A Plunge into Otherness. Ethics and Literature in Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

  • Roberta Ferrari
Keywords: Ian McEwan, Machines Like Me, Android, Ethics, English literature, Artificial Intelligence


The paper intends to propose a reading of Ian McEwan’s latest novel, Machines Like Me (2019), qua insightful reflection on the topic of Artificial Intelligence and its bearings on different aspects of human life, from interpersonal relationships to moral behaviour. At the same time, the novel also engages in a reflection on the value and the prospects of literature, whose very premises might be called in question in a posthuman context. Set in a 1980s world whose contours radically deviate from historical facts – the atomic bomb was never dropped; Kennedy was not killed in Dallas; the Beatles are still a band; and Alan Turing has survived the conviction for homosexuality and successfully carried on his studies on AI – the novel introduces the simulacrum in the form of an android, Adam, a hyper-sophisticated machine that enters the characters’ life and upsets it thoroughly. The troublesome relationship with Adam forces Charlie, the protagonist-narrator, to ponder on his own system of values, posing questions about the Other which inevitably end up throwing new light – but, above all, casting new doubts – on the Self and on what it ultimately means to be human. By way of his “What if novel” set in an alternative past, McEwan tackles pressing issues of our present, while trying to envisage a future that is not far to come. The paper intends to explore both the ethical and the metaliterary level of the story on the background of the contemporary theoretical debate on transhumanism and posthumanism, pointing to the simulacrum as the uncanny catalyser of the major topics the author intends to tackle.



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How to Cite
Ferrari, R. (2022). A Plunge into Otherness. Ethics and Literature in <em>Machines Like Me</em&gt; by Ian McEwan. Between, 12(24), 247-271. https://doi.org/10.13125/2039-6597/5166