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Specter of the Monolith: Nihilism, the Sublime, and Human Destiny in Space-From Apollo and Hubble to 2001, Star Trek, and Interstellar

Specter of the Monolith: Nihilism, the Sublime, and Human Destiny in Space-From Apollo and Hubble to 2001, Star Trek, and Interstellar

by Barry Vacker


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Science geeks and space film fans, take a journey through the questions from your favorite movies that may continue to haunt or puzzle you. Specter of the Monolith offers a radically original critique of how humans have confronted the majesty of the vast universe—via art, media, science, pop culture, space exploration, and the greatest space films. Original and thought-provoking, the book explores questions such as:

  • Why don't we have that sleek space hotel from 2001?
  • What's the meaning of the monolith in 2001 and the tesseract in Interstellar?
  • Why did we pull the plug on the Apollo program, precisely as NASA provided humanity its first and only chance to unite in celebration of human achievement?
  • How do we find human meaning in the vast universe? Or are we meaningless cosmic specks, as suggested by the Hubble Deep Field images?
  • Why is Michael Jackson the most popular moonwalker on Earth?
  • What do Ziggy Stardust and The Six Million Dollar Man tell us about 45 years of “post-Apollo culture”?
  • What are the new Star Trek and Star Wars films really saying about our future in space? What about Gravity, The Martian, and Planet of the Apes?
  • Should Mars be strip-mined or terraformed, as envisioned by Elon Musk? Or protected as a Celestial Wilderness Area?

In 200 pages, this book covers vast territory. It comes down to this: You can look at Hubble’s awe-inspiring cosmic images and feel a sense of nihilism and meaninglessness. Or they can point toward an entirely new space philosophy based in the sublime, ecology, and humanity’s true place in the universe of the 21st century.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of 2001, Specter of the Monolith offers a hopeful and inspiring alternative vision of human destiny in space.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780979840470
Publisher: Center for Media and Destiny
Publication date: 07/11/2017
Pages: 222
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.47(d)

About the Author

Academic Bio. Barry Vacker teaches critical media studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he is an associate professor in the Klein College of Media and Communication. A professor for over 20 years, he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. Vacker has authored numerous articles and books about the trajectories of art, media, science, culture, and human civilization on this spaceship we call Earth. You can find these works online (https://temple.academia.edu/BarryVacker) and in Amazon.

Existential Stance. Vacker is an existentialist without the angst-a momentary self made of star stuff from a supernova in a remote part of the Milky Way. He is the center of nothing and utterly insignificant in the universe of two trillion galaxies and a zillion space films. Specter of the Monolith contains his philosophical perspectives on how we might begin the search for humanity's meaning and purpose in the cosmos, drawing inspiration from space films like 2001 and Interstellar; earthworks like Star Axis and Spiral Jetty; and thinkers like Sartre, Lyotard, Tarter, and Sagan.

Table of Contents


1. Earthrise and 2001

2. “A Rope over an Abyss”

2. Specter of the Monolith

3. Moonwalking into the Future

4. About This Book



1. NASA’s Ultimate Challenge

2. Pre-Copernican Centrality and Cosmic Narcissism

3. Cosmic Nihilism and the Sublime

4. The Apollo Moment

5. The Earth “Selfie”

6. Confronting Nihilism with Genesis

7. Apollo: What Happened?

8. Voyager and Hubble

9. JFK’s “Moon Speech”: Humanity’s “New Knowledge of Our Universe”

10. When are we going to grow up?


1. A Philosophical Launch?

2. The Final Frontier

3. Star Trek

4. Planet of the Apes

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey

6. Gravity

7. Interstellar

8. The Martian

9. Space Films: What Can We Hope For?

10. “Momentary Microbes” and “Spasmodic Smiles”



1. From 2001 to the Planet of the Apes

2. Two “Moonwalkers”: Neil Armstrong and Michael Jackson

3. Elvis: Aloha from Space

4. Future Shock: The Premature Arrival of the Future

5. Spirits in the Sky

6. From 2001 to Moonraker

7. Star Wars, Space Shuttles, and Space Stations

8. After the Year 2000

9. Cosmic Centrality 1: The “Dual System of Astronomy”

10. Cosmic Centrality 2: The Dual System of Technology

11. Cosmic Centrality 3: The Dual System of Existence

12. Stephen Hawking: “Philosophy Is Dead”

13. Challenges for Philosophy, Secular Culture, and the 21st-Century Space Age

4. THE COSMOS AND 21st-CENTURY space narratives

1. The New Space Age

2. Space Narratives

3. Where Have We Gone?

4. Extending Consciousness into Space: Across 100 Billion Light Years

5. Sending Bodies into Space: “Millions of People Living and Working in Space”

6. Space Exploration: Spending Money and Making Money

7. The “Ancient Astronaut” Theory

8. The Extraterrestrial Philosopher

9. A Sane 21st-Century Space Narrative

10. Philosophy in Space: Who Speaks for the Human Species?

11. We Are Space Voyagers

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