (US)
Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Columbia University (US)

Antony Tatlow
Honorary Professor of Drama
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)