Title (eng)

Fragmenting a Monolith: Exploring and Disrupting an Outer Space Imaginary


Joseph Popper

Description (eng)

Dissertation, 2021, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International Abstract Fragmenting a Monolith explores imagining outer space and examines a predominant and problematic outer space imaginary. The research focuses on the production and narration of outer space by a Euro-American vision of humankind as a spacefaring civilisation, and questions what this vision means for human futures on and off Earth. The primary interest is the human settlement of outer space, as a technological project inseparably entangled with the social and the subject of a “sociotechnical imaginary” (Jasanoff and Kim 2015: 4). Here, historical precedents and ideological values saturate contemporary representations and materialisations of desirable space futures. The thesis responds to the idea of the imaginary — a collectively held and publicly performed vision or narrative — as a formidable social and political force. Most importantly, it articulates the imaginary as a kind of infrastructure that shapes and stabilises a movement of influential space industry actors with ambitions to colonise and commercialise the cosmos. This infrastructure is made of myths, metaphors and master narratives which manifest in the imagery and rhetoric of spaceflight advocacy. Distorted and deeply flawed, they nevertheless combine to normalise outer space in a powerful collective imagination. This PhD project works at the intersection of artistic research, science technology studies and film theory, with a specific focus on the essay film. The project aims are twofold. First, in apprehending a Euro-American imaginary as spaceflight infrastructure, I study its normalising functions and mechanisms from an artistic perspective; finding double exposures, inversions and other aesthetic gestures at the heart of its “structuring matrix” (Gaonkar 2002: 4). In exploring how this imaginary is performed, I establish the need for its disruption. This need creates the premise for the second aim: a critical response, founded upon the practices and processes of the essay film. Montage forms a central method for the essay film to think through moving image,where discrete fragments of image and sound cohere and collide in infinitely multiple arrangements. Through such arrangements, film essayists convey film to be another audiovisual structure — a fragmentary structure for countering and destabilising the problematics of a monolithic space imaginary. Montage means a material film practice and also a montagist sensibility for reading moving image, often found in film criticism. As method, montage relates my writing to a series of short essay films I made, which experiment with found footage to explore particular themes and concerns that I describe in the thesis chapters. It is through this multidisciplinary approach that the project critiques and contests a predominant outer space imaginary across imaginal, fictional and scholarly registers.

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